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What Is The Difference Between The Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) And The Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) Certifications?

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of presenting at the Washington, D.C. Chapter of the Project Management Institute(PMI) with my colleague Richard.  Our topic was “A Deep Look at Agile Certifications” and the presentation was exactly that, a VERY detailed look at all of the Agile certifications out there. Now, most people are familiar […]

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January 08, 2013

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of presenting at the Washington, D.C. Chapter of the Project Management Institute(PMI) with my colleague Richard.  Our topic was “A Deep Look at Agile Certifications” and the presentation was exactly that, a VERY detailed look at all of the Agile certifications out there.

Now, most people are familiar with the offerings from the Scrum Alliance, as they are the leaders in the industry, but Scrum.org and the International Consortium for Agile (ICAgile) also offer great programs.  In addition, with PMI getting in the game with their Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP) certification, it is becoming a crowded playing field.

Our presentation focused on the plethora of certifications out there and, in the end, we did a thorough job of providing all the information that anyone would need to make a decision on their own.  But, after the presentation was complete, there were a lot of questions from the audience.

It seemed that even though we gave people the information that they needed, what they really wanted to know which certification they should go out and get.  More specifically, they were asking, Should I get a CSM or CSPO certification?”

Why so much interest in the CSM and CSPO?

As I mentioned earlier, the Scrum Alliance is the leader when it comes to Agile certifications.  This is evidenced by the sheer number of CSMs and CSPOs out there – 95,000 and 10,000 respectively (as of July 2011).  Even with the addition of an exam to get certified, the number of people clamoring for a CSM and/or CSPO is rising steadily, as having this certification on your resume is helping people get jobs and helping companies market their employees.

So, which one do I choose?

The answer to this question depends on your situation.

If there is a ScrumMaster role that you are vying for, it makes more sense to get your CSM.  On the other hand, if you have spent some time as a ScrumMaster in the past or maybe you want to spend some time experiencing the other side, go with the CSPO certification.  Or, better yet, why not get both?

In the end, it really is a personal preference based on what you want to accomplish once you get the certification. Either direction you go in, you will be getting a highly regarded certification that is recognized by all in the industry.

Is there really a difference?

This is the big question. And who better to tell us about the courses than the Scrum Alliance itself?

CSM Course and Certification: “Our CSM trainers will teach you what you need to know to fill the role of ScrumMaster (or Scrum team member). This course focuses on the basics of the Scrum framework, including team roles, activities, and artifacts, so that you can be an effective member of a Scrum team.”

CSPO Course and Certification: “The CSPO course gives you enough information to understand how Scrum works, but focuses mainly on functioning as the product owner, or customer, for a Scrum team. You will learn about activities such as managing stakeholders, ROI, backlog grooming, creating effective stories, acceptance criteria for stories, defining done, and so on.”

What do you recommend?

Whether you go to a CSM or CSPO course, one thing is for sure; you are going to learn a lot about Scrum. In fact, looking at the materials for each course, there’s a lot of overlap between the two, especially on the first day of the course.

Overall, the CSM course is great for anyone that is going to be on the Scrum team, whether they are the ScrumMaster or not. The CSPO course on the other hand really focuses on the role of “the decider” and centers on the vision inherent in this role. If you work on Scrum projects long enough, you’ll likely be a ScrumMaster at some point. But lots of people never fill the role of Product Owner, for a variety of reasons.

In the end, there is a reason why there are almost ten times more CSMs than CSPOs.  The former is a more general certification, the latter more specific.

What other questions do you have about Agile Certifications?

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