Certifiable: A guide to the CSM, PMI-ACP and PSM I Certifications

It’s an exciting time for those looking to attain certification in the Agile arena. There are a multitude of certifications on everything from general Agile practices to specific roles within Scrum. Personally, I have completed three certifications associated with Agile practices and concepts. These include the Certified Scrum Master certification through the Scrum Alliance, the Agile Certified Practitioner through the Project Management Institute, and the Professional Scrum Master I certification through Scrum.org. For those interested in these certifications, I have compiled a list of study materials, as well as, my thoughts on each exam.

Certified Scrum Master (CSM)

Provider: Scrum Alliance

Difficulty: Minimal

Cost: High (Due to the fact that formal training is required)

Thoughts: Like many people who have their CSM, this class and certification was my initiation into Scrum and concepts associated with Agile. This class provides a consumable and user-friendly introduction to Scrum with some hands-on activities to drive home learning objectives. This is one of the costlier options in the Agile certification space. As such, this may not be an option for you, if certification cost is a primary driver.

Study Materials: The great thing about completing the CSM is that the materials are provided. There is no need to study the concepts outside of what you will learn in the two-day course. Additionally, the exam is open book (just like real life).


Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)

Provider: Project Management Institute

Difficulty: Low to Moderate

Cost: Moderate (without a course)

Thoughts: You will need to be familiar with many different aspects of Agile as this exam has a wide breadth; however, the exam does not delve deeply into each concept, so knowing the basics for each topic area will suffice. In general, the questions are straightforward and test your ability to memorize material rather than true mastery. Any scenario based questions frame the identification of key terms and concepts, rather than assess understanding of concepts through application. Of note, memorizing content tends to be “easier” for me personally. If memorization is not your strong suit, you may find this exam more difficult.

Study Materials: Here is a link to Edward Chung’s study notes. These provide a good listing of topics that you should focus on before taking this exam (scroll to the “PMI-ACP Exam Prep – My Study Notes” Section): http://edward-designer.com/web/pmi-acp/


Professional Scrum Master I (PSM I)

Provider: Scrum.org

Difficulty: Moderate

Cost: Minimal

Thoughts: You will need to be familiar with Scrum.org’s prescription of Scrum, which may differ from other Scrum trainings you have completed. Specifically, Scrum as prescribed by Scrum.org is more restrictive than Scrum as prescribed by Scrum Alliance. Additionally, the content covered on the PSM I exam is more focused than the PMI-ACP. Questions are a combination of straight memorization and scenarios. Many of the questions require you to choose the “best answer,” where more than one response is technically correct. In general, the most difficult questions I encountered were centered around definition of “done” and what each role is responsible for. If you are thinking of taking this exam, make sure you know those things inside and out from the perspective of Scrum.org.

Study Materials: Below is a listing of the materials that I used to study. Scrum.org has a more exhaustive list: https://www.scrum.org/Assessments/Ways-to-learn-about-Scrum

  1. Scrum.org Guide: http://scrumguides.org/docs/scrumguide/v2016/2016-Scrum-Guide-US.pdf#zoom=100
  2. Open Assessment through Scrum.org: https://www.classmarker.com/online-test/start/?quiz=vek54a6ec10658ef
  3. Reviewing Scrum.org Forums with “Fuzzy” Areas: https://www.scrum.org/Forums


From my perspective, the Professional Scrum Master I certification through Scrum.org delivers the most value for those who have not completed any other Agile focused certifications. While the PMI-ACP is a great introduction to Agile from a general perspective (think 101 college level class). The PSM I is a focused exercise in Scrum and prompts you to think about how Scrum should really be applied (think 201 college level class). For those completely unfamiliar with Agile and related principles, you should consider reading up on Agile, or attending an Agile user group in your area, prior to jumping into any certification other than Certified Scrum Master. While you may be able to pass the certification exam by simply reviewing materials, you will learn far more by familiarizing yourself with some baseline concepts prior to taking the plunge.

If you have attained certification in Agile, or are in the process of studying for an Agile certification, I would love to hear about your experience!

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