Having created a methodology that tightly integrates Scrum concepts, I tend to be a strong proponent of Scrum. But being a strong proponent doesn’t extend so far as to promote all the hype — I’m also a very strong believer in the value of formal education and the need for experience. After seeing the negative consequences of Scrum Master Certification, I’m hard pressed to see any benefits to it.
I’m not challenging the value of Scrum as a practice. I’m challenging the value of Scrum Master Certification. In fact, I’ll go so far as to suggest the certification program is hurting our industry by attributing competency where there often is none.
For example, the Scrum Alliance web site proclaims that Scrum gives you the tools you need to “manage complex projects.” This week I met someone that just joined an established technology company. She’s well spoken, bright, and just got her Scrum Master Certificate. She also just graduated college — and with both of those glowing credentials in-hand, landed her first job: As a Project Manager.
She has no experience. Yet, her employer has hired her to manage a group of people, executing a technical project, largely on the basis that her Scrum Master certification gives her that qualification.
What’s the value in a certification program if it inaccurately represents the capability of the people it certifies? Most Scrum Master certificates are earned after attending a two day seminar, sometimes with interactive exercises. There is no examination, although there is an “assessment” of about 25 questions — but without a pass-fail score, you get certified regardless of how poorly you do. There is no review of relevant experience. There are no requirements of past performance. You can get a Scrum Master Certificate without relevant professional experience or training.
Let’s compare this program with PMI’s PMP certification process. The PMP requires at least — even for an experienced project manager — years of experience and education, and weeks, if not months, of preparation:
- The application requires detailed validation of years of project management experience, and even more experience and exposure to relevant work.
- While PMI doesn’t audit every student they do audit, and experience must be vetted and verified.
- The examination is 200 questions and typically requires weeks of study (most PMP preparatory courses are 13 weeks in duration, as an average).
- The examination is administered in a secure environment, with no supporting materials. If you don’t know it, you won’t pass.
Even more stringent requirements exist for PMI’s Program Management credential: Included in the vetting process is a 360 degree review by 12 of your peers. As with the PMP certification process, if you fail any one part, you don’t get certified.
PMI requires that certified practitioners maintain their credentials with ongoing education annually. If you don’t demonstrate an effort to stay current, you lose your credential.
All of this earns you the right to put “PMP” (or “PgMP”) after your name. But if you don’t have the past experience (or if that’s too much trouble), you can drop in on a local Scrum Master course and walk out certified tomorrow. But certified to do what?
Scrum is not a project management methodology. It’s a process control structure that only works when combined with a methodology, such as PMP. It says so right on the first page of Ken Schwaber’s Scrum textbook. In that context, Scrum shines because it brings efficiency to a potentially bulky project management methodology. Scrum can be wonderfully useful, when used right.
So, here I sit, inwardly aghast as I meet Ms. Project Manager, with her freshly minted college degree, a Scrum Master Certificate, and no experience to her name, and I wonder: Is the Scrum Master certification program misleading an already beleaguered industry? According to KPMG and Standish, our success rate over the past 10 years was only 30%. Maybe this is part of the reason.
Does a two-day seminar and mandatory certification in a professional-sounding credential hurt, more than it helps?
Taking a seminar on Scrum is definitely a useful exercise. I think the Scrum Alliance needs to stop misrepresenting what Scrum certification really means to its practitioners, and the business world at large. I’d like to see Scrum professionals coming out of the seminar saying, “Wow! I sure learned what a long way I have to go before I’m ready to manage a project on my own!”