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Certified Scrum Manager – somewhat more than a rant (Markus Gärtner)

On November 10, 2012, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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In the past I have been more than skeptic about certifications. I even wrote about my minimum requirements for a certification programme that might (or might not) add value in an article called Meaningful Certification?. Despite the split between the two larger organizations (and their early leaders) on Scrum – the Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org – yesterday I noticed that the certification scam has taken on new levels with a program called Certified Scrum Manager (IAPM). Here is my honest critique about it, and I will try to rant as few as possible about it.

First of all, what are the claims in the program? The program claims it is based on the Scrum Guide 1.0. The collaboratively maintained official Scrum Guide from Scrum.org and the Scrum Alliance do not provide version numbers like software, but use month and year relationships. The latest one for example is from October 2011. The official version also has a version history.

However, if you actually click on the link provided for the suspicious Scrum Guide 1.0, you end up on a page stating that the current version of the Scrum Guide is currently overworked, and you do not get any access to the basis of this great program. Interesting, and this makes a tester like me suspicious enough to go on.

Reading on, the website claims that you need to fill in your personal information together with up to five projects that you have managed. But wait, what does management mean in a scrum context? If you take the traditional responsibilities of a project manager, and map them to a Scrum context, you end up with a split responsibility for quality for example. The Development-Team is responsible for the quality of their work, while the ScrumMaster is responsible for the quality of the team, and the ProductOwner is responsible for the quality of the product. That would mean that I can apply for this brand new shiny certificate if I “just” have been a programmer or even a tester on a project? Awesome how easy it is to become a manager these days.

But wait, there’s more. While the English version of the program reveals some information, in my twitter stream (either Deb Preuss or Boris Gloger came up with it) also a German article popped up introducing the program. If you know German, read it here. The article provides the main motivation for this new certification: you can take the test online, so us busy managers don’t need to leave work for it, you don’t need to re-certify after i.e. 2 years, and it includes a certificate to work as ScrumMaster, ProductOwner, and even the Developer certificate. Wonderful! Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

Busy managers don’t need to leave work for getting certified. I think this sentence is a problem statement in itself. Two key lessons I learned from Weinberg’s Quality Software Management series were that busy managers might appear like good work but they are not. First of all, consider the controller fallacy from Volume 1 – Systems Thinking (page 197):

If the controller isn’t busy, it’s not doing a good job. If the controller is very busy, it must be a good controller.

It’s a trap to think that a busy manager is a good manager, just because he or she is busy. More often than not it might mean that this particular manager is not able to turn its attention to the problems that may arise in day-to-day work. But there is more. On page 276 of the same book, Weinberg points out the problem with managers not being available:

Busy managers mean bad management.

Just consider what self-revelation a busy manager offers in all due respect to his self-management abilities. How can a manager unable to manage himself be in charge of managing someone else? This certification program seems to especially open up for bad managers continuing to spread out into the Agile world.

And I hope that the larger world of software development will soon realize that mentioning the Certified Scrum Manager (IAPM) on your resume will become a point in your disadvantage for your application, not for your advantage.

Second, no re-certification is necessary. Take the cert, and live happily ever after. Despite the plans from Scrum.org and the Scrum Alliance to change their systems from every now and then, this seems to be a counter-position. The world changes, our understanding of Agile changes, and I think this makes it necessary to refine our understanding of the things we believed. This also means that we will continuously have to keep on learning new things. Take the questionnaire once, and then claim to know it all is the route to the misunderstandings in the future. Last year I lost my certificate as a professional swimming trainer, because I didn’t take the time (and the training practice) to extend it. I am fine with that. I still know some stuff, but I can’t (and I even won’t) claim that I know the latest trends in training professional swimmers. How come a field such as software development – or more precise management of software development – can do such an unprofessional thing?

Third thing, this new certificate is worth the same amount of learning as a CSM, CSPO, and CSD certificate. When considering the discussion about the split responsibilities you might think this is true. But there is more. I went through the CSM, CSPO, and the CSD program. I think I know enough about Continuous Integration, Test-driven Development, Acceptance Test-driven Development, Exploratory Testing, Design Patterns, Refactoring, Personality Types, team building, requirements trawling, leadership, psychology, epistemology, Scrum, XP, Crystal, Kanban, Lean, and facilitation that I am more than comfortable in either of these roles. I am not so certain about most of the managers I have run into.

The Agile community is more than suspicious about managers and management despite efforts like books on the Agile management, management is still a trend from the late 19th, early 20th century. Management as I get it from Taylor in his book means to separate the doing of work from the thinking about how to improve it. Since the traditional worker is too stupid to think about how to improve his own working steps, he needs a manager to tell him, how he has to arrange his separate working steps, so that he can be more productive while working.

In my experience this premise does not hold at all for knowledge work like software development, programming, software testing, and requirements gathering. We are working with highly educated people in software development. That’s why we should stop to treat them as unmotivated body-leases, and start to treat them as adults self-responsible for their actions, and able to learn how to do better work on their own. While it helps for line managers to know about stuff like CI, TDD, ATDD, ET, and so on, I find it worrying to see a management certification program claiming as one of their benefits that the managers will later on be able to work as Scrum developer.

Final point, I am on the edge to call this certification snake oil. Despite my efforts to find out which basis this program is built upon, or who has been involved in creating it, I could not figure it out on their web-site. If you read the English language version, you will even see a relict from the translation process in German there (as of this writing – I am quite certain, they will remove it later). Here is a screenshot.

I think there is a place for managers from traditional organizations understanding Scrum, and Agile, and enabling them to provide their value to high-productive, highly self-managed teams. I don’t think we need a certification for this, but I am afraid there will be more programs like this in the near future. I hope that the Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org can set aside their differences, and join forces in freeing the world of software development from this crap.

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