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Agilists Certifying Agilists, "We Vouch For..."

| by Mike Bria on Sep 10, 2008. Estimated reading time: 3 minutes |
A relatively longstanding topic of debate within the agile community has been that of "agile certification", namely the question of how, if at all, it could be done reliably and effectively. The "We Vouch For..." initiative represents a unique approach to answering this question.

A sentiment often echoed through factions of the agile community is that certification of "agility" is a problem not reliably solved by standard forms of certification. Most notably is the idea that completing a course or passing a standardized test originated by some central authoritative group falls short of an effective means to qualify someone as a "certified agilist". This is believed so for many reasons, among them being the extreme broadness of agility as well as the subjective and dynamic nature of what agility is; effective agility is as much about applying principles effectively to context sensitive situations than applying practices in repetitive, prescribed manners.

As such, it is the feeling of many agilists that it takes another experienced agilist's observation-based opinion of your practical application of agile, on a real agile project, to effectively make judgement of your credibility. Said another way, to have someone credible vouch for your credibility. Additionally, the Agile Alliance has made it's position clear, stating that one "should have confidence only in certifications that are skill-based and difficult to achieve" and that "employers should not require certification of employees".

This is the fundamental premise behind the We Vouch For... initiative, established principally by Laurent Bossavit and Brian Marick. We Vouch For... is a website where members of the agile community can certify each others’ work, an alpha implementation of the evidence-based peer certification discussed above.

When asked about the core value-statement of the We Vouch For... initiative, Bossavit had this to say:
There is value (to prospective employers and co-workers, and others too) in knowing something about people's competencies. We might as well call that "certification". The Agile community, as a whole, has more knowledge about who's competent in the areas that define Agile, and what these areas are, than any sub-group of the community could have. Therefore, a scheme for "certification" which involves the entire community is more valuable, if it is feasible at all, than one which involves only a central certifying authority.

That it is feasible at all is a relatively new idea, which explains why it hasn't been done before - I became aware of that only after reading Clay Shirky's [book] Here Comes Everybody.
The basics of how it works, from the site:
People sign up to a Web site, after which they can certify people they know. They do this by entering a Statement of Certification.

A Statement of Certification is a strong, solemn, formal statement. Example: "I, Laurent Bossavit, a member of the agile community, certify Rachel Davies as having outstanding skills in Retrospective Facilitation, based on the following evidence: I attended a Retrospective which she facilitated at a conference and took away key learnings from the experience."

It's important that it should include all parts: someone who states that he/she is a member of the community, the name of someone he/she wants to certify, an area of competence, an assessment of the person's skill in that area : serviceable, highly valuable, outstanding; and mention of the substantial evidence on which this judgement is based.
We Vouch For... is a "For the People, By The People" effort; it has a chance of working only if you get involved, and no real chance if you don't. Visit the site and decide for yourself what you think. And, as always, please take a moment to let others here know what you decide.

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We Vouch For - an interesting idea... by Mark Levison

...but how is it better than recommendations on LinkedIn?

I see several problems. If you an outsider to the community who do you trust first? You have to pick someone you trust and then see who their web includes.

Second the community can be very clubby and self serving - lets say I recommend Mike B.; Mike recommends Joshua K. and Joshua recommends me. Seems a little bit self serving and definitely not impartial.

Finally if you're not currently a consultant and work inside an organization (especially a small one) then it might be very difficult to gain the recommendations of the these external consultants.

Finally not all certifications are bad the Scrum Alliance put a lot of work into creating the Scrum Coach Certification ( and the standards behind are quite rigorous. See the pdf file: for an explanation of the requirements.

Re: We Vouch For - an interesting idea... by Dave Rooney

Hi Mark,

Is it self-serving? Maybe, but certainly no more so than LinkedIn. As for impartiality, I don't really care. If I'm shopping for a product or service I prefer a recommendation from a friend over an impartial review, although in the absence of a recommendation from someone I know and trust, an impartial review is better than nothing.

I've seen certifications gamed before, although admittedly the CSC is rigourous. My Dad worked in the insurance industry, and he once talked about a salesman who consistently led the Ottawa region in sales for the company in which my Dad worked. He won awards and free trips, etc. What wasn't well known was that he also led in lapsed policies, i.e. those that weren't renewed, because he never really followed up or had any concept of after sales customer care.

I could see someone similar as a coach, moving from engagement to engagement providing some short-term value but not much that really "stuck". He could likely get a couple of recommendations from past clients and have the other qualifications required to become a CSC.

Would that same person make it through a peer-driven process like We vouch For?

Dave Rooney

Mayford Technologies

Certification a trap by Jim Leonardo

Most certifications of this sort just mean you've accomplished some MINIMUM standard. It doesn't mean you actually put it into practice. Thus, I think having someone vouch for you is indeed a good idea.

But then, I'm one of those who favors some sort of licensing for software engineers.

Re: We Vouch For - an interesting idea... by Mark Levison

Dave - I think that "We Vouch For..." could be gamed in the same way. Also nothing stops me from creating sham accounts at "We Vouch For..." and then giving myself glowing recommendations.

While I'm not certain that certification is the solution at least we called people's references and asked them non trivial questions that might expose such a scam.

Re: We Vouch For - an interesting idea... by Mike Bria

A key line of the story:
Said another way, to have <strong>someone credible</strong> vouch for your credibility.

So, the idea is not only that I go see that someone thinks <em>you</em> are credible, but I have at least some ability to make an assessment of that someone's credibility as well (presumably to increase my confidence in their recommendation of you). So, it's not just the singular vouches that are important, but, really, more the <strong>network</strong> that supports the reliability of the whole thing.

Indeed, probably not a perfect system, of course not. And, sure, if someone really wanted to spend their day gaming the system, technically they could. But the hope is "the network" factor could surface scams and the like. Further hope, of course, is that their occurrence is minimal in the first place. I think it's worked for LinkedIn, hopefully could for this too.

Re: Certification a trap by Mark Levison

Jim - I can't speak for most certifications. I can speak a little about the Scrum Coach Certification. To get it you have to be practicing coaching (and keeping a log) for 1500 hrs or the better part of a year full time. In addition to the hours, you have participate in the community, etc. Finally there is a competency test and its full of essay questions and not questions with cut and dried answers. So I suggest in this case the certification is rigorous. It might be as Dave suggests vulnerable to scam artists and charlatans, but its better than you might expect.

Re: Certification a trap by Mike Bria

To be fair, I do find the "scrum coach" cert is somewhat reasonable. It's the "SCM" cert that I find a bit questionable. (And, yes, I am a 4 year SCM grad myself).

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