More thoughts on the CST Application Process…
The term “command and control” has become a term of abuse in our community, and on occasion an insult to be used when things are not going our way. There’s irony in there somewhere, but I can’t quite tease it out. In the effort to lead a group towards a new CST application process I have been hammered with the said insult, mostly by people who disagree with the proposal I am championing. I can own being pushy sometimes and, you know, wanting stuff to get done, but honestly, I begin hearing “Tobias, you’re so commadncontrol” as a frustrated “Things are not going my way!”. Either I am blind to my own failings or there is some truth to my observation. Likely a little of both. There is no doubt that creating a new CST application process in a sea of conflicting opinions is massively challenging.
The process that the Scrum Alliance Board of Directors —led in this instance by Mike Cohn— are seeking is one that is objective, transparent and fair, one that all current CSTs will have to go through, as well as all new applicants, and one that is scalable to around 500 applicants per year. As such it makes certain aspects of the process desired by many existing CSTs to be problematic.
The proposal I am championing is simple. There is only one absolute requirement: to be a Certified Scrum Professional, formally Practitioner (CSP). Everything else is recommended and weighted, but not mandatory. This is causing no small amount of opposition from existing CSTs, and a few others who have been mentored by CSTs towards the old process, one that did require co-training, and endorsement by existing CSTs. Many members of this opposition group want to be gatekeepers of the process in some way, and make sure that only people of their own standard get through. Mandatory mentoring by an existing CST, and an in-person “test” session to be held in front of a panel of CSTs are uppermost on the opposing agenda.
Why is the idea of having existing CSTs gate the process a bad idea? Well, aside from the problem that all existing CSTs have to go through the process themselves, the fact is that we, the current Certified Scrum Trainers are just not especially good. Sorry to offend anyone, but it is true. We are not the cream of the the Agile training world, and there is nothing special about the knowledge of Scrum we each have. We are just a bunch of project managers and developers, with varying degrees of skill and Scrum understanding, and no special teaching or facilitation backgrounds who happened to know the right people at the right time, or apply for the CST designation when the process was weak, or biased, or both. The arrogance that many in our small community have over their status is quite overwhelming sometimes, as if we have been ordained to be the keepers of all things Scrum.
Be clear, I am talking about the group as a whole. Of course there are some exceptional individuals in the CST group, people who are highly skilled, and quite brilliant in a training context, people who inspire and create internal transformation. But they are the exception, not the rule. Most of us are just average. A good few work hard to improve, and in fact do so. Others play safe and do what they know. Outside of the CST community, in the wider Agile world there are many, many skilled trainers, mentors and facilitators of change who are far better than many of us. I could name a dozen off the top of my head, but I won’t as they may take umbrage to be included in a paragraph with the term “CST” in it (!) Still, despite some historical opposition to the aims of the Scrum Alliance it is these people I am hoping to attract to the Scrum Alliance, to become CSTs, to help us socialize Scrum in more sophisticated, more daring ways to wider audiences. The new process is being designed to embrace these people as well as those coming to the application through the more traditional path of CST mentoring and co-training. As the champion of the new process, I would like to lift the average CST ability above mediocre and towards great.
Current CSTs should not be the gatekeepers of the process. We need to seek independent, or at least disinterested assessors to do that job. And as for this idea of “ordaining” a CST through some sort of initiation ceremony where the applicant has to perform in front of a group of experts pretending to be novice attendees, it is unnecessary, and in poor taste. And is is brought about by a misconception. The criticism of the proposed process is that it is paper-based, and has no in-person element. This is inaccurate.
People seem to be forgetting that most applicants will have made the effort to co-train multiple times with other trainers (not just CSTs) and will have letters of recommendation from respected people they have collaborated and worked with in real life. That is the in-person part. Smart applicants will ask to co-train with good people and to observe their trainings in turn, and talk with them, explore ideas together. Already experienced trainers won’t need to, and their reputations will speak for them. They have done the groundwork, the in-person work over years that we are asking novice applicants to do in months. The focus for the experienced trainer will be to know and understand Scrum, and that (I am hoping) will have been determined at the CSP level. A demo proves nothing. It is fake, it is demeaning, and it feels like the person is being asked to be a performing monkey, or something. Personally, I hate the idea.
I’d like to see a process where people can apply repeatedly (i.e. each quarter) getting feedback when they fail and continually improving until they pass. To me the feedback and improvement aspect is much more Agile than any proposed stage-gate process. I’d also like to see acceptance be limited to 2 or 3 years and reapplication, or some form of renewal necessary after. But these are just my thoughts. They are not official Scrum Alliance recommendations. Those are yet to come.