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Can’t we all just get along? Scrum.org vs. Scrum Alliance vs. PMI.

Published by Christopher Daily on April 20th, 2011 - in Scrum, Software Development

Am I the only one confused by the Scrum certification debate? I am trying to figure out whether my newly received Certified Scrum Master certification is worth the virtual piece of paper it is printed on. Let me summarize what is happening as I understand it. There are two main organizations that promote Scrum:

The Scrum Alliance’s mission is to increase awareness and understanding of Scrum, provide resources to individuals and organizations using Scrum, and promote the iterative improvement necessary to succeed with Scrum.

Scrum.org’s purpose is to improve the profession of software development so that developers love their work and our customers love working with developers.

These two organizations with Scrum and “.org” as their domain extension are arguing about who has the better means of certification. Scrum Alliance currently uses the “You pay to attend a class, take an evaluation that we evaluate but don’t consider your score, and you receive an email with a certification certificate. Scrum.org has two levels for the same Scrum master, with one being for those of us getting started, and one for the practitioner. The same is true for the Product Owner role as well.

The irony in these two organizations is that both organizations were formed with Ken Schwaber as one of the founding members. This is pertinent in that Ken is considered to be one of the founders of Scrum. Did Ken decide to take his ball and go home, or was he driven out of Scrum Alliance? Why did he leave? Was it really about the self-serving motives of those in Scrum Alliance driving Ken out? Who knows? How do we figure out which is best? Should we pursue both organizations?

I don’t know how much time and energy I want to invest in this process. I follow both Mike Cohn and Ken Schwaber’s blog. I have spent good money buying Mike’s books for my Kindle. I paid for my Ripple Rock CSM training personally, only to find out afterwards that there is another certification. Don’t get me wrong, I got a lot out of the training, which was delivered by Bob Sarni (who seems to be able to teach not only the principals but mixes in real world experiences as well.)

And if I wasn’t confused enough, I heard that the Project Management Institute (PMI) is going to have an Agile certification. By the time you get done spending all the money required for all the certs, you might have something north of $6k. My friend, Joey Cruz (at least he was last time I checked), reminds me every 5 years or so that certs don’t demonstrate that you are accomplished for that skill, but that you can take a test.

Which test you take is the question. Probably the more important question is why can’t we have one organization? The cost of becoming certified is expensive, especially if you are paying yourself.  Can’t we all get along, or does everybody have to create their own certification because every other cert is inferior? I am curious what the other certifiable people are going to do?  Please enter a comment on this blog letting me know which path you are going to pursue.

Thanks for coming in today.

18 Responses

  1. Hi Chris,

    Allow me to provide some color to your questions. A good place to start is with the letter Ken sent to the Scrum.org PSTs last year http://www.scrum.org/originsofscrumorg.

    A competing cert is the least that Scrum.org offers. The primary differences are a defined curriculum, rigorous assessments, and consistent quality.

    First, common courseware for each program is developed, continually refined, and delivered by Ken and our highly skilled trainers. This collaboration allows us to leverage the best of all of the trainers that work with us, and deliver those benefits to each of the people we train. When a student says they took a PSM class, you know exactly what they should have learned. A PSM certificate demonstrates that.

    Second are rigorous assessments that are associated with each program. These allow us to ensure that students learn and retain the knowledge we are delivering in our training. Students don’t receive a certification unless they can demonstrate a certain level of retention (85-90% depending on the program). And, the PSM program doesn’t require students to sit through a class if they already have the knowledge.

    Finally is consistent quality, from start to finish. We carefully evaluate each and every trainer that joins us through applications, assessments, courses, and in-person reviews. We then give those trainers the tools to ensure that they continue to improve: course feedback for every course, required annual trainer meet-ups, and student assessment scores. We structure the programs so trainers are incented to do real work (coaching, consulting, development) in addition to training so they can continually refresh their skills.

    I hope this helps show just how deep the differences run. We’d love to have you join us for a PSM course so you can see the differences for yourself.

    Alex Armstrong
    Director of Program

    • Jordan says:


      On the link you supplied, Ken claims that in the SA days, the average CST was bringing in $300k/year.

      How many $/year are Scrum trainers in the scrum.org umbrella bringing in /year?

      Also as far as your course materials go, were any people with an educational background involved, or not really?


  2. Jordan says:

    By Educational background, were any of the people involved in the courseware, for instance, PhD’s in education. Do they have an educational background in creating courseware.


  3. Hi Jordan,

    The practitioners that help us create the programs have been developing courseware and delivering training for most of their professional lives, some more than 25 years. So yes, they certainly do have a background in education.


    • Jordan says:

      Do any of them have advanced degrees in Education (M.S. or PhD.) that were earned from accredited academic institutions?

      That is my question.

      If so who and what degrees from where?

      Look forward to your response,

  4. Hi Jordan,

    You’d have to ask all of the individuals that contribute to the development of the programs if you are interested in their respective educational backgrounds. When selecting partners we focus on the collective experience of the individuals involved, expertise in and passion for the particular subject, the purpose of the organization, previous track record demonstrating capability and excellence, and ability to work with us.

    Warm regards,

    • Jordan says:

      Alex —

      You say your courseware is superior, and then you say it’s MY job to ask ALL of the individuals who might have worked on it what their educational background is?

      You folks can’t even speak to the credentials of the trainers that created your courseware????

      That doesn’t sound like transparency and accountability to me.

      It sounds like tap dancing.


      • Ken says:

        Are you ok? A course has two main components. The courseware and the trainer. Great courseware created by people with many, many credentials can be undercut by lousy trainers.
        It feels like you have a bone in your teeth.

  5. [...] week, my post about certifications (click here) created several spirited comments about the qualifications of Scrum.org.  My rationale for [...]

  6. [...] week, my post about certifications (click here) created several spirited comments about the qualifications of Scrum.org.  My rationale for [...]

  7. [...] week, my post about certifications (click here) created several spirited comments about the qualifications of Scrum.org.  My rationale for [...]

  8. [...] seems to have been a lot of discussion lately about certifications, and the validity of them.  I may have even tried to get my two cents in. Most of the authors have been challenging whether the Agile community needs certifications at [...]

  9. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to mention that I have really loved browsing your weblog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing for your rss feed and I am hoping you write again very soon!

  10. [...] 04/20/2011 – The CSM certification wars [...]

  11. [...] Certification helped Scrum succeed for several reasons. First, certification lead to early codification and standardization of what Scrum is all about. Consultants still have their own ideas and continue to fight between themselves over the only right way to do Scrum and thefuture direction of Scrum and what should be in Scrum and what shouldn’t, but the people who are implementing Scrum don’t need to worry about the differences or get caught up in politics and religious wars. [...]

  12. Chris says:

    Before taking the certification exams, I recommend taking a practice exam.

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