A Systems Analysis of CSM Certification – Part 2: We Want You as Our New Recruit!


This is part 2 of an analysis of some causes and effects of offering CSM certificates. Part 1, with more explanations, was called Qualification by Proxy.

The First Effect of ScrumMaster Certification: More Scrum Recruits

There are several effects (some good, some… not so good) that stem from the benevolent (some would even say “frivolous”) way that CSM certificates are awarded today.

In this part I want to take a look at some effects using the arguments of the Scrum trainers themselves. You see, if you ask a certified Scrum trainer (CST) why they certify, which I have, they are likely to tell you that, although certification has some unwanted effects, the positive effects from exposing more and more people to Scrum and agile thinking outweighs them. Exactly how they have determined this is more unclear.

So, let us examine these effects with a causal-loop diagram:


Causal Loop Diagram showing some effects of CSM certification

Some effects of CSM certification around recruits

Many have noted the effect of associating a course with a certificate. A certificate can generate a good interest in a course if the participants believe that the certificate is valuable on the job market. Currently, the CSM certificate certainly fits this bill, so the CSM certification probably encourages more people to become CSM Recruits. Note that there are many successful courses without certification and many failed course offerings with certification so the effect is not entirely clear, but this is what the CSTs tell me so we will go with this.

Of course, as demand increases, suppliers try to meet this demand by giving more CSM Courses. This increases the CST Revenues. Of course the CSTs do not like to talk about money. They will assure you that is not why they give the courses. That may be true for some, but we should at least acknowledge that it is not a shabby deal to become a CST. One single course can easily generate EUR 20 000 after expenses (assuming 20 participants paying EUR 1 500 each).

It is difficult to assess the outcome of all CSM courses since it varies, but let us very crudely classify the students into three groups: 1. Adequate, Enthusiastic CSMs, 2. Barely Adequate CSMs, and 3. Inadequate CSMs. Why this division? Ask any tutor, after just two days with students, the best you may hope for is that at least a few of them have reached the beginner stage and combine this with a will to improve. Most students may have gotten most of the message, but do not wish to improve further (these are most people). They are happy with what they learned and just want to cope with their daily issues. Lastly, some participants will simply be inadequate for the job. For example, they may not have the right skills or interest for people. It is notable that these two last categories always constitute the largest part. The enthusiasts are not the norm. In a later part, we will explore what these two groups cause.

The Adequate, Enthusiastic CSMs are few but valuable. As their number increases, the Quest for Mastery in product development is strengthened, which is one necessary, but not sufficient, factor in achieving Successful Product Development. It is simply a start. You will need many other skills, e.g. leadership skills and an understanding of solid development practices, which will take years to acquire. To contribute you will need to have a will to learn a lot more and be suitable for the job. At first, you are just cargo culting. It takes years of practice, reflection and devotion to really understand the foundations upon which agile methods are built.

From the ranks of the Adequate, Enthusiatic CSMs the SA recruits the future Certified Scrum Practitioners (CSPs) and, later on, the Certified Scrum Trainers (CSTs). All these certified SA members (which some call “the Scrum army”) pay yearly fees to the Scrum Alliance, thereby contributing to The Scrum Alliance Revenue.

The SA Revenue is used in multiple ways. One great way is that they contribute to deepening its members’ understanding of Scrum and agile thinking, e.g. by Scrum gatherings and nice web resources. This encourages the Quest for Mastery. Another use of the money is Scrum Marketing. The Scrum marketing creates a Scrum buzz (some would say hype), which leads to more CSM Recruits. One side-effect of this is that it also leads some people to the Belief that Scrum = Agile. This is simply false and quite unfortunate in some instances. A third use of the money is to strengthen the organisation itself, i.e. the Scrum Alliance Power. It seems to be working. They have over 100 000 members now…

Reinforcing Loops

A reinforcing loop is a loop which will get stronger and stronger (or weaker and weaker) until some external factor limits its growth (balancing or diminishing it). If you look closely at the diagram you will see several reinforcing loops.

The first one is how the CSM courses lead to certified CSMs, from which the future CSTs are recruited. More CSTs lead to more CSM courses. This is the classic career game, in which you start at the bottom and move towards the top, where bounty awaits.

Another reinforcing loop starts off the same way, but acknowledges the fact that more CSTs means more Scrum marketing, which will lead to more CSM recruits, which in turn generates more demand for the CSM courses.

A third reinforcing loop (actually a collection of them) starts with the CSM courses over any type of member into the Scrum Alliance revenue. This money is used for Scrum marketing, which increases the number of people who wish to take the course, which then attend the CSM course.

Basically, what I have described here is the business model of the Scrum Alliance. Having three reinforcing loops is both clever and powerful.

One can only speculate what will break the reinforcing cycles of ever more CSM students and courses. When will it end? When all the world’s software developers are SA members? Probably earlier than that. For a course you need two things: Students and a teacher. My guess is that the weakest link is the generation of new recruits by marketing. If Scrum gets a bad name, that will make the CSM certificate less valuable and decrease the number of recruits. This will generate fewer jobs to the CSTs, making it less attractive, and so on.


  • The Scrum Alliance uses a variation on the classic career game to generate revenue. The money comes from its members, which are arranged in a pyramid-like structure. The system is set up to generate new recruits, students, teachers, and profit.
  • Only a fraction of the fresh CSMs are likely to contribute to better projects and products – and only after considerable effort and experience. There will also be a large number of unsuitable CSMs, that either lack the will or the competence to become great product development servant leaders.
  • The process generates some side-effects, which could be interesting to study: What happens to all these unsuitable CSM graduates? And what does the belief that Scrum is equal to agile lead to?
  • The reinforcing loops will be ever stronger as long as Scrum is successful or as long as enough people have no experience to the contrary. This is a bet. If this bet fails, and we do not in fact get more successful projects, the Scrum name is in danger and consequently also the certification process.

Enough rambling. Next time I will examine some other effects of giving out CSM certificates.

2 thoughts on “A Systems Analysis of CSM Certification – Part 2: We Want You as Our New Recruit!

  1. Pingback: A Systems Analysis of CSM Certifications – Part 3: Degrading the World of Work « The Blogging Terrier | Den bloggande terriern

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