Certified Scrum Manager – somewhat more than a rant

In the past I have been more than skeptic about certifications. I even wrote about my minimum requirements for a certification programme that might (or might not) add value in an article called Meaningful Certification?. Despite the split between the two larger organizations (and their early leaders) on Scrum – the Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org – yesterday I noticed that the certification scam has taken on new levels with a program called Certified Scrum Manager (IAPM). Here is my honest critique about it, and I will try to rant as few as possible about it.

First of all, what are the claims in the program? The program claims it is based on the Scrum Guide 1.0. The collaboratively maintained official Scrum Guide from Scrum.org and the Scrum Alliance do not provide version numbers like software, but use month and year relationships. The latest one for example is from October 2011. The official version also has a version history.

However, if you actually click on the link provided for the suspicious Scrum Guide 1.0, you end up on a page stating that the current version of the Scrum Guide is currently overworked, and you do not get any access to the basis of this great program. Interesting, and this makes a tester like me suspicious enough to go on.

Reading on, the website claims that you need to fill in your personal information together with up to five projects that you have managed. But wait, what does management mean in a scrum context? If you take the traditional responsibilities of a project manager, and map them to a Scrum context, you end up with a split responsibility for quality for example. The Development-Team is responsible for the quality of their work, while the ScrumMaster is responsible for the quality of the team, and the ProductOwner is responsible for the quality of the product. That would mean that I can apply for this brand new shiny certificate if I “just” have been a programmer or even a tester on a project? Awesome how easy it is to become a manager these days.

But wait, there’s more. While the English version of the program reveals some information, in my twitter stream (either Deb Preuss or Boris Gloger came up with it) also a German article popped up introducing the program. If you know German, read it here. The article provides the main motivation for this new certification: you can take the test online, so us busy managers don’t need to leave work for it, you don’t need to re-certify after i.e. 2 years, and it includes a certificate to work as ScrumMaster, ProductOwner, and even the Developer certificate. Wonderful! Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

Busy managers don’t need to leave work for getting certified. I think this sentence is a problem statement in itself. Two key lessons I learned from Weinberg’s Quality Software Management series were that busy managers might appear like good work but they are not. First of all, consider the controller fallacy from Volume 1 – Systems Thinking (page 197):

If the controller isn’t busy, it’s not doing a good job. If the controller is very busy, it must be a good controller.

It’s a trap to think that a busy manager is a good manager, just because he or she is busy. More often than not it might mean that this particular manager is not able to turn its attention to the problems that may arise in day-to-day work. But there is more. On page 276 of the same book, Weinberg points out the problem with managers not being available:

Busy managers mean bad management.

Just consider what self-revelation a busy manager offers in all due respect to his self-management abilities. How can a manager unable to manage himself be in charge of managing someone else? This certification program seems to especially open up for bad managers continuing to spread out into the Agile world.

And I hope that the larger world of software development will soon realize that mentioning the Certified Scrum Manager (IAPM) on your resume will become a point in your disadvantage for your application, not for your advantage.

Second, no re-certification is necessary. Take the cert, and live happily ever after. Despite the plans from Scrum.org and the Scrum Alliance to change their systems from every now and then, this seems to be a counter-position. The world changes, our understanding of Agile changes, and I think this makes it necessary to refine our understanding of the things we believed. This also means that we will continuously have to keep on learning new things. Take the questionnaire once, and then claim to know it all is the route to the misunderstandings in the future. Last year I lost my certificate as a professional swimming trainer, because I didn’t take the time (and the training practice) to extend it. I am fine with that. I still know some stuff, but I can’t (and I even won’t) claim that I know the latest trends in training professional swimmers. How come a field such as software development – or more precise management of software development – can do such an unprofessional thing?

Third thing, this new certificate is worth the same amount of learning as a CSM, CSPO, and CSD certificate. When considering the discussion about the split responsibilities you might think this is true. But there is more. I went through the CSM, CSPO, and the CSD program. I think I know enough about Continuous Integration, Test-driven Development, Acceptance Test-driven Development, Exploratory Testing, Design Patterns, Refactoring, Personality Types, team building, requirements trawling, leadership, psychology, epistemology, Scrum, XP, Crystal, Kanban, Lean, and facilitation that I am more than comfortable in either of these roles. I am not so certain about most of the managers I have run into.

The Agile community is more than suspicious about managers and management despite efforts like books on the Agile management, management is still a trend from the late 19th, early 20th century. Management as I get it from Taylor in his book means to separate the doing of work from the thinking about how to improve it. Since the traditional worker is too stupid to think about how to improve his own working steps, he needs a manager to tell him, how he has to arrange his separate working steps, so that he can be more productive while working.

In my experience this premise does not hold at all for knowledge work like software development, programming, software testing, and requirements gathering. We are working with highly educated people in software development. That’s why we should stop to treat them as unmotivated body-leases, and start to treat them as adults self-responsible for their actions, and able to learn how to do better work on their own. While it helps for line managers to know about stuff like CI, TDD, ATDD, ET, and so on, I find it worrying to see a management certification program claiming as one of their benefits that the managers will later on be able to work as Scrum developer.

Final point, I am on the edge to call this certification snake oil. Despite my efforts to find out which basis this program is built upon, or who has been involved in creating it, I could not figure it out on their web-site. If you read the English language version, you will even see a relict from the translation process in German there (as of this writing – I am quite certain, they will remove it later). Here is a screenshot.

I think there is a place for managers from traditional organizations understanding Scrum, and Agile, and enabling them to provide their value to high-productive, highly self-managed teams. I don’t think we need a certification for this, but I am afraid there will be more programs like this in the near future. I hope that the Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org can set aside their differences, and join forces in freeing the world of software development from this crap.

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7 thoughts on “Certified Scrum Manager – somewhat more than a rant”

  1. I was utterly shocked when I saw that program. Utterly ridiculous IMO. “Certification” serves one purpose in my mind, starting your education. We’re running the ACP course at work right now as a counter-measure to the geniuses who decided to send all their PM’s to PMI waterfall training during a LEAN transformation and it’s remarkable to hear the questions these guys have.

    I remember having those same questions when I did my CSM 5 years ago and now I realize how ridiculous they are. ‘Certification’ started me off and years of failures, experiments, conferences, open spaces and books are what helped the most.

    The lure of PDUs and certifications is a trigger to get people to think differently and hopefully the training industry is going to wake up and knock it off with all this ‘certification’ crap.

    1. Hi Jason,

      it’s not the training industry that we have to work on, though. It’s the recruitment departments. These are one of the key stakeholders for certification, and why people follow up on them. Besides personal achievements and growth, I think we need to educate the personal recruitment departments more.

    2. Sounds like the ‘PMI’ training your colleagues are being sent on is also essence of snake; PMI itself are absolutely fine with incremental, iterative approaches (and have been for at least 5 years), and of noting the risk of requirement change when you try to plan too far ahead.

      (BTW, Lean is not an initialism. Personal bugbear.)

  2. Heh interesting. Can’t see it catching on though, it is probably an attempt to offer something that their existing customers might have been asking for. If you think about it in lean startup terms, it is an inevitable experiment to test on the market, and gather feedback from.

    I bet they even did a survey of their membership and asked what was wrong with existing Scrum certifications and based this one on that feedback.

    Anyway, a few random comments I can make: If I am not mistaken, the Scrum Guide is a collaboration between scrum.org/Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, but I don’t think the Scrum Alliance claims any ownership of it. They are currently working on their version called the agile atlas, which has a section called “core Scrum” defining Scrum. I think there are a couple of minor differences.

    Anyway this is not the first alternative Scrum certification out there. Boris Gloger offers his own, and there is the International Scrum Institute also offering certifications, and I am sure I have heard of one or two more.

    They are all as bad as each other. scrum.org and Scrum Alliance certs included. Trying to worry about how little differences might make one cert ok and another one not is a red herring.

    None of them prove competence. Certifications do not prove competence, that seems to be the main reason for their existence, and in that they fail. I would never refer to my certifications in a genuine attempt to honestly convince anyone that I know what I am talking about. I would however refer to them if trying to get a job. There is a difference there. One is real, and the other is more like some ridiculous performance art. I feel a little bit bad about putting certs on my CV, and mentioning them in interviews, but it is usually the sensible move in what is a flawed game anyway.

    But hey if they solve a particular problem, which for me they have done, then great.For some reason most decision makers seem to listen to people with certifications. To achieve my goals I need to be listened to, so that is basically why I have them. If anyone asks though I am quite honest about what bullshit they are, and how the whole game is. Also if you are a consultant and want to make money as a trainer then you need to offer certs, and get certified first. That is a legitimate business reason to get certified I guess.

    Your last bit is interesting though. I don’t really know if the scrum.org and Scrum Alliance have any significant differences apart from competing with each other in the certification space. To me the split seems mostly related to a difference in focus. The Scrum Alliance wants to change the world of work, and has a broader vision for the applicability of Scrum, whereas scrum.org, while recognising that Scrum can be used for developing any complex product, focuses on software development, and considers more of a need for some sort of product management outside of Scrum itself.

    How do you suppose they could join together and rid the world from this kind of crap? Do you mean they could trademark Scrum or something so only these two would be allowed to offer their “good” certifications, locking the “bad” ones out of the market? I don’t necessarily think scrum.org or Scrum Alliance certs are any better, in any significant way, than the others out there, so to me the only way they could fix things would be to abandon their own certification schemes, which I cannot see happening.

  3. Hi Markus,
    I think this is a good article about things we should not trust. And I think the world is full of things we should not trust.
    When I as a tester think for example of the notorious ISTQB certifications in the field of software testing it’s basicaly the same.
    But in case of ISTQB I think the following. ISTQB has now in 2012 it’s 10th anniversary . And this is normaly a fact what people involved in stuffing processes in the field of software testing let’s think: “10th anniversary – ok, we can trust them! So let’s say that the ISTQB certification is a must for every applicant!”
    Nevertheless ISTQB also has is disadvantages:
    1) Is there a re-certification necessary for example every 2 years? I think not…so same problem.
    2) Who says, that everything is true what the guys from ISTQB teach us?
    3) An ISTQB certification is – in my opinion nothing more than a ticket to get a jobs in software testing (at least here in Germany).
    4) ISTQB is not all-embracing. Have testing topics like Rapid Software Testing, testing in agile envirionments, context driven testing and so on ever been mentioned on the syllabi? I think when ISTQB dosn’t want to lose it’s place as a “quasi standard” all these current and new testing methods must be availlable in the syllabi.

    After reading this article, I found the following list in German Wikipedia about “IT Zertifikate”:
    http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_der_IT-Zertifikate
    It’s frightening, how many different certificates are listed there. And I beliefe, that we can not utterly trust them all. But as I mentioned above, sadly they are often the “entry tickets” for jobs….

    kind regards,
    Ralf

  4. Hi Markus,
    great article hitting the main point…!
    A sad development for scrum x communities.. I think it´s all about money there…what´s coming next Certified Scrum Stakeholder, Certified Scrum User, Certified Scrum Client…

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