Certified ScrumMaster … AND?

Certified ScrumMaster … AND?

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There’s a trend in the agile community of influencing folks away from saying no, instead saying: “Yes, And…” as a means of connecting various conflicting points together. I wanted to use the same mechanism for the title of this article, because I think we need to start looking at the basic Scrum certifications in a different way, perhaps the same way we view Peanut Butter AND Jelly. Let me try and explain.

I’ve seen an incredibly alarming trend over the last 1-2-3+ years in my coaching. It involves whoever is teaching Certified ScrumMaster classes; whether they be from the Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, or elsewhere.

I encounter quite a few organizations and many teams in my travels. Almost universally they are adopting Scrum and have trained a few to many Certified ScrumMasters around to guide the transition.

But I’m finding that the “Scrum” that is being fostered and guided in these organizations leaves a lot to be desired. Often:

  • Many teams don’t have ScrumMasters OR they are multi-tasking the ScrumMaster role with software managers or development-centric team leads.
  • There are no Product Owners OR Business Analysts are trying to do the role from a technical perspective OR there are too few Product Owners to “go around” and they don’t seem to have time for the teams.
  • There is no solid Definition of Done in place. Often teams confuse story acceptance criteria with DoD, and think that this is all they have to do in order to produce a “potentially shippable product increment”.
  • About 50% of the time the teams have “opted out” of the retrospectives, with the other 40% of the time everyone complains about the retrospectives being a waste of time or ineffective.
  • There is usually NO Backlog Refinement going on. And if it is being done, it is (right before) the start of each sprint. This leads to sprint planning events sometimes taking more than a day.
  • Teams seem to have no clue regarding their capacity or velocity. I’m even starting to see a lack of burndown charts on walls, teams preferring to focus instead in tooling over collaboration.
  • And the list of missing or misconstrued Scrum bits literally goes on and on…

And while this is all happening, the “Certified” ScrumMasters seem to be fine with it all. Of course, they might complain about it here and there, but they’re essentially doing NOTHING about it.

All of this has led me to wonder what sorts of things are being discussed in our standard Scrum certification training?

Clearly we’re covering the basics of Scrum; otherwise folks wouldn’t be able to “pass” the various exams.

But are we really establishing an actionable knowledge state for ScrumMasters? And are we preparing them to effectively foster and guide Scrum out in the “real world”?

The evidence I’m seeing implies…no, we’re not.

I think we’re returning folks to their organizations with limited practical experience and/or limited skills at explaining, evangelizing, and guiding Scrum.

Usually when I encounter ScrumMasters in the above teams, while they have the “book knowledge” and have played a few agile games in the classes, they lack the confidence, experience, and courage to actually become a sponsor of Scrum. I’m wondering if we’re doing enough in our training? And are we setting them up for success or failure when they return as “agile change agents” to their organizations?

It feels to me like the latter (failure) and like we (the Scrum Trainers) are dropping the ball in some way.

I know, what I’m saying isn’t totally fair and I apologize in advance for that.

  • I realize that many of the Scrum Trainers are doing the best they can within the (mostly) 2-day class formats;
  • I realize that nobody ever said that the CSM, PSM (or equivalent) credentials were the “end all” state for Scrum Mastery;
  • I realize that some folks, no matter what we do, just won’t step up within their organizational contexts;
  • And I truly realize that “being Agile” can be hard in the “real world”.


I can’t help but feel that we ought to be doing a better job. I think we get folks “all worked up and excited” about the potential of Scrum and then send them back to their organizations to fend for themselves. Ultimately, I believe most bounce off of their organizations and off of leadership & management because they lack adequate change-leadership skills and significant enough experience.

And often that means the Scrum implementation suffers. That Scrum-But trade-offs are made that severely handicap to neutralize the effectiveness of Scrum. It also frustrates the newly minted ScrumMasters and often harms their careers.

And most shocking of all, everyone seems to be fine with this trend.

Daniel Gullo is a friend and colleague of mine and he wrote an interesting take on certification on LinkedIn. Daniel makes the case against folks who are simply “throwing stones” at all certifications in the agile community. He rightly points out that all certifications are less valuable individually but more so as part of individual learning paths or “learning log”.

InfoQ references it heavily in this post entitled: Pro or Against Agile Certification.

While I’m probably biased, I am PRO agile certification. But as you can tell in this post, it’s based on a Certification … AND model and not our current one. I don’t think any of the current ScrumMaster certifications are truly preparing folks for effectively operating within the role in the real world.

I believe the model of simply certifying folks is inherently inadequate. We need to do more for these folks. I think they need mentoring and coaching beyond the basics of the certification credential. Perhaps it begins with us acknowledging clearly and succinctly to attendees of our classes the limited scope & focus of the class? Being crystal clear that there is more to performing in the role than simply gaining the certification.

And perhaps it also includes adding influence, communication, courage, deeper facilitation, and other change management trainings to our Certified ScrumMaster offerings?

I may not have the specific answer, but I do know that we need to start putting a better foot forward in preparing our newly minted Certified ScrumMaster’s for the REAL WORLD OF WORK.

Looking at it from the Scrum Trainer perspective, we need to rethink this seemingly mad rush of 2-day classes that we offer and then leave behind a stream of newly minted, but largely under prepared “ScrumMasters”. Perhaps instead we ought to begin:

  • Clearly explaining what the classes do (and more importantly don’t do) for attendees in our class marketing and descriptions;
  • Emphasize the importance of attendees championing solid Scrum practices within their organizations AND giving them the tools to influence effective transformation;
  • Clearly recommending follow-up coaching and mentoring with Certified Scrum Coaches or similarly skilled practitioners within the Scrum community;
  • Generally setting the expectation that the CSM, PSM, or equivalent credentials are only the beginning of a path and the ScrumMasters need to earn that role with ongoing coaching, mentoring, and raw experience.

Here’s another idea. I’d like us all to view the basic agile / Scrum certifications as a “learners permit”. As with most learner’s permits, you are not supposed to drive by yourself. You need a mentor in the car beside you. In some states there are also limits about driving in risky situations, for example at night or on highways. That is until you have more experience and are licensed.

I’m thinking that a much better model for creating ScrumMasters would be:

  • attend some basic training
  • get a learner’s permit, but you’re not allowed to go it alone in risky situations
  • be mentored by an experienced ScrumMaster (or receive some coaching) for a period of time
  • take a written test (road signs and rules of the road)
  • have someone attend/review your work as a ScrumMaster in a team setting (drivers test)
  • and THEN get your ScrumMaster ‘license’

The more I think about the analogy, the more I think it would set ScrumMasters (and their teams AND their organizations) up for better results.

Why did I write this?

A big part of it is frustration because I’m seeing so many “bad-to-terrible” Scrum implementations. And I’m wondering if our training focus is a part of the problem? In other words, are we really properly preparing our ScrumMasters for the role in the real world?

Another part of it is a Call to Arms, that we’re letting our “customers” down big time. That if our mission is to change the world of work, then we need to perhaps focus more on mentoring and ongoing coaching and less on simply achieving a 2-day credential. And if a trainer is unskilled at or uncomfortable with or their business model doesn’t support coaching, then partner with someone who can serve in this role with their students.

A final point is for us in the Scrum community to begin recommending, marketing, and emphasizing mentoring & coaching to the same degree that we recommend ScrumMaster certification classes. That getting experience shared by those more experienced is a central ingredient to every individual’s Scrum journey and that “going it alone” is not an option, which I believe is one of the points in Daniel’s post.

But I imagine that I might be railing against something that really isn’t a problem. Clearly my sample size is relatively small and unique to me. What is your experience and opinions on this topic? And what do you think our next generation Agile and Scrum training AND experience challenges are?

Stay agile my friends,


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