Becoming Scrum Master Certified in Quarantine

Becoming Scrum Master Certified in Quarantine

Take This Time to Transform Yourself Then Enable Team Transformation through Scrum Mastery

For many of us, the current quarantine situation resulting from the spread of the novel Coronavirus has taught us that we had been all but kidding ourselves with all the things we said we would do “if only we had the time.” It is only with a conscious and concerted effort that most of us will finally enact a dedication to home gardening, violin lessons, or personal and professional development. As professionals working in the professional services industry, we strongly advocate the development route.

For those with interest and/or experience in project management and agile delivery, this situation presents an open window of opportunity for entry via certification into the responsibilities of Scrum mastery. For those unfamiliar with Scrum, it is a framework for managing complex projects and delivering a high-quality product. The Scrum Master is the servant leader who facilitates the activity of the Scrum Team throughout the Software Development Life Cycle.

Evaluating the Options for a Scrum Master Certification

There are three major players providing certifications around the Scrum framework and in the roles that members on the team take. These are Scrum Alliance, ScrumStudy, and Scrum.org.

Scrum Alliance, founded in 2001, is the oldest organization and therefore has enjoyed the greatest visibility of its Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) certification. It offers consistency of knowledge by requiring that all certification-seekers attend their in-person class to attain certification.

ScrumStudy has risen in scope and reach by creating an expansive partner network of training providers. There are more classes offered for ScrumStudy than either of the other providers. The benefit of so many trainers is a greater cost-competitiveness in order for training providers to win the business of certification-seekers. This comes at the cost of consistency, which is natural given they boast 2100+ partner organizations.

Scrum.org was founded in 2009 after a falling-out between the two founders of Scrum Alliance, Ken Schwaber and Mike Cohn. Ken Schwaber left Scrum Alliance for reasons that will be partially revealed later and went on to form Scrum.org with Jeff Sutherland. It was Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland who created and first introduced Scrum in 1995. Scrum.org boasts the highest barrier-to-entry to its certifications (read: exam passing grade) and also has the most strongly vetted and closely held trainers in the industry with just over 320 Professional Scrum Trainers worldwide (only 68 in the United States).

Charting Your Career with Scrum Certification

Charting Your Career  with Scrum Certification

Mastering Scrum can boost your career or chart it in a different direction altogether if you’d like it to. A major point of consideration is how far you want to go with Scrum. Those looking to build an entire career around being a Scrum Master will have additional considerations than someone who is simply “looking to get certified” as a formality, to get their foot in the door, or for those little letters that can go after the end of their name on an email signature.

To obtain a foundation-level certification as a Scrum Master, all three major players are viable options. Scrum Alliance has the CSM (Certified Scrum Master), ScrumStudy has the SMC (Scrum Master Certified), and Scrum.org has the PSM I (Professional Scrum Master). The differentiators among them will be the certifications mechanics and cost, which will be discussed later, and the depth and expertise of the subject matter and instructors, which we cover now.

Each major player takes its place on the continuum of higher accessibility and greater variance to lower accessibility and greater consistency.  

  • ScrumStudy—finds its point first on this continuum with the highest-class availability (and with it the most variance across instructors) but no certification options for higher levels of mastery.
  • Scrum Alliance—lies towards the midpoint of the continuum with three levels of certification and a balance between class availability and control of curriculum/consistency of trainers. Scrum Alliance’s base certification is Certified ScrumMaster, which is succeeded by Advanced Certified ScrumMaster, and the track culminates with Certified Scrum Professional-ScrumMaster.
  • Scrum.org—falls farthest to the right end of the continuum with the smallest class offering but the strongest vetting of instructors and focus on mastery through four levels of certification. Scrum.org’s Professional Scrum Master track has the PSM I (299,684 certified as of April 1, 2020), PSM II (6,430 certified), and PSM III (808 certified). The pinnacle of Scrum.org is the Professional Scrum Trainer (PST) certification with over 320 certified worldwide and only 68 of those here in the United States.
Improving boasts firve of the United States' 68 Professional Scrum Trainers

Each of the major players offer certifications besides Scrum Master. Depending on the organization, these may also include either a single certification or a progressive certification track for the roles of Product Owner, Developer, Leadership, User Experience, Kanban, Fundamentals, or Scaled Scrum.

Three Bodies of Knowledge

Unlike project management which has a clear single authority (PMI) and manuscript (PMBOK Guide), the field around Scrum is fragmented with multiple bodies of knowledge and no one source of truth for the industry. Because of this, it is important to be familiar with, understand, and be open to knowledge and wisdom from all the major players, not just the one you choose to get certified with.

Excepting formal training, documentation exists as three primary bodies of knowledge.

The Scrum Guide

The Scrum Guide is the basis for everything Scrum and carefully introduces the “process framework” of Scrum as more of a principled mindset that is to be understood and incorporated rather than a process to be prescribed. The Scrum Guide is the primary body of knowledge for both Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org.

Scrum Body of Knowledge Guide

The second body of knowledge is the Scrum Body of Knowledge from ScrumStudy, colloquially termed the SBOK Guide, a reference to the PMBOK Guide of project management from PMI. There is some controversy as this takes a strong divergence from the Scrum Guide. At 403 pages long, the current and 3rd edition of the SBOK Guide is indeed a strong nod towards the PMBOK Guide in size, scope, and depth.

That depth is the basis of the controversy—Scrum was created as a process framework and as such was deliberately lightweight and nimble. That is not the case with the SBOK Guide. To claim the SBOK Guide is either an improvement or disservice to Scrum would be inappropriate. Knowledge is knowledge, and, as mentioned earlier, the wisdom from all three major players is to be welcomed. The pitfall to be avoided is the blind application of defined processes and specific practices. Even the project management processes of the PMBOK Guide are to be used as a basis and framework for managing projects, not an exact do-this-and-always-this. That is even more applicable here with the SBOK Guide and Scrum.

Nexus Guide

The third body of knowledge is the Nexus Guide from Scrum.org. This is the core document for their Scaled Professional Scrum certification, but its principles and concepts will make an appearance on the entry-level Professional Scrum Master exam.

Preparation & Certification

Scrum Master Certification

Formal training is available from all three major players in a classroom and/or virtual-classroom setting. All three will feature a curriculum tailored to their specific certification exam. Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org classes will come with a higher price tag than ScrumStudy. ScrumStudy’s very many partners are frequently running attractive promotions so you study and test with them rather than another partner. Generally these promotions bring all of ScrumStudy’s partners’ prices down from the same market rate (which was on par with Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org) to the same discounted rate. In your journey towards certifications, there are only two questions you need to ask yourself: which certification do you want, and do you want to take a formal class.

The experience of final preparation and certification examination differs with each of the major players. Scrum Alliance’s CSM designation can only be achieved by taking their 14-hour in-person classroom course and the exam that follows it. The exam requires 74% accuracy (37 of 50 multiple-choice questions) and is informally regarded as a formality that accompanies attending the course. Scrum Alliance certifications must be maintained through continuing education (20-40 Scrum Education Units) and paying an administrative fee ($100-$250) every 2 years.

ScrumStudy’s SMC designation is achieved by optionally attending an online course from an Authorized Training Provider and/or directly taking the required certification exam from ScrumStudy itself. Their exam boats a 95% first-attempt passing rate. The SMC examination costs $450 and attending the online training from an Authorized Training Partner will cover the cost of taking the exam. The SMC designation must be maintained by taking the re-certification exam every 3 years. Obtaining a different ScrumStudy certification will restart the 3-year expiration countdown (so they all expire at the same time).

Scrum.org’s PSM designation is achieved in the same manner as ScrumStudy’s SMC. Certification-seekers register for and take the required certification exam from Scrum.org itself. Scrum.org’s classes are in-person (like Scrum Alliance) rather than online (like ScrumStudy). One differentiator for Scrum.org is the availability of online practice and preparedness assessments. Practice exams are accessible on their website and pull questions from a very large pool to give a shorter experience of the real exam. The practice exams are infinitely repeatable and by the third run, you can start to see repeated questions. The PSM I examination costs $150 and has a minimum passing score of 85%. The price increases for PSM II ($250) and PSM III ($500). Attending a formal classroom training will cover the cost of taking the exam. The PSM designation is the only one which does not expire or require recertification.

Get Your Scrum Certification!

We’ve covered a lot of ground here. It’s time to stretch those legs and make the arduous journey from the home office to the kitchen for a glass of water. Staying hydrated is almost as important as using this quarantine-downtime wisely to get Scrum certified.

Improving is Scrum.org’s largest training partner in the United States and offers both private and group virtual training and in-person training courses. Check out our Agile/Scrum Master training today!