I’m a Certified ScrumMaster. BFD.*

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{ *Actually so is my brother, and he’s a freakin’ marketing guy… }

Certified ScrumMasterWhile I believe that the ScrumMaster Certification program had a hand in driving the early adoption of agile methods over the past several years, I also believe that it now needs to evolve into a more hard-core certification, as it's doing more harm than good.

First of all, a disclaimer to protect the innocent:
The 2-day CSM class I attended awhile back was extremely well presented, promoted the latest implementation of Scrum for software projects (e.g. incorporation of certain XP concepts, practices and terminology), and had some great exercises that helped illustrate the core fundamentals.  I left with renewed (& new) knowledge and energy.

Speaking of the class, I would guess that at most a third of the attendees had any prior experience with, or knowledge of, the practical application of agile methodologies (for argument's sake, let's assume that you & I were in that group – I like to think I have a clue).  But for the remaining two thirds, I was amazed to find that this was quite obviously a first introduction to scrum and agile practices, from which they walked away excited but over-stimulated and ill-prepared to fulfill the critical role of ScrumMaster on even the smallest teams, let alone help drive change within an organization.  Think deer-in-headlights, and you've got the picture.

Why is this a problem?
It's a problem because they also walked away as Certified ScrumMasters.

A Certified Master of Scrum.

{Wow, how cool.  I've never been certified (certifiable, yes...), let alone as a master of anything.}

Ok, so I do realize that it's an unfortunate combination of the name of the role and the term 'certified'.  That being said, it nevertheless implies to others that this person is certified as having total mastery, not as a slightly-informed novice.  Now if that were the end of it, no harm done, but the problem really manifests itself when they take that shiny new credential back to their team/organization.  Having PMPs reconstituted as 'Certified ScrumMasters' on staff instills a false sense of confidence in the team's ability to go it alone when transitioning to scrum/agile from their historical, ingrained, less-than-agile processes & practices.  And if left to themselves they will flail and fail, the team will quickly lose momentum & confidence, and Scrum/agile methods will ultimately suffer for it.

Why do I really care?
Aside from making CSMs who actually have a clue look like crap, and devaluing the certification in general, it threatens the positive, healthy adoption of scrum and agile methods.  I've experienced the effects of this firsthand on more than a few occasions, and more often recently.

Agile methodologies have quickly come into vogue, and enterprises of all sizes are feeling the pressure to become 'agile' as quickly as possible.  One by-product of the agile rush is that we have prospects & customers that I would not have expected to run into for years to come (which is good for us).  In speaking with teams about how to most effectively implement our product, we often get into discussions about their processes and transition to an agile process.  In response to “Are you working with anyone from a coaching/mentoring perspective?” you get the “No, but we've got a whole whack of ScrumMaster's, so we're good to go.”  That scares me - a lot.

I'm not saying that they're all in the lower two thirds of my class, but based on the certification criteria for a ScrumMaster these days, the odds are not good.

So, what to do?
Make it a certification with some real substance:

  • Have some real pre-reqs: relevant experience and an assessed level of knowledge about scrum & agile methods
  • Incorporate a practicum of sorts
  • Actually evaluate knowledge & practical experience, preferably via interview vs. written

When drafting this I was discussing with a friend and he pointed me to a post by Mike Griffiths from earlier this year, in which he compares CSM with other project management certifications, and has a more detailed treatment of comparable recommendations (The Certification Debate).  I'd also recommend an 'agile bandwagon'-related post of his: The Rise, Fall & Rediscovery of Agile Methods.

As it stands today, the CSM program is a fairly hollow certification.  Pay the tuition, sit through a couple days of class, take a quick online test, and you're in.  And while I realize there's quite the CSM training industry taking advantage of the current program (which I just might be pissing off), I would encourage those who continue to milk it to take a step back and consider whether they're doing more harm than good.

I think it's time for a bit of a refactoring.  Let's hear what you think.

This post originally written by Ian Culling for Agile Chronicles, February 2007.

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