Earlier this year (Jan 2011) there was a lot of hoopla over an article by Scott Ambler on Dr. Dobbs Journal asking Certified ScrumMaster’s to denounce their CSM.

Scott writes:

  1. My hope is that all Certified ScrumMasters (CSMs) will denounce the CSM designation if they haven’t done so already. You attended a workshop; it’s nothing to brag about. Also, if you work for an organization that still wants their agile staff to have the CSM designation then you should help ensure that whoever is inflicting that constraint fully understands what it takes to “earn” the CSM.
  2. My belief is that the Certified Scrum Trainers (CSTs), and the Scrum Alliance in general, can do a lot better. In reality, you’re the ones who need to denounce the CSM scheme and to declare it over.
  3. I’m impressed with the recently formed International Consortium for Agile (ICAgile)and their strategy surrounding agile certification. They appear to be on the right track and my hope is that they find a way to stay on it. Anyone offering agile training services should consider looking into this.
  4. Finally, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — The Scrum community, and to a lesser extent the agile community in general, has embarrassed itself by tolerating the CSM scheme. Enough is enough. We can do better, and until we do so, our integrity debt continues to grow.

At a surface level this did make sense. During this time I was also putting together a training proposal to help ramp up the various teams at my company who are involved in software development projects, and was very disappointed when I found out how easy it was to get the CSM (two day workshop with a guaranteed pass on the test).

The heart of our training program consisted of onsite training by cPrime that involved all developers, business analysts, and product owners. It was very practical, intense, and hands-on as we worked through the mechanics of the process.

A secondary aspect to that training strategy was to have two people get their CSMs – so that we have least some people on the team that have a deeper understanding and could help lead the transformation. Hence the disappointment when we found out how little is involved to get a CSM.

One of the managers did the CSM ahead of the onsite company training, and I did mine after due to a scheduling conflict. I didn’t think I’d learn much more than what we had learned from the hands-on training. But I found it actually very beneficial.

You need to start somewhere

If you’re getting into Scrum, you need to start somewhere. The CSM training, at least in my case, went into the deep understanding of why we do these various practices, organizational behavior, leading change, and even human psychology. I wish I had taken my laptop because on top of the slides I was writing as fast I could as the trainer dove into various topics, and I ended up with 10 pages of handwritten notes.

Hiring implications

On the hiring side of things, there’s been an explosion of agile related activity. I’m sure there are companies that want to get into agile, and aren’t quite sure how to filter for the top candidates. So filtering for the CSM designation would be an easy first step to try.

However as a manager of a web development team, when hiring you try to gather as many elements/clue/pieces to a person’s profile as possible as it is a big decision to hire someone. The CSM to me doesn’t say they’re an expert, but rather that they at least have that formal theory as a foundation.

Our team had been self learning agile for months, and we felt fairly confident in all the dots, but the CSM training course helped connect the dots together in order to see the big picture – as well as multiple angles of that 3D picture (i.e. seeing things from the various perspectives of different people).

As a hiring manager what I’d also look into, if someone has a CSM, is where they got it from and who the trainer was and research them. Having experienced four agile trainers training our company at different times, we found the trainer/coach makes a huge difference.

At the time, the denouncing-CSM-movement did make sense (to me) on a surface level – if a 5 year old can take the course and get a CSM… it’s worthless. However on a deeper level it serves as a starting point, that you’ve been formally presented with how all the dots fit together, and ideally that you care enough about the cause to begin immersing yourself in the theory.

But it’s only a start – if you were to interview with me, I’d then want to see how you applied that theory, lead change, and helped an organization maximize it’s value in I.T.

Blessing the CSM

The story I heard was that when the Scrum Alliance was initially formed back in the day, they never intended the CSM certification to carry any real importance – it was really just a merit badge to indicate that you cared to learn about this stuff (and Scrum in its fledgeling years didn’t have that many CSMs). But it exploded faster and bigger than what they had ever anticipated, and now that it’s becoming main stream, the validity of the CSM is now under scrutiny.

So yes, with Scrum becoming mainstream, the Scrum Alliance absolutely needs to start working on creditability and making sure the industry doesn’t get tarnished as a result of credential dilution.

Having said that, whomever has a CSM, I hope you don’t denounce it. I hope that you take it seriously as a badge of your conviction towards making customers happy, maximizing value, creating openness and transparency, and working with product owners, and management to create positive work environments (which then yield high producing teams).

I hope that as a CSM you are humble enough to recognize that a CSM is just a start, and that you’ll immerse yourself in the spirit and iterative perfection of its practices.



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