Best Scrum Master certifications
A multitude of organizations offer online courses and follow-up exams that allow IT professionals to hang a ‘Professional Scrum Master’ shingle on their door. But without no enforced industry standard, the quality, difficulty and competency affirmed by the professional certifications given out by these various organizations varies wildly.
If you want to be a successful Scrum Master, or if you’re looking to hire a professional Scrum Master for your next project, the five best professional Scrum Master certifications an Agile practitioner should have on their curriculum vitae are:
- The Professional Scrum Master certification from Scrum.org
- Jira certification from Atlassian University
- Amazon’s AWS Practitioner designation
- The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) certification
- An Agile coach or technical trainer attestation
Scrum.org’s Professional Scrum Master certification
The gold standard in Scrum Master certification is from Scrum.org.
Ken Schwaber is a co-creator of Scrum, co-author of The Scrum Guide and the founder of the Scrum.org website. Schwaber’s pedigree gives the Agile training and Scrum Master certifications provided through Scrum.org a level of respect and authenticity that other training institutes simply cannot match.
Scum Master certification levels
Scrum.org offers three very uncreatively named Scrum Master certifications:
- Professional Scrum Master I (PSM I)
- Professional Scrum Master II (PSM II)
- Professional Scrum Master III (PSM III)
The Professional Scrum Master certification exam’s numeric differentiator conveys the level of difficulty and depth of knowledge required to pass it.
The PSM I certification tests candidates on their basic knowledge of The Scrum Guide, how well they understand the scrum values and their knowledge of the pillars of Scrum. The PSM I designation is a bare minimum for any IT professional who wants to be taken seriously as a professional Scrum Master.
|Compare the best certifications for Scrum Masters|
|PSM I||Beginner||$150||+460,000||80||60 mins||85%|
|PSM II||Intermediate||$250||+18,000||30||90 mins||85%|
|PSM III||Expert||$500||+1,000||30||150 mins||85%|
|SAFe Agile||Expert||$3000||N/A||45||90 mins||77%|
The PSM II exam deals with the application of Scrum and Scrum-based methods. This includes knowing how to guide a team of developers, how to properly produce Scrum artifacts, how to avoid ScrumBut and Scrum anti-patterns, and how to perform key Scrum activities such as the daily stand-up and sprint retrospectives.
The PSM III certification is the most advanced of the three. It not only tests the developer on how to use Scrum to solve complex team problems and deal with challenging organizational situations, but also how to solve challenges from the perspective of the Scrum Developer and the Scrum Product Owner.
While the other PSM exams are multiple choice, the PSM III exam requires candidates to answer questions in a short essay format.
The number of certified professional Scrum Masters at each of the three levels testifies to the certifications’ progressive difficulty. In 2022, there are over 460,000 Scrum Masters certified at the PSM I level, but only 18,000 certified Professional Scrum Masters at the PSM II level, and just over 1,000 individuals certified at the elite PSM III.
The PSM III certification is certainly one to pursue if you want to differentiate yourself from others.
Jira certification for Scrum Masters
A great Scrum Master needs more than just an in-depth understanding of The Scrum Guide. Scrum Masters must also use standard industry tools that will communicate team progress to Scrum developers, product owners and other stakeholders.
The most popular software organizations use to manage a software development team is Atlassian’s Jira tool. That’s why I’m always impressed when I see a Jira certification alongside a Scum Master designation.
With Jira, a Scrum Master can plan sprints, update Kanban boards, measure development velocity, assign bug tickets to developers and even merge feature branches in GitHub.
Transparency is one of the three pillars of Scrum. With a properly maintained Jira instance, project stakeholders can log into the tool and get an immediate update on the status of the current sprint. A Jira certification that attests to an individuals ability to both use and administer Jira is one of the best certification a Scrum Master can have.
AWS Cloud Practitioner certification
Modern software development happens in the cloud.
A Scrum Master need not be technical. However, a Scrum Master should be familiar with the tools used to build modern, cloud-native applications, and the way modern DevOps teams deploy applications.
The AWS Cloud Practitioner certification shows that an individual understands the key technologies used in modern enterprise IT departments. It also proves knowledge of how to monitor costs, provision cloud-native resources and enforce security best practices.
I like to see the AWS Practitioner certification on a Scrum Master’s resume as it indicates to me that the individual understands how enterprise applications are built and deployed. Azure, Oracle and Google all have entry-level cloud certifications that I put on equal footing with Amazon’s.
The vendor isn’t important. The appreciation for the fundamentals of cloud-based development is.
SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) certification
It’s hard to successfully implement Scrum on small projects. That challenge multiplies when the team and project size increases.
The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) builds on the best practices from Scrum, Kanban and Lean project management.
SAFe certification requires knowledge of important DevOps tools including GitHub and Jenkins, along with an understanding of how these tools enable enterprises to continuously deliver software.
An individual with a SAFe certification will not only have knowledge of Scrum, but knowledge of the modern technologies that underpin enterprises’ continuous software delivery.
There are a number of different SAFe certifications an individual can obtain, including:
- SAFe Agilist certification
- SAFe Scrum Master certification
- SAFe Product Owner certification
The SAFe Agilist certification is an excellent compliment to Scrum.org’s Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certification. If an individual is not PSM-certified, the SAFe Scrum Master is preferable to obtain.
A certified Scrum Master with an additional SAFe certification is going to know how to bring Scrum, Agile and the DevOps toolchain together.
SAFe versus SPS
One thing I dislike about SAFe certification is that it requires a training course before the exam can be attempted. SAFe training courses average around $3,000 for two days of training, so the barrier to entry is very high.
Scrum.org also has a Scaled Professional Scrum (SPS) Master certification that costs $250 to take, rather than spend $3,000 on a course that might be unnecessary. A pragmatic Scrum Master might see the $250 SPS certification exam as a smarter option to pursue.
Agile coaching certification
The eight stances of a Scrum Master include the roles of coach, facilitator, mentor and servant leader. To attest to competency in these areas, I like to see some type of coaching or training designation on a Scrum Master’s resume.
Certification as a Professional Scrum Master Trainer tops my list in this category. Even a certification from AWS or Google as a Certified Technical Trainer is enough to prove to me that the individual has the necessary skills to communicate effectively with other team members.
I’m not picky about which coaching or training certification a Scrum Master has. I just want some indication that the person has the character and demeanor that a coach or teacher requires.
The effectiveness of a Scrum Master can spell the difference between a project’s success or failure. A set of certifications can’t guarantee how well a Scrum Master will perform over time, but they are a good indication of an individuals breadth of knowledge. From my perspective, the designations here are the five best Scrum Master certifications an Agile professional can have.