Friday, February 20, 2009

Certified Scrum Master .... the Big Lie!

At last night's APLN DC meeting, we were fortunate enough to have Scott Ambler present his talk on Scaling Agile Software Development: Reality over Rhetoric. Overall it was a good presentation with some nice takeaways. One thing that was noticeable was Scott's views on Scrum, CSM, Ken Schwaber. I will save most of these topics for future blogs, however I will address Scott's view on the 2 day Certified Scrum Master course.

Scott believes that the 2 day CSM course is a scam, a big lie, complete shenanigans. He believes that any professional should be ashamed if they put CSM in their email tags or business cards. And truth be told, I agree with him.

To take a 2 day course and, with no pre-qualifications, no exam, no peer review, no kind of validation or verification at all, become a Certified Scrum MASTER is deficient. Armed with only this 2 day course, one is most certainly NOT a master and is most likely NOT ready to implement Scrum without additional coaching/mentoring/help. We really should call the class what it is, a 2 day boot camp introducing Scrum.

The course itself is generally an excellent course, but one should understand what it does. The class helps the student understand the meaning of Agile and Scrum. It helps the student shift their mindset from a traditional/PMI/waterfall/EVM (EVM, one of the biggest LIES in he industry, definitely more on that in a future blog) base to an Agile/iterative/value/delivery mindset. It provides an overview of how to do Scrum and a general starting point on Scrum. For those already using Scrum or familiar with Scrum, it helps them walk through some of their thoughts, problems, and ideas. Hopefully by the end of the class, the student will be armed with some knowledge of how to implement Scrum, and more importantly, what it means to implement Scrum.

Scrum provides good process, artifacts, tools, foundation, and framework, but there are quite a few implementation details that need to be worked out and tailored to the environment. The actual implementation is quite tricky. It requires experience, expertise, and intelligence. Most people will need help if they hope to succeed just at the project level. To tackle it at an organizational level becomes an even greater challenge.

So really, understand that not all CSM's are created equal. There are some great ones out there and there are some who just had $1500 in their pockets and 2 free days to kill.


  1. Hi Richard,

    I've been talking to some CSM about their certification experience, and their impressions are really different. As you've seen from my report I was quite happy with the outcome: we had a 3-days class instead of the standard one with some pre-requirements that avoided us being stuck into the basis. Some colleagues were not that lucky and were really disappointed at the end.

    However the term "Master" is largely misleading, "Apprentice" would probably be better. What we've learned was that we were not even halfway through to become "masters", I ended up having a list of more than 50 books to read (even though I'read a lot on the topic in these years) in fields that I thought had nothing to do with software, and I learned there are different perspectives on problems which I haven't thought of before. But that's good news. ...The really stupid thing to do is to pretend that you're a "master" just because you followed the class.

    Mentioning CSM on the business card is arguable, it might be pointless vanity ...but sometimes the fault is on the reader's side rather than on the writer's. And few things are dumbest than the job market.


  2. Alberto, I think the class itself is very good and the general feedback I have had from people who have attended the course is that they found it very useful (but in no way qualifies anyone to be a master). "Apprentice" is a great name idea.

    In all fairness, my business card does have PMP, CSM, CSP on it, but that is largely a marketing/vanity thing :) Out of those, the one that probably I get the most satisfaction from is the CSP in that it is reviewed and approved by my peers in the Scrum community (the pmp is tough, but it's mainly a memorization test).

  3. This applies for any certification, PMP, CSM, Java, Linux... You can pass to some certifications only studying for about one month. But this does not mean you have any experience with that methodology or technology. Anything you put in your CV you will need to prove someday. So, if you do the course, you are a CSM, and if needed you will need to prove!

  4. Rafael, I agree with you in that there probably are issues with all certifications. My problem with CSM is the name and the fact that the ONLY qualification to being a CSM is being able to pay the CSM training fee.

    I will say that there are things a certification can try to do to ensure quality and standards. In not a PMP fan (though I am a PMP), but the PMP tries to do some of this by requiring a minimum number of real world project management hours to be eligible for the exam.

    Which brings up exams. I think exams are good in that one usually needs to study to pass an exam. The value isn't in the exam itself, but rather in the studing for the exam. Studying is a path towards understanding. You get to think about concepts that you may be using regularly and a good student should question what they read and come to their own conclusions. Passing an exam to be certified does not make one an expert, but they should have at least some level of knowledge in that area, though the knowledge may be short term memorization or purely academic knowledge not truly applicable to real world scenerios.

    I think the certifications with some of the best standards may be a peer/expert review type certification, like a thesis or CSP (btw, not comparing a thesis to a CSP). This is great in that you expose yourself to others in the field and they can subjectively evaluate you based on some standards. Not perfect, but better than some alternatives.

  5. I tend to agree with the comments above. Ceritifactions generally mean you have attended some course and may have had to take a test that required augmenting what you already know about a topic. Having a cert can remove some barrier for folks who have that on their list of requirements for a job. It's a good keyword spam filtering agent for folks who do not know much about the actual position. So, having the cert may get you past the CV screeners and to the phone screen or interview. Afterwards if you don't know your stuff, you will be toast.

    Does having a cert mean you know anything? No, not really. Means you knew enough at the time you took the cert to pass the exam (if there is one).

    Should you get a cert of any kind. Sure, it's another notch that shows some form of dedication to your profession. It's another way of showing continuing education that your CV may not show.

    My beef with CSM. Not sure why I need to shell out $1200 for a 2-3 day course that requires no exam that covers material I have already read and using techniques I've been using since before SCRUM existed. That is my frustration.

    Is the course good? I'm sure it is as many others have indicated. It is probably a good course for folks who have companies that will pay the cost to send a small group to so they may bring back the knowledge to the collective.

    For me as a consultant, it might be useful if it truly allows me to differentiate myself amongst other contractor/consultants. (Though I have been participating or running scrum projects for over 6 years without the benefit of this course). Just my 2 cents worth.

  6. CSM should be renamed Scrum Foundation Level or similar.

    I just completed my CSM including the new online evaluation (100% guaranteed pass rate). There was an hour allotted to complete the test. After 15 minutes I had completed 23 questions - got a couple wrong because I didn't read the question properly. Anyhow, I was all set to move on to section 2....but no THAT WAS IT!

    To be clear, the course was certainly valuable and while the test could have been a lot more challenging it did at least measure some basic proficiency. However using the term "Master" in connection with this qualification is utterly misleading.

  7. I just took this course. I'm no MASTER at scrum after taking it, but I do know enough to perform the ScrumMaster role - which isn't a "Master" at all - but a facilitor, mentor, and process advocate. If they had called it "Certified Scrum Facilitator" would you have been happier? That's what it really is. It really doesn't make any difference what it is called though, does it?

    The defect is not in the class, it's in the name of the role. "Master" implies serious expertise. This role requires some good level of expertise, but not the superior level as the name would indicate.

  8. Technically speaking, CSM is NOT a recognized credential; There is no "Standards Body". For example, PMP is a legitimate credential as it is managed by the PMI, has set standards one must first meet to qualify for the credential, and continuing requirements to maintain the credential. One can also be stripped of their PMP credential upon malpractice. Same cannot be said of CSM.

    CSM is just 3 worthless letters after your name that tend to make you look somewhat grasping for recognition.


  9. Bryan, the CSM is recognized and authorized by the ScrumAlliance. See

  10. For that matter all certifications are nothing but money laundering business.This is a moneymaking business,continuous certifications,PDU's.Imagine earning Engineering degree every 4 years.

  11. I attended your CSM training in Bangalore. I must say that this was THE BEST training I have attended in the last many years. Your way of conducting the session and method of presenting the Scrum concepts was excellent. Examples/case studies were very good and very close to real-life scenarios.I have been practising Scrum since June 2009 and got the answer to many queries in this training. BTW, I passed the CSM exam with 97%."

  12. Hi,

    I think master is CSM is more to do with the role, scrum master! The 'certified' part is perhaps over stated. But if you want to do a couse and get some recognition, then this is one way. You could also spend some money on a one week course with certificate, only a piece paper that said you attended, I have a lot of these. 'C',Ada,Oracle,VDM,Informatica.
    I want an in-depth course on Scrum not necessarily to the rigor of PMI.

    Pouring cold water on other credentials to make yours appear superior is a bit small!

  13. For my two cents.. I took the Professional Scrum Master exam in Feb to validate what I was doing in "real life" against the standard and passed it comfortably. My employer engaged with a 3rd party (RadTac) to do a 2-day course and Certified Scrum Master exam (ScrumAlliance). I found the PSM exam more challenging but I found the CSM exam more worthwhile. Personally while evaluating potential employees I would take both qualifications with a pinch of salt but both would set my expectations of the candidate at a certain level. I would never hire anyone on the basis of either.

  14. I don't have a problem if someone got his CSM on 2-days as long as he can prove his abilities (through continuous learning) and he can ship an effective working software.

  15. I agree with the above comments about what you get for the price of the course. I personally purchased a book and got enough out of it to work as a scum master at a startup. We all joke about the term "master" but doesn't it really refer to the person as a "master of ceremonies" in that official host the daily scrum? I think that is the intended meaning of the title.

  16. :- Hi , I am pondering over attending any PMP prep course / PMP classes to get PMP credentials. What are your thoughts? Would that be worth the money spent professionally?

  17. Scrum study also has interesting ways to teach the students for
    agile scrum certification ( Scrum Master Certification ) courses. check their website for some free introductory course in scrum

  18. Hi, we use Scrum org wide for project management, and its working well compared to waterfall method. As part of company sponsored training, I also got my agile scrum certification Scrum Master Certification recently.

  19. Hi , I am pondering over attending any PMP prep course / PMP classes to get PMP credentials. What are your thoughts? Would that be worth the money spent professionally?

    1. Hi Ella

      I have just seen your post. Did you go for the PMP in the end?

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  21. Oh my goodness, paying thousands of dollars to be hammered with communist propaganda in software development, erm, Scrum. What next, I wonder. Thank you politburo, erm, Scrum alliance.

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