I don’t have any agile certificates. As an independent coach, trainer, and consultant, I apply whatever makes sense and looks like a valuable solution in a given context.
In this article, I’ll question the need to be certified in agile, discuss the alternatives, and explain how I deliver quality and value to the people that I work with.
Warning: Explicit Content
This is not a regular “tips and ideas” blog post in which I share my experiences for you to use in your daily work. It’s a personal cry out in which I share my thoughts on a delicate but important topic. If this is not what you like to read then there are hundreds of other articles on my website, so just pick another one and enjoy it.
In this article, I’m going against things that are common practice in the software industry, ways of working that a large part of the industry adheres to, supports, and accepts as being the “best and only way to do it”. If your salary depends on this or if you are easily offended then you might want to skip this article.
On the other hand, if you have an opinion on certification, an open mind, and want to learn about my ideas, read on!
Why I don’t have any agile certificates
Nowadays there are tons of agile certificates. I sometimes get the impression that people want to collect as many as possible.
I don’t. I do not have any agile certificates.
So there you have it. I’m not a Certified Scrum Master (CSM), Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) or Certified Scrum Professional (CSP), Professional Scrum Master (PSM) or Professional Scrum Product Owner (PSPO), Agile Certified Professional (PMI-ACP), Certified SAFe® Agilist or Certified SAFe® Program Consultant, or Agile Foundation, Agile Practitioner, or Agile Master.
(BTW, if you want to compare agile certificates, here’s a list of Agile Scrum Certifications).
I’m also not a member of the Agile Alliance, Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, Agile Consortium, or any other official agile membership organization.
One reason that I’m not certified is that there are simply too many certificates. If I would have to acquire all the certificates that apply to the things that I am capable of, that would take me years doing exams and a lot of money. Time that I rather spend on helping people and money that I prefer to use to live healthily and happily.
Doing exams and spending money on fees to keep certificates alive won’t make me a better trainer, advisor, coach, writer, or presenter. Sure, these certificates and the badges that come along look nice in presentations, on LinkedIn, and when you’re at conferences. They will probably also help to impress (potential) customers.
But they don’t increase the value that I deliver, which is what matters most to me, and to the people that I work with.
What I see a lot is that people who are certified in a specific method, framework, or approach tend to think that there are no other solutions. It’s the classic “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” approach. Which often comes with “my hammer is bigger, better, faster, and cheaper than yours”.
I don’t believe that’s true, and I don’t want to work that way.
I’m independent for a good reason: I don’t want to restrict myself in any way and be able to apply whatever makes sense and looks like a valuable solution in a given context. This is also why I signed the Oath of Non-Allegiance:
I promise not to exclude from consideration any idea based on its source, but to consider ideas across schools and heritages in order to find the ones that best suit the current situation.
Jerry Weinberg inspired me to think about problems and come up with multiple solutions. He stated: “If you haven’t thought of three possibilities, you haven’t thought enough.” Being independent allows me to come up with many solutions and pick the most suitable ones.
Educated and experienced
Does not having agile certificates mean that I did not get any proper education? On the contrary, I got a lot of education during my life (my grey hairs are the living proof of this), and I’m a lifelong learner.
I do have a technical bachelor’s degree and there’s a long list of Master modules that I have done which includes psychology, sociology, culture, communication, management, organizational change, marketing, and business-IT alignment.
The ways that I learn most (in no specific order) are:
- Joining conferences, meetups, online forums, and open spaces.
- Interact on social media: Ask questions and respond, have discussions.
- Interviewing people and researching topics for InfoQ.
- Advising, coaching, and training people.
I also learn a lot by thinking about stuff, researching it, and writing it down (which is one of the reasons why I’m blogging and writing books). I use the things that I learned when I teach, write, advise, coach, and present. And when I do that, I ask for feedback to further improve myself.
If you want to know how I started with agile, read the story of how my team and I collaborated with our customer on my first project, doing agile when the Agile Manifesto wasn’t invented yet, to deliver high-quality software.
I’m also a former affiliate of the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University where I investigated factors that drive software quality. So I know how to prove and disprove things.
Alternatives for agile certificates
If you are looking for a professional, of course it’s easy to make a list of the required certificates and then take a checklist approach to tick them off. But how much does that tell you about what a person really can do and how they will match and be valuable for you and your organization?
There are alternatives to selecting a consultant, coach, or trainer, not basing your decision on the certificates that they have. I’m convinced that in many situations this will even work better.
Some of the alternatives for agile certification are:
- Browse through their blog to see what someone writes about and how they share their experience. Look for true knowledge, not something that merely copied out of a method or guide (“Scrum says”). Check the comments on their articles and see how they react.
- Check their LinkedIn profile to see what they have accomplished, where, when, how, and with whom. Don’t look for certificates but read through the lines to find out what they have actually accomplished.
- Don’t forget to read the recommendations somebody got. They tell a lot about *how* people accomplish results (which is something a certificate doesn’t show).
- See how someone behaves on social media. Do they suggest solutions to problems? Refer to existing solutions and give credit? Collaborate and add value? Act respectfully?
- Check your network to see if someone you respect knows the person and can tell you about him/her. Personal anecdotes about behavior and beliefs tell a lot.
- See what books have been published by someone and how these books have been received by their readers. How accessible and practical their writings are, how deep it dives into a topic, whether it provides alternative solutions instead of just one “best” answer.
- Google the person, see what shows up and think about how that could help you to solve the problems that are keeping you awake at night. Find out what resonates with you, what makes sense to you.
- Find out how someone reacts when they made a mistake. Do they admit it, are they open and honest? Have they learned something?
- Explore how somebody has developed themselves over time. Do they use what they have learned to explore new directions? Would they be able to inspire others to develop themselves?
- Reach out, ask a question, and see how someone responds. Do they offer help, or do they negotiate and want to sign a contract (the manifesto for Agile Software Development call this “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation”).
- Create your own certificate. Although not something that can help to select the right person, creating some kind of “certificate” can be a great way to celebrate and have some fun together.
These are things that certificates don’t tell you. They can make a huge difference!
Certificates don’t deliver value. Value is delivered by people who have experience and dare to do things!
Value comes from someone who truly tries to understand your problems and provide more than one solution that might work. Who experiments, verifies, learns, and improves.
If you want someone who will force their favorite agile framework or method in which they are certified in on everyone in your organization, go ahead and search for consultants with certificates.
If you are looking for someone who knows about true agility to deliver quality and value, let’s talk!
This Post Has 12 Comments
Thanks for this post. This is exactly my opinion!
I’ve met people that had multiple agile certifications, but when I asked them about the Agile Manifesto, they didn’t know what I was talking about!
Agile is about working together with people, listening to their needs, what drives them and what holds them back. Agile is about working together with people with different expertise, to see where they can help each other understand the problem and the different solutions – and then together decide on the way forward.
Agile is about evaluating the steps taken, with all parties involved, and adjusting course if needed (and it’s always needed).
Agile is about communication on different levels with different people with different backgrounds, interests and involvement.
There’s no certificate for that.
Thanks for your extensive response Rob.
The things you mention are at the core of agile, they are indeed essential if you want to be effective with agile! I learned them by doing, reflecting, and improving based on what actually happened, not by going to a certified agile training.
Hi Ben !
I share your opinion at 100%. I’ve always avoided or refused to pass any certification while I’ve got to train others to attend online tests like PSM. Only results matters !
In most cases I don’t know if the people that I work with have any certificates or not. I’ve been lucky to having worked in organizations where people have a lot of experience and skills. Makes it a lot easier to talk about value, which matters more than certificates to them.
Thank you mate. Happy to see you keep being right an always open to be challenged. However, I can’t challenge you on this article at all 🙂
That’s a shame 😉
Thanks for your support Richard!
The ICT industry has an abundance of certificates that can be obtained . The issuing of certificates has become a multi million Euro industry, powered by customers who demand these certificates immediately. Was it for Usain Bolt possible to become the fastest man if he needed certificates for standing-up, walking, running, starting and sprinting? This examples seems ridiculous by the level of detail but that it isn’t for the current practicte for ICT employees. Why increasing the piles of certificates if one can spend the same time on real learning and practicing by performing. I hope I can get rid of my E-learning certificate on running.
It is the waste of money and time for me personally, I’d rather spend that on things that I value more.
Thanks for sharing this article Ben and sharing your thoughts.
I have always liked your approach to agile, like real agile mindset and your work on retrospectives.
I have even attended your talk in Agile Beirut
I am in a place in my career when i am reflecting if i should consider certificates and which ones.
You are right there are many, they are expensive and each has its own course that is costly both in term of money and time.
I train people to pass CSM and PSPO exams and people when attending a training they first ask me if i am affiliated with Scrum Alliance, if I can give them the Scrum Alliance or Scrum.org certificate and i guess that companies or people attending a training ask first about the certificate, so i am not sure!
From another side when it comes to coaching agile teams, also organizations may look at certificates but not as much as for training I guess.
Thanks for reaching out Joanna.
For training people often ask if it comes with a certificate. If it’s a standardized training, such as CSM, I can understand their question. As a trainer it makes your life easier to become a member of the body that defined and “owns” the training, so that course attendees can get a certificate.
The drawback is that you are then part of the “certificate industry”, it’s a choice if you can live with that. I know I can’t, I’m too much focused on result and impact and would feel very limited giving standardized training for certification.
My workshops aren’t standard training, hence no certificates exist for the things people learn in them. In stead of a certificate, attendees get Free Lifetime Support that helps them to apply what they learned in their daily work. Actually, this support comes with everything, even if you buy a game or coaching cards in webshop.
For my advisory or coaching sessions, people have never asked me if I have certificates. We start by building a shared understanding of the expected outcomes and then explore how to get there. During the work, we’ll reflect and adjust frequently. When it’s done, we stop. There’s no place for certificates in this way of working.
Thank you very much for your reply Ben, you are right, it is about what one wants, what the market request and how to convince the clients that you can deliver value even without certificates. For somebody with your experience and the books you already have i am sure you can convince them of the value you can deliver without the need to have certificates . I appreciate when persons having your experience take the time to thoroughly answer feedback from readers. Thanks for giving a great example of an Agile Coach and Consultant
Thanks for your kind words Joanna, glad to be of help.