A fierce debate has raged for many years in the Agile community around the value of certifications such as Certified Scrum Master.
The argument for certifications centres around skills standardisation and quality of training, and the argument against holds that soft skills can’t be developed in a few days of training. That the certification represents nothing more than attendance at training, and does not reflect skill level.
An analogy would be hiring a CEO based on them having a certificate in ‘Leadership’. Sounds ludicrous, right? Yet we hire Scrum Masters like that.
In fact, an entire industry has sprung up around certifying people in Agile practices. There is the Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, PMI, Scaled Agilist and many more. Certification brings in big bucks.
My view is that the certificate is a proxy for the skill, and HR departments need to beware of valuing the paper more than the skill. If I was in full rant mode, I’d even say that certificates represent an exercise in laziness. It’s sure easier to ask for a certificate in a job interview than go to the trouble of understanding a complex set of skills like those required for Scrum Master.
While I’ve got a head of steam going, let’s talk about the latest framework for Agile, Scaled Agile Framework – SAFe. The idea is that alignment, collaboration and delivery across a large number of Agile teams takes more top down management.
SAFe, and other methodologies like it, depress me because it moves us away from the core principles of Agile.
Agile is about self-organising, motivated, trusted individuals, who focus on early and continuous delivery of valuable software, and regularly reflect on how to become more effective. Such a potent formula for success in those few ideas.
It seems to be so hard to trust people to be self-organising and focused on delivering value, especially in bigger organisations. So we build more rigid rules, and we empower people less, and trust them less, and try to control everything more.
An Agile organisation
That made me wonder – what constitutes an Agile organisation? Could we stop certifying people as Agile practitioners, and rather certify companies as Agile embracers?
How about a maturity model, which looks at the level of openness and trust in an organisation (and a whole lot of other Agile values too). Could we measure how safe people feel to speak up? Are their ideas listened to? Is the team empowered to make their own decisions? Within the company vision and for the outcome required, of course.
I see many benefits to this (it’s my idea, so of course I do!). The big deal is that it would shift the balance of project success or failure from lying entirely with the IT team, to acknowledging the huge role that the organisation plays in enabling or hobbling a team.
If you’ve ever worked in a team that’s hobbled by bureaucracy or politics, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Every task feels like pushing a boulder uphill, and all too often we go home feeling like we lost control and the boulder rolled over us on its way downhill. These are the teams that come in on a Monday looking like the weight of the world lies on their shoulders, and who perk up the closer it gets to weekend.
That always hits me right in the gut. How sad, to steal people’s working lives just to subject them to such misery. It’s counter-productive, it’s demoralising, and it’s unnecessary.
Bright new world
Now imagine a bright new world. In this bright new world, organisations are audited on their Agility, and rated from stinky to fabulous. I bet there’d be a lot of surprises there, because most companies don’t set out to be stinky – they just don’t have awareness around how they are failing their people.
Would this motivate organisations to strive to improve? They’d have excellent reason to raise their game if that’s how to attract good staff. No one wants to work for an organisation that visibly and publicly has dysfunctional management.
It’s always been difficult to talk openly about dysfunctional behaviour in an organisation, mainly for fear of upsetting the bosses. Objective rating of behaviour would overcome that, and we could stop pretending that it doesn’t exist. And once dysfunction is recognised, it can be fixed.
I’m slightly sorry for the guys who make a living out of Agile certifications at present, because I’d like to kill their revenue model. Maybe they could transition to auditing companies on Agile Maturity, then everyone wins 🙂
Kent Beck, one of the original developers of the Agile Manifesto, said “I would like the world to be safe for developers”. Making management aware of how they help or hinder people’s ability to deliver good work in a safe space, would be a big step towards this dream.
If you like this idea, please share it. Heck, this extreme idea that we all deserve a fulfilling working life, could even become a reality one day! I’d like a happy ending to this story.
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