So, you want to be a CST?

What value is Scrum certification?  This question continually gets raised and I find myself in a somewhat conflicted position these days, in a state I can best describe as supportive indifference.  As a member of the Scrum Alliance staff, representing the Board of Directors, I am responsible for creating a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) application process that is fair to all applicants, transparent in its acceptance criteria and will both keep out those who really don’t get Scrum, don’t have the skills to train or have only monetary interest and make sure those who meet the criteria get through the process and are not tripped up by some weird technicality or the personal preference of an existing CST.

I care about having a good process in place, one that is both fair and transparent, and I care about doing a good job in the role I have agreed to serve in.  And yet, I am no great fan of certification so sometimes it is hard to care passionately about this.  I try to focus on the idea of socializing Scrum, rather than offering a  certificate.  I look at how we can identify good people to spread the message, to raise awareness and to rock worlds.  This helps my own motivation.  That these people will ultimately offer a certificate becomes secondary. Except in reality it isn’t secondary at all; the CST designation is much-sought.

There are about 120 CSTs in the world right now. It is a lucrative market — a trainer can easily make $20,000 for a single two-day class*.  It is also a limited market; how many CSM courses can run in parallel before the market is saturated?  There are driving forces from without to strive for CST status and from within to keep the CST numbers small.  These are conflicting interests.  There is a third, more interesting drive and that is to improve the quality of Scrum training in the world and see it more widely-spread; this is the driving force of the Scrum Alliance.  To do this we need to welcome in seasoned trainers from many Scrum-compatible backgrounds as well as those who have worked their way up in a Scrum environment through a process of practice and mentoring.

I thought it would be interesting to report the current state of the process in my blog, which I write as an independent, not as a Scrum Alliance staff member, and yet the lines are sometimes blurred.  I know there is a great amount of interest in the new CST application process and one of my goals is to raise the visibility of SA activities and have the SA be accountable to its members.  So the following description outlines where we stand right now.  Disclaimer: this is NOT an official Scrum Alliance document, and anything stated here is subject to review and change.

As the Product Owner, and with direction from the Board I have crafted a simple vision statement and designed a framework for the new CST application process.

To certify qualified individuals to be SA-approved Scrum Trainers.  The Scrum Alliance CST Application Process should be transparent, defensible and fair to all applicants equally.  The process should filter out those not (yet) suitable to be CSTs and also ensure that those who are suitably qualified are not rejected for personal or competitive reasons.  When an applicant is refused, the process should allow clear and actionable feedback to be offered so he/she can improve as necessary and reapply. The acceptance criteria should be available to anyone who requests it.  Additionally, the process must be scalable to handle 500+ applications per year.

An applicant is assessed in three areas: Scrum Experience, Training Experience and Motivation (possibly to be recast as Community Involvement).  There is only one absolute requirement to become a CST and that is to first be a Certified Scrum Professional, formally Practitioner (CSP).  All other requirements are flexible and carry different weightings.  The reason for this is we’d like to welcome trainers who have walked different pathways to get where they are.  There should not be just one route to become a CST or we run the risk of excluding some great trainers.  We run the risk of putting process above people.

A working group of around 50 people (the CST application improvement community, or CST-IC) is currently helping to make recommendations for the CST acceptance criteria and the weightings each item should carry.  Once this is established we can create an application process that allows each applicant to apply early and often.  Clear feedback on each acceptance criterion will allow the applicant to work on improving in those areas before re-applying.  This creates a transparent feedback process.  The plan right now is to have each application be rated by three people, two of which may be existing CSTs, but not necessarily. If CSTs are used they will be carefully selected as to have no financial or business ties to the candidate and no geographical proximity.  Final assessment will be averaged across all three assessors, and each person’s feedback will be available to the applicant.  The use of existing CSTs as reviewers is problematic, as each existing CST is expected to go through the process themselves.  We haven’t resolved this dilemma yet.

As you can imagine, having a working group of 50+ people is a little chaotic, and this being the Scrum community, very noisy, and often opinionated.  “Navigating Personalities” is a phrase that comes to mind.  The originally suggested work method attempted to bound the chaos by asking small groups of 2-3 people to take on each backlog item, relating to part of the new process and produce a set of recommendations for that section, which will then be iterated on by another small group, and then another until some sense of equilibrium is reached, hopefully in 3-4 iterations.  This method broke down early and the group decided to have a 50-way open discussion.  They have until 28 March to make a set of recommendations.  We’ll see what come out of this.  Meanwhile the board of directors are reasonably happy with the first draft.

Something that is on my mind as I work on this process is the thought that maybe my own status as a CST creates a potential conflict of interest.  I have spend most of the past year focusing on WelfareCSM, so not really competing in the market place, but nevertheless, I could if I chose to, and that may (and in fact does) make some people uncomfortable.  I am considering becoming a “dormant CST” (yes, such a status currently exists) while I am a staff member at the Scrum Alliance.  No decisions yet, but it is something that requires some serious thought.

I may write updates here as the new CST application process takes shape.  I may write updates here if it doesn’t take shape at all and collapses under the weight of conflicting opinions.  Anything is possible.

If you are interested in applying for CST status, stay tuned to for official updates.

* Calculated on a 24-person class, at a rate of $1,250 per person, allowing for expenses.

21 responses to “So, you want to be a CST?

  1. Hi Tobias thanks for this very informative post and clearly there are many obstacles to over come for the process, the SA and exisiting CST’s as well as you personally.

    I hope you do keep updating your blog on this subject as in my opinion transparency and communication are essential, for example on the SA site today I have seen posted application forms for CSD’s and REP’s but have not seen any information on this from the SA so there seems to be a communication issue on those topics.

    Posting your own updates would be a helpful communication channel as well as being able to see progress on the obstacles you have and hearing your own thoughts on the new CST application process.

    Good luck and hope to see you writing more on this topic in the future.


  2. I second Tom’s comments. Thanks for posting this and giving us some insight into the process. It’s good to know the things that are going on – for good or bad. Hopefully it can come from official channels, but I’ll happily take it from your blog. 😉


  3. Thank you for this post, Tobias. I appreciate your honesty regarding the conflicts inherent in the process, and I look forward to hearing more.

  4. Hi, I felt my ScrumMaster certification run by Mike Cohn was extremely valuable and reviewed it here:

    I might have gushed a bit but it really has made a difference to our teams.

  5. Thanks for the post Tobias – there is an important point to clarify. While some CST’s are able to attract 24 per class, the ones I know of suggest the number is between 10-15 at the moment and the rate is usually $955. So the market is still good but probably about half of your estimate. Also that doesn’t account for the fact that many CST’s with larger class sizes are working through firms that take a large cut – again over inflating the value.

    I think that some CST’s Mike, Ken, et al still get the attendance you suggest but the rest would be very happy (as would I :-).

    To be clear there is still enough of a market opportunity that I will likely apply this year.

    Also to be clear I’m one of the 50 participants in helping define the process.

    • Half my estimate is still about one quarter of a teacher’s annual salary… for two days’ work. It’s big money no matter how you minimize it. Non-CSTs will have a hard time matching that on a regular basis, which is my point.

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  7. Hi Tobias, first of all, thanks for sharing. Any increase in updates, clarity and transparency for the Scrum Alliance is a good thing.

    I do have to disagree however with your calculation of revenue stream for future CST trainings. Your calculation makes the assumptions of full occupancy, which is in reality not always given. What I hear in the industry, half-filled courses are quite typical. I noticed that more courses try to actively promote their seats. As a matter of fact 5 minutes after I read your post, I received an email advertising seat fillers for discounted CSM course. I also know that many CSM courses get canceled lateley due to lack of enrollment.

    This all depends of course who is offering the course and where. I have heard students now differentiate who certified them. For example “I was certified by Jeff Sutherland” instead of “I am Scrum certified”. Jeff even created t-shirts with it. It all depends where in the in the CST pyramid the instructor is.

    In terms of pricing, I also have a slightly different opinion, because this topic might come back to the SA like a bumerang. The hype might justify the price for a while and there are some companies out there who don’t care too much about every dollar spent. At some point however, and I have seen many technologies come and go, companies look at the price as greedy. They relate the price to value and evaluate. For example, was this training really 10K better than a non-certified training? Are the employees actually going through certification? and the most important question of all “Did certification have a positive impact on the project?” With the current program in place, my answer to the last question is “no”.

    My courses for example are carefully priced with the customer and current economy in mind. They deliver high value (based on customer feedback) and they like to extend with coaching and and consulting because the pricing was fair.

    Please don’t get me wrong, industry certification is a generally speaking a good thing. It just has to be done right. Handing out certificates to everyone who pays for a training does not verify and demonstrate skills. Having little transparency in how instructors are being certified does not help either, but as far as I understand, you are working on it. kudos to you.

    • Hi Joe. Perhaps you misunderstand me. I am not justifying the price, and frankly I don’t really care what people charge. The point I make (as I made again to Mark in my previous comment) is that CSTs make good money. Very good money. And it is the good money that becomes an incentive to become a CST.

      > For example “I was certified by Jeff Sutherland” instead of “I am Scrum certified”. Jeff even created t-shirts with it.

      I am hoping that is just a rumor. While I am certainly in favor of people finding the right trainer to meet their needs, and doing appropriate research before the course, I am very against personality cults and feel that can only hurt everyone.

  8. Tobias – you’re right better paid that most teachers in a few days. But we’re talking a $10K before expenses a class so $7-8k with travel and facilities fees for 15-20 classes a year. I think the average Scrum Trainer will top out $200K/yr and that’s with a lot of marketing effort. Good money but not what the myths are made of.

    If you think my math is wrong – call me on it.

  9. Hi Mark, I’m not sure what you are trying to prove… or justify. $200K/yr is a massive amount of money by any measure. And if that is an average, there are some making much more. Many people want to become CSTs because they can make more money being CSTs than not being. That is not a judgment, just a simple fact.

    And it is not the focus of this post.

  10. Thanks for the update, Tobias. I just had a long talk with Aaron Sanders about the state of CST application process, and the SA.

    I like the clarity on looking for those who know their stuff, have the ability to train (enable optimal learning in a varied class) and motivated more by the right reasons.

  11. Just google “scrum t-shirt” in the image category.

  12. You keep talking about the driving force in the CST community to keep it small to make money.

    I have NEVER heard any of the CSTs involved in the CST process discuss that. EVER. It has never been a part of any CST review conversation, it has never been a factor in our process discussions from the CST’s involved.

    I regard it as a myth made up to demonise. I regard it as one big lie. For one, any good CST would grow the community far larger than the slice they take! For each great course or coaching seeds more people who want to do more with Scrum thus perpetuating it’s growth. Everytime I train, the attendees tell their colleagues how great it was – some say how great I was (ego boost ahoy!) but most say how good SCRUM is. This encourages them to seek to learn about Scrum – not necessarily with me – and our movement moves forward.

    BAD trainers however who degrade and misrepresent Scrum, (intentionally or unintentionally) will turn people off to these new ideas and will stymie and hinder the growth of Scrum – In my personal experience, most of my companies coaching work in the last year has been fixing bad coaches work.

    It is is my professional (as a good Scrum guy) and business (how I make my money) interest for good trainers and coaches to come forth and thrive. It is against my professional and business interest for bad or mediocre trainers to thrive.

    This is why the CST community is the good guys and not some sort of evil mafia. It is in your head Tobias, that thinking – not mine. And not a large proportion of our community. We are driven by Quality – we should be exemplars of it – As we were when we were doing Scrum when the easy thing to do was cut quality to achieve dates.

  13. Hi Nigel. Again, thanks for expressing your views. I am not sure why you think I want to enlist second-rate trainers. That is an odd conclusion. I’d like to enlist the very best trainers. I think many of those can be found outside of the small CST/mentor community.

    I’d like to have a process that welcomes in such people that we may all improve through the interaction we can have with them.

  14. I agree Tobias. The answer is to enable these people to engage with the SA so they hit the criteria we need – not reducing the criteria to allow a higher hit rate of applicant.

    If you remember my mail – I suggested what could be the un-suggestable – the CST/CSC community may need to donate time and effort to the applicants who are struggling to attain those preconditions through no fault of their own. There is a balancing act there (how much help? Why help X when we didn’t help Y – Why should a non profit fund the building of a profit based business?) For instance, if co-training and review are required – then we may need to put in place assistance to achieve those.

    The answer is not however, to reduce the quality bar an applicant needs to hit.

    For instance, one of my best friends has Cerebal palsy. He wanted to learn to drive. To pass his test, he needed an adapted car to allow him to achieve the movements required to pass the test.

    He took the same driving test as I did. He was not let off lightly. Nor did he want to be so. The SA should assist with those car adaptions, but not fiddle the test.

    • > The answer is not however, to reduce the quality bar an applicant needs to hit.

      I agree. And I have no desire to reduce quality. It is more that I am looking for alternative doors through which good people may pass. Each door though has a large, tattooed and unsmiling bouncer keeping out the riff-raff 🙂

  15. Tobias, thank you for keeping processes transparent. This really helps SA! I would like to read something similar regarding to CSC process. Cheers, Marko

  16. Using your metaphor Tobias, the Bouncer is blind and mute. He can only appreciate the client through what the client tells him. He cannot question the client, he cannot look at what the client is wearing. He has a checklist – (a check list the client is aware of) – and he can only check it off with the information the client gives him. This leads to a very very “gameable” process.

    This is your CST process and this is why it is fatally flawed. The paper based approach is a one way communication tool.

    • > a check list the client is aware of
      I call this visibility. It leads to honest and open feedback, and allows for continuous improvement. It is a Scrum principle.

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