Posted by: jsonmez | March 31, 2010

Scrum For the Money…

Oh what an ethical dilemma.

I’m about to piss off a lot of people.

But, I am going to tell the truth.

Often a person has to make a choice between standing by their convictions and doing what they believe is right or doing the more profitable thing at the cost of integrity.  I don’t like to use this blog as an avenue to bash anyone, but I have held myself to the requirement of being honest.  Honest in the most tactful way that I can.

I am also not always 100% correct.  Sometimes I am plain wrong, but I have to call things as I see them until corrected and shown otherwise.  I am open to being corrected.  That is how to learn.  Learning is more important than being right.

One last disclaimer.  I don’t hate Scrum.  I think it is good.  I think it is really good, and if implemented correctly can provide enormous benefits.  I think most of the ideas are sound, even though I do believe it has some major flaws.  I think if 90% of software companies stopped doing their broken process and at least tried to adopt Scrum, the world would be a better place.  But… I also think Scrum is not the end.  It is just the beginning of an eye opening and awakening of problems in developing software.

If I attack Scrum, it is for two reasons.

  1. To push us to build on the principles of Scrum and go beyond it to iteratively find an even better process.
  2. To fight against the blood-thirsty vampire consultants, trainers and organizations preying on the uninformed and making Scrum a commercial enterprise which sacrifices its integrity.

Today I will talk about the latter

Perhaps this isn’t a smart move.  Perhaps this will remove opportunities from my path and make people angry with me.  So be it.  If I am wrong, teach me.

What sparked this whole post is the relaunch of  I listened to Pluralcast #12: The Future of Scrum with Ken Schwaber.  I truly listened to this with an open mind and was optimistic about the new programs being launched.  I bought into the story about the Scrum Alliance becoming a money making scheme and selling certifications.  I welcomed the fresh clean break to “free certifications” and altruistic motives.  I thought teaming up with Microsoft to bring in a .NET track, and later a Java track, was a great idea.  Until I visited the website and found the only difference between and is who is taking your money.

But please, don’t take my word for it.  Lets look at the pages together.

This is the assessments page, let’s click Professional Scrum Master.

Hmm, there is also a Professional ScrumMaster II on the page below.  Let me register and add them both to my cart, so I can take this test and get certified.

WOW!  Umm, what is going on here?  Didn’t they just talk about how Scrum Alliance was ripping us off and turning Scrum into a money making venture?

Ok, how about Professional Scrum Developer, that one I am really interested in.

Okay, can’t take the test on here the first year.  Have to take a course first.  That sounds pretty reasonable.  Let’s check out the prices of the courses.

Umm.  $2000?  Then I can be a Certified Scrum Master?  How is this different than Scrum Alliance?  Okay, what about the Certified Scrum Developer?

Okay,  sorry, I’m not sipping that Kool-Aid anymore.

The courses are even cheaper.  (Although, they are still a rip off IMO)

It’s all about the Benjamins

My current assessment of the Scrum consulting world just got worse instead of better.  I really wanted to believe in what I heard on that podcast.  It seemed really good to me.  I even bet the classes will be really good.  I know one of the instructors and he is awesome!

The problem is, I can’t trust, and I can’t trust, not when they are about making money.  (That little .org domain on the end is kind of ridiculous).  It is pretty clear to me that this is what the whole Scrum movement has become.  When all the dust settles and the consultants have certified every Scrum Master in the world, will software development really be better?

If I am wrong, tell me.  I won’t filter the comments here.  Ken, if you want to, address this post.  Do so, you have a right to and I won’t filter your response.   Sorry if I am “hurting your guys business”, but my conscious does not allow me to stand by and say nothing.



  1. I stumbled upon your post while trying to find quotes on agile. While I don’t agree with a lot of what you say, I think when we feel that we only have two choices in life – violate a deeply help principle or speak the truth, we make excuses for acting disrespectfully. Stay in dialogue, it is a much better place to be and we can have more interesting conversations than the sucker’s choice.

  2. Firstly, thanks for speaking your truth, and for pointing out some hypocrisy. is a private company, not a fellowship or a community-centric organization.

    Secondly, some comments qua the Creative Director for the Scrum Alliance, a role I have held since the start of 2010. The Scrum Alliance is, in fact, a non-profit organization. Trainers pay an annual fee to join and for each student registered as a CSM there is a $50.00 charge. The money taken by the SA is used to run Gatherings, support User Group events, sponsor other Agile events, manage the website and other resources, and spread the word of Scrum to the world of work in general. In addition, we are working on a new scholarship program to support and subsidize unemployed and low-paid professionals to learn Scrum and become certified. The mission of the SA is to “transform the world of work”.

    Thirdly, as a CST (Certified Scrum Trainer) I have personally put my CSM-granting privilege to community benefit by running the WelfareCSM program ( A few other CSTs have also worked with me on this program.

    We are not all about profit. In fact, I’d say that it is a small minority of CSTs that care more for profit. The rest of us are community-centric. We are passionate about Scrum and we care about what we do, which is why we do it.

    And back to my SA role… Over the coming year I trust you will witness more of a community focus from the SA. Remember, it was only recently the SA underwent a major management overhaul. Things take time to settle.

    I welcome blog posts like this one, as they help the us (the SA) to be aware of public opinion and perception. This in turn helps us strive to improve our services to the Scrum community, seek input and support from that community, and make the work we do more visible.

    • Thanks for your honesty. I think it is important for any organization to be up for scrutiny. Unfortunately or fortunately our industry is an unregulated one, so our clients are at a disadvantage when dealing with consultants and consulting organizations. I think it is very important for us to make sure that doing the right thing, and improving software development is valued over making money. If we are doing that money will come.

  3. Everyone has bills to pay, so making a bit of money here and there is not that strange, is it? It sounds like consultants are vampires, sucking blood out of poor customers who cannot defend themselves. I am not sure that is the case.

    I suggest that in a balanced life you need to:
    -have some fun
    -make money to pay your mortgage
    -do some good

    The real questions may be – is the hype worth the money or not?

    I also suggest most who’ve worked with Scrum and agile since the mid 1990’s and around are not exactly vultures. It wasn’t cool and hype at that time and we had to fight for the few projects that could be talked into trying new ways of doing things. There were plenty of easier and more profitable walks of life laying around.

    • I’m not trying to say every consultant is a vampire sucking blood out of customers. (I am a consultant myself).

      What I am saying is that if you are promoting something and giving credence to it, your reason should be, because it is good, not because it makes you a large amount of money to do so.

      There isn’t a problem with making ‘honest’ money. Unfortunately, many consultants aren’t making ‘honest’ money. Instead they are misrepresenting Scrum as this magical silver bullet, and especially misrepresenting the value of certifications that are pushed out by these organizations.

      Don’t get me wrong. Scrum is really a pretty good process. At the same time, it is not the only way to run an agile project. With that said, Scrum certifications have some amount of value, and the training is valuable, but that value is very much over stated and inflated.

      The main reason I posted this post is because I felt that was grossly misrepresenting their reasons for breaking away from and trying to angle it as altruistic motives. If they had been honest about what they were doing, I would have had much less of a problem.

      Although, I would still have a problem with the absolutely ridiculous prices of the training.

      Thanks for your input.

  4. I think one of the things you are missing is who is making the money off of the courses and what exactly the organizations are getting out of it all. I can’t speak for but I know the Scrum Alliance gets $50 per certification. The rest goes to the trainer to cover expenses and make profit. I don’t want to talk about the part the trainer gets because the market in general will sort out pricing over time.

    The Scrum Alliance part is interesting. They have .org at the end of the URL and it is legitimate. The Scrum Alliance is a non-profit entity with a board of directors, bylaws, etc. The money they make off of various certifications covers salaries for a few people, website development and most importantly, spreading the word about Scrum throughout the world.

    They spread the word by sponsoring gatherings and paying some or even all of the costs in some cases. They spread the word by sponsoring speakers for newly formed user groups. They sponsor events. They sponsor lots of good stuff. They could and hopefully will do even more.

    It may seem like a money-making machine, but the Alliance part of it is really all about spreading the word. Individual consultants make the bulk of the money off of a certification course. I don’t begrudge them that right. They pay a lot of money to do it and in most cases have spent a lot of time and effort getting to the point where they can do it. I hope to join their group one day soon.

    I do think there are some bad apples, just like there are in any group. However, people like Tobias and others keep me forever hopeful because they are truly changing the way people work. I like to think I do that as well. I charge money for my services, but I have NEVER had a client ask for a refund. In fact one of my company values is to “provide exceptional value.” In order to take that seriously, if I ever do become a CST I need to determine what price point to use for courses AND how much content to deliver.

    Not all are greedy. Some are, just like in any group (sadly).

    – Bob –

  5. John:

    Great post.

    The certification boat has sailed and will continue to gain steam as long as employers think they need people with certifications and employees think they will only get hired if they have certifications. To that end there will be a multitude of consultants ready to give you the training you need to get such a certification. I’m sure there are consultants preparing their kanban and lean certification classes for when companies tire of scrum and start looking for the next silver bullet.

    And as long as there are consultants giving training, they will charge what they think the market will bear for said training.

    That said, I have been to two CSM classes. Both were well done by knowledgeable people. These were provided by my employer in an effort to get us all on the same page with regard to scrum master duties. But, they weren’t cheap. 🙂

    • Thanks Scott.

      You are right, and I think the CSM classes can be beneficial. They just should not give out a certification at the end. A certificate of completion would be more appropriate. In my mind, a certification should entail some demonstrated knowledge or expertise in a subject matter.

      Earlier in my career I got my MCSD, MCDBA, MCAD, and MCSE certifications, and those took many hours of studying and many tests. No amount of money could have bought the certifications, I had to actually learn the material. I get aggravated when certifications that are given out for attending 1 or 2 day course get treated as if they are even more important than a real certification.

      Knowledge, not money should be the qualification for a certification.

  6. I’m also unhappy with what has happened to

    The about page there has disappeared. I considered it the most succinct introduction to scrum for non-technical people. There is nothing else like it.

  7. […] how and the Scrum Alliance are the same beast with different bank accounts (“Scrum for the Money“).  But the reason ASPE, and myself, have remained partners and become more involved with […]

  8. I run Certified ScrumMaster classes. The reason they are popular is because people find them really useful. The badge is just an added extra.

    Don’t believe me – Ask some of the people who have been on my course. They would tell you it was money well spent, useful and enjoyable.

  9. Hi John

    The other John (Liu) has a nice answer to your blog post here

    Don’t focus on getting the certification.
    Focus on learning.
    See Uncle Bob’s article on that


    • Thanks Peter. You are right about focusing on learning. Read Bob’s post on it yesterday. As for John’s answer to my post, I don’t see it really addressing my main point. It is more than about money it is about deception.

  10. […] tons of heat on the Scrum and certifications topic going on lately.  From my original post on Scrum for the Money to Ron Jeffries post on Certifications to Uncle Bob’s post on Certifications, to David […]

  11. […] named John Sonmez weighs in. He makes the following comments and provides a link to heated and scathing rebuke of both and the Scrum […]

  12. This reminds me so much of the old Transcendental Meditation classes, where for $2000 or so you could learn to meditate, and for $3000 (+ the original $2000) you could become a trainer.

    Scrum is the most simplistic and inane McMethodology — it has a todo list and a daily meeting. How inventive!

    How are the patsies that pay for this crapola?

    They need to read my blog and stop drinking the kool aid

  13. That should have been “Who are the patsies”…

  14. […] named John Sonmez weighs in. He makes the following comments and provides a link to heated and scathing rebuke of both and the Scrum […]

  15. The issue for me is not the price of the course (my company paid for that) but the fact that I am expected to pay $100 (currently) every 2 years to “renew” my certification. There is no test or anything to say that I am still working as a Scrum Master, just “hand over the money”. If Scrum Alliance are to recharge then they should be doing some work for that money. Otherwise they are guilty as charged above.
    Oracle don’t try and charge me again every few years for my Java certifications.

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