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Agile Development

Agile development takes software’s chaotic nature into account by asking that teams create software incrementally and iteratively, developing chunks of functionality each work cycle (or “sprint”).

The Great Certification Debate

June 18, 2009 By: admin Category: Uncategorized

Dr. Dobb’s web site recently ran a Q & A with Scott Ambler, IBM’s practice leader for agile development, addressing the state of agile. As such, Dr. Dobb’s editor-in-chief Jonathan Erickson throws some pretty big, open-ended questions at him. For the most part, I agree with his views throughout this succinct interview. (For example, his assertion that most barriers to agile adoption are cultural is dead-on.) But I was less convinced by his complete dismissal of the role of certification within the various niche communities. Scrum, which has emerged as the single most popular agile subset, shoulders the majority of his criticism, as he explains:

“The Scrum community has done a horrendous job of certification. Right now people are taking a two-day course and then coming out of it claiming to be a ‘Certified Scrum Master.’ Sadly, many organizations aren’t catching on to this, assuming that ‘certified’ actually means something instead of doing their homework and looking into the ‘arduous’ process behind it. I’ve pointed this out to several customers and every time they were offended that such a thing was going on. The Scrum folks are trying to put a veneer of respectability over this by soon requiring people to take a test.”

Certainly, I agree with Ambler’s assessment that Scrum—or any agile method, for that matter—is far too nuanced to assume that it can be mastered in two days. And I imagine any Scrum trainer, certified or otherwise, would tell you that what is taught in a Certified ScrumMaster or Product Owner class is only the tip of the iceberg. (And no, I don’t think that making course participants take a test improves matters much.) But I do think that certification holds value for employers, individuals seeking professional development, and organizations, at large. Let me explain.

Because Scrum and agile are relatively new approaches to project management, employers are still trying to figure out how best to assess the experience and aptitude of an individual for integrating into an agile environment. One way that employers can gauge the base knowledge an applicant possesses is through certification. No, it can’t guarantee that the individual’s personality will mesh with other members of the team, but it is an indication that the candidate possesses some familiarity with the basic principles and processes of Scrum. Organizations will likely need to develop their own, custom screening process, but certification can provide some insight into an individual’s qualification.

From the perspective of individuals who are seeking to pursue a career in Scrum, certification is the best possible option short of on-the-job experience in a Scrum environment (and even then, it’s still a pretty good idea). Certification represents a step such an individual can take toward not only finding a career in Scrum, but demonstrating his or her commitment to learning the framework.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, certification is an important factor for organizations seeking to train their staff en masse. For an individual to achieve Certified Scrum Trainer status, he or she must have been vetted by other trainers and practiced Scrum for years. In other words, the trainer’s experience is essentially proven. Training large groups of employees can be very expensive. In fact, it might be tempting to be cheap and hire an uncertified trainer. But will it be money well spent if the quality of the training turns out to be worthless? This is a real danger. Consider how carefully constructed the Scrum framework is and how its value is derived from the way all the moving parts interact. Engaging an uncertified trainer runs the risk of actually arming your teams with the wrong ideas, i.e. recommendations that effectively undermine Scrum’s ability to realize the benefits it advertises. If that happens, you’ll be left with a broken system, not a well-oiled machine.

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