If you have a knack for attention to detail, meeting tight deadlines, and coming up with creative solutions to complex problems, you’re a perfect fit for the role of product owner. However, to become a legit profile and showcase your talent, it is advised to complete a product owner certification.
As a critical component of an agile team, companies can’t afford to hire incompetent profiles for this role. Candidates should convince their potential employers that they are proficient in the art of agile, know prioritization of tasks, and effectively manage product backlogs. And the best way to do that is by becoming a certified PO.
To help you out, in this post, I’ll list down and review 7 well-recognized product owner certification options in 2021. Let’s jump right in.
What is a Product Owner Certification?
A product owner certification shows that you know how to work with a scrum team, whose main responsibility is to maximize the value of the product deliverables. This entails defining the product backlog, overseeing the execution of tasks accordingly, and ensuring that the deliverables meet the definitions of “Done.” According to the scrum guide, the product owner role is accountable for the final results delivered by the development team. In parallel, your product owner certification shows that you understand the process to ensure the final results are good results.
While the product owners don’t necessarily always have the highest authority, interference in their decisions is highly discouraged, as it defeats the purpose of the position. Furthermore, it’s important to note that the product owner is different from the scrum master. And sometimes a "product manager." In companies doing Agile, 70% of Product Managers are Product Owners. While the former mainly deals with product backlog management, the latter is considered a “champion” of the scrum methodology and is responsible for communicating updates to outside members (such as people in the boardroom).
Top Product Owner Certifications
As implied earlier, companies pay extra attention when hiring for the role of PO. After all, they’re not going to just hand over the product ownership of their million-dollar ideas to anybody. Having an impressive resume is nice, but some employers require proof of your competence – like the completion of certification courses.
While not mandatory to call yourself a PO (or deliver a successful product, for that matter), if you want to grab the attention of potential employers, you should invest in relevant scrum product owner training and appear in renowned certification exams. There are a bunch of product management courses online that you can enroll yourself. But when it comes to product owner certification options, the following are recognized everywhere in the world:
2. Professional Scrum Product Owner™ Certifications
The very first option on the list is the Professional Scrum Product Owner Certification (short for PSPO, if that’s a mouthful). Offered by Scrum.org, the PSPO is one of the most well-recognized scrum certifications out there. PSPO-certified professionals are highly regarded in the industry, as the examination is tough and tests candidates on the principles of scrum. As of now, there are three levels or tiers of the PSPO certification, with a higher tier indicating a higher level of knowledge. These include:
- PSPO I – this is a beginner-level certification that demonstrates basic knowledge of scrum. Despite being the most basic certification, the holders of PSPO I are highly regarded by employers. As of now, the assessment costs $200.
- PSPO II – holders of this certification demonstrate more advanced knowledge than that of PSPO I holders. PSPO II tests candidates on all core and additional topics, from product backlog management to business strategy. The price of the PSPO II assessment is $250.
- PSPO III – this is the highest level of certification, demonstrating an illustrious understanding of the Scrum framework. The assessment for PSPO III will set you back by $500.
The PSPO assessment is a 60-minute long exam, consisting of 80 multiple-choice questions. Out of all the certifications available right now, PSPO is easily the most challenging one to complete. Furthermore, keep in mind that the PSPO is taken in the English language only.
Compared to other product owner certification options, the PSPO is more flexible in terms of its prerequisites. In fact, there are no special requirements to fulfill. You don’t even need to attend any special lectures or classes to take the assessments, however, it’s highly recommended.
3. Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO)
Next on the list is Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) accreditation – offered by the Scrum Alliance, that’s also famous for its Certified Scrum Master (CSM) option. The CSPO is one of the two most distinguished certifications out there (with PSPO being the other one). A CSPO-certified professional demonstrates a highly advanced level of knowledge regarding the scrum framework. To be specific, the certification will test your fundamental knowledge of scrum and your ability to achieve the product vision. Furthermore, keep in mind that the CSPO doesn’t have a test. All you need to do is to complete a course/receive training (more on that later). Once you become CSPO-certified, your name will be added to the official directory of the Scrum Alliance.
Unlike PSPO, the CSPO certification has a few requirements that you must fulfill. Here’s what you have to do before appearing for the assessment:
- You must attend a two-day course taught by a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST). Alternatively, you may choose to receive coaching from a Certified Agile Coach (CAC).
- You must also receive either 14-hour long training from your CST or 25 hours of interaction with your CAC.
After completing the aforementioned requirements, you must accept the license agreement and finish building your profile on Scrum Alliance. Furthermore, Scrum Alliance offers a 2-year membership at a time. This means that after every 2 years, you’ll have to renew your certification. Additionally, you’ll be required to maintain your certification by consistently earning Scrum Education Units (SEUs) from Scrum Alliance.
4. SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager
Provided by Scaled Agile, the SAFe® Product Owner/Product Manager certification is a two-day course aimed at preparing professionals in the art of agile. After the completion of this course, attendees walk out with a deep understanding of:
- DevOps culture
- Agile Release Train (ART)
- Backlog management
- Execution of iterations
Upon completion of the course, you’ll also receive a certification that you can use as proof of your knowledge. Furthermore, this training course will also enable you to appear for the SAFe® 5 Product Owner/Product Manager or the SAFe® 4 Product Owner/Product Manager (POPM) exam. These are both 90-minute long assessments that include 45 multiple-choice questions (MCQs). For the POPM 5, candidates need to get at least 33 out of the 45 questions right, whereas, for the POPM 4, they need to score at least 35.
There are no prerequisites to attend the SAFe® POPM course. According to the website, everyone is “welcome to attend the course.” However, the organization recommends attending one of the SAFe® courses and having hands-on experience/relevant certifications. Completing the course will give you a certification and grant you a 1-year membership to the SAFe community. As for the SAFe® POPM 4 and POPM 5 exams, you must complete the POPM course.
5. PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)®
This next option isn’t exactly a “product owner certification,” per se, but rather a broad certification that demonstrates everything. The Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® is offered by the Project Management Institute and tests your knowledge on agile principles. This certification not only covers the scrum foundations, but Test-Driven Development (TDD), Kanban, Extreme Programming (XP), and Lean as well. Considering that, the PMI-ACP will help you demonstrate an all-around knowledge of the agile framework, making you proficient in different approaches, thereby opening doors to a greater number of possibilities. To get this certification, you’ll have to appear in a 3-hour exam that includes 120 multiple-choice questions. For PMI members, the fee is $435, whereas non-members have to pay $495.
The PMI-ACP certification exam has some of the most stringent requirements, including:
- At least a secondary-level degree
- 8 months of experience with agile project(s), acquired within the last 3 years
- 12 months of general project experience accumulated within the last 5 years
- 12 contact hours of training in agile
To maintain your PMI-ACP certification, every 3 years, you’ll need to earn 30 professional development units (PDUs) in relevant topics.
6. Your Scrum Product Owner Accredited Certification™
The “Your Scrum Product Owner Accredited Certification™” program is offered by the Scrum Institute. Holders of this certification demonstrate fundamental knowledge of the scrum methodology and are considered fit for the product owner role. What makes this product owner certification special is that it lasts a lifetime and doesn’t require you to renew it every few years. Your Scrum Product Owner Accredited Certification™ exam lasts an hour and includes 50 multiple-choice questions. You need to get at least 60% of your answers right to pass the exam. As of now, the assessment costs $99, making it one of the more affordable certifications). What I like most about this certification is that the Scrum Institute offers a 100% money-back guarantee in case you’re unable to clear it in your first attempts (you can reappear for free for up to 10 times and can demand a full refund after your last try).
There are no special requirements to complete Your Scrum Product Owner Accredited Certification™. All you have to do is to register yourself for the certification program. You’ll then receive special preparation material and an “exam access code.” This code doesn’t expire, meaning you can take as long as you want to prepare for the exam.
7. EXIN Agile Scrum Product Owner
The last certification on the list is the EXIN Agile Scrum Product Owner program. This certification will help you demonstrate advanced proficiency in agile principles – especially scrum practices – making you an ideal profile for product ownership. It will test you on how you can take on the product owner role, your ability to handle complex projects, and how you can deliver value, among other things. The exam lasts 90 minutes, consists of 40 MCQs, and is available in 7 languages (English, Latin American Spanish, Brazilian, French, Portuguese, German, and Dutch). The examination fee isn’t fixed and will vary from country to country.
To appear for the EXIN Agile Scrum Product Owner exam, you’ll need to complete an EXIN Accredited EXIN Agile Scrum Product Owner training program and practical assignments
How to Become a Great Product Owner
Will completing one of the aforementioned certifications make you a great product owner? It will certainly give you the competitive edge you need over your peers. To prepare for any certification, you’ll need to:
- Develop a knack for project management (all product owners are project managers in a way)
- Know how to define user stories and turn them into actual features
- Rally your team members and work towards the product vision
- Develop product roadmaps effectively, as prioritizing is key
- Have some level of experience/exposure to software development
Last but not least, having a firm belief in the agile manifesto is a prerequisite. After building these foundations, you can worry about choosing an appropriate product owner certification to excel in your career. While your decision could vary based on your goals and budget, out of all the options listed earlier, the best ones are the PSPO and CSPO. But that doesn’t mean that completing another program would make others question your abilities.