There is a lot of debate recently over the usefulness and validity of the Certified Scrum Master course and certification offered by the Scrum Alliance. It seems that many people believe the CSM certificate (and assumedly the CSP) are just ways of making money for the Scrum Alliance that offer little real value to the attendee and set dangerous precedents by “certifying” the participant.
I am a CSM and was one of the first to take the course and have to pass the test that is now required. Make no mistake about it, the test is definitely designed to ensure you paid attention and not to eliminate people. one of the often featured arguments is that the course leads to companies relying upon one certified person to help the company become agile. Some have claimed that the nature of Scrum as a set of principles leads to it inherently being unable to be certifiable.
Firstly I would like to put on record that I agree wholeheartedly that a newly qualified CSM is not an agile or scrum expert by any stretch of the imagination. Since being CSM certified I have learnt that there is far more to be learnt about team dynamics and practicalities than any course could ever teach. This is not to say however that the certification is not very important.
When any process or idea becomes acceptable as a good mainstream idea (and agile development with Scrum has certainly become popular) there is a need for some sort of process to show that it ha been at least taught properly. There are so many people who perform scrum in a way that is actually more damaging than performing any other development methodology that they need to be shown the way to do it. There are very few companies that will adopt agile development methods through accepting what has been read from a book by a few of the developers. This is a huge mindset change for a company all the way through its management structure and so proper investment is required in this. This requires therefore some sort of training from an experienced agile practitioner. How do you do this best then?
You can get agile trainers in as consultants to train the group. This provides the entire organisation with agile knowledge and allows the team to start of becoming self-organising. However, this will more than likely still preserve the existing company structure with people taking role names based upon their current jobs (Project Manager to Scrum Master, Senior Business Analyst to Product Owner etc.) wit the existing structure for all intents and purpose remaining in tact. To get an agile trainer to come and work as a consultant for a few days will more than likely cost in the region of a few thousand pounds.The person likely to be giving this training will be a CSP or CSM with some experience (they may even be a CST) but it is most likely they will have some form of certification to ensure they have some credentials to show.
You could send a member of the team away to be trained as a CSM. This will first of all be cheaper than hiring a consultant but will place all the knowledge an pressure on a single team member. However, if the right team member is chosen they can instantiate arguably a greater organisational change than simply having a set of consultants in that management can talk to and then turn what they say for their own means. This person is unlikely to be highly experienced in agile methodologies and will take some time learning how to actually “run” a scrum team in a good manner.
You could also hire an experienced Scrum Master/agile practitioner to become part of your team and push the group forward in an agile manner. This again places a large focus on the knowledge of one team member. This is expensive in itself (a salary and benefits is more expensive than the training course or a few days consultancy) but how would you differentiate between two candidates based upon their CVs saying they were experienced agile practitioners? If only you had some form of certification to know….?
As we can see, it is almost required in each case for the average company who wants to become agile to have someone having taken or being able to take some sort of certification. Perhaps our focus should not be on whether we should take or have the certification (it seems obvious to me we should to just show that somewhere along the line the de facto scrum process) but what we expect from it and how we can better improve it to help improve the knowledge that is prescribed to those who take the course.
I will also be applying for and hopefully obtaining the CSP later this year as I feel it is far more useful, requiring you to be able to coherently talk about and understand scrum and its correct practice.