Shoe Shopping and Scrum – An Analogy to Explain the Pros of Certification

Everyone who was at Agile 2008 last year in Toronto probably remembers a dinner speech which poked equal fun at XP and Scrum enthusiasts with a punchline I don’t remember about XP and one I do remember about Scrum. The punchline was “certification!” Yes, it’s true – we Scrum professionals love our CSM, CSP, CSC, CSPO, and CSTs. Over the last week, I’ve had a few folks start conversations with me about the value of certification, so I figured I’d make my answer on that subject public.

In tough economic times, companies are often pressured to move from “ROI analysis” of purchases to “lowest bidder” decision-making. I have done this at times in my life, too. One need only look at the vast collection of cheap yet nice-looking shoes in my closet to see evidence of this behavior. And one must simply talk to my orthopedist and acupuncturist to know that these shoes wreaked havoc on my feet that has cost me quite a bit in money, time and pain. So I’m slowly replacing them with Dansko’s, Merrell’s, and Soffts. I could have just bought the quality shoes to start with, but instead I went with solutions that were cheaper and seemed like they would work just as well. They didn’t. OUCH! Now, I know it’s probably offensive for me to compare a development organization to my feet. But both things are complex, vital systems that need just the right support to prevent injury. Fixing a damaged system is much more costly than preventing its breakage in the first place. And fixing things sooner with the right tool is always better than later.

Okay, so how does my foot injury relate to Scrum? Why is certification important? Why is a certified trainer important?

If you are a job-seeker:
Hiring managers are getting gigantic stacks of resumes these days. If a job requires Scrum or agile experience and you have a CSM, CSP, CSC, or CST on your resume, you just made their job easier as they’re probably looking for those acronyms as keywords. It’s not that HR people are lazy, it’s just that they’re totally overwhelmed with responses to job posts. Trust me – I used to do HR for a living. Secondly, being taught by a ScrumAlliance Certified Scrum Trainer gives employers a measure of assurance that you have received a relatively consistent lesson on Scrum fundamentals. Your class is delivered by an instructor that has been evaluated by their peers and deemed competent to teach the values, principles, and mechanics set forth by Scrum’s founders. So when you show up for that first day on the job as a Scrum team member, Product Owner or ScrumMaster, you should have a pretty strong academic knowledge of the principles and practices of Scrum.

If you are an organization:
The last thing you want to do in this economy is throw money down the drain. As a learning development manager, you might not care whether the class comes with a CSM for each person participating. That aside, you should care that any initial training is conducted by a CST and that any followup coaching is conducted by someone they recommend as competent in facilitating agile and Scrum transformations at an organization of your size and type. Why should you do that when in all likelihood, that uncertified coach or training company you’re talking to seems less expensive?

First, it’s about quality! To become a Certified Scrum Trainer, you must take a CSM class, practice for a year, and apply for a Certified Scrum Practitioner license (like me). Once granted, you must then practice as a CSP for at least a year before you are even eligible for consideration as a Certified Scrum Trainer or Certified Scrum Coach. In general, trainer applicants must demonstrate significant real-world experience with Scrum, involvement with the Scrum community, apprenticeship with other Trainers in the community, and a peer-approved degree of competence in teaching and coaching Scrum. This is a years-long process of education, community participation, dialogue, personal relationship building, and integration into the thought leadership community.

That’s not to say that there are no good uncertified Scrum coaches/trainers out there. I’ve met them and I know they exist. They’re just harder to identify and maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason they’re not all that involved in the community in which they purport to be experts. It’s also true that there are probably many good attorneys out there who aren’t admitted to their state bar (I’ve met them, too!). But would you use them as counsel? I wouldn’t. I’ll even use myself as an example here. I’m a CSP and I’ve been practicing Scrum since 2006. I understand all of the basic principles and practices and have applied them for over a year. But I can’t hold a candle to my trainer-colleague’s expertise and skill. I could work for you and charge you a lot less. But I would not hire me over them for a Scrum transition. No way – no how.

Secondly, it’s about community. When your staff takes a certified training, they are brought into the larger Scrum community where they can mingle with their peers at other companies and learn best practices for FREE! For Danube, it’s also about you being part of our community, our family. What do we do for our family of clients? We figure out creative strategies for getting you educated and supported through your Scrum adoption process, often at much less than “retail” prices. We connect you with other groups at your company or similar companies, doing Scrum so that you can learn from each other (for FREE), and we’re here to support you. In fact, all of my clients have my personal cell phone number. If you really have a Scrum emergency at 3am on Saturday you can get a hold of me. Oh, yeah, and did you know that if you take a public CSM class of ours and you want to repeat it within six months, you can do so at no charge? (Ask me for specifics..)

If you’re not convinced, let me tell you some stories that have been changed only insofar as to protect the innocent.

Client A trains 100 people using a two-day course, taught by an uncertified instructor (not associated with Danube). Participants expect to walk away knowing how to do Scrum. They begin sprinting the day after the course. They have confused roles, meetings and artifacts, immediately drop retrospectives, and can’t self-organize because they haven’t experienced self-organization before and don’t know what it means. This project is a failure and after two years of convincing management that it was the implementation of the Scrum transformation that was faulty rather than Scrum itself, and after about $20,000 of further training and coaching from us, they now have a successful pilot and are forging their way toward success. This was successful only because of the lonely Scrum champion who wouldn’t give up and finally got funding for a CST to come in and teach a small pilot team, at one-fifth the cost of the original engagement with the uncertified trainers, to make things right. The key to the success of the small pilot team training was that it wasn’t just about Scrum mechanics. I can tell you about those for free in a 45-minute webinar I do once a month. The key is that they experienced Scrum in this CSM class, by practicing Scrum principles for two days in a proven format that has been successful for thousands of software professionals around the globe.

Company B does several sessions with an uncertified training company and finally decides they need a Scrum project management tool. A Danube CST goes on-site to do a demonstration of ScrumWorks Pro to find that, despite training conducted in the same week, the audience cannot distinguish between a product backlog item and a task. Nor can they identify four meetings, three roles, or artifacts. This was not a case of folks taking a course and forgetting over a few weeks – this was immediately following. I can not imagine a scenario where, at minimum, participants in a Certified class could not identify the Product Owner, ScrumMaster, team, planning, review and retrospective meetings along with a product burndown and sprint burndown. Client B subsequently scheduled critical staff in Danube public CSM classes to make up for lost time.

So I guess what I’m saying here, folks, is don’t shop for training and coaching like I shopped for shoes. The pain you will inflict on your organization can be long lasting whereas the cost of the slightly more expensive training will be easily forgiven when your team wins a million-dollar incentive bonus (this is also a true Danube client story). I don’t want your development organization to be like my feet. Investing in high quality service (or shoes) is less expensive in the long-run.

Now choosing which CST is right for you – that’s a whole other can of worms and I’ll leave it for another time.

It’s time for me to go spend my R.E.I. dividend on some awesome new Merrells!

Download the PDF version: Shoe Shopping and Scrum_blog

Posted in Agile
2 comments on “Shoe Shopping and Scrum – An Analogy to Explain the Pros of Certification
  1. Nice explanation of the steps on the Scrum ladder.

  2. Katie Playfair says:

    @Sean Blanton, Ph.D.
    Sometimes I believe that the CST process, in particular, is not well understood in the larger business community. Yes, you can get your CSM after a two-day course, but that’s simply a requirement to enter the larger Scrum community certification process.

    I know my CSP application for the intermediate certification took me one plane ride to Salt Lake and another to Toronto to author, reflecting on the previous two years of experience doing Scrum and acting in the Product Owner role. Of course, that application is nothing compared to what CST’s go through.

    So although a CST can not guarantee the success of your Scrum transformation, it is at least a good designation by which to choose a pool of coaches and trainers for further evaluation. Next of course you have to look at their clients, company they represent (if any), personal approach, cultural fit with your organization, etc.

Leave a Reply

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

*