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Scrum Alliance Certification Guide: Overview and Career Paths

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Founded in 2001, Scrum Alliance has historically focused on education and certification. The mission of the Scrum Alliance is to transform the world of work through guiding and inspiring “individuals, leaders and organizations with practices, principles, and values that create workplaces that are joyful, prosperous, and sustainable.” Scrum Alliance accomplishes its mission by adhering to three primary principles:

  • Inspire: Support leaders, organizations, and individuals on their transformation journey to Agile adoption through sharing stories, innovations, and providing training.
  • Enable: Enable success through developing learning and support systems (webinars, communities and user groups, and events), along with a global network of practitioners, coaches, and trainers.
  • Guide: Provide certification programs to meet the career needs of Agile practitioners that promote Agile values, principles, and practices and provide ongoing support for Agile transformation.

Boasting more than 725,000 certified practitioners, Scrum Alliance, Inc. is currently the largest Agile membership organization worldwide. In 2015, Scrum Alliance reported substantial growth, with more than 5,000 new members joining the ranks of certified Agile practitioners monthly.

Scrum Alliance currently offers certifications ranging from basic or foundational-level certifications for those with little to no experience, to senior certifications for experienced Scrum practitioners possessing expert-level skills. In addition, Scrum Alliance also offers certifications targeting Agile trainers and coaches. At present, there are twelve certifications across four skill levels: Foundation (CSM, CSPO and CSD), Advanced (A-CSM, A-CSPO, CSP-SM and CSP-PO), Guide (CST, CEC and CTC), and Agile Leadership (CAL I and II).

Scrum Alliance maintains a robust Community Membership program. For a $50 annual fee, community members receive numerous benefits: a free digital subscription to Agile Vox, the Scrum Alliance magazine, as well as discounts on products, services, events, resources, webinars and preferred registrations. Newly certified practitioners receive a one-time free membership to the Scrum Alliance community.

Scrum Alliance offers seven certifications at the Foundation level, plus Advanced (including Advanced and Professional certs) level three Guide level certifications and two Agile Leadership certifications. These are organized into three categories that target commonly found roles among Agile professionals. The majority of Scrum Alliance certs focus on practitioners (four in all), with the remaining three split between trainers (one certification) and coaches (two certifications).

In addition to its existing Scrum certifications, Scrum Alliance offers two Scrum@Scale credentials – the Certified Scrum@Scale Practitioner (CSaSP) and the Scrum@Scale Trainer (SaST). Scrum@Scale courses are part of a partnership between Scrum, Inc. and Scrum Alliance. Scrum@Scale LLC certifies all Scrum@Scale courses which count toward Scrum Education Units (SEUs).

Certification holders must renew every two years to maintain their credentials. Foundation-level certification holders can renew by paying a $100 renewal fee. Professional-level certification renewal requires the holder to earn 40 Scrum Education Units (SEUs) and pay $250. Coach and trainer certifications must be renewed annually and credential holders must meet all then-current requirements for each such renewal.

There are three Foundation certifications. Each one focuses on a different role within an Agile environment. These Foundation certifications include:

  • Certified ScrumMaster (CSM): This foundation-level cert covers the basics of Scrum methodology. A CSM is part of a project team, providing input about Scrum and helping members apply Scrum practices. To obtain the credential, candidates must complete a two-day training course (approximately $1,295), pass the exam and accept the license agreement.
  • Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO): This foundation-level certification targets Agile professionals close to the business end of projects. Typical product owners work with project stakeholders, manage project vision, create user stories and define expectations for completion. Candidates must attend a two-day course (approximately $1,195 to $1,500) to obtain the designation.
  • Certified Scrum Developer (CSD): This credential aims at software developers and programmers who work in an Agile environment. Candidates should already have technical coding skills prior to attempting the credential. Earning the credential requires a significant commitment in terms of time and financial resources. Upon completion, candidates will have an understanding of Agile engineering practices as they relate to Scrum principles in a software development environment. Two paths are available to certification:
    • Track 1: Complete the CSM course plus the three-day CSD technical course (including coding).
    • Track 2: Complete the CSD Scrum Intro course (one day), the CSD technical course, including coding (three days), plus one CSD technical elective course. Prices vary depending on whether courses are purchases separately or as part of a bundle. Candidates can expect to pay around $3,250.

Advanced certifications are the next tier in the Scrum Alliance certification ladder, including both Advanced and Professional credentials. Currently, Scrum Alliance only offers Advanced and Professional-level certifications for the ScrumMaster and Product Owner tracks. While there are no Advanced or Professional certifications available for the Developer track at present, they are part of future plans for the 2019 timeframe.

To earn an Advanced credential, candidates must possess the related CSM, have one year of directly related work experience (must be within the past five years), and complete the required education.

  • Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM): Successful candidates demonstrate in-depth understanding of Agile coaching, facilitation, along with team interactions and dynamics. Training costs around $1,495.
  • Advanced Certified Product Owner (A-CSPO): Advanced CSPO cert holders possess advanced skills in working with product discovery, backlogs, stakeholder relationships, and product strategy. Candidates can expect to pay around $1,295 for an online training course.
  • Certified Scrum Professional (CSP): The CSP is for experienced, senior-level Scrum practitioners. CSP certifications are currently available for the ScrumMaster (CSP-SM) and Product Owner (CSP-PO) certification paths. To obtain a CSP credential, candidates must possess an active A-CSM or ACSPO credential, plus at least 24 months of hands-on experience as a ScrumMaster or product owner (experience must have been obtained within the past five years. Candidates can expect to pay approximately $1,500 to $1,600 for the training course. A CSP for the Developer track is targeted for 2019.

Elevated or Guide certifications focus on professionals who possess advanced knowledge and who mentor, train, coach and educate professionals about Scrum practices and frameworks. Scrum Alliance offers a single cert focused on trainers and two credentials that target professionals interesting in coaching individuals or teams.

  • Certified Scrum Trainer (CST): Scrum Alliance has a single certification focused on trainers — the Certified Scrum Trainer (CST). This certification is for individuals who possess in-depth knowledge and expertise of Agile practices and wish to train others. Successful completion of CST requirements enables credential holders to teach CSM or CSPO courses.

To obtain this credential, candidates must possess an active CSP-SM or SCP-PO, have direct Scrum experience in the role of team member, ScrumMaster or product owner, have taught Scrum to at least 100 students, and have led 10 or more training sessions (which must be multiday). Interested candidates should submit an application plus a $250 application fee. Completed applications are submitted for formal review by the Trainer Approval Community (TAC). If approved by the TAC, candidates are invited to an in-person interview before the Interview and Certification Panel. Candidates interested in teaching CSPO courses must also possess a valid CSPO credential.

  • Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC): The CEC is for Agile professionals seeking to guide organizations through the process to transform to a Scrum framework. A CTC works directly with individuals to promote adoption of Scrum practices.

Designed for Agile professionals seeking to guide organizations through the process to transform to a Scrum framework, the Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC) is an expert in Scrum principles and practices. CECs serve as subject matter experts, coaches and Scrum evangelists as they assist organizations seeking to adopt Scrum practices. Through the Certification Via Coaching program, CECs are able to empower individuals and organizations and foster a speedier adoption of Scrum practices by referring individuals who've received at least 25 hours of coaching to sit for CSM or CSPO exam.

At a minimum, CEC candidates must have:

  • Expert knowledge of Scrum practices and proven leadership and coaching skills
  • An active CSP-SM or CSP-PO (for at least a year)
  • Possess direct experience in Scrum team roles
  • Experience coaching at least three organizations
  • 2,000 hours or three years of enterprise or multi-team coaching, along with demonstrated Scrum leadership roles (three or more years)
  • Served as a direct contributor to at least five or more Agile/Scrum events

To apply, candidates must submit an application along with a nonrefundable application fee of $250. The application process is two-fold: a review of requirements and peer assessment. Upon acceptance, candidates thenceforth pay a $750 annual fee.

  • Certified Team Coach (CTC): The Certified Team Coach (CTC) is specifically geared to the Scrum evangelist interested in coaching at a more granular level. CTCs typically engage at the team level, working with managers, individual team members and project stakeholders. Successful CTCs are able to work with multiple teams, programs or projects concurrently.

Some required skills for a CTC include:

  • An active CSP, 1,000 hours of Agile coaching experience within the past two years
  • Coaching experience in at least two organizations
  • Extensive experience working on Scrum teams and coaching within Scrum or Agile frameworks
  • Participation in at least five Agile events

To apply, candidates should submit an application along with the $250 application fee (nonrefundable). Applications are first reviewed to ensure required skills are met. Upon application acceptance, a peer assessment is performed. Once approved, candidates must pay an annual $500 fee to maintain this credential.

The Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) program targets executive, management, consultants, and coaches who lead Agile organizational transformations. CAL program participants are required to complete both education requirements along with demonstration of practical skills. A $250 application fee is required along with the then-current fees if approved. There are two such credentials available:

  • Certified Agile Leader I (CAL I): An introductory program that is designed to raise awareness of the skills, characteristics and mindset required for an Agile leader. Learning objectives cover five areas with a total of 17 contact hours required. Learning objective categories include: The Context for Agile, Agile Overview, Leadership in an Agile Context, The Agile Organization, and Agile Approaches to Change. Candidates must also possess either the CST or CEC credential. The CAL I training course costs approximately $2,250.
  • Certified Agile Leader II (CAL II): A more advanced credential, the CAL II focuses on Agile practices as it relates to Agile leadership, organizations and change. To earn this designation, candidates must possess the CAL I credential, complete the required education, and provide documented proof of validated practice (approved education engagement, online submission and review, or CAL II peer workshop). Candidates can expect to pay around $2,995 for a CAL II course with validated practice or $2,295 for a peer workshop.

Scrum Alliance maintains an up-to-date training program for its entry-level credentials along with learning objectives and content outlines. Community membership in Scrum Alliance provides access to community forum, user groups, continuing education, Scrum Gatherings and other resources. You’ll also find links to the learning objectives from the respective certification web page. At the Scrum Foundation eLearning Series, you’ll find videos on Scrum theory and values, roles, events and artifacts. In addition, Scrum Alliance also maintains a presence on LinkedIn (both for Scrum Alliance organization in general as well as various groups for individual certifications) and Facebook.

As the adoption of Agile and Scrum frameworks continues to grow in popularity, so does the demand for qualified Agile/Scrum professionals. One only has to take a quick look at such job websites as SimplyHired or Indeed.com to see that employers are actively recruiting certified Scrum professionals. On any given day, there are more than 6,000 open positions for those with Scrum skills and experience. And according to SimplyHired, ScrumMaster annual salaries range from about $66,000 to $130,000.

Some common job roles include transformational leads, transformation coaches, Scrum Masters, developers, managers, engineers, testers, technical writers and architects. Scrum Alliance also maintains its own job board for community members. In the Agile Careers section of the Scrum Alliance website you'll find job postings, blogs, career news and more.