Saturday, September 26, 2009

The CSM Exam

As you may know, the Scrum Alliance is implementing a CSM Exam on Oct 1. See for details.

This causes us to make a few basic statements.

First, our real purpose is not certification and all that alphabet soup. It might be helpful, it might not. But the real purpose is improving people's lives. The customers, the workers (which includes the managers), and the stakeholders (eg, the shareholders, those widows and orphans).

Second, we have to comment that in some ways, the ScrumMaster title is not fortuitous. It implies, to some, that a CSM is a "master" of something, possibly Scrum. Almost any intelligent person, with a modicum of investigation, sees that that is not true. But some people want to get wrapped around that axle.

Third, we think the CSM Course is a very good course. And, today, the CSM title means you have taken that course. I think taking the course should be viewed as a necessary but not sufficient condition to becoming a ScrumMaster, and probably even to doing Scrum. Other conditions must be met also.

Ok, now on to the Exam itself.

First, putting together a good Exam is very hard. The Scrum Alliance has my sympathies. Even if the initial version is not good enough (it might not be).

Second, the Exam has some practical benefits. It will cause some people to read more. Good, mostly. (Partly bad, because Scrum is more about action than mere knowledge in the head.) It will cause some people to pay attention in class more. Good, mostly. (Partly bad, since they may be paying attention to things to pass a test, and not to the broader meaning and the interconnections and how to make it work in real life.)

Third, the Exam creates a relatively quick feedback loop. Scrum is all about fast feedback. The Exam is not perfect feedback, but better than none.

The Exam is partly bad also. It puts more emphasize on Explicit knowledge, and implies less importance for Tacit knowledge. Certainly the Tacit knowledge about Scrum is very important; I think more important than the Explicit knowledge.

Metaphorically, the Exam suggests that documentation (knowledge unused) is an important measure of progress. But Agile and Scrum say the true measure of progress is working product. In this situation, putting Scrum into practice. In the case of the test, it is ok to test Explicit knowledge, but we need to say that we do not agree with the metaphor. The more important test is: Can you really do it?

In the real world, potential employees and hiring managers want to see "can this person do this thing well". It is reasonable, as I said, to view having a CSM as a necessary condition to becoming a ScrumMaster and probably even to doing Scrum (or a CSPO for Business types), but it is not sufficient. Only in action can you prove that you can do it.

So, I think the CSM Exam is a small positive (despite its drawbacks). We should not get too distracted by it from the main goal. Let's make people's lives better. We need that just about now.


Anonymous said...

It is important to note that the 1-OCT launch of the CSM exam is a pass/pass exam. No one will fail and not be granted CSM status. Further, the test is OPTIONAL for non-native English speaking students. It is up to the student to tell the instructor if they are non-native English speaking and the instructor will have the option to opt the student out for the exam. See this link for more information on non-English speaking students ( and this link which shows the test is Pass/Pass (

Joe Little said...

Yes. Exactly. And there are many other facts about the Exam, which I did not try to cover. You mentioned two pages about the Exam at And there are several others.