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Is Scrum Certification Having Another Makeover?

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Scrum Certification is one debate that refuses to die down. First, it was about the hollow nature of certification for which there was a comment “Pay the tuition, sit through a couple days of class, and you're in”. Subsequently a new format was devised, which too failed to enthuse the Agilists who were against this certification philosophy. Given the learnings so far, is there another makeover on the anvil?

Mike Cottmeyer, recently suggested that Scrum is not prescriptive hence there is no definitive way to certify people on how to practice it. He mentioned,

Scrum can't have it's cake and eat it too. It can't be a simple framework that is not prescriptive and then start certifying people on how to do all this stuff.

According to Mike, Scrum does not tell a person anything about being a good software engineer, a good tester, a good business analyst, or even a good ScrumMaster. It is left for the people to fill in the gaps. He mentioned the need for a definitive body of knowledge,

If Scrum is a simple framework... if it is so clear and precise that we can talk about Scrum-But and call out those people that aren't doing it right... where is the definitive body of knowledge? Where is the documented set of stuff that is acceptable on most Scrum projects, most of the time? How do I tell the difference between when I'm bending Scrum to hide my own dysfunction versus just filling in the gaps? Who gets to decide? Am I just supposed to know it when I see it?

Commenting to what Mike Cottmeyer had to say, Niels Verdonk added that he recently underwent a CSM course and he too shared the feeling that it would be difficult for him to entrust teams to newly certified Scrum Masters. He mentioned,

With all due respect, I would not trust our teams to many of the newly added Certified Scrum Masters.

Niels mentioned a discussion that he had with Mike Cohn, in which he [Mike Cohn] agreed that the term Certified Scrum Master was legacy, too heavy for what it was and probably was badly chosen back in the day. Niels added,

He [Mike Cohn] shared with me they will announce a change in the names of the certification programs. He thought the name Certified Scrum Master was a legacy name but seems to sound to heavy for what it actually was. The choice for the new name had not been made. He did tell me the new name for the Certified Scrum Practitioner, which was going to be changed to Certified Scrum Professional.
So I think the Scrum Alliance is very much aware something isn't right and they will try their best to mend that. It seems to be a balancing act, given the fact that Ken Schwaber recently left the Scrum Alliance over a difference of opinion regarding the certification programs.

So, are we going to see a new avatar soon? Or as Mike Cottmeyer put it,

I just can't get my head around certifying anyone on anything without at least a general definition of what we are certifying against. In the absence of some sort of accepted standard, 'Certified Scrum' anything is just a marketing gimmick.

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Community comments

  • See the CSM prerequisite reading

    by Rowan Bunning,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.


    "Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)
    Prerequisites: Prior to attending the CSM course, students should familiarize themselves with essential Scrum documents and resources."

    In particular, see the Scrum Guide.

    Rowan Bunning, CST.

  • Re: See the CSM prerequisite reading

    by Mike Cottmeyer,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Rowan, what is your link trying to establish? That Scrum has a few reference articles? No argument from me there. What I am pointing out in my post is that the Scrum community wants it both ways. It wants to be simple and minimally prescriptive yet certifies people beyond the boundaries of what it claims to be.

    I like Scrum, I teach Scrum, I practice Scrum... I just want us to be intellectually consistent in how we deal with Scrum. I am concerned we are using the 'Certified Scrum' label as a marketing tool to get people to come to our courses. I am all for good training, good training that goes beyond Scrum... it's just either Scrum or it isn't... let's decide.


  • Its not the certification, it's what you think it is

    by Paul Battisson,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I have in the none too distance past taken the CSM course and it was my first real agile training. I found the course extremely useful and good at imparting a broad level of basic knowledge on Scrum and how it is to be done properly - the de facto idea of Scrum as it were.

    I have however learnt more about howto be a good Scrum Master by doing the job (I was a CSM and have moved to a different Developer role elsewhere) and think that this is symptomatic of any qualification anywhere. The issue here I think is the name's implication to some. I am a "Certified Scrum Master" thus I have taken a course and (was one of the first to) have taken a simple test to show that I had been at least paying attention during the two days. I am therefore certified to be able to say that I have been trained to use Scrum and that I know what it is all about. I could quite easily claim to be a Scrum Master by having read the word somewhere and implemented some semi-agile process in my company which I have labelled Scrum.

    Companies send their employees or motivated developers go and take the CSM course so that they can get the basics of Scrum from someone who is deemed to be an expert and it allows them a degree of security. I plan on obtaining the CSP qualification later this year and have been trying to be an active contributor to the community in order to broaden my knowledge and experience to a better, more professional level.

    The issue here isn't what the course is called or whether you get a certifcate or anything. The issue is what people think comes out of it at the end of the gaining a certificate.

  • Argh. Not this again

    by Bruce Rennie,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    For a community of supposedly very smart people, we don't seem to be learning very quickly.

    What makes us think this is a problem we can solve?

    When I'm interviewing, what am I supposed to take from the fact that the candidate has a university degree? Perhaps that they have a general knowledge of computing principles, but beyond that I think the answer is: not very much. So, if universities have this problem, I ask again: what makes us think we're going to solve it by "making over" the process.

    I'm old enough that my SM training was delivered by Ken Schwaber himself. So what? Saying I've taken the training says that I have a passing familiarity with agile principles in general and Scrum in particular. If you want to know how deep my knowledge and experience is, sadly you will have to invest some time speaking to me. I know of no other way of conveying that information.

    And if you think that certifying someone means they won't ever be caught doing "ScrumBut", I have some swampland I'm trying to get rid of.

    You can't prevent people from doing Scrum "wrong" (if that's even possible, given the desired end goal of being non-prescriptive) and still calling it "Scrum". Stop trying.

  • Re: See the CSM prerequisite reading

    by Mark Levison,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Mike - I've got lots of issues and concerns around the whole certification business but I don't think that whole prescriptive thing is really a problem. When you're first starting Agile you need prescription, you should ask lots of good questions and not do things blindly but nonetheless you need some structure to start. The CSM class is one way to get an initial dose.

    On the subject that certification is evil - you're right - but that evil got us to where we're today. Without the CSM designation the Scrum and Agile brands would be a few years further behind on the adoption curve. So like it or not we all benefited.

    Mark Levison
    Agile Pain Relief Consulting

  • Re: See the CSM prerequisite reading

    by Mark Levison,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I also meant to say a lot of large corporations demand certification and someone is going to fill the gap. We can either work to create good quality, open certifications to meet the need or watch idiots like the WAQB (google them - I won't link to their site) create fake ones.

    Mark Levison
    Agile Pain Relief Consulting

  • Dont believe the hype

    by challe wdll,

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    What is for certain is that this hyped religion is making alot smucks rich. A development team can increase its productivity with some scrum principles. But this hype of principles that can be written down on 3 pieces of papper have gone to far.

  • Certification != ability

    by Zefram Cochrane,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I did a CSM course, so I'm a qualified. I am a PRINCE2 and MSP Practitioner, so I'm qualified. Does either mean anything? I've been in software for 25 years, personally, I think that means more.

    Passing the PRINCE2 exam is the ability to recite facts from a manual. I haven't looked into the CSM exam, but I assume that recall of names, defintions and procedures is required. These do not guarantee that I won't trash a project - experience, ability, intuition and dumb luck provide that.

  • Certification = waterfall

    by Pasi Kantelinen,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    The whole idea of certification is so waterfallish and ISO9000ish. Neither of them works.

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