The CSM Test

As you may know, Scrum Alliance is implementing a CSM Test on Oct. 1.

Here are a few basic statements.

First, the real purpose for you should not be certification and all that alphabet soup. It might be helpful, but it is not the main purpose. The real purpose is improving people’s lives. The customers, the workers (which includes the managers) and the stakeholders (e.g., the shareholders, those widows and orphans).

Second, in some ways, the ScrumMaster title is not fortuitous. It implies a CSM is a “master” of something, possibly Scrum. Almost any intelligent person, with a modicum of investigation, sees that is not true, but some people want to get wrapped up in this issue.

Third, I think the CSM course is a very good course and the 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 to doing Scrum. Other conditions must also be met.

OK, now on to the Test itself.

First, putting together a good test is very hard — Scrum Alliance has my sympathies.

Second, the test 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 more attention in class. Good, mostly. Partly bad, since they may be paying attention to pass a test, not to the broader meaning and the interconnections of how to make it work in real life.

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

The test is partly bad. It puts more emphasize on explicit knowledge, and implies less importance for tacit knowledge. Certainly, the tacit knowledge about Scrum is important; I think far more important than the explicit knowledge.

Metaphorically, the test suggests that documentation (knowledge unused) is an important measure of progress. Agile and Scrum say the true measure of progress is working product. In this situation, ‘working product’ is putting Scrum into practice. In the case of the test, it is OK to test explicit knowledge, but we need to say we do not agree with any implication that any important success accrues from a mere book-learning test. The more important test is: Can you really do Scrum successfully?

In the real world, hiring managers want to see, “Can this person do this well?” It is reasonable, as I said, to view a CSM as a necessary condition to becoming a ScrumMaster and even to do Scrum. (And the same for a CSPO for Product Owner types.) But a CSM is not sufficient. Only in action can you prove you can do it.

So, I think the CSM Test is a small positive step (despite its drawbacks). Let’s not get distracted from the main goal. Let’s make people’s lives better. We need that just about now.



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2 thoughts on “The CSM Test

  1. Anonymous

    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 (

  2. Joe Little

    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.

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