Got Your CSM, Now What?

Credential QuestionPerhaps, like 500,000+ other people, you have some form of Certified Scrum Master (CSM) credential and are looking to distinguish yourself and continue your learning journey. Of course, learning is not tied to credentials, many people are anti-certification and that is an understandable choice. I encourage lifelong learning separate from credentials. However, for credential seekers, this article explores some common credential pathways beyond the CSM.

I want to disclose upfront that I have been involved with the development of ICAgile, PMI-ACP, and DSDM Leadership credentials so I likely have some bias and preferences. However, my goal here is not to recommend specific credentials but instead to explain options and environmental factors to consider, helping people make their own choice based on their own situation.

Also, because there are so many credentials available I will undoubtedly miss out many credentials in this discussion, maybe including your favorite or your company’s. This is not meant to be an exhaustive catalogue of agile credentials rather a thinking or discussion tool for getting the research process started. 

How Did You Get Here?

When people ask me what credentials to get next, I ask how they got where they are now. Did they move from software development into a Scrum Master role? Were they previously a PMP certified project manager who took a CSM class to learn a little about Scrum? The answers to questions like these and the next one: “Where Do You Want to Go?” help ground and orient the decision-making process. If we don’t know where we are to begin with, then a map is unlikely to be helpful.

Where Do You Want to Go?

Credentials may be obtained to help secure a new job or promotion. People also seek them to demonstrate understanding of certain topics, and just for personal achievement. All of these motives are valid and help drive the choice of where to go next. If you are pursuing job opportunities then you should research what hiring managers are looking for. Are they asking for PMP, CSP or PMI-ACP credentials? If so then we are narrowing our choices down.

Alternatively, if you are pursuing a credential more for personal learning, then the curriculum is likely more important than recognition by hiring managers. Maybe there is an online program that very few people have ever heard of but it’s a great fit for your learning objectives. If so, be more influenced by content and quality rather than recognition and opportunity.

This sounds basic, but I’m surprised by how many people pursue credentials just because their colleagues did and they don’t want to be left behind, or it was the next course suggested in their company’s training roadmap. Credentials should be for you. Asking questions like: Do you want to strengthen your current role? Do you want to change roles? Do you want to stay at your current organization? All these issues factor into the next steps to take.

Directions from Here

There are a few obvious directions from CSM that include Down Deeper, Upwards and Outwards. By Down Deeper I mean going deeper into Scrum with an Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM), Certified Scrum Practitioner (CSP), or Professional Scrum Master (PSM) credential. These are good options if you want to demonstrate a further commitment and understanding focussed just on Scrum.

Upwards refers to scaling Scrum for large projects, programs, and enterprise transformations. There are several popular Scaling frameworks available including SAFe, Nexus and LeSS. All offer training paths and credentials if that is the direction you want to pursue.

The Outwards direction means broader than just Scrum. Due to the popularity of Scrum people sometimes forget there is a rich wealth of complementary approaches outside of it. Lean, Kanban, Leadership, and Emotional Intelligence are all topics that agile teams can benefit from. Certifications like the PMI-ACP and the ICAgile suite of credentials provide coverage and demonstrate knowledge of these topics. Also, I class Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) here rather than a scaling framework since it is more pragmatic and deals with more than just agile and scaling.

How to Decide: Personal and Environmental Factors?

So, knowing how we got here and a little more about where to go next and why, we can start to create some pathways.  Shown below is a sample flowchart for someone interested in pursuing agile approaches further and wondering what to consider next.

Flow Chart

However, maybe you are not interested in agile and want to pursue risk management further. That is fine, use these personal and environmental factors to create your own framework. Maybe a PMI-RMP (Risk Management Professional) credential fits the bill? My point is that with a wide variety of experiences, goals, motivations and credentials to choose from there will be a huge array of possible decision trees like this.

The purpose of this article is not to recommend a single path for the half a million CSM’s in the workforce, rather explain a framework for evaluating your options. Don’t be pressured by peers or corporate training roadmaps, instead honestly evaluate why you may want to obtain a new credential and then which would best fit your development goals.

[I first wrote this article for here]

The Importance of Focus

Edison BulbI have an old-fashioned Edison bulb desk lamp. It’s to remind me to focus (and because I like steampunk, industrial design). A 40-watt incandescent bulb will barely light a room, but a 40-watt laser can cut through aluminium, leather, and wood. It is the same amount of light energy, just focussed instead of being diffused.

The same principle applies to our attention, work and teams. Diffused and scattered there is not much impact. Focussed and concentrated that energy is very impactful. Removing distractions and focussing on a single deliverable at a time allows us to complete our work faster with fewer defects.

Aligning a team to a common vision and purpose directs their energy towards it. No longer diffused to fulfil a dozen competing demands, effort is channelled to the shared goal. Distractions come in many forms. Fancy tools, cool architecture, requests from different groups. If we do not pay attention to focus, our laser beam team becomes an Edison bulb, it is busy and glowing, but not very effective.

So, be cautious of distractions. Monitor time and energy directed to the project goal compared to energy directed to peripheral activities. Work life is like a greased pole with a 40-watt Edison bulb at the bottom and a 40-watt laser at the top. We must always be striving upwards to focus because as we relax we slide down towards distraction.

(Also visible in the picture is my “Do The Work” Post-it. another reminder to focus and a pointer to work on the same topic by Seth Godin and Stephen Pressfield. I guess I could get a 40-watt laser too, but that would scorch the cat rather than amuse it. Plus yes, it is snowing here and yes, my windows are old)

Inverted Classrooms

Inverted Classroom 2My last article on why We Should All be Learners explained how today’s knowledge worker projects are all about learning effectively. This article explains how new technology can deliver a more effective and enjoyable learning experience.  So, whether you are studying for your PMP credential, cramming on blockchain technology, or learning conversational Spanish, blended learning is something you should be aware of.

Blended learning combines online resources with in-person instruction. Both approaches have been available for many years, but their combination has recently given rise to what’s called Inverted Classroom Model that is both new and very effective.

If you have ever experienced painfully slow or incomprehensibly fast lectures, or the problems of trying to coordinate group activities outside of class then blended learning with an inverted classroom model might be just the ticket.  It works like this:

Lecture materials are made available online outside of class time and people consume them at their own pace, whenever they like. If you already know something, just skip it, if its difficult or mind-boggling pause it, repeat it, or access additional resources. You control the delivery speed of lessons, how much time you dedicate to it, and you also control when you consume it. So, if you are an early bird use the mornings, a night owl then use the evenings, it's all up to you.

Then, and here’s the clever part, during class when lectures would normally be delivered, this time is used for assignments and group exercises.  So, you attend lectures at home and do homework in class. It is all reversed – hence the inverted classrooms name.

Inverted Classroom

This brings several advantages. Students move at their own pace, on their own timetable. Also, instead of classes being spent on passive listening, they are now dedicated to active work which is more engaging and enjoyable. Trying or organize group work outside of class when people are busy can be a logistical nightmare, now everyone should be available to take part in group work during the regularly scheduled class times.

In addition, the instructor is available to facilitate group work if needed and shift their focus from getting through the material at the appropriate speed to helping students in the areas they need. It is important that people still get face to face time to interact with peers and the instructor. However, in the inverted classroom model, that time is spent applying knowledge not trying to absorb it at a standardized delivery pace.

The approach is not without its own challenges. The technology for consuming material online must be effective and easy to access. Instructors and students must also buy-in to their new roles. Students are now curators of their own content consumption and need to make sure they have understood the required topics before showing up to the next class, whether it took them 2 hours or 20.

Instructors must also switch roles, moving from narrator of wisdom to facilitator of group activities, troubleshooter, and coach. They also need to make sure the students really are consuming the course materials, not just turning up to class and coasting a free-ride on their peers. Good content management systems can track content consumption and test basic recall with tests and quiz questions.

When the technology is in place and roles understood, blended learning and the inverted classroom model can deliver a very engaging and enjoyable way of learning a new topic. It combines Goldilocks pace (not too slow, not too fast) along with engaging group activities without the logistics issue of scheduling busy learners. So, for that next credential or must-have skill, you may want to investigate a blended learning environment with an inverted classroom model.

[I first wrote this article for under the title Flipped Classrooms here]

We Should All Be Learners

LearnersKnowledge work is learning work.” That was the message delivered by Dianna Larson’s keynote presentation at the Agile on The Beach conference held in Falmouth, England earlier this Summer. Dianna explained that anyone involved in today’s collaborative, problem-solving projects such as new product development need to be learners. We all need to learn how to learn new topics effectively and get used to lifelong learning to stay useful and relevant.

Technology evolution and disruptive business changes are happening at such a high rate now that we can no longer rely on the theories and techniques we gained at university to see us through our professional careers. Instead, we must learn on the job and in our own time to stay current. How much we learn and how quickly we can learn new skills become our competitive advantage.

“Learning is not compulsory… neither is survival.” – W. Edwards Deming

By learning new skills, we increase our adaptability and usefulness in the marketplace. It creates resiliency to becoming obsolete and provides more career options. Like many things, this is not a zero-sum game; it is not just about us learning things faster than other people to stay employed. If we can increase our team’s ability to learn also, it will be more successful and so will our organization.

For on-job learning to occur, we need three attributes:

  1. Courage
  2. Compassion
  3. Confidence

To be effective leaders and help promote learning in our teams and organizations, we must embrace and model these desired behaviors:

1. Courage: It takes courage to be okay with not knowing something. It takes courage to be wrong and fail as we try to gain and apply new skills. It requires a willingness to be curious and a willingness to tolerate the messiness of trial and error that comes from learning. So check your ego at the door, get over yourself and admit what you do not (yet) know.

2. Compassion: We need a safe space to learn. Also (and this is a surprise to some people), the transparency of showing what we do not know is motivating to others. When leaders learn out loud, it creates compassion toward them. So, create a secure place for people to learn on your projects. Provide psychological safety and encourage learning by doing it yourself in public.

Since we learn in the direction we ask questions, we should frame work as a series of learning problems, not execution problems. For example, instead of explaining the task of porting a system from .NET to Android, explain that our success is linked to our ability to learn Xamarin, our selected tool to port .Net to Android. Clearly explaining we want people to learn new skills is often the approval enabler they need to dedicate themselves to being more useful.

3. Confidence: We need confidence to try and we need to understand our confidence levels. When we learn anything new of significance, our confidence will likely move through the stages depicted in the Satir Change Curve. Think about when you learned to drive, play a musical instrument or learn a foreign language. First, our confidence is high at the prospect of gaining independence, becoming a rock star or traveling with ease. This is illustrated by the initial high score of confidence/comfort at point 1 on the graph below:


Then we start our learning and we quickly realize that driving, playing the guitar or learning Spanish is difficult and we are not as good at it as we are at all the familiar things we do every day. This is the confusion/loss period of the Satir Change Curve shown as point 2. Many adults who have not had to learn significant new skills for many years find this very uncomfortable.

Next, comes the “groan zone” of turmoil and despair, where some days go well and some days go bad and you seem to be moving backwards (point 3). Understanding that this is perfectly normal is a great relief for many learners. It is helpful to just point to the graph and explaining it is okay to feel bad because they are in the turmoil/despair phase of learning a new skill, and it will be followed by growth and confidence if they just stick with it.

Finally, with perseverance and practice, we acquire the new knowledge or skill and our confidence and comfort rises above our original level (point 4) along with our usefulness.

Learning and the need to learn are not identifiers of a junior employee anymore. They are the hallmarks of the professional knowledge worker. We need to move beyond the stigma of not knowing all the answers and embrace the learning path that comes with not knowing, making mistakes and asking for help.

When leaders model the learning mindset of curiosity and the courage to learn out loud, they pave the way for faster organizational learning and increased competitive advantage.

[I wrote this article first for here]