Is Scrum Certification A Good Idea?

Apr 09, 2016 by Barc Category: Agile, Career, Scrum 0 comments Tags: certification

There’s been a lot of debate about whether or not you should get a Scrum Master Certificate. There’s even more debate about which certificate to get.

The Pros:

The best aspect of a generic certification is that there is at least some evidence that the person who has the certification has heard the basics of the craft. As an employer, you can’t always test each applicant for basic knowledge. The notation of a certification on your resume can speed things up.

Of course, if the practice is complex–like brain surgery–you want to make sure your applicant knows more than the basics, so rigorous certification and licensing processes are needed.

One of the positives about Scrum certification, versus, say getting a license to practice medicine, is the certification is not very expensive. You can get an online certification for a few hundred bucks, or attend an in-person class and test for about $1,200.


The Cons

Regardless of the cost, I often wonder who’s teaching these classes. Have they ever actually delivered a small project using the methodology? At least from some of the classes that I’ve taken, the teachers seemed like they learned of the craft in a book and hadn’t practiced it with real people.

Of course if someone is just taking the class as a check-off so they can get a job or promotion, most of the information’s just going to go in one ear and come out the other anyway. So it doesn’t really matter who’s teaching it. It’s pretty much a guarantee that after they walk out of the class, they’ll continue to do the same thing they’ve been doing all along. Just now they have a certificate.

Another problem is the breadth of what is being taught in certification classes. In project management, no matter what methodology is being used, Waterfall or Scrum, success is as much about influence and leadership as it is about management of timelines. Generally, certification classes do not teach leadership and influence. Instead, they focus on techniques of managing a project from day to day (and usually not very big projects either).

Finally, the biggest problem I often see with the certification classes is not so much about the classes, but the people who take them. No matter who is teaching the class, or how in-depth it is, the person taking the class, once they get the certificate, stop learning. As soon as they get the certificate, there is often the sense of, “I know enough. That’s it.”

Certification should just be the first step in a career, of a practice. A practice is just that–something you learn every day and get better and better at–just like doctors or attorneys.


So whether or not you should get a certification ultimately depends on why you want it. Is it for your career? Is it for a job, or is it because you want to deliver a project quicker, with more innovation, or quality? Or is it something you want to learn to grow personally?

My recommendation, is to take a certification class with an experienced teacher, somebody who’s delivered a lot of projects–a lot of big projects. Ask them specific questions that you are facing.

And if possible, have them in to coach for a month or 2 afterwards. Try to work with that coach personally afterwards in real world situations. Only after this one-on-one practice will you be able to ingrain their knowledge into your own DNA.

If you’re really interested in getting started with Agile (well, Scrum), and don’t have the time or funds for certification, you should consider getting Henrik Kniberg’s book, “Scrum and XP from the Trenches.” It’s a well-written, short book that’s been out for a while and is the bible for many scrum masters. It’s a very clear step by step that’ll least get you started in the practice. The short book (less than 200 pages) is about 25 bucks online at Amazon, but you can get it for free directly from Kniberg himself online as a PDF.