Agile Mishap #5: The Certification Circus –  Reflecting on the Agile Accreditation Landscape

In this blog post, I delve into the complexities and challenges of the Agile certification market, reflecting on my own experiences as both a Certified Scrum Trainer and a critic. From the democratisation of skill validation in societies where education is a luxury, to the pitfalls of commoditisation and "home made" certifications, I explore how what started as a well-intentioned system has often strayed from its roots. Despite these issues, I argue that when issued by credible organisations, certifications still hold significant value as markers of genuine skill and knowledge. Join me in unpacking the "Certification Circus" and discovering the true worth of Agile certifications.
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Disclaimer: I am a Certified Scrum Trainer, and for the past twelve years, part of my business has involved certifying individuals in Agile practices. This blog post serves as both a critique of the market and a self-reflection on my own contributions to the certification ecosystem.

This is the sixth blog post in the series. If you are a new reader, I suggest you start from the beginning: What Went Wrong With Agile? and take it from there.

Introduction

Certifications hold a significant place in many professional fields, offering a beacon of skill recognition in economies where not everyone can afford a university education. I myself come from a social-liberal country where education is tax-funded, a privilege that spared me from the economic barriers many face, but in other contexts, certifications can democratise the validation of professional skills, bypassing the hefty financial investment often required for a degree.

The Ideal and the Reality

Initially, the idea behind Agile certifications was most likely well-intentioned, aiming to provide a standardised proof of competency in Agile methodologies. The landscape was once less cluttered – Scrum Alliance was the pioneering body, followed by Scrum.org after a split between foundational members. These bodies maintained a focus on rigorous standards and deep understanding of Agile principles. However, the scenario began to deteriorate with the entry of players like SCRUMStudy, which, in my opinion, strayed far from Agile’s simplicity by converting a concise Scrum Guide into an exhaustive 300-page manual. This shift from simplicity to rigidity marks a significant departure from the core Agile philosophy of empowering individuals to think and adapt rather than follow stringent rules.

Certification Bodies: A Mixed Bag

While I hold a preference for Scrum Alliance due to their stringent requirements for trainers, no organisation is without its flaws. For instance, Scrum Alliance allows Certified Scrum Trainers (CSTs) to solely focus on delivering training without the necessity to maintain their practical experience in the field. This creates a risk of fostering trainers who are more theoretical than practical, potentially leading to a dogmatic approach to teaching Agile and Scrum. How can they be relevant?

The Problem with “Home Made” Certifications

Then there’s the issue of “home made” certifications:

  1. Corporate Certifications: Some companies create their own certifications to enhance the credibility of their training programs. However, without oversight by an impartial body such as Scrum Alliance or ICAgile, these programs risk being of questionable quality and may not truly benefit the learner or their application of Agile.
  2. Thought-Leader Certifications: Occasionally, an individual with a popular book or a strong market presence may set up certification programs. These can suffer from a lack of grounding in comprehensive knowledge or practical applicability, being too heavily influenced by the personal biases and whims of the thought-leader.

Certification for Certification’s Sake

Lastly, the trend of accumulating certifications as if they were collectibles concerns me. Many professionals display a long list of acronyms on their profiles, but the pursuit often seems more focused on the appearance of expertise rather than genuine skill enhancement. True learning and transformation are unlikely to occur over a mere two-day workshop, regardless of the certification awarded. The goal of certification should be to signify a meaningful advancement in knowledge and capability.

Conclusion

Despite these criticisms, certifications can and do serve as important markers of quality and competence when issued by authoritative organisations committed to maintaining high standards. As we navigate the “certification circus,” it’s crucial to remember the value these credentials can provide – not just as career enhancements but as true reflections of professional growth and excellence.

This was the fifth and final mishap I have chosen to address in this series. There are most likely more, but instead of seeking deeper into the mishaps of Agile, I would like to end this blog post series by addressing what Agile – despite the mishaps – actually have done for the world. Read my summary of the series in this final blog post: Despite All The Mishaps: Show Me The Better Option!

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Picture by Robert Anasch on Unsplash.com

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