If Scrum certification is the answer, what might be the problem?

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Ron Jeffries has written a nice article on some of the effects, both positive and negative, of the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) program. On the positive side, he notes that it does interest people in training. I’m less optimistic that the training they receive will result in many improved projects. The CSM training teaches people how to follow the Scrum process, and tries to give them a little boost in courage for dealing with the inevitable impediments. Is that the difference between a troubled project and an improved one?

Consider the case of these newly trained CSMs realizing that this is just the beginning of the journey, and continuing to learn. They’re more likely to help projects succeed, in that case, if the organization is already competent at developing software using empowered teams in an iterative-incremental fashion. But the material they learn in the CSM class is not sufficient for helping an organization change to become competent at that—not unless they’re already quite close.

In fact, in my experience, learning Scrum is just the tip of the iceberg for many organizations who send their employees to CSM class. Usually they’re not just trying to educate more people about a process they’re already doing. They’re trying to change their process to something more successful than what they’re doing. In addition to learning a new process, they also often need to learn

  • How to bring about change
  • How to build and maintain productive teams
  • How to successfully delegate many decisions to those doing the work
  • How to divide the work in small functional increments
  • Engineering practices that support working in small increments
  • Engineering practices that promote the quality needed for sustainable development

These are things that go beyond the Certified Scrum Master course. They go beyond the Certified Scrum Product Owner and Certified Scrum Developer courses, too. These courses teach useful things, but not nearly enough to accomplish the change needed to make Scrum successful in most organizations. Scrum certification, and the courses behind it, are a solution only to a tiny part of the problems that most organizations face when adopting Agile software development. That’s why bringing in a coach who knows more than just Scrum is almost a necessity.

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