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Scrum Certification Test

by Mark Levison on Nov 06, 2008 |

On many occasions various members of the agile community have complained that the Scrum Certification is meaningless because almost everyone who takes the class gets a certificate. Michael James, of Danube technologies, writes as of Jan 1. 2009 that will no longer be the case.

At the Scrum Gathering in Stockholm this fall attendees (already CSM's and CST's) were asked to write a Beta version of the test. The current version is a multiple choice test whose goal is find out whether the testee has a minimal amount of knowledge about Scrum.  Simon Kirk took the test and found it to be fairly good - even testing his understanding of the Agile Manifesto. Tom Mellor, CST with State Farm, said that his score was 84/100 and that was the average for the trainers who took the test. In addition he noted the sigma was low and the highest score was 89.

Mike Dwyer, Agile Coach at BigVisible Solutions, would prefer a deeper test: "Take any topic in Scrum and require the student to list three valid arguments for and against it.  Then to describe their position and why. There should be no more than three questions answered and at least 10 questions asked. I do not want agreement here, I want well thought out responses  because we are all about emergence and learning." While Peter Stevens, of Scrum Breakfast, would like a role playing test. The testee would be given a series of situations or challenges like the Daily Scrum from Hell. Their score would relate to how well they handled the situation.

Tobias Mayer, of Agile Thinking, sees value in the test saying it:

...encourages participants of a CSM course to take time to read books, papers, blogs and join discussion groups in order to improve their academic understanding of Scrum, either prior to the training or subsequently (the test is to be taken online, after the training is completed). In other words, it encourages the potential CSMs to take responsibility for their own learning and not just expect to be spoon-fed a certificate after two days of sitting in a class.

Alistair Cockburn, author of  Agile Software Development, feels the underlying problem runs deeper than just a test. He says that people attend the CSM course looking for a Scrum Bootcamp and so certifying them as ready to be Scrum Masters is beside the point. He feels that "thousands of people have CSM certificates without possibly even knowing basic Scrum rules, the CSM course has become the defacto Scrum Bootcamp course". He suggests that it is in the interest of Scrum community to introduce a Scrum Bootcamp course that is targeted for most people and use that as the introduction to the Scrum Master course that will be of interest to only a few thousand people.

Finally Tom Mellor, a member of the Scrum Alliance Board, reminded us that:

Ken initially created the CSM as a bit of a thumb-of-the-nose to PMI.  He never intended the course to be about teaching people to be ScrumMasters; he wanted people to understand ("master") the concepts, principles, and rules of Scrum.  Of course, no one, including Ken, predicted Scrum would become so widely popular.  Based upon the immense growth of the CSM, it was the decision of the Scrum Alliance Board of Directors to put a level of credibility around the certification through a testing process - an element that was conspicuously missing.  That decision arose plainly and simply out of a recognition of demand by many organizations and people to put an element of integrity to the certification.

Previously on items on InfoQ that touch on related aspects of certifcation: We Vouch For and Martin Fowler on Avoiding Common Scrum Pitfalls

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this is a good start... by Kevin E. Schlabach

I have been critical of this certification in the past even though I hold it myself. Too many people are putting CSM behind their name like PMP or even PHD. It conveys the idea that the acronym contains an education and experience level above and beyond the average person... like a PHD. But this wasn't true in its old form.

By starting down this path, there is hope to put value in that little acronym and start putting credibility in this process again. The question is, how do we differentiate the folks that gained this certification before and after this change? Think of it from the view of a person screening resumes and trying to hire someone.

Re: this is a good start... by Mark Levison

Thanks Kevin - personally I like Alistair's suggestion - but since that is unlikely to happen this is a real improvement.

So, what is a "bootcamp"? by Deborah Hartmann

Alistair Cockburn "says that people attend the CSM course looking for a Scrum Bootcamp and so certifying them as ready to be Scrum Masters is beside the point."

So, what exactly is meant by "bootcamp" here? What value would a Scrum Bootcamp provide that CSM doesn't? Would this correspond to the "Scrum Team Training" some trainers offer, in addition to the CSM course?

Certainly team members have different questions than the ScrumMaster does, ime.

Re: So, what is a by Mark Levison

I think Bootcamp is a course for team members who want to understand the basics of Agile/Scrum with out knowing enough to be Scrum Master.

Re: So, what is a "bootcamp" by Dave Rooney

I think Bootcamp is a course for team members who want to understand the basics of Agile/Scrum with out knowing enough to be Scrum Master.

My brother-in-law just went through this... two days of training, but not the third since he wouldn't be a ScrumMaster.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. When I coach teams (albeit not for Scrum), I involve everyone equally for the whole session. Indeed, when using simulations, I purposefully avoid having people in their natural roles during the simulation. I find that it leads to a better appreciation of what all team members are doing, and even provides some cross-pollination of skills.

Having said that, I do this in the context of a training workshop for a team that I will be actively coaching. I haven't used that approach for a public training scenario.

Dave Rooney
Mayford Technologies

Re: So, what is a by Mark Levison


My brother-in-law just went through this... two days of training, but not the third since he wouldn't be a ScrumMaster.<\blockquote>

I'm a little confused here - your brother-in-law took an Agile Course? A two day team member/bootcamp course? If you took a third day you could become a CSM?

I think there's something I'm missing here.


I'm not sure how I feel about this. When I coach teams (albeit not for Scrum), I involve everyone equally for the whole session. Indeed, when using simulations, I purposefully avoid having people in their natural roles during the simulation. I find that it leads to a better appreciation of what all team members are doing, and even provides some cross-pollination of skills.
<\blockquote>

We use the same approach to simulations/games.


Having said that, I do this in the context of a training workshop for a team that I will be actively coaching. I haven't used that approach for a public training scenario.
<\blockquote>

I think Alistair's idea is that teams would attend the bootcamp course for a day or two - for whole team training. At the end of the two days, those interested in being Scrum Masters would take an additional course where they would be taught the black arts of scrum.

Mark Levison
Notes from a Tool User</\blockquote>
</\blockquote>
</\blockquote>

Re: So, what is a bootcamp? by Dave Rooney

Hmmm... formatting was a bit messed up - I hope I respond to all the points!


My brother-in-law just went through this... two days of training, but not the third since he wouldn't be a ScrumMaster.

I'm a little confused here - your brother-in-law took an Agile Course? A two day team member/bootcamp course? If you took a third day you could become a CSM?

I re-read his e-mail, and yes that's what he said. He attended the first two days of Scrum training, and only those who were going to become ScrumMasters attended the third day.


Having said that, I do this in the context of a training workshop for a team that I will be actively coaching. I haven't used that approach for a public training scenario.

I think Alistair's idea is that teams would attend the bootcamp course for a day or two - for whole team training. At the end of the two days, those interested in being Scrum Masters would take an additional course where they would be taught the black arts of scrum.

OK, understood. Not sure I like the temporal disconnection between the training and the use of what was learned. I prefer a "thrown in the deep end" approach. That, of course, is predicated on having a coach external to the team guide not only the ScrumMaster but the whole team through Release Planning and the first Iteration or two.

Dave Rooney
Mayford Technologies

I prefer 'we vouch for' by Jason Little

I prefer the 'We Vouch For' idea. A test, especially a multiple choice one, isn't the solution. I'm a CSM and I much would have preferred a peer review or some type of 'situational' exam to prove you have the knowledge.

There were some folks in the bootcamp I took that had no knowledge of Agile methodologies, let alone Scrum, and it's tough to swallow that they have the same 'certification' as I do.

Having said that, the bootcamp was fantastic in filling in the holes from all the wrong info about Scrum you find all over the place. Particularly where I work we were using Scrum for over a year without really having a clue what it meant until I took this course.

Re: I prefer 'we vouch for' by Mark Levison

As I've said else where these networks have some problems

1) How good are the recommendations?
2) People in the in crowd gets lots of recommendations, the rest of us none. Yet many of the rest of us are good.
3) We vouch for (et al) can be gamed with fake accounts.
4) Look on LinkedIn for the people with the most recommendations in your network. Are they really good? or just good at asking for recommendations.

is it really good? by Joshua Partogi

I don't think it's really good for the test taker to pay around US$1,500 to get the certification. I think it would be better if there is any way to take the test without attending the class like any other certification.

Re: is it really good? by Mark Levison

Joshua - I understand the point however the test is only meaningful in the context of the course. If you score 80 on the test and you didn't take the course it doesn't mean you're ready to practice scrum. The real point of the test is give the certification that is currently handed out to most attendees of the CSM course a little bit more credibility. I really wouldn't read anything more into this.

Re: is it really good? by Michael James

Mark is correct here. The test can filter out the people who didn't engage in the class activities or read the recommended materials. It is NOT intended to distinguish good ScrumMasters from bad ScrumMasters. I would never hire someone only because they have a CSM!

Think of code coverage tools. They don't prove your tests are any good -- it still takes a human being to look at the tests and confirm they have meaningful assertions. But a lack of code coverage does show something is missing.

--MJ (who helped with the CSM test and supports it as a step in the right direction)

Alternatives, to multiple-point test by McGee Steve

My first thought is that separating certification from 'exposure' to Scrum is a good idea.

The standard 2-day course for CSM could be thought of as the First-Aid course - certificate holders have had the training and have a basic understanding of the principles and process. A multiple-choice test would be appropriate for this, and I think offering the test without attending a course would also be fine. The standard is that a passing score on the test means one has a basic understanding.

I think Mike Dwyer's idea for an exam is more suitable for demonstrating applied knowledge and experience. Couple this with Cockburn's idea of separating a basic, 'intro' to scrum course from a more meaningful 'master' level course (aimed at 1,000 certified +/-) and the program will be more complete. Perhaps that is what the 'Practitioner' level is meant to be?

Regarding the re-certification requirement - makes this seem like a pyramid scheme.

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