5 Recommendations on How Much To Invest in Agile and Scrum Courses

Are you considering getting formally trained or certified in agile methodologies or scrum? Are you looking to become a certified scrum master, or maybe get trained in an agile framework such as SAFe or LeSS, or specialize in agile transformation with classes like StarCIO Agile Planning?

Agile and Scrum Certifications

I receive inquiries from friends, colleagues, and leaders on agile and scrum training and certifications regularly. Some come from companies looking to train departments on agile, and others are individuals who want to invest in their expertise and careers. 

Now, there are many agile and scrum related books, podcasts, videos, courses, workshops, conferences, mentors, and coaches. Just researching this article, and I've found hundreds of options. And it can be daunting to search, review, and sift through.

My first response when it comes to anything agile is that agile is not a one-size-fits-all for organizations, teams, or individuals. You have to understand yourself and your goals, interests, and strengths before searching for options. 

You also have to consider the time budget you can dedicate, access to experts, and your willingness to invest in your career.

So allow me to break this down for you with the following recommendations and decision factors you should consider when seeking agile and scrum training or certifications.

1. Your Targeted Agile Role: Stakeholder, Teammate, Team leader, Organizational Leader

It's fair to say that the more significant the agile role and responsibilities you target, the more training and experience you should seek. Leaders must have the confidence to perform agile roles and responsibilities with excellence. 

As do people joining agile teams for the first time and stakeholders who are unfamiliar with agile methodologies. 

To simplify, here are two scenarios:

Agile for Newbies

If you're new to agile and joining an agile team, there are many options to learn the terminology and the basics of scrum methodologies. The least expensive option might start with online guides such as The Scrum Guide, Scrum via Atlassian, and What to Expect. There are also YouTube short videos on Introduction to Scrum and What is Agile.

If you are new to agile and want to go deeper into agile methodologies, there are many books and courses. I would recommend reviewing the classics, including Sutherland's The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time or Mike Cohn's Essential Scrum.

Then there are video class options. For example, as of this writing, Udemy lists 73 scrum courses for beginners, with a 4.5+ rating, that can be completed in under two hours. Linked Learning has 111 scrum courses for beginners, but the majority of them are under ten minutes and may not go very deep.

My friends and clients encouraged me to record a scrum class for newbies that I called, Everybody can be Agile. What's different about my course is that it spends a lot of time on why agile and it's designed for agile teammates and stakeholders.

Agile for Team and Organizational Leaders

If you have experience with agile and are seeking training or certifications on becoming a scrum master, product owner, agile coach, or transformational leader, then there still many choices to consider. CIO recently reviewed nine scrum master certifications, there's a good list from BMC of agile certifications, and a Google search will fill your screen with too many options to consider. One book I recommend for everyone trying to understand agile leadership is J.J. Sutherland's excellent book, The Scrum Fieldbook.

If you're trying to become a product owner/manager, then you must consider whether you prefer product-oriented certifications that cover agile methodologies or agile/scrum courses that focus on the product owner role. This is also true for agile technical leadership roles.

Add coaching, transformation, or organizational leadership certifications, and there's often a requirement of taking one or more prerequisite classes. 

So if your goal is to take on agile leadership roles, we have to dig deeper into your experiences, targeted work environments, and learning styles before browsing and researching options. 

2. Your Experience with Agile and Scrum

If you've practiced agile and scrum in only one or two organizations and/or teams, then you may have a limited lens into the breadth and depth of agile methodologies. The experience is essential, but many people walk away with a narrow view of agile-based on what worked once during their experiences. 

What worked in your past may not work for your next assignment, role, and organization. Many factors go into enabling agile practices, cultures, and mindsets, and so leaders must adjust their approach depending on circumstances. 

As I say many times in my workshops and courses, agile isn't a rigid process, and following regimented agile frameworks often fail. Agile is a toolbox of practices that must be adjusted based on organizational culture, standards, compliance factors, innovation charters, people skills, technology platforms, among other factors.

So if you have a narrow or limited agile lens, that's ok! My advice is to explore. Find books and courses that enable you to learn a lot in different areas without too much investment in time and cost. Then, only go after courses/certifications once you know what areas you want to go deep into.

Some starting points. And seriously, these are starting points. There's a Google body of knowledge out there on agile.

3. What's Your Learning Style

There's a misconception that the best way to immerse yourself in a subject is by taking a course. One of my businesses is selling workshops, courses, and certifications, but I will also concede that it's not the best approach for everyone. Some people just do better with books, audiobooks, podcasts, videos, or just researching on the web around different topics.

Part of knowing thyself is understanding what learning works best for you for the subject matter you're focused on. You might find that for a technical subject, you want to be in a course with a lab, but for agile, you're more interested in video guides.

But this is important:
Whatever format works for you - make a commitment to start, learn regularly, and apply what you know. I see all too often people embark on a learning journey and never complete it. 

4. Where are you Applying Agile

StarCIO Agile Course Selector

Let's consider the following questions on the scope of agile you work on today and what you are interested in pursuing in the future.

  • Types of initiatives - Are you applying agile in software development, or are you looking to use it more broadly in agile data science or agile IT operations? Are you working on customer-facing initiatives, back office, middleware, workflow, or integrations?
  • Department focus - Or maybe you're looking to apply agile methodologies in marketing, sales, finance, operations, or HR. As I said in a recent video, Agile is Everywhere
  • Organization - Are your teams collocated, or are you distributed globally? Do you work for a company, or want to, that prizes innovation, speed, and self-organizing teams, or one that is more conservative, structured, and hierarchical?
  • Company size - Large enterprises are more likely to have agile in areas of innovation or are investing in a framework that helps scale or standardize their agile practices. Smaller organizations are less likely to have invested in a framework and more likely to want to develop their own agile cultures and mindsets based on their leaders' best practices.
  • Platforms - Are you applying agile only for innovation, or are you using agile in support or to manage legacy systems?
  • Compliance - Are you applying agile in regulated industries where agile practices might go through SOC audits or have compliance factors in how agile teams operate?
Consider plotting your answers on a graph showing the scope and complexity of the agile work you are doing. The greater the scope and complexity, the more likely you should seek courses and certifications over self-learning approaches. If you are in the far upper quadrant, then you should seek out courses that address your focus areas.

5. How does an Investment in Agile Training Benefit Your Career?

The first four questions should help steer you on the type of learning and training that you should consider seeking. They should help make you a better-informed shopper.

But now the time and money question needs answering. How much should you invest in time, effort, and money into learning agile practices and methodologies?

Here's my general advice by scenario:
  • Consider inexpensive books, websites, podcasts, videos, and guide: If you are a self-learner and agile methodologies are a small part of the knowledge and expertise required for your job. If historically, you have developed enough confidence in your expertise without a grade or a certificate. If the courses you want are expensive, you can't afford them, and your employer isn't funding the learning. If you are more likely to seek work in industries or companies where having certifications isn't going to make you more employable.
  • Seek specialty classes: Be prepared to invest in the low thousands of dollars when you are trying to become an expert in your role. If you're trying to become an expert at transformation or culture change, it might require a mix of classes, self-learning, and mentorships. Your knowledge and confidence in applying the subject matter are likely to be more important than the brand on the certificate.
  • Seek branded certifications: If you are more likely to work in larger, more conservative companies where branded certifications are sought or might make you more employable. These courses can run from $1-2K to become certified in a framework to $5K+ if you seek classes by renowned universities.
I hope you find this useful, but if you are still confused or just want some advice, please reach out to me with your questions.

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld, CIO.com, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.