What value is Scrum certification? This question continually gets raised and I find myself in a somewhat conflicted position these days, in a state I can best describe as supportive indifference. As a member of the Scrum Alliance staff, representing the Board of Directors, I am responsible for creating a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) application process that is fair to all applicants, transparent in its acceptance criteria and will both keep out those who really don’t get Scrum, don’t have the skills to train or have only monetary interest and make sure those who meet the criteria get through the process and are not tripped up by some weird technicality or the personal preference of an existing CST.
I care about having a good process in place, one that is both fair and transparent, and I care about doing a good job in the role I have agreed to serve in. And yet, I am no great fan of certification so sometimes it is hard to care passionately about this. I try to focus on the idea of socializing Scrum, rather than offering a certificate. I look at how we can identify good people to spread the message, to raise awareness and to rock worlds. This helps my own motivation. That these people will ultimately offer a certificate becomes secondary. Except in reality it isn’t secondary at all; the CST designation is much-sought.
There are about 120 CSTs in the world right now. It is a lucrative market — a trainer can easily make $20,000 for a single two-day class*. It is also a limited market; how many CSM courses can run in parallel before the market is saturated? There are driving forces from without to strive for CST status and from within to keep the CST numbers small. These are conflicting interests. There is a third, more interesting drive and that is to improve the quality of Scrum training in the world and see it more widely-spread; this is the driving force of the Scrum Alliance. To do this we need to welcome in seasoned trainers from many Scrum-compatible backgrounds as well as those who have worked their way up in a Scrum environment through a process of practice and mentoring.
I thought it would be interesting to report the current state of the process in my blog, which I write as an independent, not as a Scrum Alliance staff member, and yet the lines are sometimes blurred. I know there is a great amount of interest in the new CST application process and one of my goals is to raise the visibility of SA activities and have the SA be accountable to its members. So the following description outlines where we stand right now. Disclaimer: this is NOT an official Scrum Alliance document, and anything stated here is subject to review and change.
As the Product Owner, and with direction from the Board I have crafted a simple vision statement and designed a framework for the new CST application process.
To certify qualified individuals to be SA-approved Scrum Trainers. The Scrum Alliance CST Application Process should be transparent, defensible and fair to all applicants equally. The process should filter out those not (yet) suitable to be CSTs and also ensure that those who are suitably qualified are not rejected for personal or competitive reasons. When an applicant is refused, the process should allow clear and actionable feedback to be offered so he/she can improve as necessary and reapply. The acceptance criteria should be available to anyone who requests it. Additionally, the process must be scalable to handle 500+ applications per year.
An applicant is assessed in three areas: Scrum Experience, Training Experience and Motivation (possibly to be recast as Community Involvement). There is only one absolute requirement to become a CST and that is to first be a Certified Scrum Professional, formally Practitioner (CSP). All other requirements are flexible and carry different weightings. The reason for this is we’d like to welcome trainers who have walked different pathways to get where they are. There should not be just one route to become a CST or we run the risk of excluding some great trainers. We run the risk of putting process above people.
A working group of around 50 people (the CST application improvement community, or CST-IC) is currently helping to make recommendations for the CST acceptance criteria and the weightings each item should carry. Once this is established we can create an application process that allows each applicant to apply early and often. Clear feedback on each acceptance criterion will allow the applicant to work on improving in those areas before re-applying. This creates a transparent feedback process. The plan right now is to have each application be rated by three people, two of which may be existing CSTs, but not necessarily. If CSTs are used they will be carefully selected as to have no financial or business ties to the candidate and no geographical proximity. Final assessment will be averaged across all three assessors, and each person’s feedback will be available to the applicant. The use of existing CSTs as reviewers is problematic, as each existing CST is expected to go through the process themselves. We haven’t resolved this dilemma yet.
As you can imagine, having a working group of 50+ people is a little chaotic, and this being the Scrum community, very noisy, and often opinionated. “Navigating Personalities” is a phrase that comes to mind. The originally suggested work method attempted to bound the chaos by asking small groups of 2-3 people to take on each backlog item, relating to part of the new process and produce a set of recommendations for that section, which will then be iterated on by another small group, and then another until some sense of equilibrium is reached, hopefully in 3-4 iterations. This method broke down early and the group decided to have a 50-way open discussion. They have until 28 March to make a set of recommendations. We’ll see what come out of this. Meanwhile the board of directors are reasonably happy with the first draft.
Something that is on my mind as I work on this process is the thought that maybe my own status as a CST creates a potential conflict of interest. I have spend most of the past year focusing on WelfareCSM, so not really competing in the market place, but nevertheless, I could if I chose to, and that may (and in fact does) make some people uncomfortable. I am considering becoming a “dormant CST” (yes, such a status currently exists) while I am a staff member at the Scrum Alliance. No decisions yet, but it is something that requires some serious thought.
I may write updates here as the new CST application process takes shape. I may write updates here if it doesn’t take shape at all and collapses under the weight of conflicting opinions. Anything is possible.
If you are interested in applying for CST status, stay tuned to http://scrumalliance.org for official updates.
* Calculated on a 24-person class, at a rate of $1,250 per person, allowing for expenses.