Perhaps—like 500,000-plus other people—you have some form of Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) credential and are looking to distinguish yourself and continue your learning journey. Of course, learning is not tied to credentials; many people are anti-certification, and that is an understandable choice. I encourage lifelong learning separate from credentials. However, for credential seekers, this article explores some common credential pathways beyond the CSM.
I want to disclose up front that I have been involved with the development of the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)®, the ICAgile Certified Professional (ICP) and the DSDM Leadership (Dynamic Systems Development Method) credentials, so I likely have some bias and preferences. However, my goal here is not to recommend specific credentials, but instead to explain options and environmental factors to consider—helping people make their own choice based on their own situation.
Also, because there are so many credentials available, I will undoubtedly miss many in this discussion, maybe including your favorite. This is not meant to be an exhaustive catalogue of agile credentials, rather a thinking or discussion tool for getting the research process started.
How Did You Get Here?
When people ask me what credentials to get next, I ask how they got where they are now. Did they move from software development into a ScrumMaster role? Were they previously a PMP®-certified project manager who took a CSM class to learn a little about Scrum? The answers to questions like these and the next one (“Where do you want to go?”) help ground and orient the decision-making process. If we don’t know where we are to begin, then a map is unlikely to be helpful.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Credentials may be obtained to help secure a new job or promotion. People also seek them to demonstrate understanding of certain topics, and just for personal achievement. All of these motives are valid and help drive the choice of where to go next. If you are pursuing job opportunities, then you should research what hiring managers are looking for. Are they asking for PMP, CSP or PMI-ACP credentials? If so, then we are narrowing our choices down.
Alternatively, if you are pursuing a credential more for personal learning, then the curriculum is likely more important than recognition by hiring managers. Maybe there is an online program that very few people have ever heard of, but it’s a great fit for your learning objectives. If so, be more influenced by content and quality rather than recognition and opportunity.
This sounds basic, but I’m surprised by how many people pursue credentials just because their colleagues did and they don’t want to be left behind, or it was the next course suggested in their company’s training road map. Credentials should be for you. Ask questions like:
- Do you want to strengthen your current role?
- Do you want to change roles?
- Do you want to stay at your current organization?
All these issues factor into the next steps to take.
Directions from Here
There are a few obvious directions from CSM that include down deeper, upward and outward. By down deeper, I mean going deeper into Scrum with an Advanced Certified ScrumMaster (A-CSM), Certified Scrum Practitioner (CSP) or Professional ScrumMaster (PSM) credential. These are good options if you want to demonstrate a further commitment and understanding focused just on Scrum.
Upward refers to scaling Scrum for large projects, programs and enterprise transformations. There are several popular Scaling frameworks available including SAFe, Nexus and LeSS. All offer training paths and credentials if that is the direction you want to pursue.
The outward direction means broader than just Scrum. Due to the popularity of Scrum, people sometimes forget there is a rich wealth of complementary approaches outside of it. Lean, kanban, leadership and emotional intelligence are all topics that agile teams can benefit from. Certifications like the PMI-ACP and the ICAgile suite of credentials provide coverage and demonstrate knowledge of these topics. Also, I class Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) here rather than a scaling framework since it is more pragmatic and deals with more than just agile and scaling.
How to Decide: Personal and Environmental Factors?
So, knowing how we got here and a little more about where to go next (and why), we can start to create some pathways. Shown below is a sample flowchart for someone interested in pursuing agile approaches further and wondering what to consider next:
However, maybe you are not interested in agile and want to pursue risk management further. That’s fine; use these personal and environmental factors to create your own framework. Maybe a PMI-RMP (Risk Management Professional) credential fits the bill? My point is that with a wide variety of experiences, goals, motivations and credentials to choose from, there will be a huge array of possible decision trees like this.
The purpose of this article is not to recommend a single path for the half a million CSM’s in the workforce, rather explain a framework for evaluating your options. Don’t be pressured by peers or corporate training road maps. Instead, honestly evaluate why you may want to obtain a new credential—and then which would best fit your development goals.
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