Agile and Scrum Certifications: Good for Training Individuals, Less So for Corporations

by | Oct 13, 2017 | Blog Post

Researching Agile and Scrum certifications can feel a bit like considering an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. You may wonder if going inside is really the best choice, and then when you find yourself in line, you start weighing how to best fill your plate, because as much as you would love to actually eat everything, you know it’s impossible.

You’re not alone in these debates. Corporations and individuals alike frequently ask us for advice about the necessity and value of Agile and Scrum certifications. Our response is a classic, but honest, consultant answer – it depends.

Scrum and Agile Certifications 101

Although some organizations spend significant marketing dollars to convince us otherwise, there is no one official Agile or Scrum certifying agency. Several organizations have emerged with strong, credible brands and recognizable trademarked terms, such as:

  • Certified Scrum Master (CSM),
  • Certified Product Owner (CSPO),
  • Professional Scrum Master (PSM), and
  • Project Management Institute – Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP).

These certifications are respected in the industry, but their associated costs are regularly cited as a drawback, and it’s fair to assume a portion of this markup is directly related to the cost of building and maintain their bands.

While the goal of Agile and Scrum certifications is similar – proving the completion of training and mastery of content – standards vary by organization. If you’ve researched certification requirements for popular agencies, such as Scrum Alliance, Scrum.Org or PMI-ACP, you may have noticed these differences. Scrum Alliance, for example, requires candidates to attend a partner-led training event prior to taking the certification test, while Scrum.Org requires no official class time before taking the certification exam. Additional variances include the exam content itself, with some sticking to Agile fundamentals and others incorporating software development.

Value

There are circumstances in which Agile and Scrum certifications are invaluable, when we as training consultants would recommend you pay the price of entry – specifically:

  • As an individual competing in today’s job market,
  • As an individual striving to become a corporate trainer.

But if you’re an employer looking to transform your company from a waterfall organization to a Lean-Agile organization, our team of Agile and Scrum veterans might suggest a different approach. In an enterprise setting, relying on certifications to empower your internal workforce is generally cost prohibitive, diminishing the amount of training and tools available to your teams and even reducing employee retention.

First and Foremost, the Bottom Line

Corporate training, like any business expense, is limited by budget, making branded Agile and Scrum classes particularly inefficient. The cost of a branded certification course can be three or four times that of an equivalent generic course taught by an equally capable instructor. In other words, for the price of a two-day branded Scrum Master course, your employees could receive six days of expanded training plus a special topic course, such as a user story workshop. Two days of training might excite and inspire, but is it enough to initiate a lasting transformation or truly confirm content mastery?

Despite the cost savings, many prefer the esteemed name brand certifications, and with good reason – they are an effective way to ensure consistency from class to class, and their examinations are a standard metric for assessing comprehension. However, as an employer, decide what your true motivation is: Do you want a certified workforce, or do you want a workforce fully equipped with the tools, knowledge and experience to make your organizational transformation a success as quickly as possible?

The latter can be accomplished more effectively without the added cost and limitations of name brand certification.

Exploring Other Options

The all-you-can-eat buffet, though convenient, is not your only lunch option. At the business and enterprise level, we recommend creating a company-specific training roadmap with internal certifications and milestones. It’s the perfect way to ensure training and evaluation tactics target your specific challenges and business goals.

In the end, all agencies are self-certifying, so it’s not out of the question for companies to define what a qualified Scrum master or product owner means in their own context. Plus, it’s worth noting that internal certification allows you to invest in your employees without being as concerned you’re priming them to be poached by external competitors.

Inclusivity is also encouraged under the customized approach. When a team of expert trainers and consultants assembles or tweaks a program on your behalf, they are free to gather and apply best practices from throughout the Agile community, not just one agency. Popular certifying organizations exclusively teach their approach to Agile or Scrum, in effect limiting what tools they can bring to you.

Our instructors, and those of other reputable training and consulting firms, often hold certifications from multiple agencies and are not required to advocate for any one group. They can teach a name brand course, or they can teach an adapted generic version, fortifying with additional information and experiences.

Your Success, Your Solution

In short, if you’re leading an Agile transformation, define what success looks like and then ask: Why do I really want my team to pursue this certification? What’s our end goal? Is there a more effective and economical way to get there?

If popular certifications aren’t the answer, don’t be afraid to break away from the pack.