Becoming a Certified Scrum Professional

8 May 2013

Rajat Bhalla
IndicInfo B.V.

Considering the increasing number of companies practicing Agile, getting a ScrumMaster on the rolls has almost become mandatory. Consequently, lot of people (including PMPs) are getting themselves certified as ScrumMasters (or Certified Scrum Developers/Certified Scrum Product Owners). After two days' training and passing the exam, they consider the job done. If you are one of them, then your journey has only started, my friend.

While becoming a Certified ScrumMaster is relatively straightforward, becoming a Certified Scrum Professional is a different ball game altogether. If you pay attention during the training, you can pass the CSM exam with flying colors. CSP, however requires constant practice. If the input for the CSM exam was theory, then its practice is the input for CSP exam. Consider an analogy: Most of us would have studied trigonometry in high school or college; how many of us can now find the distance to an object by using triangulation? The inability stems from lack of practice.

CSM training throws a lot of jargon at you — product backlog, burn-down chart, sprint planning, etc. It all sounds great during the training. You understand it and take the exam. Get certified and then sit back and relax.

Not so fast, mate. The two-day training should act as only an appetizer. You are yet to enjoy your full course during the on-job-training, when you practice what you have learned. You may have a product backlog, but you don't spend enough time grooming it. You practice sprints, but every once in a while you let one extend for a day or two because the team wasn't able to finish everything they had committed. You estimate stories, but the estimates aren't provided by the team. I remember talking to a friend who, on learning that my company practiced Agile, began boasting about the Agile practices at his company. I asked, "Who estimates the stories?" The prompt reply was, "The client." I wish we'd been talking face to face rather than on the phone, so he could have seen my jaw drop.

Even though the title of the certification has only "Scrum" in it, it also requires a fair brush of methods that go well with Scrum, such as Extreme Programming (XP). I don't think that Scrum really talks much about automation or test-driven development, but you can't be fully Agile without it. Lean thinking also works well with Scrum. "Lean inventories" is a concept mirrored in Scrum by having stories detailed just enough to drive conversations, to have stories only higher up in the backlog as detailed, and the lower ones as coarse-grained. Yes, you learned about it during your CSM training, but are you practicing it?

There are many books and articles available on Scrum practices, and one should be well versed in them before taking the CSP exam. But that's only for starters — just like the Agile Manifesto itself. You need to have a good exposure to Agile practices if you want to earn your certification. The questions aren't from a theory book; they're based on real-life scenarios. And most of the time, all the options provided are right. Your experience will tell you which option is the best. As the ScrumAlliance itself says, a course is only the first step; becoming Agile is a lifelong journey.

When I got certified as a CSM about three years back, I thought I knew it all. But today, after receiving my CSP certification, I can say with full confidence that the CSM was only a spark; the noodles were cooked by steady practice, observing and stirring (or, in Agile terms, inspecting and adapting).

If you've noticed the number of times I have used the word "practice" in various forms in this article, you would realize what I'm trying to say. So my humble suggestion is to earn your CSP certification by going through the real life of Agile practice. Follow the road, amigo, not the steps.

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Comments

Srinath Ramakrishnan, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 5/8/2013 3:27:53 AM
Nice article. You take the baby steps of Agile / Scrum by doing a CSM course. A CSP tests your practical knowledge of Agile which you gather through experience and after lots of reading !!
Rajat Bhalla, CSP,CSM, 5/9/2013 6:00:36 AM
Exactly Srinath. CSM is just like taking a dive into a swimming pool. You need to practice the length and breadth of the pool well in order to call yourself a swimmer.
Natalie Warnert, CSM, 5/9/2013 8:36:56 AM
Great insights - it's very refreshing as I've felt the same way quite often. I'm looking at getting my CSP in the next year or so and it makes me consider the practical application of Scrum and actually reacting to change vs. following the exact Scrum plan to be truly Agile.
Glen Wang, CSM, 5/13/2013 3:07:20 AM
Congratulate! I like the word "Practice".
Would you like to read and comment my article Scrum: The Unity of Knowing and Doing?
Rajat Bhalla, CSP,CSM, 5/30/2013 10:53:01 PM
Thanks for your comments. I am glad you liked it.
David Lowe, CSP,CSM, 6/24/2013 7:46:28 AM
Thanks for stating the difference between these 'qualifications'. It frustrates me how businesses state requirements such as "Must be a CSM". Hopefully your post will help to educate. Spread the word people!

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