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The Emerging Dynamics of Certification

by Dan Mezick on Apr 12, 2010 |

Scrum and agile certification is now very much in focus. The 'certification story' is unfolding to become a major subject of debate in 2010. The story has several facets, with action from the Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org and the community-at-large, including notable bloggers and the Agile Skills Project. At issue is the basic value of certification.


Skills Mind Map Fragment. from the AGILE SKILLS PROJECT

The story has several facets. The first facet is the recent blog post from Ron Jeffries asserting that certification divides the agile community. In that post, entitled Scrum Alliance: Drop "Certified"?, which also was analyzed in-depth in another InfoQ article, he asserts:

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 second facet of the certification story is the Scrum Alliance. The Scrum Alliance has authorized new certifications. The new Scrum Alliance certifications include Certified Scrum Developer (CSD) and Certified Scrum Coach (CSC). The Scrum Alliance's relatively new tagline, "Transforming the World of Work" symbolizes the very real changes taking place inside this credentialing organization.

These new credentials at the Scrum Alliance come on the heels of founder Ken Schwaber formally leaving the Scrum Alliance to create an all-new credentialing authority called Scrum.org. Ken Schwaber is a signatory of the Agile Manifesto and a noted authority on agile and Scrum.

Thus the third facet of the certification story is the development of Scrum.org. The mission of Scrum.org as listed on the Scrum.Org web site is as follows:

Scrum.org's purpose is to improve the profession of software development so that we love our work and our customers love working with us and trust our integrity. To do so:
  1. We maintain the consistency and integrity of the Scrum process.
  2. We work with select partners to develop courseware and knowledge on how to use Scrum in various domains or work, such as risk management.
  3. We work with trainers to learn and use the Program Development Partner courseware to help others learn how to build products using Scrum.
  4. We work with Scrum users to help them incrementally improve their ability to use Scrum, including the application of self-assessments.

Scrum certification is a hot topic, and getting even hotter with the development of new credentials by both the Scrum Alliance and the all-new Scrum.Org led by Ken Schwaber. Of particular interest is the fact that a Certified Scrum Developer (CSD) credential is offered by both Scrum.org and the Scrum Alliance.

A fourth facet, and perhaps the most interesting, is the emergence of the AgileSkillsProject at AgileSkillsProject.org. The organization describes itself as follows:

The Agile Skills Project is a non-commercial resource that will establish a common baseline of the skills an Agile developer needs to have, including a shared vocabulary and understanding of fundamental practices. The Project intends to:
  • Establish an evolving picture of the skills needed on Agile teams
  • Encourage life-long continuous learning
  • Establish a network of trust to help members find like-minded folk, and to identify new mentors in the community

The Agile Skills Project (ASP) has direct connections to Ron Jeffries and several others who are notable in the agile community. InfoQ is carefully following and reporting on this story; for more details, please see the previously-published news posts on the Agile Skills Project and the Agile Developer Skills Workshop.

What does the Agile Skills Project think about certification? One person involved in leadership of ASP is D. Andre Dhondt. In a recent email to InfoQ, Andre writes:

Following the recent flurry of blogs/tweets/etc. on Certifications (Robert Martin, Ron Jeffries, Chet Hendrickson,Tobias Mayer, Cory Foy, George Dinwiddie, Mike Sutton), I think it could be newsworthy to write an article about how certification really is just a red herring, as Sutton suggests. The Agile Skills Project (ASP) doesn't have an axe to grind here -- it's got no money, and doesn't make a profit for rating/ranking/qualifying classes/certs/etc.

The real, underlying problem is how do we get people hooked on lifetime skills improvement? I think the answer is a point-accumulating model in which people can show what they're doing, be it paid courses or self-trained study. Dan Pink says motivation comes from autonomy-mastery-purpose. We give people autonomy in choosing whether they go for certs or not, read books, or go to conferences -- but count it all as something that demonstrates progress, their way to mastery. We give purpose to the whole thing by making it community-owned...

One item of note regarding the Agile Skills Project is the ability of users of the ASP web site to post a personal "skills inventory". This amounts to a chronological summary of professional development activities over time, with an example of this being the skills inventory of D. Andre Dhondt.

The ASP project is seeking community feedback on everything they are doing. The project is now an element of an new and emerging certification landscape for agile practitioners.

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Small clarification by Mark Levison

Dan - you mentioned the CSC (Certified Scrum Coach) as a new certification. Actually its not, its been around for ~3 yrs and of the bunch you mention it has the most teeth - requiring among other things 1500 hrs of coaching before you can apply.

As complex and troublesome as certification is they're not going away: Certification is Evil, but…

We can continue to debate and waste energy or we can find something of value to deliver.

Cheers
Mark Levison
Agile Pain Relief Consulting

My 2 cents by aditya yadav

I think certification(s) are good as an entry level criteria. It conveys nothing about the value a person brings to the table as an Agilist and certifications certainly don't have anything at all to do with Experience or the quality of it. We can figure out more about a prospective employee/consultant in a 5 minute conversation, are we ready to spend that much on our own rather than relying on a third party issued paper?

While I don't agree with mandatory 1500 hours of coaching as a pre-requisite to certification. In that case what is the certification achieving? Its like saying if you have flown a plane across the world a 100 times irrespective of whether you crash landed 99 of the 100 times we will certify you as a pilot if you answer just another 20 questions.

Cheers
Aditya Yadav
Aditya Yadav & Associates
Deploying HTML5

Re: My 2 cents by Richard Lacher

There are many shops where all team members have attended a 2 day class and received their CSM certification. Yet the vast majority will never be a obtain the wisdom gained from being a practicing scrum master. Scott Ambler's surveys report the vast majority of agilists have little respect for the CSM behind our names. Contrast this with the Lean certification, where you must complete several weeks of training in a vast set of disciplines, techniques and tools, and pass grueling tests, and apprentice under a Master Black Belt who certifies you did indeed obtain at least a 50% improvement in your teams' process in order to earn just a green belt. Black Belts must attend advanced courses, pass tests and then have the MBB certified they have indeed achieved a verifiable improvement to several business processes. This a real professional certification, far greater than the CSM, CSP, CST and CSC. I believe the certifications make use better, so we need to push to establish the same level of rigor in our Scrum certs as the other certs will strive to achieve.

Certification Drivers by Neil Murphy

Certification is being driven by companies who are looking for skilled staff, can't figure out how to assess good staff so demand bits of paper.

Re: My 2 cents by Neil Murphy

The only people who will get this certification will be long term employees of large corporations. It would need a massive shakeup of the whole IT industry to bring such rigour to IT. It also needs to be remembered that agile is only one aspect of the IT industry, there so many variations that a professional status such as Accountancy or Law is almost impossible - unless we balkanise it and force people into narrow specialisations they can never escape from and the business will lose it's flexibility to deal with changing circumstances.

Re: Certification Drivers by Olga Kouzina

Agree with you, Neil. It's not the matter of the facets featured by Dan in this blog post. Any certification, not only scrum or agile, is crunch for trust. I agreee with Richard's 2 cents as well. When you're able to make your own judgement about a person, trust it. When not - read certificate tags. And I wouldn't say that this is a "trend for this year". We've blogged on certification about a year ago and even earlier: www.targetprocess.com/blog/2009/04/agile-certif...

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