Is There Value in Scrum Certification?

I’m glad to see the Scrum Alliance is taking steps towards a better testing process to designate certification, especially with the recently released CSM exam objectives.

There are some widely varying opinions on the validity of Scrum certification but I think, much like any education, it’s not the sole means of determining qualification for a position.

The naysayers will argue that a 2-day (which is now 3-day by the way…) CSM class only serves to dilute the quality of Scrum Masters in the industry and is somehow de-valuing and undermining the Agile world.  Their argument is that “Agile” is being mis-represented by giving folks a designation that is being misconstrued by companies that are hiring these folks.  These companies get a false impression of Agile because they ‘hired a CSM’ without experience and ultimately Scrum or Agile fail which leads them to believe that the Agile myths are valid.

When I first drafted this post, the tone was more about companies getting what they deserve if they hire someone with no experience, regardless of what job they are filling.  After re-reading it a couple of times, I decided to ‘be more agile’ and put my energy into suggestions that could help improve the value of the certification.

What Companies can try:

  1. Get educated on what Agile is and understand what they are in for.  They need to understand one ‘certified’ person isn’t going to come in and wave the magic wand.  It’s a team effort to make a new agile adoption work or fix a failed one.
  2. Understand what CSM means.  Sure it’s just a 2-day course, but it means the person has received a quality education and understands the Scrum process even though they might not have practical experience.  As with any education, it’s only as good as how it’s used after being obtained.
  3. Shouldn’t only interview CSM’s, don’t put the sole value on a piece of paper.  IE: put “preference given to someone with CSM designation” instead of “CSM required”
  4. Bring in a panel of cross-functional folks to interview the person, make sure they will fit in the environment.
  5. Have them participate in a real-world scenario.  A true scrum master would thrive on an opportunity like this to prove themselves.  Any reluctance and you know they aren’t the person you want.

The Noob CSM

  1. Be Honest.  Yes I realize you can’t get experience without having some experience, but don’t pretend you are something you are not.  Setting an expectation upfront that your are capable only for the company to find you are not is far worse for you AND them than it would be to maybe look for a more junior role with a smaller team/company.
  2. Focus on helping the company understand you have the knowledge and tools to make Scrum/Agile succeed but that it’s a team effort
  3. Take the time to understand Agile adoption successes and failures and you will notice there is a common theme to them.
  4. Learn, learn and learn.  Join Agile communities, participate in Agile forums, start or join a local Agile user group.  Being a ScrumMaster is not a 9 – 5 job, it’s a learning job that requires dedication.

So am I in favour of certification?  Well, as usual, it depends.  In certain circumstances, I am.  I believe having an education from a qualified trainer/institution gives you a solid foundation to start with.  The reverse is also true, I know some folks plenty smarter than me that have no certifications so I don’t take too much stock in it.  You can read  books/blogs and get the same knowledge but be wary of “scrum-but” or “agile-but”. Those are much worse and do far more damage to the industry than someone without practical knowledge and experience does.