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.

  • Print
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Bookmarks

18 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”:
    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,

  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…

  5. Did you check out the Scrum Body of Knowledge (SBOK – 340 pages) from Scrumstudy? Scrumstudy offers it for free to all users to download. And this is by far the best resource for Scrum that I have read. http://www.scrumstudy.com/SBOKGuide-vs-otherScrumBooks.asp

    Also, Scrumstudy provides several free resources including great high quality videos, free case studies and phone apps; it also gives provides a free “Introduction to Scrum” course on its website. Link to some of their great videos: http://www.scrumstudy.com/scrum-free-videos.asp

    Scrumstudy has the biggest partner network of ATPs to deliver trainings (120 ATPs) http://www.scrumstudy.com/list-of-atp.asp ; this is a bigger partner network to deliver Scrum trainings as compared with any other Scrum Training provider.

    Moreover, students from leading Fortune 500 companies have taken the trainings from Scrumstudy including Apple, IBM, HP, Lockheed Martin, BoA, Amex and several other Fortune 500 companies. http://www.scrumstudy.com/corporate-testimonials.asp

    Please check this out. Anyways, the SBOK is a free download:)

    EOD, students can decide from which company they want to do their Scrum Training and Scrum Certification.


    1. Hi James,

      thanks for the… ads. What are the differences between the Scrum Body of Knowledge and the Scrum Guide that is maintained by the two inventors of Scrum?


  6. The Scrum guide at scrum . org is a 16 page Scrum overview – it is good for someone who just wants to get a high level understanding of the subject.

    The Scrumstudy Scrum Body of Knowledge is a “Body of Knowledge” – it is a 340 page detailed document to help Scrum aspirants and practitioners understand ‘how to really apply’ scrum in their projects.

    Anyways, both these books are for free. Let students download and compare which book helps them become better Scrum Practitioners!

  7. I’m Certified as a Scrum Product Owner. Honestly, if anyone asks if I’m certified, that is why I took the certification, just to say yes. Does it really mean I’m actually any good?? With that said it does not amount to a few beans in my book.

    Why? I feel that certifications really serve the organizations that make up the material to come up with more fluff materials and processes that someone pays for to “legitimize” and create an upper hierarchical distinction. Well, I know a few people who ‘graduated’ from college with a C average. After 2 years post-college people stop asking what was their GPA, and they want to know the personality style, work-ethic, critical thinking skills and how that person solves problems and deliver solutions.

    The irony is I can be a doctor and have graduated 200th in my class. How would you find out?? Who is Ken Schwaber, where did he come from and what makes him legit?? If you read his bio he’s an average Joe developer who got lucky with Scrum and the creation of the guide. Ken is now making a killing teaching Scrum. Ironically in the 16 page Scrum guide they say ’empirical’ knowledge is the only real knowledge base to work from. Now all these ‘training workshops’ are just fluff. Can you actually imagine shelling out 2995 for a Scrum training based on a 16 page guide? No, you would look like an idiot. So what do I do to sell this to you and make you feel better? I stuff ‘certification trainings’ and whatever else I can stuff up the wa-zoo so you can feel good about forking over 2995 to me (this year). And by the way, if I always have this perceived superiority over you, you will come back to ‘renew’ your certification or take on-going classes that makes me rich. Thank you very much by the way :-) I just bought my third house.

    Yeah it’s a scam. Empirical knowledge seems a bit hypocritical now. Oh and Scrum’s point is that Scrum teams are equal. There is only a servant-leader mentality. Umm but the Scrum ‘Trainers’ are loving the money they make convoluting this so you can pay them. We all know, at least the seasoned professionals that if people don’t stand behind any workflow, it falls down. Simple. Scrum certification is NOT the magic bullet for gross human inefficiencies and neither is Scrum. No process or framework is truly the solve because people are behind it and we don’t really do processes without someone mucking it up.

    I don’t care if it’s 16 or 340 pages of blah blah blah. That’s what shelling over thousands for certification is. But if I hire you and you don’t perform to certain standards you are still getting kicked off the team if you keep that crap up. So it’s a scam but people love to showboat one another. Look what I have and I spent 2995 to get it. Oh yeah, was that dumb?

    Trust the empirical knowledge. Become good and a genius that way. And don’t let yourself get talked into spending thousands of dollars just so you can have some ‘organization’ validate you. You set the bar and validate yourself. If you are really good people will know it.

  8. Certifications are not a way to say that you are the best in that field. As per my experience it is just to have the resume’s filtered I believe…to get shortlisted and then the rest is up to the candidate.

    BTW if one has given any certification, there is definitely some learning involved, I don’t see any doubt in that.

  9. Question: “Who owns SCRUM?”

    The author of this post seems rather annoyed but you seem to be caught up in your rant, that I therefore ask you – “Who owns SCRUM?”

    So pointing out the obvious here but:

    There is no ‘body’ who owns the framework or copyright” – Not even Easel Corporation the original people who created / introduced it back in 1993, Nor do the Grand Mothers/Fathers of SCRUM like Jeff Sutherland own the framework.

    So “Who owns SCRUM?”

    The way I see it (in response to this post about credible certification) you have Scrum.Org, Scrum Alliance (I’m using them in reference to this posting) who may claim to be the entity that only are worthy.
    – Is that just a perception or fact? Is this indeed our own fault to believe there is ownership placed on these groups because only they know SCRUM? Do they therefore own it?

    If anything, it reminds me of this one guy who tried to copyright Yoga… LoL no seriously I’m not joking. About 10 years ago he made claim that he is the owner of Yoga. He tried to get a patent on it so he could sue the world who do Yoga without his permission. It’s a true story & I laughed myself so hard hearing this…

    With that being said, Moving on to the SCRUM ‘vetting, assessment, understanding, compliance, competency’ aspects – regarding those who have learnt & become certified – Again, “Did you only follow the single path out there available which means no other path to certification”.

    So I guess, the first person who stood up & shouted – Me, I am SCRUM Certified as I designed the factors to determine that I am – Is personally certifying the hundreds & thousands individually?

    Frankly, like all frameworks are ‘Road Maps’ no answer to all. Are all projects the same? Given that statement & without getting heavy into SCRUM, the bottom line is –

    “It’s all about Business”.

    Yes it is exactly that, to sell a framework which isn’t credible if you don’t follow a profiled group’s course who are paraded as being the only people who authenticate your SCRUM understanding.

    I make a personal statement here to those who think, they only are the worthy of being SCRUM certified because of doing a course by Scrum.Org or Scrum Alliance & anything else isn’t worthy…

    “Please, do not disrespect others just because you believe you are better”. Maybe at the time, that’s all that was available in teaching SCRUM but the market has changed.

    I actually self taught myself & then took the exams. I’m certified, experienced, certified in multiple frameworks & have delivered SCRUM projects successfully.

    Certifications on paper is one thing, execution is another. If you feel that offended by my comment, I suggest you buy the SCRUM framework, copyright it, own it completely & then get on the case of those groups/websites/individuals who you believe are imitations & not worthy… Then perhaps you can try & convince the world you are: “God/Goddess of SCRUM”
    – Oh wait… You can’t do that, You don’t own it…

    The bigger picture is that the old ways of software development have changed, our technological landscape has changed, we are shaping our future & it needs to evolve. By utilising SCRUM we are demonstrating the benefits that we can not only do in a project, but what about applying it in our lives. As humans, we are designed to become better, let’s make the world a better place.

    1. As a serious answer to your question: The Scrum founders Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber both maintain a document called the Scrum Guide which defines according to the majority of the practitioners out there what the de-facto definition of Scrum is. To that extent they own it. The Scrum Guide undergoes regular refinements, with the latest one being from August 2013.

      The Scrum Guide does not state a thing about the role of managers, so it’s valid to say that something like a Certified Scrum Manager is in fact snake oil.

  10. I agree that the Scrum Guide is helpful, but the SBOK is the Body of Knowledge. Like with other practicums, the Body of Knowledge (BOK) is the source for the structure and understanding of the Methodology. In PM and BA you have the PMBOK and BABOK. I use all of these as resources for Project Management. The issue with the Scrum Certification is there is not a standards body the administer the exam. I am certified for Scrum and for other certifications. PMI has the PMP derived from the PMBOK. ITIL has EXIN for its administration and CBAP and CCBA are from IIBA. I think there is value in the Scrum certifications for standardizing the understanding and use of the Methodology, but there tests and administration needs to be standardized.

    1. Ernie,

      are you serious with disregarding the Scrum Guide written by the two inventors of Scrum, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, for a document that has been written by someone that happened to have jumped on the band-waggon of Scrum, and happens to have it named after some other certification documentation?

      Suffice it to say that there are bodies that have an eye on the certification exams. I don’t see what you mean by standardizing a test. I think you are overvaluing the name certification here.

  11. the way Scrumstudy presents itself in the industry, the way it tries to discredit the founders of scrum, the reputable organizations that have the word “scrum” as a part of their name (ScrumAlliance, Scrum.org, ScrumInc), they way their shameless telemarketers and cold-callers/emailers solicit people to “sign up” for Scrumbuddy….can be described by one work only: EMBARASSING.

    “Body of Knowledge” is represented, first and foremost, by experts that represent such a body. Coaches, Trainers, Practitioners…

    Who stands behinds this self-proclaimed BOK have that gives it a right to make any of such claims? To run ahead of a crowd, screaming “Me too, me too, let me play along with others”, does not qualify someone, as a player.

    And the most shameful thing is how Scrumstudy’s marketers select their candidates and approach them. It just says how little they understand this business.

Leave a Reply to Markus Gärtner Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *