The Scrum Alliance is moving foward with the initial roll out of a post course exam to function as the final requirement in an applicant’s pursuit of the ScrumMaster Certification. Currently approved attendance and active participation in the class is all that is needed to obtain certification, but after October 1st, 2009 the added dimension of passing the exam will be required on top of the other two criteria.
There has been a lot of debt on this topic. The exam requirement was postponed for the second time to be reinstated again within a couple of weeks. Many in the industry have ventured to say the exam issue led to the resignation of the Scrum Alliance President and Chairman of the Board, as well as the dismissal of the Scrum Alliance Managing Director.
The saddest thing about this whole situation is tied to the following question, Is the exam even worth it? I think the exam idea was based on trying to provide a higher level of acceptance for the ScrumMaster certification. That is a very well intended goal. If the Scrum Alliance ultimately seeks ISO/IEC 17024 certification for its certification the exam requirement is a small step in that direction. The problem is the actual execution of the exam requirement is an unnecessary step based on current exam process and rules.
The exam requirement currently allows everyone to pass. This is for the beta period. Once the beta period is completed the exam requirement will still provide the taker multiple opportunities to pass. What is the value of an exam as a gauge of learning if it is basically set up as a guaranteed pass?
The current ScrumMaster certification requirements (without the exam) actually make a lot of sense for Scrum. Scrum proficiency is about practice and repetition it is not about memorization or adherence to a body of knowledge. The current requirements focus on attendance in a class along with active participation. The class is set up with over 50% of the time spent on workshops focused around doing ScrumMaster work. So in essence, a potential ScrumMaster gets hands-on practice in the classroom instead of in a live production environment. Hands-on practice time and actual fulfillment of the work in a live production environment is what makes a ScrumMaster proficient. An exam that shows ability to memorize concepts and rules is not a gauge of proficiency for a ScrumMaster.
The IT industry has long focused on multiple-choice exams as the final requirement in awarding a professional certification. We see technology based certifications like those offered by CompTIA, body of knowledge based certifications like those offered by PMI or IIBA, and product knowledge certifications like those offer by Microsoft and Cisco. Just because this is the norm doesn’t mean it is always the right thing to do. The Scrum Alliance needs to take a long hard look at the exam requirement’s real merit of judging the skills of a ScrumMaster. Based on the art and science mix of skills required to be a successful ScrumMaster in the end an exam is not a proper gauge. A real gauge would be one that focused on a practicum approach, whether it was live test or a situational base simulation. A practicum approach to test the proficiency of someone working in Scrum is much more aligned with what Scrum is all about.