Scrum adoption is increasing fast and organisations are looking for Scrum qualified personnel. One way to show your worth is with a recognised Scrum Master certificate. In this article, I compare the two main options to help you decide which one is for you.
Update: 20 Sep 2021
Since this article was published, I completed both the Professional Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Master courses. I then went on to become a Professional Scrum Trainer with Scrum.org and a Certified Scrum Trainer with the Scrum Alliance. Having checked the article, I think it remains valid but wanted you to know that it has been reviewed and, where necessary, updated.
Why get a Scrum Master certificate?
I’ve been involved with agile and Scrum for almost two decades and in that time, I’ve never needed any formal qualifications. I’ve successfully moved from post to post and plied my craft. Then I discovered that potential employers were asking for Scrum skills.
In March 2012, I searched cwjobs and discovered that 10% of web developer vacancies required knowledge of Scrum. That’s a massive change from when I performed my first agile installation in 2000. Back then agile and Scrum were still considered cutting edge!
So, the message is clear. To give yourself the best chance of securing a new job, or contract, get a Scrum Master certificate. That was the easy part. I then spent the best part of a month researching the options. This article condenses what I learned and I hope that it will prove useful to you.
Scrum Master Certificates
There are two well-known, and generally accepted, Scrum Master certificate routes available.
- Certified Scrum Master (CSM) with the Scrum Alliance
- Professional Scrum Master (PSM) with Scrum.org
This article addresses these two certificates only. Note there are two other certificates you may wish to consider:
- PMI_ACP. The Project Management Institute Agile Certified Practitioner. Offered by the Project Management Institute
- CIP. Certified ICAgile Professional. Offered by the International Consortium for Agile.
Certified Scrum Master (CSM). Offered by the Scrum Alliance
Probably the best-known Scrum Master certificate is the Certified ScrumMaster (CSM). The certificate was originally issued by Ken Schwaber in 2002 and 2003. In 2004, Ken went on to form the Scrum Alliance asking Esther Derby and Mike Cohn to join him. The Scrum Alliance then continued delivering courses and, as at 31 Dec 2011, over 150k certificates had been issued.
Prior to 2012, anyone attending an official Scrum Alliance course automatically received the CSM certificate. There was no assessment or examination. There were 125,286 certificates in existence in Mar 2012, making it the most widely issued at that time. A combination of longevity and number of certificates issued means that the CSM certificate is the most widely recognised.
However, there has been criticism that simply attending courses does not justify the issue of a certificate. The Scrum Alliance have accepted this and changed the certification process in the early part of 2012. Candidates are now required to go through a three stage process to earn the CSM certificate:
1. Familiarize themselves with Scrum basics.
2. Attend a CSM course.
3. Obtain their CSM certification after completing the course and taking the CSM evaluation (a link to the evaluation is available on their dashboard following their course).
In March 2012, the average cost of a Certified ScrumMaster course in the USA is between $850 and $1200. You can pay up to $1300 for better-known presenters like Mike Cohn. In the UK, expect to pay between £895 and £1095 and up to £1400 for better-known presenters. The lower prices are usually achieved by taking advantage of early booking discounts. Today, in September 2021, these prices have hardly changed.
Certified ScrumMaster courses can only be taught by Certified Scrum Trainers. Each trainer develops their own training material, which is approved by the Scrum Alliance. However, with no two trainers presenting the same material, there may be issues with consistency.
With a nod to the Project Management Institute, a CSM course will earn Professional Development Units (PDUs). The number of PDUs earned varies and candidates are referred to their Certified Scrum Trainer to see how many PDUs their course earns. The average appears to be between 14 and 21 PDUs for taking the CSM course. Try this link for more information on PDUs.
To maintain currency, a CSM certificate must be renewed every two years, at a cost of $100.
Professional Scrum Master – PSM – Offered by Scrum.org
In 2009, a split developed between Ken Schwaber and the Scrum Alliance. Ken went on to create Scrum.org and offer the Professional Scrum Master course, among others.
Scrum.org offer two classes: The Professional Scrum Master I course and the Professional Scrum Master II course. PSM I and PSM II respectively. PSM I indicates a basic level of understanding and PSM II indicates an intermediate level of understanding. In Mar 2012, Scrum.org had issued 6000 PSM I certificates and 111 PSM II certificates.
Both PSM I and PSM II certificates are earned by the candidate scoring 85% or more in an online assessment. Neither assessment requires that the candidate attends a course. The cost of the PSM I assessment is $150. The cost of the PSM II assessment is $500.
Research indicates that course attendance is helpful if the candidate wishes to pass the PSM II assessment and practically mandatory if they want to take the PSM III assessment. However, if you take an authorised course, the cost of the PSM I assessment is included and the cost of higher assessments is discounted.
The Professional Scrum Master course is delivered by Professional Scrum Trainers. In Mar 2012, the cost varied between $1295 and $1995 in the USA and £950 and £1095 in the UK. Prices have hardly changed as at September 2021. You may pay more for a course delivered by better-known presenters like Ken Schwaber (though he has not taught for some time). Lower prices are usually achieved via early booking discounts.
Professional Scrum Master courses are taught by Professional Scrum Trainers who all work from a common set of training materials. Attendance at a training course is not required to take a PSM assessment, A PSM I certificate can be earned through appropriate study and revision. I’ve covered exactly how to do this in my article, How to Pass the PSM I Assessment.
With a further nod to the Project Management Institute, attending a PSM course will earn the candidate 14 PDUs. Try this link for more information on PDUs.
Scrum Certification UK
If you’re looking to gain Scrum certification in the UK and are looking for a trainer to deliver either CSM or PSM, there are a number to choose from. Searching the Scrum Alliance or the Scrum.org site will provide plentiful opportunities.
However, there is currently only one trainer who is qualified as both a CST and a PST in the UK (in fact, in Europe) and can deliver either course for you. If you’d like me to deliver your Scrum course, check our training schedule. It would be a pleasure to welcome you onto one of my classes.
1. The Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certificate is probably more widely recognised than the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certificate.
2. The cost of acquiring, and maintaining, the CSM certificate is more than acquiring a PSM certificate (there are no maintenance costs for the PSM certificate).
3. The cost of PSM training is (on average) greater than the cost of CSM training. This seems to affect the USA and Europe both.
4. The value of CSM certificates issued prior to 2012 is variable as the delegate was not required to pass an assessment.
5. The material presented at CSM courses varies depending on the instructor. PSM course material is standardised.
This table summarises the main points. Data accurate as at Mar 2012 (look for an update imminently):
|Certificate||CSM||PSM I||PSM II|
|Mandatory Pre-requisites||Training course||None||PSM I Pass (85%+)|
|Training course required?||Yes||No||No|
|Training course cost||$850 – $1300||$1295 – $1995||$1295 – $1995|
|Assessment required||Yes (since 2012)||Yes||Yes|
|Assessment cost||$0 (incl in course)||$100 (or $0 if you do course)||$500 (or $300 if you do course)|
|Cost to acquire certificate||$850 – $1300||$100||$500|
|Cost to renew certificate||$100 (2 yearly)||$0||$0|
Professional Scrum Master training course
After doing the research, I opted to self-study and then sit the PSM I assessment. This was successful and I wrote an article on how you too can pass your Professional Scrum Master (PSM) assessment.
Later, I went on to complete the Professional Scrum Master course and earn the PSM III certificate. I wrote an article on how to prepare for the PSM III assessment. If you’d like to earn your PSM III certificate, check out my Scrum training course schedule to see upcoming courses. I hope to see you there!