What is a Certified Scrum Master (CSM)?

The Scrum Master role and what it means to be Certified.

Seann Hicks

Seann Hicks

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

What is a Certified Scrum Master (CSM)?

Scrum Graohic Depicting the Order and the Chaos

A Certified Scrum Master (CSM) is a Scrum Alliance certification for the Scrum Master role, one of the key roles in the Agile Scrum framework. Like any certification, a CSM ensures a baseline of understanding of the Scrum process and Scrum Master role. The Scrum Alliance certification involves a 2 day course and a 60 minute, 50 question test. The test taker must answer 37 questions correctly to achieve the certification.

The CSM program was (and still is) a controversial approach. The idea of a central organization with sole power to anoint CSMs and decide on what Scrum is and is not somewhat hypocritical to the whole agile movement. Despite its controversy, I believe that the CSM program was an essential part of popularizing Scrum in the early days and why it is the most adopted and practiced Agile methodology to date.

What is Scrum Alliance?

The Scrum Alliance was founded in 2002 by Ken Schwaber to ensure a common understanding of Agile Scrum and to provide a single authority on the Scrum framework. Since 2002 the Scrum Alliance certifications have grown since the origins of the Certified Scrum Master. The base certifications to date include

There are also certifications for coaches and trainers, they include:

The success of Agile and Scrum at an organization requires the organization’s leadership to understand the agile mindset and the implementation of Scrum. To address this need, Scrum Alliance also offers the Certified Agile Leadership Courses (I and II). In 2009, Ken Schwaber stepped down as chairman of Scrum Alliance and started a new Scrum organization call Scrum.org. For a deeper understanding of what was happening at Scrum Alliance at this time, read this post by a former Scrum Trainer.

What about Scrum.org?

Scrum.org is Ken Schwaber’s second shot at a centralized Scrum organization. The Scrum.org about page explains that Ken created Scrum.org to ‘do the right thing’. Ken, with observations by Martin Fowler, was concerned that teams were using Scrum terms and ceremonies, but were not achieving the key principles of Scrum, I.e. delivering a working iteration of a product at the end of an iteration.

Ken also noticed some of the challenges faced by organizations attempting to adopt Scrum and the gaps that the Scrum Alliance certifications did not address, namely training for the developers and cross-functional team members of Scrum teams. A deeper level of training advancement was needed by an organization with openness and transparency to guide it.

Scrum.org offers the following certifications:

Scrum Master job description

Understanding the role and responsibilities of the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) is best described with an example job description that you might find on career page or recruiting site.


The Certified Scrum Master (CSM) program has had a tumultuous history. The success of Scrum is due in large part to the CSM program. The CSM program is administered by the Scrum Alliance organization. There is an alternative and equally valid Professional Scrum Master program administered by Scrum.org. The two programs are very similar, and I would encourage Scrum Masters to achieve both certifications and not to side with one of these organizations specifically as doing so would be limiting and undermine your openness.

I do wish that Ken Schwaber had been able to work within Scrum Alliance to resolve the internal issues. Having 2 organizations with multiple, competing certifications muddies the Scrum certification landscape. Perhaps, some day, Scrum.org and Scrum Alliance will coalesce into a single organization. So far, the 2 organizations have managed to keep the message consistent, as long as this continues, I believe the success of Scrum and the certifications will continue.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

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