Scrum Master Certifications: A Beginner’s Guide

Dr. Anneke Schmidt, Contributor to the CareerFoundry blog

TheAgile Revolution has drastically changed the software development industry, introducing the concepts of self-organizing teams, effective communication, and continuous improvement. The project management methodology known as Scrum is at the forefront of this revolution, making the scrum master role a vital one in any product team.

But while it’s true that you could learn the basics of Scrum and fulfill the responsibilities of a scrum master without formal training, obtaining a professional certification can make all the difference in your career trajectory.  Enter the scrum master certification.

This certification provides validation of your competency in Agile project management—and Scrum principles, precisely, making it a great way to distinguish yourself from other product managers in the industry. So, let’s take a look at the different types of certifications out there and why they can be valuable assets in the product management space.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. What is a scrum master certification?
  2. Five benefits of a scrum master certification
  3. Scrum master certification FAQs
  4. Wrap-up

1. What is a scrum master certification?

A scrum master certification, such as the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) credential, is an introductory qualification issued by the Scrum Alliance that focuses on the fundamentals of Scrum methodology and Agile principles such as iterative development, accountability, positive team dynamics, and efficient collaboration.

Becoming a CSM showcases your understanding of Agile practices and your proficiency as a scrum master. You’ll use the Scrum framework to guide your team toward successful product delivery and achieving your organizational objectives.

As the scrum master, you bring the team members together, shield them from potential disruptions that would otherwise impede progress, and help create opportunities for growth and development. 

Moreover, being a certified scrum master can help you advance in your career, as it opens up new pathways for engaging with other experienced practitioners of the discipline.

Types of scrum master certification: CSM vs PSM

Although the CSM certification is the most widespread, other certifications available in the Agile space are also worth exploring—such as the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certification.

To get a better understanding of the key differences between CSM and PSM, let’s break down the two certifications by the following criteria:

  • Accrediting bodies: the CSM certification is provided by the Scrum Alliance, while the PSM is offered by Scrum.org. Both of these organizations are reputable providers of Agile certificates.
  • Program duration: the CSM certification requires a two-day training program, which can be completed in class or online. The PSMs are offered in three levels: PSM I, PSM II, and PSM III, and you must pass a series of assessments to earn each level. Here, the duration depends on the certification level you aim for.
  • Learning outcomes: overall, CSMs will possess foundational knowledge on applying Scrum concepts while holding authority over their teams, whereas PSMs have a more profound theoretical understanding of how to use Scrum in complex situations through servant leadership and leading by example.
  • Exam form: both exams take one hour to complete. But The CSM exam is comprised of 50 multiple-choice questions, while the PSM quiz contains 80 multi-select and true/false questions, making it more complex than its counterpart.
  • Passing score: to be successful on the CSM exam, you must get 37 questions correct from the available 50 (or 74%). To pass the PSM, 68 answers out of 80 (or 85%) are required for a passing score.
  • CSM advanced certifications: Certified Scrum Master Advanced, CSM Certified Scrum Professional, Scrum Master Certified Team Coach or Certified Enterprise Coach, Certified Scrum Trainer
  • PMS advanced certifications: Professional Scrum Master II, Professional Scrum Master III, Professional Scrum Master Trainer (Train-the-trainer certification)

Other scrum master certifications

Apart from the two most popular ones covered earlier, there are some other options available, such as:

Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)

This certification from Scrum Alliance focuses on validating your training and knowledge in becoming a product owner.

As well as that you’ll learn the basics of Scrum plus product-specific training, like balancing stakeholders’ demands and formulating a compelling product vision.

Certified Scrum Developer (CSD)

This certificate from Scrum Alliance targets product developers who work in a Scrum environment. It allows you to familiarize yourself with principles related to both Agile and Scrum.

You must complete this course before enrolling for Advanced Certified Scrum Developer certifications.

Certified Scrum Professional (CSP)

This is the highest level of certification available on Scum Alliance’s product development track. It helps you become a professional who effectively implements Agile and Scrum principles within your team.

To achieve this certification, taking up the Advanced Certified Scrum Master course is a requirement.

SAFe Scrum Master (SSM)

This certification is offered by Scaled Agile, the organization that oversees the implementation of Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). It’s ideal for those working as a scrum master in organizations wherein Lean or DevOps concepts are put into practice at scale.

With this certification, you can also work with remote teams confidently, thanks to its comprehensive collection of tools.

Professional Scrum Product Owner I (PSPO I)

This certification from Scrum.org verifies your capacity to maximize the value created by development teams while testing your skills in interpreting and applying the Scrum guidelines.

Before applying for this certification, you should know the Product Owner Learning Path.

2. 5 Benefits of a Scrum Master certification

Achieving a scrum master certification is more than just another line on your resume—it can make you a better product manager and open up numerous exciting career opportunities.

1. Improved project management skills

Certification introduces you to the fundamentals of Agile development and gives you the tools to become an effective leader when handling complex projects with multiple stakeholders.

It also teaches you essential principles like communication, teamwork, and collaboration—all critical elements of successful project management.

2. Increased employability

Earning a Scrum certification proves that you can handle complex challenges in a fast-changing environment, which enhances your employability in the eyes of recruiters and employers looking for qualified personnel.

In some cases, it could also give you access to higher-paying roles as compared to non-certified scrum masters.

3. Enhanced teamwork and collaboration

By understanding the Scrum philosophy and its associated roles, you can create a highly-collaborative environment within your team and work more efficiently towards shared goals.

You’ll also gain insights into important aspects like team dynamics and conflict resolution, allowing you to manage workplace issues better.

4. Improved productivity

By following Scrum principles and processes, you can streamline product development cycles and help your team to be more productive.

This will result in better project outcomes and reduced costs, making it easier for your organization to reach its objectives. There is also the possibility of faster market launches, thanks to Scrum’s iterative development approach.

5. Greater opportunity for career advancement

Through scrum master training, you can develop your project management skills, gain leadership experience, and work towards achieving higher-level certifications like the CSP. Doing so can open up new career opportunities and improve your professional standing, allowing you to eventually become an expert in product management and Scrum.

3. Scrum master certification FAQs

Do you still have questions about the certification process and what it can do for you as a product manager? Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions to help guide you along your path:

How long does it take to become a certified scrum master?

The time it takes to become certified varies depending on the program chosen, but generally speaking, earning your certification should take approximately 8-10 weeks if studying full-time.

Do product managers need a scrum master certification?

While having a certification can be very beneficial for product managers, as it allows them to further their understanding of Agile development techniques, it’s not a requirement.

Whether they need one depends on various factors, such as the company’s policies, the size of their team, their position in the organization, and their professional goals.

Is a scrum master certification worth it?

A Scrum certification provides its holders with many advantages, such as improved project management skills, increased employability, better teamwork and collaboration opportunities, and greater potential for career advancement. Therefore, it’s definitely worth considering.

Which scrum master certification is best for product managers?

There is no one definitive answer here as different certifications provide varying levels of detail and expertise, so it depends on what each individual wishes to gain from their certification.

Aspiring product managers should choose one that fits their goals best by doing some research into the options available.

4. Wrap-up

In this guide, we’ve explored what a scrum master certification (CSM) is, how it differs from other training options like the PSM, and why it can be beneficial for product managers to pursue such a certification.

Ultimately, though, the decision of whether or not to become a certified scrum master lies with the individual. While it’s not required to become a successful product manager, having Scrum certification can provide extra credibility and help you stand out in the increasingly competitive tech industry.

Want to learn more about product management? Then check out this free product management short course, or read the following articles:

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