Certified Scrum Master vs Professional Scrum Master

What are the differences between the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course + certification from the Scrum Alliance and Professional Scrum Master (PSM) course?

People often ask about the differences between the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course + certification from the Scrum Alliance and Professional Scrum Master (PSM)

Time and time again in my career as Scrum Trainer, I get a question about the differences between Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course + certification from Scrum Alliance and Professional Scrum Master (PSM) course and assessment from Scrum.org from someone who wants to attend the Professional Scrum Master course with us. Consider this article is written for those who are making a decision either Certified Scrum Master or Professional Scrum Master.

As a disclaimer, I earned Certified Scrum Professional credential from Scrum Alliance and currently a Professional Scrum Trainer with Scrum.org. I will try to write an unbiased difference between the two certifications to let you decide which one is better for you.

Regarding the organization itself, Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org is founded by the same person, Mr. Ken Schwaber. Ken left Scrum Alliance to found Scrum.org. Ken Schwaber created the Certified Scrum Master course back in 2002. Professional Scrum Master course is a major update for the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course that Ken Schwaber did in 2009. The reason why Ken Schwaber left Scrum Alliance can be read here.

The Scrum organizations

Before talking about CSM and PSM, let’s look at the differences between the two organizations

Scrum Alliance Scrum.org
Organisation Mission Transforming the world of work. Scrum Alliance is pushing Scrum beyond software development. Improving the profession of software development. Scrum.org is only focused on the software development industry.

The Scrum Course

Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) from Scrum Alliance Professional Scrum Master (PSM) from Scrum.org
Courseware content Content is different between trainers. Standards are defined in the course objectives. CSM courses are created by the person offering them, and their content is limited to that person’s experience with Scrum. Scrum Alliance provides course objectives but the content is left to the person offering them. Some teach Scrum by playing games and some are very theoretical. Therefore, each Scrum Alliance course can teach orthogonal (completely different) points of view for the same fundamental topic. Content is the same regardless of who the trainer is. Scrum.org courses are collaboratively maintained by Ken Schwaber, the co-founder of Scrum and hundreds of Scrum experts from the Scrum.org network. The courseware used is common for all trainers, ensuring a consistent high-quality learning experience and a consistent understanding and application of Scrum by everyone in the Scrum.org network.
Course Duration No standard. Some CSM training is offered in 3-days set up but most are offered in 2-days setup. Standardized. All PSM courses are offered in 2-days setup.
Course Depth Level No standard. Some CSM courses are an introductory course to Scrum, some CSM courses are an advanced level of Scrum. Certified Scrum Master was originally a course about Scrum mastery so most CSM courses are general courses on Scrum. Standardized. Scrum.org PSM course is the advanced level course of Scrum from a Scrum Master. PSM course focuses on the knowledge that the Scrum Master needs to have so that she can be an effective servant leader. Scrum.org’s introductory level for all Scrum team members and general courses on the Scrum course is called the Professional Scrum Foundations (PSF).

The Scrum Certification

Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) from Scrum Alliance Professional Scrum Master (PSM) from Scrum.org
Earning the Certification Attached to the course. You have to attend and sit through the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course and pass the CSM test. You get two attempts for taking the test. Detached from the course. You do not have to attend the Professional Scrum Master course to get the Professional Scrum Master I (PSM I) and Professional Scrum Master II (PSM II) certificate.
Certification test passing grade Lower. Scrum Alliance CSM test has a passing score of 24 out of 35 questions that are approximately 69% passing grade. High. The passing grade for Scrum.org PSM assessment is 85%. You get 80 questions for the assessment.
Certification test format CSM test is multiple choice based
  • PSM I is multiple choice based.
  • PSM II is multiple-choice and essay-based.
Certification cost No standard. Since the CSM test is attached to the course and there are no standards for the course, to earn Certified Scrum Master (CSM) credential can cost ranging from US$400 to US$2,500. Standardized. PSM I cost US$100 and PSM II cost US$500. Students who attend the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) course are given one free attempt to take PSM I assessment.
Certification test difficulty Relatively Easy. Intermediate.

I do hope this information is useful for your decision making. Most of this information is available on the internet, so you can do more research about it and do not only take my word for it. Many have also written a similar blog entry post on this topic, so you will most probably find it using Google. Some of this information is also from my students who have attended both the CSM course and my Professional Scrum Master (PSM) course. I will update this post as there are updates from the two organizations.

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