Debate: Is Scrum Master Certification Good for the Agile Community?

| by Amr Elssamadisy Follow 0 Followers on Mar 19, 2007. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes |
The certification debate has surfaced again. The members of the Industrial XP mailing list have been discussing whether the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) program is good or bad for our community. Ken Schawber, Joshua Kerievsky, Robert Martin, and many others have weighed in on this discussion with very diverse opinions. Is certification a gimmick to make money or does it provide needed assurance in coaching quality for larger companies?

Joshua Kerievsky wrote about a recent experience with customer perception of CSM:
I was talking with a senior director and we were discussing their outsourcing vendor. They've worked with this vendor for years and have nice things to say about them. She said that this vendor had recently told her that their people were "Certified ScrumMasters." I couldn't have been more delighted to hear that, as it allowed for the following chat:

JK: Great, so they are CSMs! Now, do you happen to know what it takes to become a CSM?

Director: I have no idea.

JK: Ok, just make an educated guess. What do you think those folks had to do to get "certified."

Director: Well, I guess they had to study for 2 weeks and then go somewhere to take a test.

And there it was! She'd fallen into the exact deception of this "faux certification" that is the CSM.
A different point of view was given by Ken Schwaber:
We certify that we have exposed them to their job as a change agent using Scrum, and the obstacles and practices that they use to make these changes. We work very hard to give them insights that will help them help their clients, insights that are hard to achieve. Most classes are primarily exercises, to drive these lessons home in ways that are impossible to test. Anyone can give an answer; it is much harder to understand your own motivations and how they will affect your actions in improving our profession.
The majority of the contributors who voiced their opinions over the last few weeks were against certification and felt that it provides a false impression of quality. This issue is not going away, but it is not clear what, if anything, will be done. What is clear is that our community will continue to feel this and other growing pains as more organizations look to adopt Agile.

The IXP list is a members-only list, worth joining for readers interested in serious discussion on XP and related Agile methods.

Related news: In February, InfoQ reported on the agile certification debate that took place in the Agile Chronicles.

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Scrum Master Certification isn't good for the community by Daniel Brockman

It isn't hard to be a scrum master. Certification zealots want to pretend it's hard, but it isn't. There are some things to keep in mind. Some people are better at it than others. With practice, you can get better at it. But it's all within the intellectual grasp of anybody who can write Perl.

Certifying Scrum Masters makes the role less accessible to many people who could do it well. People will have to pay a price to get a license (the certification) enabling them to become Scrum Masters. Job postings will require years of experience as a certified Scrum Master, even though a person could learn the basics in an afternoon.

Certification is an economic barrier to entry. Persons who could otherwise make a good useful contribution to an enterprise will be denied work for lack of certification. They may try to take a course and get certification without having actually performed the role for an employer. It will do them no good. They won't be hired, because they don't have Scrum Master experience. They will just have to apply for a job somewhere else doing something else.

The role of Scrum Master will deteriorate in prestige, as did the role of certified systems administrator, which in many enterprises has become synonymous with help desk associate or computer operator.

Who will benefit from Scrum Master Certification? The principal beneficiaries will be consultants who train candidate Scrum Masters for certification. They will accumulate the net value. To eliminate this unjustified transfer of wealth, we might prefer to certify Scrum Mastering Instructors and authors of books about Scrum Mastering, instead of certifying Scrum Masters.

If the cost of the Certification is more than the cost of a State Driver's License, then Certification is harmful.

We should emulate the success of open source software, by keeping Scrum Mastering open and uncertified.

I am pessimistic that keeping Scrum Masters uncertified is a lost cause. It takes only one person bent on exploitation to set him/her self up as director of the Scrum Institute (tm), and publish a licensing -- er -- certification exam.

One last thought: Are violin players certified?

Re: Scrum Master Certification isn't good for the community by Andrew Goddard


You act as though you have to take out a second mortgage to pay for the certification. We are not talking about a huge barrier here. I found the insights I got out of the training/certification was more than worth the cost.

I find your cynicism about how if I don't have "the certification", I'm not going to get the job and I have to do something else quite harsh. Perhaps in my early days in the industry (and note I'm not that old) I may have thought this way - after reading many books on leadership and other books about how successful people move their careers forward - I can say that with the proper attitude and goals you can create a job/role - even within your own company - that you can passionately involve yourself in. I would suggest reading "The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers" and look through the 20/80 rule pattern - where it is suggested that you do your day-to-day job but spend 20% of your time doing things outside your primary role that you are passionate about and that will add value to your company (note: this was my interpretation of the pattern).


Question: Are organizations looking for certified scrum masters only? If you pick up a SCRUM book, read it, and start suggesting - "hey team, maybe we should start doing iterative development" or "wouldn't it be interesting if we started to have a meeting every few weeks to inspect how we are doing things around here" - that the first response would be "I'm sorry, are you a certified scrum master?"


Thank you for your time in reading my response. I hope it has been useful in some way.

Re: Scrum Master Certification isn't good for the community by Alex Popescu

One last thought: Are violin players certified?

I think this is a very valid point. I think experience should be what certifies you and not a paper/title. The fact that you attended some type of course doesn't certifies you in any way. Not even the exams. In real life you usually don't have multiple chances to deliver a working system in time if you failed the first time.


:Architect of
.w( the_mindstorm )p.
C4Media/InfoQ Co-Founder

Scrum Master Certification is a nice way to get agile into the corporations by Juan Bernabo

I dont know in USA, but in other countries companies are hiring mostly Certified PMP´s to do Project Management for software projects, as there is the Project Management Institute, that is an authority in Project Management, but has no clue at agile, lean or adaptative project management.

This has made my life impossible in the last years to structure teams to perform the way that I did in my last 15 years of real projects, which was basically staying away of gannt charts, WBS, defined specialists roles, detailed up front planning/requirements/design, and command and control, and using a simple queue of proritized work items and iterations, which is not a best practice on the PMBOK, what caused my a lot of frustration, conflicts with management and made me quit my job several times in the last years.

Before this rush to get PMPs I never had this problem, for 15 years I been involved in real complex projects, I just delivered software, I know how to do it, but after that I was expected to follow a plan, no matter what, my chances of doing good software development where basically reduzed to zero.

Even my wife told me once, aren´t you the one that is wrong?
How can I be wrong if I had the experience of how well this worked in real life, I looked at this problem from a diferent angle, from a diferent paradigm, and it worked, much nicely than the traditional way, that I saw failing constantly.

So I received this certification nicely, as most corporations will continue to hire based on certifications and belive me not on "experience", this was hope to see more and more teams exposed to this method of project management, and made my life easier as someone backed up what I found was an excelent practice, but it got in conflict with most things that was told to a PMP.

How long does it take to make a paradigm shift, that will last all your life, and impact how you see things?

Doing it rigth, 15 minutes, 1 day, 2 days?

I think Scrum Master curse is not about how much content, but is about shifting paradigms and learning some simple frameworks of human interations, this are long lasting experiences, that can be made in really short time "if done well".

We will need to have a 2 week curse and a test just to justify that this is the conventional way of looking at certifications from the corporate view?

I dont think so!

Re: Scrum Master Certification isn't good for the community by Juan Bernabo

Violing players dont work for corporations.

Some thoughts by Bruce Rennie

I have both a PMP and a CSM. I got the PMP because it's virtually required for project management jobs these days. I got the CSM for interest. I put them on my resume because it attracts the attention of HR people and it does show I'm at least conversant with the related concepts. Beyond that, I place little value on them.

Would I hire someone solely on the basis of these certifications? Of course not.

Ironically, I feel that the propaganda campaign carried out by some members of the agile community has contributed to the drive for certification. We're so eager to show that a project that fails using agile methods is most likely due to not doing agile "right" that it was inevitable that someone would try to promote some sort of standard for this sort of thing.

And hey, maybe the people involved simply want to make a buck. Why not? It alters the inherent value in Scrum not a bit. More power to em.

I do believe that, as agile gains wider acceptance in the industry, that the pressure to go the PMP route will just get greater. Hell, even the PMP training mentions agile these days. Price of success and all that.

Certification != Competence by Dave Rooney

Back in 1997 I studied for and attained a Certified PowerBuilder Developer accreditation. I did this for purely business reasons, since as an independent consultant the quality and pay rate of the contracts I could get was enhanced by being a CPD. I knew other CPD's, and they were all very good developers with a lot of experience in general and with PowerBuilder in particular.

A few short years later, I met several people who had gone through the 'technical schools' and learned PowerBuilder, VB, etc. As part of their training, they had learned what they needed to pass the PB certification exams. However, when it came to applying what they learned, they weren't very good at all. They knew the basics of the tool, but when they encountered anything 'outside the box', they were lost.

My brother, who is in the networking world, reported similar experiences with CNA and MSCE certifications.

Essentially, certifications alone mean almost nothing without experience.

Dave Rooney
Mayford Technologies

Re: Scrum Master Certification isn't good for the community by Maris Fogels

I agree, certification locks up access to a profession, often to the profession's detriment. We have all encountered people with impressive official credentials who deliver less-than-impressive real world results.

It is the difference between natural and official authority. Fotunately, many of the brightest lights in the software community have great natural authority, authority gained by doing useful things, and by helping others. It is part of the culture.

I think the problem comes when you attempt to reconcile software's culture with the rest of society as a whole. We are pressured into becoming an "official" profession in the vein of doctors, lawyers, and engineers. But what is wrong with aligning ourselves with professions that value experience and results, like sports, or the arts?

Dave Thomas, one of the Pragmatic Programmers, aludes to the problem of authority in his presentation titled "Herding Racehorses, Racing Sheep". He notes how nursing faced similar challenges as software, and how they reconciled official and natural authority within their profession. Why can't we do the same?

I am glad that the rise of agile and the certification debate are pushing these issues to the forefront. Software won't realize its full potential until they are resolved.

Re: Scrum Master Certification isn't good for the community by Heber Ferraz-Leite

Well ... basically ALL certifications are just so that you can put them in the resume, make it past the HR selection and get into the interview. Once you are there it is not the certification that counts, but the personal impression you give the interviewer about your experience and competence.

I did take the CSM course. Because of that I can call myself "certified". Because of that I have had quite a few entry points into conversations leading to business opportunities.

In other words: the CSM course added value to my CV, so I am willing to pay for it.

I doubt it would have the same effect to say "I went to a two-day seminar".

Re: Scrum Master Certification isn't good for the community by Maris Fogels


That may be how you see certification, but that is not how the hiring party sees it. They must put some faith in them, or a certification would not be required to get through the front door.

Such things take on a life of their own. At one point 'lawyer' meant 'one who reads the law'. It was open to everyone, no credentials needed. In today's world becoming a lawyer means something entirely different.

Agile Alliance position on Agile Certification by Rachel Davies

Agile Alliance have a position on Agile Certification on their website at and they say "employers should have confidence only in certifications that are skill-based and difficult to achieve."

Re: Scrum Master Certification is a nice way to get agile into the corporat by Deborah Hartmann

> How long does it take to make a paradigm shift?

On the scale of the entire profession, it's been suggested that the sad answer is: "until the old guard retires".

Scrum Alliance take a hint from the Coaching community by David Koontz

One could wonder if some other community has similar issues, and perhaps learn something from their experiences. For example the Coaching community.

In this paper Rey A. Carr, Ph.D. of Peer Resources tells us that the Executive Coaching community has blossomed and their is no certifying body, no agreement on definition of terms, etc. One must wonder if there every will be.
"Professional associations concerned with coaching have
grown from three in 1995 to sixteen in 2008, and with this growth
no regulations or common standards have emerged."

The proliferation of certifying organization has led to confusion in the coaching field. Controversy in the industry stunts its growth, and skepticism from the consumer base hurts its reputation. Luckily in the Agile field we have not had this problem. Is that because we have had agreement on what certification should be and who should be allowed to do it?

Well we don't have 273 organization offering their own brand of Scrum, as they do in the Coaching field.

I for one think that is a Good Thing (TM - Martha Stewart).

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