Professional or Certified?

Certified. Adjective. Having met the official requirements that are needed to do particular type of work.

Professional. Adjective. Conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession.

Do you prefer your football players to be certified or professional? What about your auto mechanics? Does it matter?

Professional Scrum Master (PSM). Certified Scrum Master (CSM).

Initially I had no preference for either of these certifications. I chose to enter the realm of Agile Project Management through the broader avenue of the PMI-ACP. As I have been immersing myself in the Agile world over the last year I have come to realize something. Many people seem to act as if Agile and Scrum are interchangeable. (They are not.) As I strive for Agility in all I do I started to look into Scrum certification. I found two recognized and competing certifications.

The CSM has been around longer. The PSM was created by part of the founding team behind the CSM. I don’t know the details as I was settling into my new role as a developer (versus systems/network administrator) at the time, but 2009 seems to be when the split occurred. That was almost 5 years ago. What I do know is since then some of the problems the PSM team had with the CSM have been addressed. At this point there is little reason to prefer one over the other.

“Little reason,” not “no reason.” For the Agilist that has to pay for their own training and exams it can make a difference. The CSM requires a course that takes 2 days and averages $1200 followed by a 35 question exam. (Included in the course cost.) The PSM requires an 80 question exam at $100.

An individual could take the PSM exam 12 times for the cost of the class behind the CSM. To me that means a person with the knowledge to pass either exam already could save significant money by taking the PSM route. A person without knowledge has about the same cost either route. (PSM classes generally run $1200 and include a code for the exam.) A person getting it paid for by an employer likely can do whatever their employer prefers.

Looking further into the future there is a need to decide what you will do with your certifications. The CSM program includes training and coach levels at a third tier. The PSM stops at the second tier of certification. (EDIT – further research shows they have a training tier but few have made it.) The CSM is a little more known as it has been around longer. The PSM focuses on difficult exams to prove knowledge. The CSM focuses on training to impart knowledge with reportedly easier exams.

As an employer either certification would tell me that an individual is serious about Scrum. I may infer other details about the person based on which one they have. In truth the certification is not as important as the knowledge. The knowledge represented by each certification is essentially the same. The interview is where the actual level of knowledge behind the certification can be assessed. This is the really important metric for the employer, not which authority backs the individual.

In the short-term there are situations where I need some letters to show authority. In those cases the people looking at the letters generally know that either set is the same. I do not have extra time. I can afford $100 a whole lot easier than $1200. I see them as equal certifications. I can explain my case that they are equal convincingly. For those reasons my money picks the PSM. Am I opposed to the CSM? No. In fact, I will almost certainly have both in the next few years.

Do you have a CSM/PSM preference? What is it? More importantly, why?

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