Is Scrum Alliance CSM Certification Legit?

This evening I just happened to be perusing the internets and I came along scrum master certifications.  Now, I have been working in an Agile environment for a few years now.  I really enjoy the whole vibe, and was thinking about wanting to become a Scrum Master. Before everyone freaks out, I realize there are many people who argue the difference between scrum and agile. At our company we are agile, but really lean towards scrum, so a Scrum Master certification might be good. Or maybe not!  You won’t believe this, or maybe you will. Read on…

I did a quick Google search and ran across the Scrum Alliance, I then popped over to their site and checked them out.  I read their mission, found out they are a non-profit professional organization, and some other things.  Okay, looks legit.  So I then checked out their “training” classes, around $1,400 for a two day course. The courses seemed to be offered by different “partners.”  The class descriptions promise that all information needed for the exam will be presented.  Cool, sounds good.  Then I went back over to the Scrum Alliance site and read their FAQ page, and that’s when it all fell apart.

You need to visit the Scrum Alliance Certification FAQ, but if you can’t I have highlighted a couple of items I found interesting.  The first one says that you have to take the course in order to take the exam.

Can I become certified without taking a course?

No. It is our belief that true learning requires hands-on practice and in-person training. The CSM evaluation is not offered as a replacement for formal training.

Translation, you need to make sure a partner of ours gets their money before you take our 60 question exam.  You are not allowed to study, pay a fee and take the test.  Wonder why?

The second point that makes me realize that a CSM certification is absolutely worthless from the Scrum Alliance.

Can I retake the evaluation if I score poorly?

No. Currently, you are allowed only one attempt at the evaluation. Once you have completed the evaluation you will be granted Certified ScrumMaster status regardless of your score. If you score poorly, however, you will receive feedback detailing where you are deficient and what resources you should study to improve. When you apply to become a Certified Scrum Professional, you will be held accountable for all of the information contained in the evaluation.

Wha… Wha… WHAT! You mean I can not fail the evaluation? No matter what I will be a Certified Scrum Professional!?  Are you kidding me?  Can you imagine failing a drivers test and still being able to get your license?  How about failing a class and the teacher still passes you?  If I ever see a resume with a CSM cert from the Scrum Alliance I am going to be very skeptical.  Based on their own FAQs how could anyone take the certification seriously?  This strikes me as offering certifications for sale, not based on knowledge.  I really feel for the people who are good Scrum Masters, scored high on the evaluation, and received this certification.  No one will know if they are any better than the next person.  That is really too bad.

So as it stands, I am no longer interested in getting a scrum master certification.  Instead I will continue to learn and develop by actually doing, and learning on my own.  If someone wants to see a CSM cert, then I don’t think I want to work with them or for them.  So visit the Scrum Alliance site and ask yourself the question “is Scrum Alliance CSM certification legit?”

8 thoughts on “Is Scrum Alliance CSM Certification Legit?

  1. While I totally agree with what you’re saying, upon further examination I feel just a little differently. If you take a look at the different certifications Agile Alliance offers, the CSM (certified scrum master) is more of an introduction (just give an effort to learn kind of thing). I do agree that paying a large amount of money for this seems ridiculous; however, they do offer other certifications that do require you to either pass an evaluation or in the case of the CSP (certified scrum professional), demonstrate you’re ability in other ways.

    It seems like after forking out the cash for the class and getting your guaranteed CSM, it’s then up to you to take it further and obtain some of the advanced certifications (which seem to require little in terms of money but a lot in terms of time and effort on your part). I for example would be interested in getting the CSD (certified scrum developer) certification, which does at least require you to pass an evaluation, thus providing a little more meaning as opposed to the CSM.

    The optimistic part of me sees the Agile Alliance as offering the CSM in the manner they do as an open invitation to learn and take part in scrum, helping to encourage and cultivate excitement about agile. It’s then up to you to prove yourself and take it to the next step.

    The other part of me is right there with you and says “look here guys, another greedy organization looking to take your hard earned dollar and in return give you a meaningless certification for which the only requirement is having the cash”.

    Usually I tend to lead towards the latter but I’m trying to be the optimist :) .

  2. Hi Adrian,

    I agree with pretty much everything you say here. The Scrum Alliance is a “non-profit” set up so partners can make “huge profit”. You are correct in that observation. The online test is a sham, its only possible value is to tell an individual where they might focus to improve their knowledge. So indeed, be deeply skeptical of the letters CSM on a resume. I wish more followed your common sense. I know a high school student who has the CSM certificate. He has never had a job nor written a line of code. There’s your CSM base line.

    However, I do want to differ with you on one point (more an academic one than anything else). To learn Scrum well, to learn it effectively you have to experience it. Much of this experience can come on the job, but when you don’t know what you don’t know it is hard to make the necessary mindshift and practical adjustments needed. You can read books for some of this, for sure, but the experience you may get in a well-facilitated and highly interactive class will be a kick-start, and may offer some profound aha! moments. Is it worth $1,400? Probably not, but the price does vary — however NOT in alignment with quality, so be careful.

    Disclosure: I teach Scrum. I don’t teach CSM any longer, and I am not a Scrum Alliance partner. I believe my workshops offer great value, and the fact that I am still working in this field, without offering certificates, indicates that may be true.

    If you change your mind about CSM, or find that it will help your career in some way (yes, sadly it has come to this) I’d be happy to give you a short list of CSM trainers that in my opinion are the best in the business. You should also research the individual trainer (and where a company is listed in place of a real person, forget it). Not all trainers will offer the rich experience I allude to here, so choose wisely.

  3. I totally agree with Adrian Pomilio post, any certification required to master water fall or iterative models? why we need pay lots of money for certification which does not have pass criteria? In a practical situation, Agile should be adopted at organizational level for a improved software development. Then Oraganizations has to train, coach their staff and provide internal certifications. This will resolve the purpose.

    AS certified scrum masters growing, the value of these certification impacted

  4. Part of me is saying SCM is for sale.
    The other part of me is saying Scrum Alliance is out to make money just like any other organized crime organizations. This one just happens to be “not-for-profit.”
    The whole me is saying I should never pay $1400 for a PDF file even though I am a non-certified scrum coach at major enterprises.

  5. While I agree that they maybe hungry for money… Scrum is strong and so CSM.

    e.g. Wall Street is moving to Scrum!

  6. I agree with what has been discussed here so far. But I would suggest you to take a look at http://www.SCRUMStudy.com. SCRUMStudy.com looks pretty different and their methodoly is really interesting and effective. I personally felt it stands out for the quality of the materials provided..

  7. CSM gets a bad rap. All certifications are worthless similar to college and graduate degrees. Nothing beats hands-on work experience. An MS degree in computer science doesn’t guarantee that someone is a hardworking productive contributor. I’ve worked with plenty of IT “geniuses” whom have zero work ethic.

  8. If you keep digging, you will find multiple Scrum certification sites out there. Each have some ridiculous guidelines for certification, most requiring a 2 day class. However, I came across this site and for a whopping $29 you can study thier free content and then register for the CSM exam which consists of 50 questions and has a required passing score of 60%.

    Then there is http://www.scrum.org that also provides online content along with links to instructor led training courses ranging in the neighborhood of $2,000. OR you can take their online assessment and if you feel you already posses the appropriate amount of knowledge you can register to take their certification test for $100.

    Since there is no official regulating body for scrum certifications, like PMP, CPA, etc. I suggest one is as good as the other! I agree with most of the other posts here, that unless you have actual experience managing scrum projects the only thing that certification represents is a base level of knowledge at best. Employers would be smart to require hands on experience over the CSM certification if their goal is to hire resources who will know what they are doing!