It is always amusing for a speaker of UK English to hear an American professional declare that they are certified. To be certified in the UK means that a Doctor or a social worker has committed you to a centre for the treatment for mental illness. The Oxford English Dictionary term for professional qualifications is ‘certificated’. Scrum certification is a hot topic, and will increasingly become so, as Agile development becomes more and more mainstream. So, if you are a practitioner of Scrum, should you be certificated, or should you be certified for even asking the question?
I’ve been practising Scrum formally since 1998. I say formally because I’d been working for a while previously on organizational patterns with Jim Coplien. Organizational patterns form one of the roots of Scrum and, arguably, an article Jim wrote in Dr. Dobbs Journal twenty years ago was the first one on Scrum’s principles. It was Martine Devos who introduced me to Scrum as we know it today at the 1998 OOPSLA convention. There were no Scrum professional qualifications in those days. Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) appeared for the first time with the founding of the Scrum Alliance in 2007. CSM was introduced in order to give organizations seeking Capability Maturity Model (CMM) level 3 accreditation the evidence they needed to show that they trained people in their chosen process.
When Scrum certifications came out I wasn’t interested, frankly. I was working for an organization (a British University) that wasn’t interested in CMM. I had been practising Scrum for nearly a decade and neither I nor my employers were particularly excited by the thought of paying a thousand dollars or so for me to go on a Scrum Alliance validated training course in order to learn about what I already knew.
That was then. This is now. I became a Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) in May 2011 after attending a training course delivered by my good friend, Martine Devos. It kind of closed the circle to have the woman who introduced me to Scrum train me for CSPO. CSM and CSPO are the two ‘entry level’ Scrum certifications offered by Scrum Alliance and attending a training course delivered by a Scrum Alliance Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) is still the only way to get either of them. Less than 5 months later I became a Certified Scrum Professional (CSP), a qualification that acknowledges my experience in using Scrum in practice. I have maintained those qualifications ever since, as well as adding others (Project Management Institute Certified Agile Practitioner (PMI-ACP), Professional ScrumMaster and SAFe Program Consultant)
So, what happened? Did I go mad sometime between 2007 and 2011? Some might argue so, but the reality is, the world changed in the meantime. Ushered in by forces unleashed by the credit collapse of 2008 and the subsequent global economic crisis, Agile and Scrum have moved decisively into the mainstream. The shelves in book stores, real and virtual, are straining with the weight of Agile literature. The Internet is awash with blog posts (sic!) on Scrum, and you can’t avoid the word “Agile” in the Twitterverse. Contract rates are up for anyone boasting Agile skills and experience – and that’s the issue. How can the hirers of consultants, or employers, distinguish between those who have something substantial to contribute from those who have just jumped on the bandwagon in the last five minutes?
It is not just that a recognized certificate is CV enhancing. I now think it is a professional responsibility for Agile practitioners to validate their knowledge and experience through qualification. There are just too many people who are in danger of discrediting Agile through bad practice. There are a lot of qualifications to choose from. Earlier I mentioned qualifications that can be gained from the Project Management Institute, the SAFe Academy and scrum.org. There are plenty of others besides. Partly this reflects the size and scope of the ever-growing Agile community. But that growth has also caused a problem. There is a shortage of people able to give the quality training that leads to quality certification.
These growing pains are felt nowhere more sharply than amongst the Scrum community. For example, although the Scrum Alliance has more than 400,000 members it only has about two hundred CST’s world-wide. This can be seen as a bottle-neck if it is to achieve its stated mission of “changing the world of work”.
Scrum Alliance has Registered Education Providers to help it in its challenge, and Learning Tree International is one of these. For a while now, Learning Tree has provided courses which allow individuals to accumulate Scrum Educational Units (SEU) and achieve Certified Scrum Developer (CSD). For a little while now, by partnering with existing CSTs, Learning Tree is now able to provide Certified ScrumMaster courses in both the USA (since before Christmas) and the UK. Certified Scrum Product Owner classes are now available, too. There is also a PMI-Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) Exam Prep course and a recently introduced SAFe Agilist Certification course. Professionals who have attended Learning Tree courses can use their My Learning Tree account to enhance their learning and maintain their credentials by obtaining further SEUs. Scrum Alliance has just announced new ‘advanced’ qualifications and Learning Tree looks forward to making these available to its customers in due time.
Get certified? Frankly, you would be mad not to!