Which ScrumMaster certification should you go for – PSM vs. CSM?

There are now two major* ScrumMaster certifications available. I’m often asked which is ‘better’ – so I decided to do a comprehensive trawl and summarize my findings here.

Firstly, I should state that I am a Professional ScrumMaster (PSM), and offer training courses for PSM – so with that in mind….

Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) from ScrumAlliance has been on the go for 14 years, since 2002. For its first 10 years there was no exam/assessment – once you attended a two day CSM course, whether you slept in the corner of the classroom or paid close attention, you graduated a ScrumMaster. It has always been expensive to attend CSM training, because there are a carefully limited number of trainers, and its very difficult and expensive to become a CSM trainer – you need to be ‘nominated’ by 5 existing trainers, pay $10K to register, etc. As a result, there are no trainers in Ireland, and the daily trainer fees charged are very high.

In 2010 the guys who created Scrum and founded ScrumAlliance left and set up an alternative body, scrum.org. Through scrum.org they offered a 60 minute online ScrumMaster assessment (85% to pass). Although they also offered ScrumMaster training, you didn’t have to attend one of their courses to qualify for the exam. This opened up the field to all training companies, thereby driving down costs. It also introduced a much more credible certification because to become a PSM you had to pass a rigorous exam. This didn’t reflect well on the ScrumAlliance certification, so they introduced an exam in 2012 – however their assessment is pretty half-hearted, allowing candidates up to 90 days (sic) to answer 25 of 36 multiple choice questions correctly (68%). And you still had to attend one of their expensive courses…

So although CSM has been 3 times as long in the market, PSM is rapidly gaining ground with about 60,000 PSMs globally today. Its a much more rigorous assessment, much cheaper to get, and is backed by Scrums creators, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber.

Here is a comparison table with more detail:

Certified Scrum Master / CSM  Professional Scrum Master / PSM Level 1
Attainment ✗ By attendance ✔ By assessment
Learning Materials ✗ Course outline only ✔ Free downloadable guide
Training Cost ✗ Typically €995-€1195 ✔ Typically €700-€900
Must Attend Approved Training ✗ Yes ✔ No
Training Materials ✗ Vary by instructor ✔ Standardized
Assessment ✗ superficial: 35 questions, 68% pass mark, 90 day time limit, as many sittings as you like ✔ Comprehensive: 80 questions, 85% pass mark, 60 min time limit, one sitting
Feedback ✗ Incorrect Answers are highlighted and can be resubmitted after further research. Answers to all questions (correct and incorrect) are shown after passing ✔ Only feedback is your assessment mark – there is no feedback on which questions you got correct, or what the right answers were.
 Advanced Certification Available ✗ No ✔ Yes: you can progress to the much more difficult PSM Level 2 exam for experienced ScrumMasters
Certificate Renewal ✗ Every 2 years ($150) ✔ Not required
Certificates Issued (Mar 2014) 230,000 60,000

* I haven’t considered more niche certifications such as BCS

Software Development is NOT about writing code – it’s about creating KNOWLEDGE

Out-Learn the Competition‘ is a phrase familiar to many product design and development folks – it nicely captures the idea that when we are creating software systems, our focus should be on uncovering and generating knowledge about the problem and the solution – not just writing code. In this view of software development, everything we do should focus on creating knowledge as early, as cheaply and as fast as possible. The software then becomes just a manifestation of that knowledge.

This is a pretty radical departure from the more mainstream view that systems development is about programming, testing and deploying. But its an idea underlying all agile frameworks and methodologies – in fact it is the foundation of any empirical process. Using approaches like Scrum, XP and Kanban, we constantly look for opportunities to inspect what we’ve done, learn from that and then decide what we should do next. We try to deliver working, valuable software as early as possible to begin this feedback mechanism. For example, we demo our earliest working features to customers to see how valuable they are to them, how they use them, and what we should build next.

At a meeting with a group of Lean practitioners last week, it struck me again that the common view that Lean is about increasing productivity and cutting costs simply doesn’t apply to software development. We are not trying to churn out more lines of code per person or more features per hour. In fact we would like to produce the least amount of code possible (code is expensive to write, test, support, enhance, etc). What we are trying to do is generate as much knowledge as possible so we can understand and solve the business problem with the least amount of code.

With this view in mind – we could say applying Lean to Software Development is about increasing our productivity in generating KNOWLEDGE, but not about increasing our productivity in generating CODE. This basic fact lies behind the difference between plan-driven, waterfall approaches and agile, empirical methods. It’s also why transferring Lean practices from the manufacturing and repeatable services world to software development can do the opposite of what was intended – kill value, create waste, drive out innovation.

Don’t get me wrong! The principles and values of Lean still apply to software development. For example, ‘Respect for People’ is probably even more important when you need them to create innovative products than when you want them to create widgets on a production line. But how we translate those principles to practices and tools is very different. To use a metaphor, product development, including software, is about creating recipes, manufacturing is  about baking cakes.

UPCOMING PUBLIC TRAINING: ScrumMaster certification and Agile Testing

ScrumMaster Certification Dublin 26/27 Feb 2014. This is a great all round introduction to agile with a specific focus on Scrum. Its essential for any budding ScrumMasters and thoroughly prepares you for the on-line certification exam so you can get your new skill recognized. Cost is a very competitive €800pp with group discounts available (excludes online exam fee of $100).

Effective Agile Testing Dublin 6/7th Mar 2014. Essential training for professional testers and QA working on agile teams. The course includes a comprehensive introduction to agile and Scrum followed by a deep dive into what this means for testing, the changing and expanded role of testers in an agile environment and specific tools and techniques to help ensure your success.  Cost is a very competitive €800pp with group discounts available.

If you’re interested in either of these courses get in touch at training@agileinnovation.ie

Some customer comments on our recent training sessions…

Its always good to get positive feedback – here are some recent comments from attendees at our training sessions:

“the course was excellent, really informative, enjoyable and expertly delivered” – Professional ScrumMaster, Cork, Nov 2013

“Thanks for a great course last week.  I think we all really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it” – Getting Lean with Kanban in IT, Dublin, Jan 2014

What was good about the course? “Everything. The whole lot!” Professional ScrumMaster, Dublin, Jan 2014

AgileTour Dublin Oct 10th 2013 – FULLY BOOKED

This conference is now fully booked – the sponsors have a limited number of reserved tickets – please contact us directly if you are looking for a ticket and we may be able to source a ticket for you.

The final program for this years AgileTour event is now available. We have limited capacity of 100 seats and we expect them to be snapped up in the next few days so REGISTER NOW.

A full 1 day conference with quality speakers, experience reports, great networking opportunities – in the center of Dublin and all for a 10 euro fee! Learn from others, share your experiences, gather tips and have some fun!

Bringing Agile to the Next Level: a free evening event Dublin 2nd Oct 5:30pm – FULLY BOOKED

ISA Skillnets are sponsoring an evening event focusing on Agile and Lean software development. 3 expert speakers will present on advanced topics of interest to organisations with some experience of applying agile or lean software development.


  • “Where Scrum Won’t Fit – Getting Agile with Kanban in IT Ops and Support” Colm O’Heocha, Agile Innovation
  • “Slow Down to Speed Up – Leveraging Quality to Enable Productivity and Speed” Fran O Hara, Inspire QS
  • “Our Scrum is Great! Our Kanban is Good. (And, our XP Practice ain’t bad.) Now What?” Steve Holyer, Neueda

Seminar Full Programme


This is a free event but booking is essential. To book a place;
Email: Annemarie@isa-skillnet.com
Or Call: 0818 919820

Announcement: AgileTour Dublin 2013 October 10th!

Following the successes of recent tour events with increasing numbers and quality of presentations, this years AgileTour event has been extended to a full day. The provisional program has been published and is already packed with expert speakers, experience reports from companies that have gone the agile route, executive briefings and tools vendors showing off their wares! There will also be much more time for networking and sharing war-stories over coffee and lunch breaks.

Registration is now open (€10 fee) – for further details or to register just click here and join the AgileIreland LinkedIn group to keep in touch with all things agile/lean in Ireland.