Scrum Alliance: Drop “Certified”?

It’s time for the Scrum Alliance to stop using the C word, “Certified”. It is holding us all back by dividing and diluting our impact on the world of work.

The Market Probably Isn’t All That Confused

Elsewhere I’ve written about the good aspects to the Scrum Alliance’s Certifications. In summary, they serve to attract people to ideas of value. I believe that I have ideas of value to share, and I choose to ride on those good aspects in order to share them — despite the bad aspects of the C word.

While I share the concern that people may be misled by the word, I’m not terribly worried about it. If people are really so naive as to think that a few days of training results in an all-powerful “certification”, then all my powers of writing and speech will not help: these people are just not paying attention.

But the Agile Movement is Weakened by the C Word

I’m more concerned about the many valued members of the Agile community who, not sharing my Zen calm about the potential for confusion, are angry about the Scrum Alliance and its use of the C word. These people, many of them my friends, are doing what they feel is right, but it comes at a high cost to us all.

Our beliefs and values all center around the great benefits that an Agile approach can provide. (Especially an XP approach, but just now I’m here to bring people together, not divide them. So pretend I didn’t say that.) We all share the great joy that comes from having a project go well, the great joy that comes from writing valuable software of high quality. We all value the human impact of working this way. In a word, we find joy in doing things in the Agile fashion.

The C word, “certified” divides us. I also suspect that the success of Scrum in gathering mind share makes some people jealous, also dividing us — especially when we can tell ourselves that their success is based on “Lies, damned Lies. That’s why they have such good statistics”.

Well, it’s not based on Lies. It is based on teaching courses that hit people pretty close to the limits of what they can take in. It is based on the formation of an “alliance” that has worked to spread the word. It is based on building up a core of independent teachers and coaches who are pretty damn good.

In passing, let me just say that the list of “Certified” Scrum Coaches and Trainers includes some of the best people I’ve ever worked with, many of whom I’ve known since before all this “Agile” stuff started. These people are good, make no mistake about it.

In my opinion, the division in the Agile community is a problem. It takes energy that could be better spent helping people, and it by dividing our forces we are weakening our attack on the real enemy, the forces of crappy software. So I wish that the people who bash Scrum, and the C word, would get over it.

It is Time for a Change

However, that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this as a challenge to the Scrum Alliance (and scrum.org as well).

I’m challenging you people to drop the word “certified” from your offering. Figure out a revenue model based on delivering real value to people, not on extracting $50 for a PDF certificate, not on extracting many more dollars for a REP licence, not on extracting way more than that to be a “Certified” trainer.

Base the value of the Scrum Alliance — and you, too, Ken — on making real people more successful and happier.

Yes, I know your hearts are good and the damage is low among the world at large. The damage from the C word is high, however, in the community that matters, the community of people who do this work.

It’s time to do the right thing. Stop using the C word.

Posted on:

Written by: Ron Jeffries

Categorization: Articles

22 Responses to “Scrum Alliance: Drop “Certified”?”

Mike Sutton

April 2, 2010

9:46 am

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We should drop it if we think it is so tainted.

But – I don’t. I think the agile community is railing against the level of rigour that is behind the C word, the ease of getting ‘Certified’ (effectively if you pay your money, you get certified) and the fact that there is no emphasis on continuous improvement – either by the need to recertify or the threat of decertification.

In many ways the Certification is not the issue. It masks the issue. We *all* want professionals (folk who are paid to do something) that are technically competent (in whatever they are paid to do), seek to continuously improve, know and constantly finding ways to collaborate, are passionate about doing great work and are mature enough to reflecton how they can achieve that. Some of that needs knowledge of process (agile) , but most of all it requires ongoing almost pastoral support of the individual by the community they are a part of.

Now that is the C word that we should be focusing on – Community.

I had a moment.
Mike

Ron Jeffries

April 2, 2010

9:55 am

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Hi, Mike … I had hoped I made clear that I think the word is not seriously tainted, just that the /Agile/ community is nonetheless divided over the word (and perhaps over the success of the Scrum meme).

I wouldn’t argue with your pointing to Community. I think it is a separate topic, perhaps broader and more powerful than my own.

I don’t quite know what to do about your idea, however. Lead us?

Tobias Mayer

April 2, 2010

10:45 am

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Hi Ron. I argued this same point many years ago, more than once in fact, and got nowhere. Although it felt utterly wrong to me, I came to accept that without the C word, the spread of Scrum would diminish drastically. Now that isn’t altogether a bad thing, as we could believe that it will spread /better/, that is to those who really care and really want it.

But still, among those thousands of disinterested people sent by their managers and HR reps to “get certified in this Scrum thing” there will be (indeed, there are) a few who discover something surprising and beautiful: a new way of thinking and behaving that changes the way they work forever. I’ll take all the bullshit of meaningless certification, and all the insults and sour grapes that others want to throw to see those rare but wonderful transformations.

Fighting certification should not be our primary focus. As George Dinwiddie says in a recent post ( http://bit.ly/bdKRVV) “a certification is an invitation to a conversation”. Let’s help promote that idea, rather than spending time trying to eliminate a concept that frankly, just won’t go away. If the SA and scrum.org don’t do it, someone else will.

Scott Duncan

April 2, 2010

11:24 am

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My own issue with an certification is that it just be clear what is being certified, especially since professional certifications usually carry some form of skill-based evfidence, i.e., that the certified individual has shown they can perform the work for which they are being certified. This is not usually true within the software field, in general. Many certifications as for years of experience as part of their certification, but usually do not verify this or determine what kind of experience went on during those years.

I think, to use the Scrum Alliance as an example, that CSP marginally fits this, while CSCs and CSTs, from what I see of those certifications, do require some confirmation/observation of experience. CSM just does not as it conists of attending a class a, now, taking a test that, as yet, has no pass-fail threshold. But the CSM does not represent experience, so the “C” word used in this context seems unfortunate.

The CSD does seem to be a reasonable and important offering and, even though it is done with classroom examples, does sound like actual skill needs to be demonstrated, (I do not think the exercises in CSM classes really do that, though they can demonstrate a person “gets it.” But that may not translate into being able to “do it.”)

So, for me, the issue is clarity around use of thje “C” word and recognition that the word does have meaning in domains other than software that we should consider when using the word.

Nigel

April 2, 2010

11:59 am

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Firstly, (and as an aside to everything else), I see “Certified” being the training as well as the attendees.

Secondly and I’ll be frank, that the C word is the reason lots of companies buy training in Scrum – and this opens the door to new ways of thinking and doing business.

I see nothing wrong in the SA programme of intro level (CSM, CSPO) certificates as a doorway (Assault troops?) into transforming the world of work, but it needs follow up, it needs mechanised infantry. (To continue this bizarre analogy I’ve started.)

So my challenge is this to the wider community. Stop moaning about certifications and start using the cracks in the traditional methods wall created by this training to drive home genuine transformation in our industry. The problem with the C word is not with those using it – it is within the others who cannot see the benefit of it for them. Let us not have petty jealousies and rivalries sunder the big tent of Agile – merely understand that there are various approaches to transforming the world of software and that certification is one string to that bow.

But not the only string.

P.S. If we drop “certified” we are gifting those with less noble intentions to fill that gap. (Accenture Certified ScrumManager anyone?) In the end, there will always be the “wisdom” vs “qualifications” discussion. It has existed for years and will not go away soon! I don’t see why this is in any way particular to what we are trying to do – we just have to understand that there are strong opinions on either side.

William Pietri

April 2, 2010

2:04 pm

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Personally, I think the “certification” word does indeed expand the market, and exactly to those people you describe as “not paying attention”. Because of that, I doubt the word will get dropped: it’s too lucrative. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Still, I would love to see the word vanish, and my feelings come from two sources.

One is long years of experience hiring developers. I see a strong negative correlation between certifications on developer resumes (e.g., Sun Certified Java Programmer) and people I end up hiring. The best developers are ones who chose the profession because they like making things via code. Weaker ones often got into the profession because they thought it would be a good job. The latter are much more likely to get certificates as a career move.

The other is the rise of faux Agile. There are an awful lot of bad Scrum implementations out there; 75% according to one estimate. From the ones I’ve seen, the people doing that are indeed not paying attention. And given that the whole point of a certification (e.g., Certified Professional Accountant) is to make it so that people don’t have to pay attention to the details of the credential, I think the Certified Scrum Master program is an important factor in the amount of bad Scrum in the world.

I’m entirely for a strong course offering, and entirely for developers taking it when they want to learn the material. And I’m entirely against any new certifications from the Scrum Alliance, especially development ones. Doubly so for ones that don’t actually certify anything except attendance and the ability to write a check.

Paul Beckford

April 3, 2010

5:55 am

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Hi Ron,

>> It’s time to do the right thing.

Well said. For me it’s the incongruence of it all that makes it so distasteful. We can’t be going into companies and preaching to them to do the right thing despite the pressures not to, when we are clearly not doing the right thing ourselves.

As I understand it, the whole CSM thing was a bit of an accident. I met up with some people for a Beer after one of the early CSM courses when Ken was still a one man band, and they described the course as the missing Management pieces for XPers. Basically Ken talking through a bunch of war stories and explaining to seasoned Agile practitioners how best to overcome organisational obstacles.

I guess the “Certified” idea took off in a way Ken never expected. Well its obviously worked out handsomely for him and others, but now is the time to let it go. Well in truth he should of stopped using the “C” word the moment the attendees were no longer seasoned practitioners.

That would have been the right thing to do…

Regards,

Paul.

Paul Beckford

April 3, 2010

11:43 am

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@Nigel,

There is this funny idea out there amongst the wider Lean/Agile community that we can some how cajole or even “con” organisations into becoming Agile.

>> Stop moaning about certifications and start using the cracks in the traditional methods wall created by this training to drive home genuine transformation in our industry.

I find this sentence is laughable. I’ve got news for you. If an organisation doesn’t want to be Agile it won’t be, and no amount of cajoling by outside consultants will change that. All that will happen is that the consultants will get richer, the Management will gain the rouge of being “forward thinking” that they have paid for, and the workers will become ever more disillusioned, cynical and despondent.

If you are lucky, as a side effect a few individuals will get it, and start seeking employment in a company that is truly Agile, or better still they will gain the impetus to go start up a company of their own.

From my own experience, even when the top people in an organisation are truly committed to cultural change, it is hard, real hard. It is no accident that the majority of Agile successes are companies that are relatively young with little or no cultural baggage. Companies like Google and Amazon come to mind.

At best we can assist companies in their transition, we can’t make then transition. We need to be open and honest about this simple fact. If they don’t like it then like you say they can go talk to Accenture.

Open and honest communication. Walk the talk, its that simple.

Paul.

Kim Sellentin

April 3, 2010

7:13 pm

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I agree with Tobias Mayer and Nigel. They both raise some very good points:

“..there will be (indeed, there are) a few who discover something surprising and beautiful: a new way of thinking and behaving that changes the way they work forever.” – Tobias Mayer

“I’ll be frank, that the C word is the reason lots of companies buy training in Scrum – and this opens the door to new ways of thinking and doing business.” – Tobias Mayer

“The problem with the C word is not with those using it – it is within the others who cannot see the benefit of it for them.” – Nigel

I’m a producer for a video games development studio. I flew from Australia to San Francisco to attend a 2-day CSM course in November last year. If there wasn’t some kind of formal certification, my studio would never have considered getting me training in the first place. And I realise now how many agile pathways the opportunity of CSM training has opened up for me.

I am grateful to the Scrum Alliance for a couple of things.

Firstly, for leading me to my CST. It was an honor to be trained by someone who cares deeply about the video game industry, gets immense job satisfaction from helping studios overcome their problems, and is not just in it for the money. He still mentors me to this day and offers support whenever I need it and for this, I am very grateful.

Secondly, for opening my eyes to a new way of doing things, encouraging me become a change agent by assuming ownership over my project management methodology, and helping me transform my studios’ work culture.

“Fighting certification should not be our primary focus.” – Tobias Mayer

The Scrum Alliance’s certification approach can and will lead to some bad implementations of Scrum. But that is no different to any other certification. There will be some CSM’s, CSP’s and CST’s coming out of that training that will go on to do amazing things for the agile movement, and I like to think that counts for something.

Kim

George Dinwiddie

April 3, 2010

11:00 pm

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Very interesting data point, Kim. It does seem fairly common that companies will invest in certificates more than simple training.

– George

Michal Vallo

April 4, 2010

1:58 am

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Hi Ron,

I have got into world of agile way of project management and scrum through its philosophy. This principle does not originate in IT industry, as often presented, but probably in manufacturing industry I guess. Similarly Scrum to me isn’t tool to write better code to me but principle or framework how to get people involved and to deliver value, which is generally applicable.

In order to adopt new framework of doing things, it is necessary to overcome old habits. There are also various stakeholders involved, with different personal objectives and professional background. Here it comes to the process of education, which certification mostly is to me. As there are many MBA schools, with various curriculums, the essential of at least 70% will be the same. The rest differentiates providers who want attracting their audience. And nobody expect the degree holder will manage company thanks to its degree right there. Similarly the messengers of Agile (Certified Trainer/Coach) are not all the same. Certification guarantees the curriculum will be the same and there is still left enough space for individual tailoring. Similarly here, no one expects the CSM will become expert thanks to its certification, but with certainty this person got comprehensive lesson with all aspect of Scrum, which is often unlikely otherwise.

To me the key aspect is industrial one. Here it comes to change the mindset of business people, which was formed since industrial revolution has started. Mindset formed hand in hand with PMP industry, with history of tens of years and with army of millions of enthusiasts. Here agile approaches still have to gain its credibility. And here the certification comes handy. Convincing business people in multinationals or spreading agile principles into e.g. Government, Army and other traditionally non-agile environments will be challenge indeed and is on the long run.

In my opinion, for the good being of agile movement the certification is important and good thing. One can run project without any, that’s for sure. One can’t do a serious business without any, that’s what I think.

Michal

Ron Jeffries

April 4, 2010

6:23 am

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Michal, It is clear that serious business can be run without certifications, because many companies do it.

More importantly, however, the CSM “certification” cannot really be considered serious, since it means that the certificate holder has stayed awake through two days of training.

What, to me, is most concerning, is that the certification “work”, in the sense that people really do take the course, or pay for it, because it awards a certification. If the certification had teeth, this would make sense. Since it does not, I think we have to conclude that at least some people must be being misled.

Tobias Mayer

April 4, 2010

10:04 am

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Ron, clearly you are opposed to Scrum certification, yet you say you ride the bandwagon to reap some of the benefits thereof. Perhaps that is what really needs to be addressed here. True change begins within oneself, not in other people, so “be the change you want to see in the world”.

You are an asset to the Scrum Trainer community, and I think almost without exception other trainers respect you, and value your contributions, but being a CST does NOT mean you must deliver CSM (and now CSD) training. The latter is a privilege of the former, but they are not bound. So practice what you preach in this post, and stop offering certificates with your training. Given your strong feelings on the matter it would seem the honorable thing to do.

And perhaps your example will encourage others to follow a similar path.

Ron Jeffries

April 4, 2010

10:26 am

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As I hope I made clear in the article, I think that the “lie” aspect of the cert is overblown. I think that the primary damage it causes is to the Agile movement as a whole, by dividing the community.

For me to withdraw from my connection with Scrum might pleasure you and others who do not care for my opinions, but it would further divide the Agile community. I am not inclined to do that and am a bit tempted to resent the suggestion.

It does trouble me that this choice also increases the revenue I get. I’d prefer the two to be independent, and freely grant the conflict of interest. I also assert — and think it needs no proof — that every CST and SA-REP is operating under exactly the same conflict of interest.

Tobias Mayer

April 4, 2010

10:38 am

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??

> For me to withdraw from my connection with Scrum might pleasure you and others who do not care for my opinions, but it would further divide the Agile community. I am not inclined to do that and am a bit tempted to resent the suggestion.

Ron, I clearly said: “You are an asset to the Scrum Trainer community, and I think almost without exception other trainers respect you, and value your contributions, but being a CST does NOT mean you must deliver CSM (and now CSD) training.”

How is that asking you to withdraw your connection with Scrum? And how does it indicate that I would take pleasure in seing you depart? You are reading things that are simply not there in my comments, not in text or sub-text. I’ll say it again, you are an asset to the Scrum Trainer community.

I suggest you can make the choice to offer ScrumMaster Training and Scrum Developer Training and any other Scrum training you wish to offer, and do this as a person certified by the SA to teach Scrum (CST). You don’t have to offer /certified/ training.

Ron Jeffries

April 4, 2010

11:02 am

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I don’t see how that would advance any cause, and I don’t see how the suggestion advances the discussion.

Tobias Mayer

April 4, 2010

11:55 am

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The discussion is about the removal of certification. You offered one solution to the problem which was to have the SA drop its use. I offer another suggestion which is have the individuals who offer it drop its use. Different solutions to the same problem. That’s okay, isn’ it?

Ron Jeffries

April 4, 2010

1:41 pm

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It isn’t remotely OK. My concern is that the Agile community is split by the use of largely bogus certifications, and that a split community is bad. Your proposal maintains the split. Mine is aimed at healing it.

Tobias Mayer

April 4, 2010

2:11 pm

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No Ron, my suggestion is an action step towards a solution. It is not a quick fix, but I believe it will be more lasting. When (if) I come to believe certification is phony and damaging, I will stop offering it. That will be my action step towards a healed community. At this time I don’t feel that way, but I am also not fighting to retain it and will be happy to see individuals take a stand against it.

Nigel

April 4, 2010

2:32 pm

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Nigel – “>> Stop moaning about certifications and start using the cracks in the traditional methods wall created by this training to drive home genuine transformation in our industry.”

Paul – “I find this sentence is laughable. I’ve got news for you. If an organisation doesn’t want to be Agile it won’t be, and no amount of cajoling by outside consultants will change that. All that will happen is that the consultants will get richer, the Management will gain the rouge of being “forward thinking” that they have paid for, and the workers will become ever more disillusioned, cynical and despondent.”

@Paul – “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. I sort of agree with you. :-) As an aside, there is a wealth of work in the change industry on organisational culture change. I spend a lot of my time working in that area.

However, I don’t see how in any way that connects to the part of my post that you quoted? Certification gets people in the door (either like Kim who wanted to learn but needed a way to get the org to pay) or (and in my experience) a way to gain access to a group of hurt people who want to find a better way in their profession. They may not have heard of Agile yet – but we can use the training to help them take the first few steps and the C persuades both the attendees and the org that what we offer has value. The second, third and fourth steps are outside the training world – This is where I see we need to focus our efforts as a wider community. To genuinely help people who want help. To help business that want help. The coaching and transformation work. The LEADERSHIP work. How many genuine Agile LEADERS are working as LEADERS? Most at the moment seem to be coaching, training and consulting, and I believe the next step in our world is attaining people in the highest positions of business with an in depth understanding of the principles of Agile. Rather than moan about the bit that works.

You probably don’t know, but I have spent my career working with big enterprises to adopt these new ways of working so I see first hand how hard it is, making “big super tankers turn”- but I also see on a day to day basis the huge benefit of a non profit, certification based offering in our community.

So what is laughable?

Ron Jeffries

April 4, 2010

3:02 pm

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OK. You take stands your way, and I’ll take mine my way.

I’m closing comments, as this is becoming a conversation more than a collection of contributions. I’ve enjoyed both but don’t think the web site will be improved by going further on this page.

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