Certifications Boon or Bane? – You Decide

“Third party certification through reputable organizations can be an important tool for small businesses and the gives company the assurance that your suppliers are comprised of the ownership they claim.”

Certification is now a full-fledged industry, everyone is running around it like there is no tomorrow, The craze of the certifications is more seen in the IT sector as compared to the other sectors, specifically for Project Management, Agile, Six Sigma and not to forget at the organizational level for things like CMMI and ISO’s of the world

Senior management should now take 2 step backwards and perform a review of all the money that was spent on certifications, did we really get the ROI or the Cost Benefit analysis? Can we provide the measures that certifications have really helped the productivity of the individual or the group or the organization improve. Would the organization be able to show visible improvements in their TOP or BOTTOM line?

I have my own doubts of the data availability, a good part is that most of these certifications like PMP, Agile , CMMI and so on …. Advocate the usage of metrics and measurement to understand how things are moving in the system, but we rarely use these measurements to prove that the money that we have spent has been really put to good use.

Industry and organizations are going crazy over certifications and spend a huge amount of dollars in acquiring a certificate, to be there on the Wall. I recollect an interesting conversation with a Quality Head for one of the esteemed organization, who had just delivered a CMMI Level 5 successful appraisal for the organization, He was mentioning that his job is over here and with the experience of this journey he plans to move on to a different organization at a better position and obviously a better packet to carry home, On response to my curiosity based questions, he responded that the he has nothing more to add to the current organization. This made me think, that did the organization hire him to get a certificate on the wall types, Is getting certificate the only requirement of the organization, where there improvements in the system, did the ROI of the organization improve? Did the defect count go down, or did they have better schedule performance.

We, in the industry have failed to understand the value and reasons for certification, It has become more of a decoration element on the wall and to gain a few bragging brownies

Project management certifications are booming. However, it seems to me that the main beneficiaries of the certification gold rush are the certifiers, not the certified. There are a lot of articles aimed convincing people of the value of certifications. Here I take a different, and possibly contrary approach: I’ll give you two common, but (in my opinion) wrong, reasons for pursuing PM certification.

My motivation for writing this post is a recent conversation I had with a participant of my PMP batch. It went like this:

“Do you think a PM certification is worth the effort?”

“Depends on what you want out of it,” I replied.

“Well I reckon it will make me a better project manager and help me stand out from the crowd .”

Now I don’t remember what I said in reply, but he’s wrong on both counts. Here’s why:

1. To become a competent project manager: A cert does not a PM make. Preparing for a certification will teach you formal project management processes as decreed by a particular certifying authority. These processes are easy to learn by reading a book or two. The “hard bits” of project management – negotiation, people skills, crisis management, conflict resolution, prioritization, stakeholder management (I could go on and on but I’m sure you get my point) – are not, and cannot be, learnt through certification.

2. To stand out from the crowd: The fallacy here is easy to see: certifying authorities push their credentials like there’s no tomorrow, hence the number of people gaining certs is growing rapidly. That being so, the “stand out from the crowd” factor is getting smaller and smaller every day.

Before I conclude, I should come clean and admit that I have a cert or two. My main reason for getting certified was (is!) that it is a good way to learn about commonly used project management processes and the associated terminology. The certs don’t make me a better project manager, and they won’t help me get that dream job either. However, they do help me recognize jargon-laden bull dust when I hear it (which, unfortunately, is quite often).

In the end, formal knowledge is always useful. So, gaining a cert won’t hurt, but be sure you aren’t doing it for the wrong reasons.

Agile, But not Agile

I am sure that is post of mine would resonate with the readers with respect to that we are Agile, but Not Agile. The best part of the story is that most of the organization in India are doing something or the other in the world of Agile and trying to make their hands dirty with the concept and implementation of Agile.

Not sure if the organizations that have adopted Agile, have done any retrospective on their adoption of Agile, we expect that at the end of the iteration / sprint cycle, the team would perform the retrospective and learn from their practices that needs to be improved. Not sure why the same yard stick is not applied at the organizational level. The management expects all the principles and practices to be applied at the team level, but when it comes to its own application, they have washed their hands off

I am finding it very difficult in India for Agile to be practiced in true spirits, not saying that all organizations can be clubbed together, nor am I trying to paint the town red, but the real story is that in most of the places, I have not observed majority of the Agile Manifesto and Principles adopted and done in the true manner

Most of the people and the Agilist that I have met have given the impression of working with Agile and related stuff with the waterfall mindset. Not sure if the required change would come via this element / approach.

Speaking on the same, Lets discuss one of the principles of Agile …. “Customer and the Development Team should speak daily”, All of the agile methods require that the Customer (in this case the Product Owner) would be based at the same location as that of the team, but this is hardly practiced in real life execution of projects, due to the Onsite / Offshore engagement models, where the product owner is not located in the same location as that of the development team. Have observed practices such as proxy product owner, it is like complicating the matters beyond repairs, If the Proxy PO can do the job, then why have the PO? During my training and consulting with various customers, Have always heard that if we have any query to resolve with respect to the user stories, it is difficult, as we have nobody to bank upon, the queries are delayed, at times information is provided at the eleventh hour. This has its own impact on the quality of the deliverable that we make to the customer.

One of the other major issues faced by team adopting Agile and related elements in India is the changes that come in the sprint after the commitment has been done during sprint planning meeting. It is stated and given that no changes in duration or goals of the sprint, but this is not in place for majority of the organization. Every change has a cost, but agile does not account for this. The result? People often change really big things late in the game using the rationale that since it’s an agile project, it can handle it. This encourages poor and irresponsible planning while hiding its effects. As iterations / sprint continue and the defect list grows, the customer becomes more frustrated—not only because of the lack of quality, but because delivery expectations aren’t being met either. The only way the project can handle this is by adding iterations / sprints. As that happens, defects that might have been easy to fix at one point get harder and harder to fix, since the code base keeps changing.

Remember, the goal is to deliver a quality product on time and to budget; as a rule, there are always some elements that have to be sacrificed to fulfil the needs of the others. It’s the How to Develop Next-Generation Scrum Masters / Agile Project Managers role of the project manager to define and maintain the project priorities so they can function as a decision framework for team members as they carry out their tasks.

Off-late I am in touch with a number of customer, who want to actually redefine the concept of Agile to suit their requirements and needs of working, well I see nothing wrong in this approach, but my recommendation is not qualify that we are following Agile, it is a misnomer, We are giving false impression and views to the world of our capabilities and understanding of Agile

People love certifications in the industry where I work. But when a particular methodology gets popular enough that a certification industry rises around it, organizations try to adopt that methodology without bothering to understand it. It’s as if certification replaces the need for thinking or experimenting. It becomes a check in a box: “We’re certified, therefore we know what we’re doing and you should hire us.” The primary focus becomes figuring out what you need to go to get certified; figuring out ways to actually improve productivity becomes secondary. That’s the problem I have with certification – I’ve seen it happen multiple times (and even been involved in it), but it’s particularly ironic with Agile development.

There’s a reason behind the demand for certification – it’s human nature to want a simple way of discriminating those who know what they’re doing from those who don’t (especially if you don’t either) – so I’m not sure there’s a good solution. In any case, I don’t have a problem with scrum training, just certification.

It high time, that we re-channelize our focus and energy to do the real thing rather than running after pseudo stuff ….. My prediction, Agile has lived its utility (though more than 70% of the IT industry does not implement and practice the way it should be done), We are now waiting for the next BIG wave to come in and that in my view would be DEVOPS