The Youngest CSM

My seventeen-year-old son Ty recently participated in a two-day Certified ScrumMaster course. He is not a software developer, and has little interest in that craft. He is a high school student and a musician. Still, he enjoyed the training greatly and learned a lot. After he completed the course he —along with the other 15 participants— was awarded the CSM certificate. He is now more certified in Scrum than I am.

A few days after the course we were chatting about it, and after waxing lyrical about the trainer (Alan Cyment) Ty asked why I didn’t teach CSM any longer. I said it was a long story… and then went on to give a precis’d version, ending up with asking him if he now felt qualified to work as a ScrumMaster. Of course not, he replied, how ridiculous! Indeed.

No self-respecting developer or other professional really thinks the CSM has any true value beyond a certificate of attendance, I explained, it is the middle managers who write job descriptions, and the HR recruiters seeking “resources” that have made it so important.

Ty’s take on this was that Scrum trainers should offer a similar two-day course to these middle mangers and HR folk, to show them how foolish they are being. Nice idea. But who would show up? Managers are far too busy crafting detailed job descriptions, and recruiters too busy with making sure all the latest certification acronyms are entered in their filter systems.

Talking with Ty reminded me just how natural a way of working Scrum is. Ty is untainted by corporate America. He attends school, composes songs and plays in bands. This is just how I work naturally, he said (referring to his creative work), and expressed bafflement over the whole “waterfall” command-and-control thing that he had learned about. To him, it sounded like school.

For us old people who have been indoctrinated in Tayloresque and theory X management styles, who have had hierarchical, command-and-control, reward-and-punishment systems hammered into us for years, Scrum is no longer natural. So the teaching of Scrum is not a process of adding information, but rather removing it, stripping out all the nonsense we have accumulated so we can once again see the obvious simplicity of the ideas offered to us by the Scrum framework and principles. Self-organization, collaboration, trust, transparency, emergence… these are not new ideas, they are just forgotten ones.

Wouldn’t it be great if future generations didn’t have to go through that painful learning-just-to-unlearn process? I suggest that taking Scrum into schools will seed future generations with the right mindset for the new world of work which is emerging.

A growing number of organizations, such as World Blu, The Plexus Institute, Waking Up The Workplace, Heart of Business, TED, Holacracy1, The Agile Alliance, World Cafe and Open Space World (to name just a few) are guiding us towards a new future. This movement is too big to ignore, or write off as a fad.

Harnessing the way of working that kids and teenagers naturally practice could give the world of work just the tidal wave it needs to level the old mindset and prepare the ground for a new beginning.

Related post: Millennials and Scrum — Made for Each Other by Lyssa Adkins.

Note: the title of this blog makes an assumption. I don’t have access to the data to prove the claim, so it may or may not check out.

15 responses to “The Youngest CSM

  1. Reading the “Teaching from Back of the Room” Book and having in mind the “Wellfare” CSM Idea I was thinking about another variant of this.
    Teaching this Stuff to Kid’s who are in the low end Schools would allow such a great deal of things. You find personal empowerment as Part of the Schools that preps Kids for College or such, speaks: cozy and in some cases expensive Schools. Kids not Visiting this Kinds of Schools may have a hard time coming across such concepts and from my point of view they have the highest demand of finding out about those nice things that come along with it.

    Some things worried me big time as soon as I found out that I never heard about them at schools:
    – Inspect and Adapt
    – The Idea of Flow State
    – Repeatable Creative Cycles (Biggest WTF of my life, believe me)
    – People Teaching People working better as a teacher
    – the whole thing about what XP/Agile calls Energized work.
    – Law of Two Feet
    – Personal Empowerment

    Starting from this idea it seems to be a shame that the CSM classes are partly filled with people who are not really engaged and the kids who would be in a situation where they could benefit really from it. Beeing pained by c&c, not beeing in the position to flee to university where that state can be partly overcome, etc. this could be a Big Bang event for some of them.
    Some stuff in Agile is a shocker and I guess kids in the adolescence could be the right recepient for that kind of stuff.
    To me those trainings boil down to one important thing: The individuals attending need to find out that there are a lot more buttons to push in life (skills) than they knew about before and they are in charge to press them according the their agenda (empowerment).

    p.s. On the other hand even we could learn a lot from the kids. The Pomodoro thingie reminds me of school too.

  2. Wow. This is epic. What a case in point, and not only a case… but your own son!
    I hope he did enjoy the 2 days he spent “learning” something. Hopefully he learned a good deal!

    We can judge certifications, point our fingers… but at the end of the day, your son has done something very cool: Become the youngest CSM. Bravo!
    Keep on friend!

  3. Tobias,

    I’m usually a big fan of your writings, but I’m really not sold on the whole “Scrum outside of software” thing. With your 2 latest posts (and others before) it seems to me you’re pushing Scrum to something far beyond its definition and what it was originally meant for. I’m all for self-organization, collaboration, trust, transparency but aren’t they values that can stand on their own ? Isn’t there some point in the process of generalizing some of Scrum’s good ideas and values where you have to stop calling it Scrum ? I mean, you want to teach Scrum in schools but where is the product owner there ? Where is the software ? The business value ?

    Wouldn’t we be better off keeping the name Scrum just for what we know it is good at : delivering software increments ? I love the idea of applying concepts born out of Scrum and Agile to the world of work at large, to education, etc. but isn’t it time to find another name – or other names – for that rather than bending the original framework to make it fit in any other domain ?

    • Hi Guillaume. You make some good points. In fact, I dislike the name “Scrum” and have always found it a mild embarrassment, requiring all sorts of tedious explanation. I’d love to see it go away. However, I do find the framework that Scrum offers extremely useful as a set of boundary conditions that allows the principles to emerge. These conditions include:

      1) a clear separation between What and How (represented by PO and Team)
      2) a prioritized backlog of requests
      3) a time-boxed, iterative approach to work, with clear planning, execution and reflection phases.
      4) daily alignment conversations

      In certain contexts the ScrumMaster role may be useful as a coach to the team and/or a change agent within the organization, socializing the values and principles that underlie the new paradigm.

      I haven’t yet found a better way to begin the mindset change that is required to a go from a command-and-control to a request-and-release culture. I have found other frameworks being explored in the Agile world to be either too loose or too rigid. Of course, in the end much depends on the quality of the consultants and coaches helping to foster the change, and the willingness of those within to embrace new ideas. Any framework will only ever be a starting point. Each organization needs to find its own way to practice the core principles that underpin this new way of being in the workplace.

      Related posts: Simple Scrum and Scrum Roles — an abstraction

  4. Hi Tobias,

    Well, I don’t care much if you’re stretching Scrum beyond its natural limits. After all, one may call Scrum whatever one likes. 🙂

    Regarding certifications … Maybe the name is wrong, the “Certified” prefix is meaningless and misguiding. But Alan Cyment’s training is great as far as I know (I’ve promised myself to attend this year). Changing the name to “Introduction to Scrum” would probably fix most of the “certified” fad (and business) around Scrum.

    But the most important part of this post, at least to my own belief, is your view on how much the world (of work) needs to reinvent itself. And you’re not alone at all. There’s a whole “conscious business” movement (of which I consider myself a believer) growing every year.

    The predictive and command-and-control approaches are derived from one of the most prevalent emotions in our workplaces … fear (of failure, of betrayal, and a long etc). You mind find very interesting the following speech from Newfield Network’s Julio Olalla (Newfield is another organization promoting a change in the world, aligned with values).

    I don’t want to bore you with such a long post … but I’m really happy there’s a “deeper” agile movement that’s slowly converging with the conscious business movement somehow. Maybe that’s just one proof that a change in business and technology in alignment with human values is a must!

    Best regards,

    • Hi Walter. Not boring at all 🙂

      > But Alan Cyment’s training is great as far as I know .
      It is. And it’s a very different CSM to most out there today. Clients I have recommended it to come back both inspired and courageous.

      > Changing the name to “Introduction to Scrum” would probably fix most of the “certified” fad (and business) around Scrum.
      Oh, if only. Sadly removing the word “certified” from the Scrum Alliance vocabulary is like trying to take a drink away from an alcoholic. It ain’t gonna happen 🙂

      I hope more people come on board with this “deeper Agile” movement you refer to. There is a danger that Agile as a movement is already outdated due to its limited scope.

      Thanks for the link to Newfield Network

  5. Excellent points on unlearning bad habits. In my master’s program I studied the generational preferences and it is encouraging to know the millennials don’t like their grand-parents work places.

    Here are some fun resources:
    Did You Know video by Karl Fisch & Scott McLeod.
    Join the ShiftHappens conversation
    The Digital Generation: Teaching to a Population that Speaks an Entirely New Language —A paper and presentation at The Chair Academy, April 1 – 4, 2008 in Denver, CO. (.ppt)

  6. Also check out the Beloit college Mindset List each school year.

    Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List. It provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall. The creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and former Public Affairs Director Ron Nief, it was originally created as a reminder to faculty to be aware of dated references, and quickly became a catalog of the rapidly changing worldview of each new generation. The Mindset List website at, the Mediasite webcast and its Facebook page receive more than 400,000 hits annually.

    The class of 2014 has never found Korean-made cars unusual on the Interstate and five hundred cable channels, of which they will watch a handful, have always been the norm. Since “digital” has always been in the cultural DNA, they’ve never written in cursive and with cell phones to tell them the time, there is no need for a wrist watch. Dirty Harry (who’s that?) is to them a great Hollywood director. The America they have inherited is one of soaring American trade and budget deficits; Russia has presumably never aimed nukes at the United States and China has always posed an economic threat.

  7. jan de baere

    I fully agree that agile is/will be outdated. It is about culture and software developmentand that’s to small of a scope. Culture does not stop at the border of a domain. All the different movements you all mention will eventually come together into – hopefully – one movement. It’s about corporate – or even bigger -culture.

  8. I’ve always thought CSM and CSP were backwards. If you are going to do certification (if, we’ll leave the if to another discussion), then I agree it should have meaning.
    To me is seems you should first become proficient in Scrum. Then, if you want to perform the Scrum Master role, you should get training in that. The way things are structured, anyone wanting to get formal Scrum training is going to start with the CSM course.
    Backwards to be sure.

  9. Simon Bennett

    (To me) This provokes an interesting discussion about ways of doing, vs ways of thinking, vs ways of being.

    There seems to be a myth out there in the wider world on the causality between education and behaviour.

    I’m comparing this school of thought with this recent post on the PMI Agile Certification, where a necessary, and apparently important, requirement is that you finish high school:


  10. Lee Henson, CST ( has pre-teen daughters who are using Version One for small coding projects. I believe they are both younger that 12 and have passed the CSM “certification exam.”

  11. Pingback: Follow this | 12 may 2011 | The Agile Radar

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