The difference between Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and and Professional Scrum Master (PSM)

A number of people have been asking us recently what the difference is between the old Scrum Alliance style courses and the new professional Scrum curriculum at In the blog post I will try to answer this question!

Firstly, let me warn you – this post will be warts and all. Those of you who know me well know I don’t pull my punches. I tell it like it is. This post is based on what I have pulled together over the years from keeping abreast with developments in the Scrum community. It is my personal opinion and does not represent the views of any particular organisation.

Let me start with a little history as it is important to the context.

Ken Schwaber called the original Scrum training “Certified Scrum Master” (CSM) for one key reason – he knew companies were more likely to send their people on a Scrum course if it had the word “certified” in it. While his intentions were good (to spread Scrum), there were some unintended outcomes of this approach, namely low value credentials and the diluting of Scrum. Over time many Certified Scrum Trainers popped up, all teaching their own particular flavour of Scrum course. At the same time many, many “qualified” Certified Scrum Masters appeared who clearly knew little about Scrum.

Were they masters of Scrum? Definitely not. Did this damage Scrum? Definitely.

Until October 2009 the only criteria for obtaining a CSM credential with the Scrum Alliance was that you sat through a course. That was all you had to do to qualify as a Certified Scrum Master. After a long saga, in October 2009 the Scrum Alliance finally introduced a beta version of an exam. However, from what I have been told by Certified Scrum Trainers the criteria for passing this exam is still very sloppy. And from talking to people who have sat the exam it is pretty darned easy. Additionally, I am aware of people who have not had an opportunity to provide feedback on their training or feedback re a lack of satisfaction has gone unanswered.

Then there has been the entire debate about certification and whether attending a course should be a pre-requisite for obtaining a qualification. For example, if you are experienced in Scrum then why should you have to sit through a two day course to obtain a qualification? Other professions such as law and accounting don’t force you to do this. So why software?

This, along with the drive-by training model adopted by many trainers out there resulted in a lot of people making a lot of money out of the “business of Scrum certification” which in turn led to distrust, anger and resentment within the Scrum community with many notable, high profile dramas unfolding.

While Ken Schwaber tried to address these issues, ultimately a lucrative, monopolistic, cartel-style business model was already established. Those who stood to benefit from this strongly resisted any change. Hence Ken left the Scrum Alliance very frustrated and set up to try to get Scrum right.

So let me summarise the historic problems within the Scrum community.

  1. Certification was tightly coupled to attendance at a CSM training course.
  2. This in turn created “the business of certification”. The result is many people making a lot of money from “drive-by training” – i.e. do two days of training without sticking around to support the change.
  3. Each Scrum Alliance Scrum trainer was teaching their own custom material.
  4. Often unsatisfactory feedback from attendees didn’t result in any action.
  5. Scrum was fragmenting and becoming diluted. This can be seen today with the vast majority of people not having a correct understanding of what Scrum and how it was intended to be applied.
  6. The core basis of Scrum was becoming stale. Scrum was not being updated…

So you could imagine that a list of issues like this would be a likely starting place for remediation. The table below outlines what has done to address these issues and contrasts their approach to those of the Scrum Alliance.

Issue Scrum Alliance
Certification coupled to attending a training course CSM qualification coupled to CSM course attendance Replace certification with assessments.De-couple assessment from attendance at a training course.


Result = anyone can obtain the PSM qualification. Attendance of a course is optional. Qualification requires 85% or better in a rigorous, structured assessment developed by practicing Scrum professionals.

The “business of certification” CSM qualification coupled to CSM course attendance If you would like to do a course in order to prepare for the PSM assessment then attend one. If you don’t then don’t.
Scrum trainers teaching variable material Material entirely up to each individual Scrum Alliance trainer. Material provided by as part of a progressive, professional curriculum.Trainers attend regular centralised events to ensure they are teaching consistently.
Often no action resulting from poor feedback from attendees. Nothing. All feedback goes directly to and is assessed for each course delivered. Poor results result in trainers being struck off.
Scrum becoming diluted Nothing is the home of Scrum. It is where Scrum Guide (the confirmed definition of Scrum from the creators) lives.All training material is developed and maintained by


The public have an opportunity to request modifications to Scrum and to suggest add-on patterns to allow Scrum to evolve with the industry.


All trainers must attend at least one annual Face to Face session with other trainers to keep abreast with Scrum.

Evolving Scrum ? is the home of Scrum. New versions of the Scrum guide are regularly released by the creators of has launched the ability for the public to either request changes to the Scrum, or to suggest patterns that are useful for applying Scrum in different scenarios.The trainers are required to meet in a Face to Face session annually. These sessions are designed to provide input into the future of Scrum. This investment in time and travel by the trainers is an important feedback loop from people teaching and implementing Scrum at the coal face.

In addition, has raised the bar further by moving the Professional Scrum Master beyond the introductory level to the intermediate level and providing a structured path for those seeking to go beyond the basics.


As you can see, these issues are being dealt with in a constructive, positive and professional manner. Now that there is a choice and exists, Clarus has chosen to move over to working with the home of Scrum.

Finally, to really prove we are in this for the right reasons, we lowered the price of Scrum training in New Zealand.

If you are interested in attending a class, click here.

Oh, and by the way, we don’t do drive by training. We are right here in New Zealand with the largest and most competent professional agile practice in the country to help you work through any issues any time 🙂



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  2. What do you know of the Scrum Agile Institute and the Scrum Institute? are they Legitimate?

    • Femi,

      Since there’s no absolute authority, they’re as legitimate as it gets. However, community recognition of certifications by various “Scrum Institutes” might be a different story. To my understanding, two most recognized organizations are ScrumAlliance (Jeff Sutherland) and (Ken Schwaber).

      I hope this article might help you in choosing one of the two:

  3. Erik Buitenhuis says:

    agreed with most of the article.
    note that is no longer the home of Scrum. is.

  4. Really nice article! Help me lot to choose what is right and what is wrong! Path finder for me. thank you from India!

  5. Thanks for this very well written and informative article on Scrum Alliance and Scrum Org. The background history of Scrum in this article was very interesting to read and helped in getting a better understanding of all the changes that Scrum has seen ever since.

  6. Shivam Sharma says:

    Thanks for the information. Really helped me in understanding the difference and history.

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