Let’s start with an exercise in compare and contrast.
Course number one
- 2 days of classroom learning
- some pre-course reading recommended
- role-playing exercises with other participants
- an examination that guaranteed a pass
- UKP 1000
Course number two
- pre-course test taken to check knowledge
- 2+ days of real customer development exercises with real customers
- hands-on work running experiments and presenting results
- competitive element with peer and industry expert feedback
- real team work, real teams, real prizes
- UKP 200
One of these courses provides an industry recognised qualification. Which one? Course number one. I’m comparing and contrasting Certified Scrum Master training with the Lean Startup Machine competition I took part in London this weekend.
That’s not to say that I didn’t get a great deal of value from CSM training. However, it must be said that my first work with scrum started seven years ago, and I’ve been a full-time, dedicated Scrum Master at Lunar Logic Polska for the last three years. When participants on the CSM course that I attended introduced themselves, I was nearest to the trainer, and so went first. I warned my fellow participants that they could well have much more experience than me. It turned out that apart from the trainer, I was the most experienced Scrum Master in the room.
I should add that the CSM course I took was good. I have no complaints as to the content (solid fundamentals), although I didn’t like some of the delivery. Role play exercises of the type ‘imagine you are planning product x’ were almost totally without benefit and to my mind, should have no place in the training. The trainer had a good mix of theoretical knowledge of scrum, and extensive real world experience to call upon when discussing implementation. But it concerns me hugely to think of the sixteen other participants setting off from that course as ‘Certified Scrum Masters’. Or should I say, “after taking the online assessment that they were guaranteed to pass”.
It’s a powerful word - ‘master’. The course details in fact describe CSM training as learning ‘scrum basics’. In which case I would question the use of the word ‘master’, and encourage people to look beyond the letters ‘CSM’ when looking over a CV. Take a look at the comments gathered on this blog to see some of the opinions from other CSMs and Scrum Trainers on the qualification. It does seem that I’m not alone in my misgivings, to put it mildly.
I spoke with Eric Ries briefly over Skype at LSM London about the subject of certification within the Lean Startup community, thinking of the contrast that the Lean Startup Machine experience had illustrated for me. His reaction didn’t suprise me - he said that whilst he was open to the idea of providing some certification, thus far, the greatest interest had been from those who want to cash in on the idea. He also issued the caution “let’s avoid the bullshit that has spread around the agile world” - thinking perhaps of unseemly infighting within the scrum community recently (although at least Scrum.org doesn’t insist on attendance on a money-spinning course for the PSM qualification).
Caution is clearly needed to avoid such schisms and allegations of profit-driven training. As I attended the various workshops and received advice from mentors during LSM London, it struck me that perhaps a more meaningful approach to certification could borrow from the ‘apprenticeship’ notion as used by the software craftsmanship community. I think they are right in the idea of a professional journey (the idea, of course, is nothing new, borrowing unashamedly from the medieval guilds), and I think there is a role for acknowledged masters in nurturing and developing fresh talent. We’re using just that approach in the mentoring that takes place in Startup/Lean Startup Weekends right now.
Which leads me to the idea that I would much rather see something akin to a semi-formalised system of peer recognition than anything like course-based certification. I don’t think pure experience, whilst important, is enough. Peer review and recognition is needed, as well as validation from recognised experts - the true ‘masters’ of their craft. Can a given person demonstrate work on a startup? What were the successes and, just as important, the failures? What was learned? Who can vouch for this experience? Has this person a proven track record of successful team work? Can they point to occasions where they have used lean tools and techniques to help a team, product, or project? All of these experiences, cultivated over a range of clients and projects, form our validated learning portfolio, and at some point we might start to mentor others. Provided that our community accepts that we are the right people to do so.
I spoke with some colleagues at HackKRK this evening, who were quick to point out what a great point of reference a GitHub username can be for developers these days. It’s often harder for Project Managers or Scrum Masters, as considerations of client confidentiality often prevent much sharing, and I suspect there’s not so much true project work that goes on privately. One of my motivations in writing this blog is to promote and share ideas that may help my peers, and maybe it can serve as a point of reference for my professional background as well?
In any case, I hope my words can inform, and sometimes even entertain. Perhaps that latter hope means I that I am, ultimately… certifiable.