ScrumMaster and ZenMaster: The joke of certification

Many people object to ScrumMaster certifications:

  1. It's a money making machine
  2. Scrum Masters do not learn anything during classes
  3. The certification is nothing worth - because nothing is certified

I have been a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) and a Scrum practioner for some years. People who object to the certification do see it from the wrong angle. You need to understand Zen to understand the goodness in CSMs.

Creative Commons License photo credit: darkpatator

Certification is a Zen joke, because the role of a ScrumMaster cannot be certified. It's not about knowing some technical questions. What should a trainer certify in such a class? That you can lead an agile Scrum team as a ScrumMaster? No one can certify the fact that you're a leader, catalyst and enabler. You either are or you aren't. Zen masters (ha, another master without a master!) would laugh at the fun in the ScrumMaster certification. They laugh about the idea of certifying enlightenment.

Scrum without ScrumMasters

As another parallel, both in Scrum and in Zen, masters are only enablers. They are not needed after the act of enabling Zen/Scrum. My Scrum trainer told me, the goal of a ScrumMaster is to make himself obsolete. There is a Zen koan which goes like this:

If you meet the Buddha, kill him.
— Linji

If you see a ScrumMaster, kill him. Zen tells you:

If you are thinking about Buddha, this is thinking and delusion, not awakening. One must destroy preconceptions of the Buddha. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki wrote in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind during an introduction to Zazen, "Kill the Buddha if the Buddha exists somewhere else. Kill the Buddha, because you should resume your own Buddha nature."

If you think the ScrumMaster is Scrum, you're delusioning yourself. In Scrum the product owner and the scrum team can, and should from my view, act by themselves, without the need of a ScrumMaster. The ScrumMaster helps them achieve their Scrum. Helps them overcoming initial obstacles in their productivity.

Kick your ScrumMaster
If the ScrumMaster is not good enough for them, certification and coaching inside the company hasn't helped, the Scrum team has always the right to kick their SM if he isn't good enough for them. And they should do so. If in Zen a master isn't good, pupils will just leave him. This might lead to problems within the organization, especially if the ScrumMaster is their boss, but that should be the problem of the organization, not a team problem.

Practitioner certification

There are many more certifications from the Scrum alliance. If you dig deeper, the real fun part is that CSM doesn't mean anything, practitioner means much more:

The practitioner level of certification (CSP) is only offered to those CSMs who have hands-on experience using Scrum. Applicants must complete an extensive questionnaire with probing questions that focus on applicants’ real-world experience using Scrum on software development projects. Their application is reviewed for answers demonstrating competence and comprehension of principles that can only result from hands-on work. The applicant may be questioned to determine eligibility. To maintain CSP status, you must submit a new application every two years.

Is the certification any use?

Yes. The Certified Scrum Master training has several merits:

  1. Calling the Scrum training "Certified" guaranties the quality of the trainer
  2. It motivates the Scrum master to think in Scrum
  3. If managers take part, it helps the organisation adopt a "we can do it" view about Scrum
  4. Certification (CSM) seems to be one of the main reasons for Scrum success in the enterprise. The certification makes Scrum compatible for managment.

The view about acceptance is shared by Peter Stevens:

It is also about branding, and has been quite successful. The acceptance of the CSM program is high (especially from corporate customers, and this is where the money is). I believe the CSM program is an important reason why Scrum is better accepted than say, XP, in corporate management circles.

Scrum is successful. I've seen it help development departments gain productivity. If you do not scrum yet, go for it.

Stephan Schmidt Administrator
CTO Coach , svese
Stephan is a CTO coach. He has been a coder since the early 80s, has founded several startups and worked in small and large companies as CTO. After he sold his latest startup he took up CTO coaching. He can be found on LinkedIn or follow him in Twitter.
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