Certifications, Digital Credentials, and Endorsements

Lamest blog post title ever. I started running my Lean Change Agent workshop in 2014 and have never offered a certification. I provided a Certificate of Completion because I have never believed that anyone should be ‘certified’ in anything for attending a 2-day course.

This is a long post, structured like this and I wrote it mostly for myself, but thought the greater community could benefit:

  1. Backstory: My history with certs (to explain how my thinking about certs evolved)
  2. Why I created Certified Practitioner and the feedback I got when asking if people were against certs due to the term, or the process of getting them
  3. What My Intent was for creating ‘certified practitioner’
  4. Big picture of the structure of my digital credential program
  5. What I get out of it
  6. Details about how my program works (because many will leap to an assumption before knowing how it works)
  7. What options I beleive I have based on my intent and goals
  8. What I have decided to do after writing this post (in one sitting, no corrections, other than grammarly…a stream of consciousness if you wwill)
  9. Reiteration of my intent and goals

Backstory: My history with certifications.

When I received my CSM (Certified Scrum Master), CSP (Certified Scrum Pratitioner, and CSPO (Certified Scrum Product Owner), I didn’t need to write a test. I was ordained as certified at the end of the class, funny story, we may or may not have certified the workshop hosts’ dog as a CSPO so for a brief point in time a dog, yes a dog, was listed as a CSPO.

When I obtained my CSP, a letter was required to justify your experience. I’m sure there were quotes you needed to validate your expertise, but still, the bar was low. 

Each year you needed to pay $50 or so to keep your certified status, and there was no benefit. I remember asking for help to create a local meetup in the days when there weren’t 90,000 agile meetups every week in every city. I was told to contact my trainer…who did nothing to help.

Coming from an IT background, I had plenty of ‘certifications’ in Microsoft products from SQL Server, to Front Page, to Windows NT, to MS Exchange Server from an, at the time, a well-known training body. I also had my MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional) status for building websites with FrontPage 98.

I also had a smattering of hardware certifications from HP and whatever else was required for the IT work I was doing.

Back during my time in IT, MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) was huge, the saying was, “just get your paper, and you’re all set…”

I worked with a few MCSE’s who didn’t understand file sharing.

I have always been vocal against most agile certifications because most, if not all, give a ‘certified’ title after staying awake in a class for 2 days. 

I suppose the last comment about credentials or validation of knowledge is grading systems. I teach an agile methods course part-time at a local college, so I understand how grading schemes and rubrics work and why they are in place. In college, my lab partner had a 4.0 GPA in our electronics engineering program, and he couldn’ put together a basic circuit. I had a lowly 2.06, but I could build anything and knew how to apply the theory and figure shit out.

Why create Certified Practitioner?

I recently published a milestone credential, Certified Practitioner https://leanchange.org/project/lean-change-management-certified-practitioner/, for my organization. Then I asked people if they’re against the word ‘certified‘ or the ‘process‘ in which they are granted (IE: staying awake for two days)

Responses resulted in:

  • what makes you an authority?
  • some name-calling and snark
  • endorsements are better
  • most of today’s “pay annually” or “pay for the test” are cash grabs, more or less, that give zero benefits to the earner
  • ‘weak’ certifications hurt the industry
  • certs are created by salesman to fool clueless managers
  • you don’t pay Harvard a fee every two years to say you graduated Harard
  • be wary of overstating what the ‘certification’ means
  • show me the evidence that digital credentials are used (and followed with “you lose credibility when you claim something and don’t provide evidence” – which is true, but I did the research and I have better things to do than create book report for you. I provided the list of universities that use badges, go google it for yourself if you want the details.
  • badges aren’t rewards
  • you can’t take responsibility for someone’s future

There were more, but I’ll stop there. I should have expected the polar responses. People are either violently against certs, don’t care either way or are pro-cert.

A minority of people gave helpful insights like:

  • I don’t like simple processes that give certs just for attending a class
  • I think interviews and validation from an authority is better
  • “certificates of completion” are all you can do (which I do now)

I would say the majority of people lept to an assumption, didn’t bother to read anything about what I’m offering, and just decided it was terrible because of the ‘certified’ word.

The Intent

This mostly frustrating exchange with people helped me question why I wanted to do this in the first place so I as annoying as it was, thank you for that. Here are the reasons:

  • I have 50 facilitators running my course worldwide, and in some markets, using “certified” language is essential. Some facilitators advertise their workshops with certified language to sell classes, and so far, none of their attendees have griped about getting a certificate of completion
  • This isn’t about me anymore. This is about what is important to (A) knowledge seekers, and (B) facilitators who I’m helping with growing their businesses. My business isn’t a startup anymore so it’s not just about what I want
  • To provide a more meaningful credential that shows earners have knowledge, have applied that knowledge, and have had the application of their knowledge validated by people affected by the change. The latter is the key difference IMO.
  • Show earners multiple paths of learning. Some will go down the “practitioner” path, others the “facilitator” path, and others the “ambassdor” path. Pathways are a concept that comes from using digital credentials, or badges. For example, once people earn a certain badge, the system shows them something else they might be interested in learning about.
  • Give small rewards to people who share their stories, teach others, and spread the word about modern change practices.

Big Picture – Digital Credentials

I launched a digital credential program about 18 months ago and have about 1600 earners. The list of credentials are here. https://leanchange.org/credentials/, The evolution of the program, is the creation of 3 categories with easy, medium, and hard levels inspired by Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Knowledge Badges: going to workshops, reading the book etc

Application Badges: using the practices they learned (change canvases, lean coffees etc)

Ambassador Badges: spreading the ideas at conferences, running meetups, facilitating workshops etc.

Milestone Badges: a collection of various badges, the first one is the “Certified Practitioner.” There are some private facilitator milestone badges as well like “20th workshop” and other vanity metrics…the counter-balance is the public rating and review system I use.

Before you bitch about getting a badge for reading a book, it’s one easy badge to get and it’s a thank you from me that you took the time to read it. Some people like a personal thank you from me, most don’t care either way but I’m Canadian dammit so I want to thank people for their time and effort looking at my work.

What I get out of it

Free marketing, validation that micro-credentials help people find new learning opportunities, knowing that, like it or not, some people value a credential as a status symbol.

How Mine work – Details

  • there is no fee to get any badge
  • there is no fee to get a certificate of completion
  • there are no monetary rewards for any of my bagdes (community members get discounts on virutal courses, course attendees get 3 months free in the paid community.)
  • my backend generates course ratings for facilitators automatically so some milestone badges are for running X number of courses and maintaing Y rating (there is no financial or other benefit other than the status of being a ‘gold’ facilitator
  • course attendees, and anyone for that matter, can join a paid, members-only community as an option
  • you don’t have to go to a workshop to get an application badge (you DO for Certified Practioner)
  • some are easy to get, some are hard, there is plenty of choice for doing side-missions
  • they don’t expire
  • for now, I decide on the highest-level badges because I wrote the book, created the course, and have been using these ideas for over a decade
  • the evidence of application badges doesn’t have to be a 100% success story because we know all case studies have a certain level of bullshit in them
  • getting confirmation and having interviews with people affected by the change is the counter-balance to getting multiple perspectives about what the earner has done (again, doesn’t need to be a rousing success story, just evidence the practice was done, why it was done, and how it turned out from multiple perspectives)
  • earners are thanked and rewarded on social channels, they can collect badges in a backpack (I use the Open Badge Standard) and they can add them to linked in etc.
  • I do offer IC Agile’s ICP-CAT “certification course,” but that badge is still one of the lowest in my ecosystem of credentials.

What Options Exist?

  • online test to validate knowledge (this is pointless, google knows everything so there’s less of a need to store things in your brain)
  • using ‘contact hours’ like how PDU’s/CDU’s work (easily gameable by just going to meetups, or signing up for meetups and not going but showing your provider your ticket as proof
  • nothing (a stupid option when you’re running a global learning business, but an option none-the-less)
  • remove the ‘certification’ language
  • provide Linked In endorsements for the highest level badges (my ego likes this very much, I’m sure some earner would like this, but I’m sure plenty of people would be outraged that I have the audacity to this.)
  • open up “certifying authority” to the community (that is let experienced practitioners vote and decide if someone has earned higher level credentials. Of course then people will complain “what gives THEM the right to judge…blah blah blah” some people really need to get off social media and start living their lives.
  • follow a similar structure to how I am forced to go grades at the college level
  • get my association accredited as a college/university/learning institution

What I’ve Decided

  • I will stop using ‘certified’ language because if I’m being honest, part of dong that was to make the program more attractive but it really doens’ tmatter. I had someone tell me they’d never come to my course becauyse I don’t “certify” people. I told them good luck in their future endevours, you’re aren’t someone who’d enjoy this course if that’s your stance.
  •  I will relabel “Certified Practitioner” as “Practitioner” or “Validated Practitioner”, probably the former.
  • I may add levels of Practitioners down the road
  • I’ll continue to add more knowledge, application, and ambassador badges
  • I’ll incorporate other credentials into my badges (IE: A Lean Change Coach will be someone who earned the Practitioner Badge and also holds a reputable coaching credential like ORSC, or Co-Active
  • Eventually, I’ll moonwalk out of the process and make it community-driven through endorsements, possibly panels, or other ways to verify knowledge and practise.
  • I’ll give advanced credential earners an endorsement on Linked In, if they want it

Overall, my goal is not volume or a period scheme. If it were, I’d be retired by now. To re-iterate, my goals are:

  • give small status rewards, and small benefits (early access to new content/books, discount on virtual training etc) to people who invest time in learning about, applying and adapting/evolving my ideas
  • allow me to market my business
  • give my facilitators more benefits that help them grow their businesses
  • show earners learning options

If my intent and goals are still not good enough for you, please don’t bother leaving a comment if you just want to complain.

If you have constructive advice, better options, or feedback, by all means, leave a comment. 

The conversations and social media interactions did help me question my intent and helped me clarify what my goals are. Now I’ve decided on a way forward and much like everything else in my business that had evolved since 2012 when the first book came out; it’ll continue to evolve based on what my learners and facilitators find valuable.