Agile Certifications – Why they aren’t neccessary

Agile started many years ago with some basic (note I do not say simple) concepts related to how we should work together to build better software products.  Though I struggle with the notion that mere communication among individuals can deliver quality software, it can provide a product that is closer in alignment with the product owner’s vision.

I remember as Agile unfolded there was a debate on whether we needed things such as certifications.  I recall the argument that the very process of creating certifications for things such as Scrum would defeat the very benefits that the Agile manifesto was attempting to address.

Now many years into the manifesto I have to say that these certifications have brought an element of rigor that ‘can’ be beneficial but I think often stifle the creativity that can come out of Agile teamwork.  Certifications do not make you a great Scrum Master nor a Product Owner, they merely convey that you have taken a 1-2 day class that has provided you with the  evolved standards that Scrum has been defined to be.

I’ve been involved in a number of Agile transformations along with working in already high performing agile organizations and none of them are alike.  One thing I have taken  away is that teams who are provided space to try new things often find creative ways to solve the unique challenges they face.

As someone who started in Agile from the project management perspective I quickly realized that I was not your standard project manager who managed against a project plan, happily disconnected from my team.  No I was always learning, asking questions, it is how I went from a project manager into QA, because I took an active role in being in helping my team deliver great software.  Through out it all I was most focused on getting feedback from my team in order to improve our processes.

In those early days there were no certifications, we just took the concepts and did what worked and continued to evaluate how and what we did.  With certifications there is almost a cookie cutter approach to engaging Agile that I don’t believe was the intent of the original writers of the manifesto.

Scrum and the processes it provides are extremely important, I’m not saying that these don’t bring value.  What I am saying is that you don’t need certifications in order to be good at Agile and Scrum.

I always tell my teams, Agile isn’t easy, it will highlight every weakness in your delivery process and force you to ask hard questions about how much the organization is committed to changing the way they deliver a product.  Having a Scrum Master or Product Owner certification does not help in these situations.  What does help is working with an experienced Agile coach who has been in the trenches, who is experienced in the demands that Agile and the transformation present.

As an organization looking to adopt Agile, getting certifications for your team is not a requirement to working the concepts that so many teams use to be successful in Agile.  Don’t let certifying your team be a precursor to moving toward Agile.  At one organization I worked at we took this approach and ultimately it wasn’t necessary as the majority of the people who were ‘certified’ were not involved in working in daily Scrum team activities.

An experienced coach will be able to guide you through how to work as a team, manage communication and change the way that you deliver software products and your organization.

And yes I have several certifications including CPO and CSM and know that these are now almost standard requirements for anyone wanting to work in an Agile environment However if you are just starting Agile don’t assume that someone who has been certified is necessarily an experienced practioner.  When looking for help in adopting Agile you should look for someone who has been involved in more than 5 different Agile implementations or organizations, perspective is worth it’s weight in gold.

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