The Meaning of Agile Certification is Money

On page 483 of their book ” Practices for Scaling Lean & Agile Development“, Craig Larman and Bas Vodde discuss about the quality of code and certification, mainly in within the CMMI context. They refute the link between good code production and certification and wrote “Do not believe that an appraisal, rating, or certification in any process improvement model – including Scrum, agile methods and ISO certification – means much of anything, other than the ability to somehow pass an appraisal at least once.”

Although I usually agree with them, I would disagree on this point. Certification has its meaning. And this meaning is money. Certification has become an important business and this is why you have so many “independent” professional associations that now provide some type of certification. In the Agile project management world, you can be
* a certified ScrumMaster from the Scrum Alliance
* a Professional ScrumMaster from
* a PMI Agile Certified Practitioner from the Project Management Institute (PMI)

In addition, you can now become a certified Agile tester or Product Owner. I am myself planning to create a Certified Agile Blogger status.

Do Larman and Vodde think that people would have made the efforts to build these programs if they were meaningless for them? Of course, training or coaching helps transitioning to Agile and there is value in being trained directly by Agile minds like Jeff Sutherland or Mike Cohn. But there is also a difference between training and certification. Having followed a ScrumMaster training doesn’t mean that somebody will be a good ScrumMaster. When plane pilots are certified, they have to actually know how to fly and this certification is continuously monitored. The process is not based on their ability to answer once some questions about flight theory. Or at least it shouldn’t. We often discuss the difference between “Doing Agile” and “Being Agile”. To me, certification belongs more to the “Doing Agile” side. This opinion is obviously easier to express if you are not trying to pay your bill giving Certified ScrumMaster courses. But didn’t we say that Agile was about “Values”? The agile world, with the current exception of the Agile Alliance, is keen to fight the “plan and control” view of Waterfall project management approach. It seems however than on the financial side, agile organizations are looking to follow the PMI money making approach where the line between providing real education and just making money is sometimes difficult to draw. Just to be clear, there is nothing wrong to make money, but my point of view is that this race to sell certification will not benefit the true value side of the Agile movement. It could result in a situation where the Certified ScrumMaster is the equivalent of a Project Management Professional, but with a smaller guidebook. I understand also that the certification is useful in gaining agile acceptance in larger organization. The traditional “you cannot blame me because I bought IBM” could be replaced by “It is not my fault if this Agile project failed, because my ScrumMaster is certified”.

Googling “PMI PDU” you will find that gaining PMI certification or earning professional development units (PDUs) that allows you maintain it is a good business. Just count the number of ads associated with these terms. On one web site selling project management podcast you can read ” Relax, earn PDUs and still have time for yourself. Cut your expenses for your PMI re-certification”. Does this sound to you as something that fosters educational values? Maybe there is great startup to create that will sell once-a-week pills allowing you to keep you PMI certification ;o) Often if you want to understand the meaning of some professional behavior, you just need to follow the money… I would rather encourage you to spend your money on the Larman and Vodde book that despite their gross misunderstanding on the meaning of certification contains a lot valuable material on how to improve your software development activities.

Reference: Practices for Scaling Lean & Agile Development – Large, Multisite, and Offshore Product Development with Large-Scale Scrum, Craig Larman and Bas Vodde, Addison Wesley, ISBN 978-0-321-63640-9


  1. The meaning of any certification is respect. With any certification that is respected on the market you get your share of respect. When this certification is a Nobel prize or an Oscar, you get the whole “bread” from a respected source. That’s something! But when you try to leverage and make a business by selling into 1.000.000 pieces you end up making a lot of money but dilute the value of certification up to a point where is worthless for the owner. If your certification is over that point, nobody will want to certify with you. It’s like a piramidal scheme, very powerful in the beginnings and looks like a scam when it’s over a point. It’s a sad story for the early certified owners.
    You are true, a lot of Agile certifications reach that turning point where may look useless for owners. That’s why, the “respected sources” from the Agile world creates the new ones, that also look better in the beginnings.
    Certification and education are business, and like any good business they need to create money, as a general purpose. Universities are in this business for centuries and some of them learn very well where that turning point is. That’s why a Harvard certification worth a little bit more respect than a ScrumMaster one! They control very well the level of leverage from this business, and care for the integrity that provide respect.

  2. Deepak

    The scrum master certification has become yet another money making racket like PMP. Education should not be commercialized. Just for this I am not going to go for this certification and my advice to others is —Don’t go for this—. I know people will say ‘it’s all the same – they need to make money’ – my take is Just because everyone is doing something does NOT make it RIGHT, live with your head high.

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