"Guaranteed to Pass"

On Twitter today I saw a tweet that mentioned a CSM course that "guaranteed" that you would pass the CSM Exam.

I already believed that the whole CSM thing was a bloody scam to make scads of money, although I'm willing to admit that it helped make Agile (or at least Scrum) more visible.  However, I said several years ago that I didn't believe in these sorts of certifications because they eventually became meaningless.

First, there is no way to truly certify that someone understands Agile or even Scrum.  That takes months if not years of constant practice.  Second, the moment the test was introduced to verify that people didn't sleep through the CSM course, I knew that the trainers would start to do exactly what I saw today - make the course material fit the exam.

I have a little experience in that area.  In 1995 I was working with PowerBuilder, and a colleague suggested that I should get my CPD - the Certified PowerBuilder Developer - certification.  His logic was that there weren't that many, perhaps a dozen, in Ottawa at the time and it would be advantageous for me as an independent consultant.  So, I took his advice, studied hard for a couple of weeks and took the two-part test.  I actually failed (got 74% instead of the minimum 75%) on one of the exams, but passed it on the second attempt.  I learned a lot while studying, but I also learned that there were certain ways of answering the questions that were based on what the manufacturer of PowerBuilder wanted you to answer rather than what I knew to work.  I was very careful on the second attempt to answer "what they wanted to hear", and passed easily with a mark over 90%.  I was proud of the certification and the work I put into obtaining it, and it did lead to better contracts for a couple of years.

Fast forward to 1998, and the organization in which I was working brought in a couple of new entry-level people.  Both of these people had just graduated from one of the business school programs where you learned computer programming in 8-12 months, and came out with certification in Visual Basic and PowerBuilder.  These were smart, very nice people who had come from backgrounds that weren't technical.  They decided, however, that the jobs were in technology and they signed up for the program at the business school.  These people graduated and came into the job with the same certification I received in PowerBuilder, meaning that they knew the material well enough to pass the exams.

The only problem, was that once they deviated from the material they had covered to pass the exam, they were lost.  They had no idea how to write well-factored object-oriented code in PowerBuilder, which was a challenge at best.  They had no idea how to deal with error conditions.  They had no idea how to handle concurrency issues in any sort of elegant way.  They had no idea what the difference was between synchronous and asynchronous calls.  They had no idea how to handle internationalization.  They had no idea how to optimize system performance.  They didn't have to know these in order to pass the exams, and yet I had already learned them before I took it because the other people with whom I worked who had more experience than me knew that those things were important.  Studying for the exams added perhaps 5 to 10% to my existing knowledge, and yet it represented 100% of the knowledge of the people from the business school.

Congratulations, Scrum Alliance and CST's who "guarantee" passing of the CSM test, you are about to create even more people who will be lost once the real world deviates from the material you covered.


Mark Levison said…
Dave - is there any chance you misunderstood the person? The current test is a self assessment. I.E. you take it and you pass. If you make mistakes you're invited to go clarify .

A guarantee seems an odd way of phrasing this.
Dave Rooney said…
Did I misunderstand this?

Mark Levison said…
Really the quote: "In addition, we will guarantee that you will pass the exam after taking one of our classes. If you should not pass, we will work with you to fill in any gaps in your understanding so that you can pass!"

That seems like help. Basically if you don't understand Scrum well enough to pass the exam we will help with the things you didn't understand.

I don't see why this is so bad?
Dave Rooney said…
@Mark, that's my point. "We'll help you just enough to pass the exam."

We both know that's nowhere near enough to go and practice Scrum effectively. It's time for people to admit that and to admit that it takes much, much more than 2, 3, or even 5 days in a class to "get" Scrum or Agile in general if you have been in a classic command & control organization doing waterfall for decades.
Mark Levison said…
Dave - No course is perfect, no coaching engagement is perfect either. We help people to extent they want help.

If you really believed what you just claimed then you would drop all 1 and 2 day course offerings :-)

Dave Rooney said…
We always offer to bundle coaching with training. We lead the horse to the water.

And if you really believed that, you would drop selling the CSM.