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This chapter is from the book

Marketability of Scrum Certification and Consistency of Employment

There are varying opinions on professional certifications in general—not just Scrum-specific or even Agile certifications. We have to consider a few different important points when thinking about certifications.

First, all certifications, licenses, degrees, and other formal declarations are limited in what they claim to prove. At a minimum, a doctor must be an MD to practice medicine. What does this advanced degree REALLY prove? Honestly, nothing more than the fact that the individual has attended the basic training, course of study, practicums, and tests to be eligible for the license. There is no test in the world that assesses accurately how good a person will be at their job, whether they really care about others and the world, or whether they are a completely ignorant moron, jerk, etc.

I could be a brilliant doctor but have horrendous bedside manner, like Gregory House, from the TV show House. No one likes House. No one seeks House because they really WANT to—they seek him out when they absolutely HAVE to. The same is true with attorneys and many other professions.

Certifications are nothing more than a statement of minimum qualifications, not maximum potential. Training lays the foundation; coaching enables thrivability. If someone simply attends a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) course but spends no additional time reading, learning, experimenting, etc., then the training was fairly useless. They will have enough information to survive in their workplace and nothing more ... hopefully.

However, if the person develops and cultivates a thirst for knowledge and an appetite for information and discovery, then they will not only survive but thrive in the workplace. As with most things in life, you get out of it what you put in.

Second, let’s consider the perspective of folks who are making hiring decisions. There are literally hundreds of thousands of applicants in the marketplace these days. I oftentimes hear people bash certifications because they say that it’s a racket and that organizations should just talk to candidates and learn what the candidate knows to make a hiring decision and not base it on anything certification related. I mostly agree that the FINAL decision to hire or not needs to be based upon more than just the certification. Absolutely.

The Scrum Guide doesn’t say much (or anything really) about hiring. According to the Scrum Alliance, the hiring decision is “outside the scope of Scrum,” which I think is technically true but a cop-out. I believe that the Scrum Team, by virtue of the fact that they are supposed to be self-managing and self-organizing, should collectively be deciding who joins their ranks.

However, here’s the deal. The people on the Scrum Team are usually so busy with deliverable work for the product that they simply would not have the time to have a lengthy conversation with hundreds of thousands of candidates who CLAIM they have the experience necessary. So, they still rely upon HR departments to weed through the applicants and come up with a short(er) list of likely candidates.

So, certifications are kind of like a ticket to the dance. You may be a great dancer, good looking, charming, etc., but you don’t get into the party without a ticket and certainly no chance of dancing with anyone unless you are inside where the music is. You could start your own dance—and some people do. That’s great.

I know some really brilliant people who absolutely refuse to get certified on the sheer principle of it. But then, they are constantly asking me if I can help them get ScrumMaster or coaching jobs. I usually tell them, “First, help yourself. Then I will help you as best I can.”

In terms of marketability, as with most certifications (and products/services in general), there is a definite lifecycle involved based on diffusion of innovation. That is, I think about E.M. Rogers’ “Categories of Innovativeness,” which talks about how most of the value and opportunity lies within the first half of adoption after the Innovators have taken the risks and sufficiently socialized the idea so that a wave of Early Adopters begins to take the idea viral (see Figure 1-6). At that point, the Early Majority finally joins the bandwagon when it’s “safer,” but also when the impact of the idea has begun to wane. By the time the Late Majority realize that the idea is not just a fad, it has become something that they MUST HAVE or they are left behind. And, of course, the Laggards are those who are clearly left behind.

Figure 1-6

Figure 1-6 Rogers’ diffusion of innovations curve

Source: Based on Rogers, E. (1962). Diffusion of Innovations.
Free Press, London, NY, USA.

Most of the competitive advantage (marketability) of any certification is going to be within the Early Adopter phase, when the market is beginning to learn the value of the certification but few people have it. It’s difficult to become involved as an Innovator unless you are involved in the actual creation of the certification or are close to those who are developing it.

Those who delay certification until the Late Majority phase will find that their efforts in job searching may be hampered by the fact that they aren’t seen as being competitive in the marketplace. Those making the hiring decisions are likely to bypass 100,000 potential candidates for ScrumMaster (in their area) and focus on the 10,000 who have the CSM certification. Further, those who understand the certification hierarchy may focus on the 100 candidates (in their area) who have the Certified Scrum Professional (CSP) certification.

If nothing else, certifications demonstrate a continued interest in growth and expanding one’s own knowledge and skills. I have no hard data to support the following claim, but it seems to me that those who are constantly pursuing additional learning, certification, etc., are also those who are continually reading new books, blogs, etc. They are hungry, lifelong learners.

In terms of marketability overall, I think we are still a long way off from any of the Agile certifications being in the Late Majority phase. Various reports over the years show clearly that the enrollment numbers for Scrum certification courses continue to rise exponentially.

My personal recommendation to anyone wishing to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace is to evaluate where you are in relationship to the certifications that are available to you (and have been available to you) and get caught up on those ... but don’t stop there. If you are eligible for the CSP but don’t have the CSM yet, go earn the CSM and then immediately apply for CSP. (Continue to learn, grow, and expand your mind. Pursue other certificates and programs, etc., that confirm your knowledge.)

But most importantly, seek to be the best at what you do, regardless of what it is. A certification, at the end of the day, is just a piece of paper. Your interactions with others and the relationships and REAL contributions you make are the REAL you.

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