Zombie Elephant

Zombie Elephant

I read a REALLY compelling post by Philippe Kruchten, who among others, was at the 10 years agile celebration meeting in Snowbird, UT, organized by Alistair Cockburn on February 12.

Philippe stated on his blog post, after covering the walls with a couple of hundred issues cards, David Anderson noted that there was “an elephant in the room”. [read Philippe’s post to find out what it was]  …A small group identified a few other such “elephants in the room”, i.e., other topics that the agile community is not really willing to tackle for a variety of reasons. They ended up with a long list of about 12 such “undiscussable” topics (or at least not discussable in the open).

The elephant that jumped out at me was number eleven.

11. Certification (the “zombie elephant”)
This massive elephant was reported dead a few times, but seems to reappear…

Now, I don’t want to beat this proverbial dead horse but I do think it’s important to talk about this.  The idea of “Agile” Project Management certification seems to drive some people super crazy.  There are arguments against certifications (in general), saying they are just a way to make money; that they don’t offer any real value.  Like it or not, certifications ARE out there and they ARE here to stay.  This argument is not unique to the Agile Community.  There are almost daily debates in the blogosphere on the subject of certification value.  There is a distinct difference between wisdom and knowledge and I think the Agile community has a lot of wisdom to offer the “traditional” project management community.  If you don’t have the wisdom, you need some basic foundation of education in order to help projects (and people) reach their goals.

The ongoing problem I see is some people outside our project teams perceive those with certifications as experts.  It’s either that or the Hiring Managers are so damn lazy that they go looking for certifications rather than actual people who will make good culture fits.  Either way, we have the same results.  People who don’t know the first thing about project management or leadership, with certifications, get hired.  This is not an issue with the certification itself.  It’s a marketing issue.  The message is being controlled by the wrong people.  The communities as a whole need to be more vocal and shape the correct message.

In my post for Agile Scout, about the State of Agile, I called it mastery-based learning and the paradox of the certification.  What is the goal?  Are we trying to discover better ways to deliver value to our customers or are we just trying to get a piece of paper and a few extra letters after our names?  Some only care about getting a passing score on a certification exam versus being a good manager or leader.  I would argue that certifications do offer some value but we may need to do away with terms like “Master” or “Professional”, in order to help control the message.

So, why certification and not traditional higher education?  In preparation for writing another blog post, I was reading a University of Maryland textbook on Systems Analysis. The section on Agile & Scrum were flat out wrong!  In addition, this college textbook used Wikipedia as its reference source.

I would argue, the respective communities introduce themselves to the elephant in the room and get to work on better ways to educate people and measure proficiency.  You better do it soon, before that elephant becomes an 800 pound gorilla.

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9 Replies to “Zombie Elephant”

  1. I totally agree. Certifications are and will always be a complex issue. What will be interesting is how the market will react to any big changes in any current certifications. Education is key.

    1. One of the issues that needs to be addressed is knowing who the audience is. Are certifications for the practitioners (to introduce core concepts and to measure their proficiency of the topics) or the hiring managers (to help them find “qualified” applicants)?

  2. The value of the PMP is predicated on having a lot of people who are committed to using the same practices, the same vocabulary, and the same ethical foundation. Agile has a lot of advocates, and a large body of common practices, but it lacks the equivalent of a PMI and a PMBOK. Until Agile has a professional organization committed to publishing and maintaining a Body of Knowledge document, and marketing the value of both the practice of Agile and membership in the organization, there’s nothing to certify and no reason to pursue certification if it existed.

    I pontificated on the (lack of) value in “me too” PM credentials in a post back in December, for these same reasons.


    1. Dave, thanks for adding your comments. You stated “Until Agile has a professional organization committed to publishing and maintaining a Body of Knowledge document, and marketing the value of both the practice…” I’ll stop there, rather than quote your entire submission. That organization is the Agile Alliance and I believe they should absolutely publish either a Body of Knowledge or Body of Experiences. There should be some guidance. I think the community has been part of the anti-establishment for so long that they are struggling a little with becoming more mainstream. But, it IS mainstream.

      1. We agree – Agile is mainstream, as both an SDLC model and a project management model. That said, the Agile Alliance is to PMI as the Green Party is to the Democratic Party. From the Agile Alliance website:

        “Higher levels of certification, such as DSDM Practitioner or Certified Scrum Practitioner, require project experience, a written project synopsis, and an oral examination. They are skill-based. Other organizations like the Agile Project Leadership Network are working on skill-based certifications. We applaud their efforts. Although, the position of Agile Alliance remains firmly that employers should not require certification of employees and that skill needs to be acquired by practice on agile projects not by training alone.”

        While I don’t disagree with their sentiments, that seems like a pretty good indication that they aren’t interested in encouraging the other kids to join their club. Full disclosure: I’m registered as a member of the Nevada Green Party, although not the AA.

        1. I think your party analogy is pretty spot on, when it comes to comparing the sizes of each organization. One thing to note about the comparison, the Agile Alliance is a nonprofit organization. The PMI is a not-for-profit organization. I see that as being very telling.

          I think the quote from the Agile Alliance about employers not requiring certifications is foolhardy. I don’t think I can say I’ve ever seen a ScrumMaster position advertised as “N years of practice required, certification totally optional.” The hiring managers themselves don’t know what the practices are. Therefore, I see something like “CSM required w/N years of experience preferred”. Notice I wrote experience and not practice. That’s also an issue I see. There is a difference between experiencing something and practicing something, though I understand I’m splitting hairs.

        2. You’ll notice my blog is called “The Practicing IT Project Manager.” We split the same hairs – ten years of experience may actually be one year of experience, ten times. When you get a moment, I’d be interested in your thoughts on my current ramblings on “specialist” and “generalist.”

          Regarding PMI: I’m a member for the same reason I voted for Harry Reid – the Venn diagram between common interests and the juice to advance them. Maybe I’m just a Pragmatic IT Project Manager.

  3. You wrote “Project Management Institute (PMI) finally made the public announcement that they intend to have an Agile Project Professional “APP” certification.” Where did you see this info?
    Philippe Kruchten

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