March 4, 2022

Scrum Certification – For or Against?

TheScrumMaster.co.uk - Scrum Certification – For or Against?Scrum.org is a mission-based organisation that aims to help people and teams solve complex problems. They do this by enabling people to apply Professional Scrum through training courses, certifications and ongoing learning.

The certification aspect of this mission is somewhat controversial. Some people love certifications, others, not so much! I am firmly in the promoter camp when it comes to certification However, I can see why others take issue with them. Let’s explore the arguments for and against. I freely admit to my bias in this evaluation.

The common arguments against certification:

  • Knowledge is not always required – Certain certifications can be obtained without proving knowledge or ability. The certification is provided for attendance at a course or passing a test that is impossible to fail. Either of these does not demonstrate any significant level of understanding or knowledge. This is not true for Scrum.org’s certifications which all require passing assessments that require significant levels of subject matter knowledge.
  • Money making – Certifications are about making money for the organisation offering them. Different organisations respond to this in different ways. Scrum.org defines itself as a mission-based organisation whose goal is to help people deal with complexity. At TheScrumMaster.co.uk we make money via the training we offer and donate the profits from our practice assessments to our charity of choice.
  • Theory over practice – Assessments only test theory rather than practice. Just because you understand something doesn’t mean you can apply it. Certification doesn’t guarantee success. There is much truth to this. Most assessments out there today are focused more on theory than practice as it is much harder to assess practice. This is slowly starting to change. There is a growing number of assessments focused on practice and I expect many more to come.
  • Overconfidence – Some people assume that once they hold a Scrum certification they are an expert and have all they need. This is never the case. An assessment will only test a small amount of what you need to succeed when working in a complex environment. They are a starting point rather than a destination that means you are done. I always remind my students that a course or certification is just the start of their journey. You have 1% of what you need to succeed. Keep learning!

The common arguments for certification:

  • Reality – The reality is that many recruiters will disregard people that do not hold a certification linked to a role they may be applying for. Right or wrong, this is a reality and has been true for many years now so job searchers need to deal with it. The easiest course of action is to gain the certification to resolve the issue. Scrum.org certifications do not require course attendance so can be gained at a relatively low cost if you are suitably motivated. They also do not require any renewal and are valid for life so the investment required is a one-off.
  • Confidence – When I first encountered the Scrum.org assessments I had been using Scrum for many years already. I was curious so took the PSM I assessment and managed to pass with a nice score. The immediate benefit I experienced was an increase in confidence when talking about Scrum with others. I felt better able to challenge the many misunderstandings and misconceptions about Scrum that others had, and this helped me to support my clients to deliver more value through the effective use of Scrum.
  • Life-Long Learning – Once I saw some benefits for myself in holding certifications, it motivated me to continue to gain more. This encouraged me to continue as a lifelong learner, to continuously learn more and validate what I was learning. This has made a huge difference to me professionally. The things you learn compound and build on each other and over time. This gives you significant advantages over others that stop learning and settle with what they know. The world is complex and ever-changing and continuing to learn is vital if you want to stay relevant.
  • Motivation – I have taught thousands of classes. Some included assessment and certification and others did not. A pattern I observe in classes that include assessment and certification is that many more people are attentive and engaged from the start. This is a psychological side effect of the assessment where people get competitive and want to pass the test and gain the certification. The reasons for wanting this vary but may include a desire to look competent, to not disappoint a sponsor, mentor or manager or to increase future employment prospects. Whatever the reasons may be, I see the result being that people learn more. For me as a Trainer, this is all good!

Scrum & Agile certifications have been around for nearly 20 years. Over 500,000 people hold certifications from Scrum.org at the time of writing and the numbers are growing rapidly. It is clear that certifications are not going anywhere soon.

In my next post, I will explore the merits of the advanced assessments from Scrum.org (PSM III & PSPO III) and share how they provided great value for me and others.

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Simon KneafseyHi, my name is Simon Kneafsey and I am a Professional Scrum Trainer with Scrum.org & TheScrumMaster.co.uk. I am on a mission to simplify Scrum for a million people. I have helped over 10,000 people so far and I can help you too.

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