"Larger enterprises are where we see the struggles with agile, especially well-established and legacy enterprises who are trying to shift to a more agile way of doing things. It's difficult to work around entrenched hierarchies and let go of a command-and-control mindset," Staples says. In these cases, certifications can be valuable, because often teams and IT leadership will listen more closely if they feel they need “expert” advice, Staples says.
One such example is SAFe, or Scaled Agile Framework. SAFe provides a roadmap and best practices for adopting agile at an enterprise scale, and SAFe certifications cover every aspect of agile at scale, from architecture, integration, funding, governance and roles.
"We are really bullish on SAFe. SAFe certification, for us, is practically foolproof in that people cannot get certified unless they pass all the courses, prove proficiency with hands-on practicums and really demonstrate the knowledge in real-world situations. It's not an easy path, and showing that commitment and the mastery is really impressive," Staples says.
Any agile certification that doesn't require candidates to have some kind of hands-on, practical training or testing is detrimental, not just for the candidates, but for organizations that hire them and for the software development field in general, says Dave West, product owner at Scrum.org, which provides professional assessments, training in scrum and agile principles and certifications.
"You don't want agile practitioners who've never actually practiced agile being able to go in and take a test and then come out with just a paper credential. That doesn't help anyone and it degrades the profession and the methodology. There really has to be some component of hands-on training and proof that, when you're down in the nitty-gritty of development, that you can apply the methodology effectively, that you have a background in storytelling, or with Lean, or Kanban or pure agile or XP -- whatever your chosen flavor of agile is," West says.
And when it comes down to it, certification or not, the most important indicator of an IT pro's agile acumen are those real-world, proven, demonstrable results, says Staples.
"When we see a certification, like a certified scrum master on a resume, we say, oh, that's great, but we also want candidates to prove it to us. We ask a lot of tough, in-the-weeds questions that show us they can 'do agile' in practice, not just in theory. It can be a problem if people can come in with a paper credential, and then not be able to perform in a real-world situation. And that, in my mind, is a crime," Staples says.
That said, it’s helpful to have working knowledge of some common agile certifications, whether you’re still considering a move to an agile methodology or you’re already on your way. But remember — just as certification doesn’t guarantee that a candidate is proficient in agile, hiring professionals with certification credentials doesn’t automatically make your organization agile, says Doucette.
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