Is the 'C' Word Dividing the Agile Community?

| by Vikas Hazrati on Apr 06, 2010. Estimated reading time: 4 minutes |

There has been a lot that has been said about Scrum Certifications. Some people like the idea and others oppose it vehemently. Recently, there has also been some effort to provide an alternative to certifications. Ron Jeffries recently stated that, though he has been writing about the good aspects of Scrum Alliance’s Certifications but he is concerned that the 'C' word is keeping away a lot of valued members of the Agile community.

Ron mentioned that the continued use of the 'C' word by the Alliance has alienated many valuable members.

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.

Ron suggested that the continued tussle with the 'C' word is weakening the war on the real enemy which is crappy software. He suggested that the Scrum alliance should find a way to drop the word and still be able to make real people more successful and happy.

I’m writing this as a challenge to the Scrum Alliance (and 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.

Responding to Ron, Tobias Mayer mentioned that though initially he too was against the use of the word, however now he does accept that the spread of Scrum would have diminished drastically without the 'C' word. He added that because of the 'C' word, many enterprises could actually allocate budget for their employees and that definitely helps a few.

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.

Presenting a real case for what Tobias mentioned, Kim Selletin confirmed that professionally he has been largely influenced by Scrum. He also mentioned that had there been no formal certification, his organization would have never flown him from Australia to San Francisco to do the course.

Tobias further insisted that instead of spending time to eliminate the 'C' word one should rather try to promote it because as George Dinwiddie mentioned that the certification is an invitation to a conversation.

Adding his thoughts, Nigel mentioned that he sees nothing wrong with the SA certifications as they open a doorway to transformation. He added that if SA drops the 'C' word then there would be many other organizations with less noble intentions who would want to fill the gap. According to Nigel,

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.

Reacting to Nigel, Paul Bekford commented that no certification would open the doorway to transformation if the organization is not ready to change. The key is to change the the mindset and that cannot be changed with a certificate.

Trying to give another solution for the problem, Tobias mentioned that true change begins with oneself. He recommended that instead of asking SA to drop the 'C' word it might worthwhile for CSTs to give CSM trainings without the certificate and then gauge the response. This would probably solve the same certification problem albeit in a different way.

Thus, there still seem to be differing views on the use of the 'C' word. Some Agilists consider it to be a boon for the Scrum movement and others consider it to be a bane. Ron on the other hand is concerned with the split that is keeping the valuable Agilists on the other side. As he mentioned,

My concern is that the Agile community is split by the use of largely bogus certifications, and that a split community is bad.

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Argh. by Bruce Rennie

I did the Scrum Master course seven or eight years ago. Long enough ago that Ken Schwaber did the training. In a fit of insanity, I also went out and got my PMP. At the risk of disappointing a lot of agile enthusiasts, I have to admit I hold both certifications in equal regard, which is to say: not very much. At least the Scrum Master course was a lot cheaper.

After all this time, I'm NOT paying another dime for any certification. I also refuse to pay any yearly fee, or any fee, for that matter, to retain the certification that I'm not paying another dime for.

Ron is right. The SA needs to figure out some other way to make money. The REALLY offensive part is they went and created an entirely new certification (CSTs) just to hand out these certifications in the first place.

Certification is Evil , but.... by Mark Levison

For all the reasons Ron and others have mentioned Certification is Evil:
- The certification(s) only prove that you attended a two day course and may have paid attention
- Certifications alienate other members of the community
- ....

But there are some other issues that we can't ignore:
- HR departments continue to demand certifications
- The pull of the certification has drawn many people to Agile in the first place
- Without the CSM the Agile Community would be much smaller and not on the edge of mainstream adoption
- In a vacuum other certifications will appear (google the WAQB)

Instead of condemning all certifications lets work to make them better.

Mark Levison
Agile Pain Relief Consulting

Re: Certification is Evil , but.... by Vikas Hazrati

Mark, good point. I guess the root cause to fix this issue is to make the certifications worthwhile. Till then, it seems that there would continue to be a tussle on the validity and strength of Scrum certifications. Also, the divide that Ron pointed out would continue to exist, thus alienating a good number of valuable Agilists.

Re: Certification is Evil , but.... by Scott Duncan

I'm definitely on the side of making certifications more meaningful rather than dismissing the whole idea. I think considerations in setting up a certification should include:

1) A scope statement to be clear what is being certified.

2) Some Body of Knowledge definition to define any knowledge scope in the certification.

3) A description of how knowledge and/or skill are verified if the certification covers a claim of knowledge or skill.

4) A description of how any other information is verified regarding the person being certified if something like educational background, years of experience, etc. are part of the (re)certification requirements.

There is also the question of whether or not any knowledge demonstration is to be linked to training/education provided by instruction only sanctioned by the certifying body. If the latter is true, then some statement needs to be made why the knowledge can only reliably be gained in this way, especially if some form of objective testing is used to verify the knowledge.

(The money/cost issue is another matter which, by itself, does not validate or invalidate any certification effort for me. It can have a significant impact on whether people feel they get value for the cost of maintaining any given certification, of course.)

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