March 27, 2007

...Learn TDD with Codemanship

Agile Alliance on Certification

During the night I received a visit from the announcement pixies, who brought me this position statement from the Agile Alliance on Agile Certification:

This position statement is released by Agile Alliance board in response to questions
we receive from our members regarding certification in Agile.

Now that Agile software development is becoming a mainstream practice, more and more
employers need to staff teams that will perform it well. How can they know if a
particular person will be an asset?

One way might be to favor employees who are vouched for by some certification body.
It is the position of the board of the Agile Alliance that employers should have
confidence only in certifications that are skill-based and difficult to achieve. We
also believe that employers should not require certification of employees.

Certifications in our industry usually tell you that a person has been exposed to
particular knowledge. Some certifications additionally tell you that she has passed
a test on that knowledge.

Knowledge is a wonderful thing, but businesses pay for performance. Performance
requires skill.

A skill is not as simple to acquire as knowledge: the learner has to perform the
skill badly, recover from mistakes, do it a bit better, and keep repeating the
whole process. Especially for the interrelated and interpersonal skills required of
Agile software development, much of the learning has to take place on real projects.
It is that learning that a certification should vouch for.

Vouching for someone else's skill requires close observation or questioning by
someone already possessing it. For anything other than uninterestingly simple
skills, that's a lot of work–which means it's expensive. Therefore, the only
skills worth formally vouching for are those that require substantial effort to

While a skill-based certification can shorten the hiring or promotion process, there
are many skilled practitioners who are not certified. Excluding them from
consideration would be a poor business decision.

Moreover, the state of the practice moves on. Skills decay when unused. The question
is not whether an applicant once possessed appropriate skill; it's whether the
applicant can do what's required today. A certificate cannot substitute for the hard
work of individual evaluation.

Certifications such as Certified Scrum Master and DSDM Foundation are
knowledge-based and easy to achieve. We believe the courses that lead to them are
good ones. We believe people who attend them get their money's worth. But while the
certifications may be evidence of good faith, useful knowledge, and a desire to
learn, they are not in themselves evidence of skill.

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

This is a complex subject. They're quite right in observing that knowledge-based qualifications offer little evidence of ability. They also correctly point out that Certified Scrum Masters and others of their ilk aren't necessarily good at those jobs.

My quandry is over how I know a good Agile Software Developer when I see one. I can spend 15 minutes with a developer and somehow, through sheer instinct, I just know. In his book Blink, Malcom Gladwell explores the phenomenon of instinctive intelligence. It seems for extremely complex problems, we might be better off trusting our first impressions - provided we've had enough experience to build a good instinct for that kind of problem.

In layman's`terms, it takes one to know one. So if you want to know if someone is a skilled Agile Software Developer, get another skilled Agile Software Developer to tell you. This, naturally, leads us in to some nasty circular logic, and might explain some`employers' desire for some kind of "objective" indicator of competence.
Posted 14 years, 3 months ago on March 27, 2007