Agile Open Space: On Certifications
Y'see, one of the sessions I proposed was entitled, "Certified ScrumMaster??" I wanted to gauge people's opinions of the CSM certification: Is it valuable, is it real, or is it just résumé-padding fluff?
I got my answer. The groans, grumbles, and rolled eyes around the room confirmed my suspicions. In this crowd at least, it is worse than irrelevant. It is counter to and detrimental to the philosophy of the Agile community.
After the proceedings broke into less formal conversations, I caught up with some community members whom I respect and enjoy. They elaborated on their earlier non-verbal remarks. It is not difficult to get a CSM; you attend a two-day class. That's it. That sounds like just enough knowledge to be really dangerous.
Why do we even need certifications? What does a certificate indicate about my real skills, abilities, and past experience? No, I inherently reject any model that sets up a gate-keeper-style hierarchy to knowledge—a system that says, "We know things; you don't. Your ideas and perspectives are not as good as ours until we bless you and permit you to be one of us (and your check clears)." I don't accept religions that do this, nor governments, nor software project methodologies, for Pete's sake.
The true flaw in the CSM is the name: Certified ScrumMaster. Go to a hiring manager and ask which she'd rather have, someone with 3 years' experience as a Scrum team member, or a Certified Scrum Master [trumpet fanfare]. Those in the know, know that ScrumMaster is the role; you hear it without the space. But to those who are not yet well versed in Scrum, it sounds like Mastery of the Scrum process; they inject a space between the words.
The Training page on the Scrum Alliance website says it plain: "The journey to mastery begins with..." and "These courses [CSM and CSPO] provide a solid foundation to help you make the paradigm shift to managing a project using Scrum." [emphasis added] They state straight up that this is the starting point. But the name of the certification doesn't say that. The opportunity for misinterpretation will get people into trouble.
Why does it get my dander up? Personally, because it threatens to be Another Damn Thing I gotta do to stay in the game. Professionally, because agile projects can be magnificent, and certifications smack of the process-for-process'-sake mindset that turns software development into a tedium. Philosophically, because neophytes will incorrectly elevate the merit of opinions from a Certified ScrumMaster, no matter how little experience he may have, and dilute and muddle the tenets of Agile.
Mike Cohn the other night joked about the CSM culminating in a tattoo. I don't know, man, I might put more stock in that, if the tattoo embodied the Agile Manifesto. (Embodied—ha!) It would at least convey the right level of commitment.