SAFe POPM vs. CSPO - Which Product Owner Certification is The Best?

Comparing SAFe POPM and CSPO certifications for Product Owners. Discover which certification is best for your career and the benefits they offer.

What’s a Product Owner?

A product owner (PO) plays a key role in many projects. A simple definition of a PO is a person who represents the customer’s interests on the team. Typically a PO has a background as a business analyst and has extended their skills to do background research on how businesses operate and map that function to the specifics of how a technical solution can work. They’ll typically work as part of a team to write stories that allow the engineers and designers to tackle key business challenges.

Why Certifications

Certifications are something we encourage at Metal Toad. Both Metal Toad and our team members benefit from certifications.  For Metal Toad, it builds a sense of expertise, quality, and a certainty that our team is trained and capable. For team members, it brings opportunities to learn, challenge themselves, and receive professional development that they can use at Metal Toad and beyond. For our PO practice at Metal Toad, we were looking to identify which certification would be the best for our team.

Our Decision (TL;DR)

The SAFe Product Owner and SAFe Product Manager (SAFe POPM) is great for enterprises with multiple project teams. The Scrum Alliance Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) is ideal for single-team scenarios. Metal Toad works with mid-sized businesses most often and occasionally with enterprise organizations. Given our core market of mid-sized companies, CSPO is the ideal fit. For the situations where we work with enterprise companies, it would be a worthwhile long-term goal for our POs to also learn SAFe POPM to understand the terminology and process flow.

Background Research

The Product Company lists out seven of the best PO certifications in 2022. After reviewing this, we narrowed our choices down to two. Based on our current clients and the clients we were targeting for 2022, the two that make the most sense for Metal Toad are SAFe POPM and CSPO. There are other excellent certifications on the list, but they were not a great fit for us.

Certification Breakdown

Certified SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager (SAFe POPM)

  • Price: $799

  • Rating: 4/5 based on rating from The Product Company 

  • Duration: 2-day course, 1.5-hour exam

The POPM is product ownership credentials unique to the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe).

SAFe is a combination of tried and tested agile practices that are condensed into a single product ownership course that applicants can attain.

SAFe POPM delivers the following competencies:

  • Applying the Agile and/or Lean mindset to product development
  • Product ownership via SAFe Principles and practical methods
  • Writing epics, capabilities, stories, and features
  • Prioritizing value-driven aspects of development
  • Identifying customer needs
  • In addition, certified professionals can identify the most essential market demands on the end-user level and address them via collaboration with operations teams

Who It's For?

SAFe POPM is for anyone looking to articulate the product ownership role better and connect the Agile-Lean principles they learn throughout the course.

There are no specific prerequisites to the certification except for the accompanying two-day course. Some experience in a Lean environment is preferred but not necessary. 

To learn more, visit the Certified SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager from Scaled Agile page here.

Scrum Alliance Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)

  • Price: $1,300
  • Rating: 5/5 based on rating from The Product Company 
  • Duration: 14 hours (live online training), 16 hours (in-person training)

The CSPO certification is a foundational scrum PO training course for primary stakeholders in the scrum team. 

CSPO certification teaches the scrum master hopeful how to own an idea, execute it as needed during a developmental cycle/sprint, and bring it to the relevant audience.

A CSPO delivers a fundamental understanding of the central product ownership principles.

These principles include:

  • Understanding the modern PO role
  • Describing product purpose and development strategy
  • Understanding end-users and/or customers
  • Experimenting with product assumptions
  • Developing and implementing the product backlog

Overall, it's an ideal scrum certification for anyone looking to become familiar with Scrum foundations and the community.

Who It's For?

CSPO certification is for product managers or stakeholders with basic knowledge of the Agile Scrum framework. 

If you have no prior scrum experience, the course provides several resources for you to go through before taking the exam.

To learn more, visit the Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) certification from Scrum Alliance page here.

Wrapping Up

For our team at Metal Toad, the best choice was a near-term goal of getting our product owners to complete the CSPO certification. The longer-term goal is exploring the SAFe POPM certification. While most of our projects are single-team projects where CSPO is the right fit, knowing how to integrate with a much larger enterprise is also useful.  Some of our projects require us to interface with really large teams, knowing the terminology, and more importantly, why you’d choose one framework over another, and what advantages it brings is valuable professional development. 

So, what do you think? Do you have a preferred framework/certification, or why POPM is better than CSPO? Comment below or reach out to us via Twitter and LinkedIn and share your thoughts.

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