Certification Path for Scrum Masters


Great Scrum Masters have a well-developed interpersonal intelligence (an eye for team dynamics), excellent group-facilitation skills, broad (and often deep) experience with Agile Engineering practices and methods, and stubborn irritation with dysfunction.

When I consider the skills and experience I’d expect from a veteran Scrum Master and then think about how a person might attain those skills and experience, I imagine a path like the one illustrated here. I’d expect they’d have experienced excellent Scrum; they’d have explored and studied, perhaps even served, in all team roles; they’d have studied and perhaps experienced numerous complementary practices and frameworks; and they’d have studied and demonstrated their ability to lead teams and facilitate team interaction.

Learning Path for Scrum Masters

The training path depicted above mirrors that experience. For example, the Applysing Professional Scrum (APS) course is a crash-course in Iterative & Incremental Development with self-organizing teams, and is an incredible experience for Scrum Masters at any level. Then, a Scrum Master ought to examine all Scrum Team roles (PSM, PSD, PSPO), complementary frameworks (PSK, SPS, TKP), team leadership (PAL-E, KMP, EBM), and soft skills development (EQ, and facilitation: such as LEGO Serious Play, Training from the Back of the Room).

Certifications for Scrum Masters Explained

Core Scrum.org Courses

Core courses for Scrum Master are illustrated above along the main horizontal path (left to right).

APS: Applying Professional Scrum

A training course (which is an alternate path to PSM I certification) is a hands-on, product development simulation. People describe it as “a profound experience” and it serves well to help people understand real Scrum. The best way to understand Scrum is to experience it. The APS course is a 2-day Scrum simulation. Such an experience is essential, even for people who have worked in Scrum teams — and the classroom environment enables a skilled trainer to produce optimal conditions so that good Scrum can happen.

PSM: Professional Scrum Master

A training course (with a parallel certification) which is an examination of the Scrum Framework, empirical process control theory, and the role of the Scrum Master. This is a flagship course of Scrum.org and a must for every Scrum Master.

PSM II: Professional Scrum Master — Level 2

A training course (with a parallel certification) which provides guided study of self-managing teams, organizational change, and servant leadership. PSM I is a pre-requisite.

PSM III: Professional Scrum Master — Level 3

An exam and certification. PSM I and II are pre-requisites.

PAL-E: Professional Agile Leadership Essentials

For Scrum Masters, this training course (with an accompanying certification: PAL I) would help to:

  • develop practical skills to encourage self-organization / self-management of teams;
  • assess the efficacy of current management practices in light of complex knowledge work and iterative & incremental development.

Related courses are illustrated below the main horizontal path.

PSK: Professional Scrum with Kanban

A training course (with a parallel certification) which covers things like:

  • skills-fluidity across shared services or within self-organizing teams;
  • how to balance demand and capacity in light of knowledge work;
  • how to improve workflow in light of customer-service and operational demands;
  • how to adapt Scrum when “keeping the lights on” appears to contradict Scrum’s insistence upon making ‘done’ product every Sprint.
PSU: Professional Scrum with User Experience

A training course (with a parallel certification) which covers things like:

  • design thinking in light of frequent delivery;
  • proper dual-track development (integration of design and engineering);
  • design is a discipline, not a job title;
  • how LeanUX and Scrum are both Empirical process control frameworks.
PSD: Professional Scrum Developer

A training course (with a parallel certification) which covers things like:

  • foundational programming concepts;
  • Scrum with Agile engineering and DevOps practices;
  • incremental design (e.g. architectural, visual).

Whether or not a Scrum Master has a background in software development, this brief experience certainly helps bridge an empathy gap (if not also a knowledge gap) between development team members and their colleagues and stakeholders.

PSPO: Professional Scrum Product Owner

A training course (with parallel certification) which would help a Scrum Master to:

  • better understand the overlap and differences between the roles of Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Development Team;
  • assess the efficacy of, and help Product Owners to improve, backlog management practices;
  • develop empathy for other roles in a Scrum Team and the stakeholder community.
SPS: Scaled Professional Scrum

A training course (with a parallel certification) which covers things like:

  • Product development with multiple Scrum teams;
  • maintaining high levels of transparency and cohesion in a multi-team environment.
EBM: Evidence-Based Management

Materials and mentorship made available by the Scrum.org community. EBM illustrates techniques and tools to help organizations understand and measure four key value areas:

  • Current value
  • Unrealized value
  • Ability to innovate
  • Time to market

Recommended courses through other organizations (not Scrum.org) are illustrated above the main horizontal path.

EQ: Emotional Intelligence

(Self-study, or pursue master classes with skilled facilitators.) Scrum Masters must have heightened interpersonal and intrapersonal awareness. This is how a Scrum Master can exemplify productive behaviours, understand the emotional state of their teammates; and be an impartial facilitator through difficult conflict.


(Self-study, or pursue master classes with experts.) Scrum Masters must be able to host and facilitate group action and decision-making. Necessary skills include:

  • public-speaking,
  • instructing and training (and curriculum development),
  • coaching and mentoring,
  • event planning and logistics,
  • negotiation,
  • conflict mediation,
  • group facilitation.

A Scrum Master may not start with these abilities, but I’d expect these skills to develop over time.

TKP: Team Kanban Practitioner

A training course (with parallel certification). Kanban is a method which have proven helpful in knowledge work environments to balance demand and capacity within or across teams. Scrum Masters benefit from studying Kanban by learning about throughput metrics and flow-based/pull-based systems.

KMP I and II: Kanban Systems Design & Kanban Management Professional

Two training courses (with a parallel certification: KMP) which would help a Scrum Master to:

  • improve flow within and across teams;
  • develop techniques for upstream planning such as portfolio and program design and prioritization;
  • evaluate the efficacy of current KIPs/metrics in an organization;
  • understand evolutionary organization change, and how it differs from other org change conventions/theories.

All About Certification — A Blog Series: Table of Contents

This article is one part in a series I started in 2019 to address questions that I frequently receive about training courses and certifications.

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