As many of you already know, I am the program lead for the Certified Scrum Coaching (CSC) Program with the Scrum Alliance. As the program lead, it is my responsibility to facilitate the review process, review teams, and review application. While a relatively new program founded in 2007, our numbers are growing each year with now almost 50 Certified Coaches. However, we believe our potential and need in the industry is 10x that number. This article provides some understanding of the CSC Program and guidance for those who wish to apply.
As one of the founders of the program, I am passionate about clients being successful with Scrum. It is my experience that success with Scrum requires education and coaching. Most difficulties in Scrum don't arise from learning the Scrum framework, rather they arise in applying the framework on an existing organizational structure and culture. This requires hands-on experienced guidance, and not just at the team-level, but at the leadership and organizational-level.
In founding the CSC, we sought out to identify and recognize those industry change leaders who have exhibited these mentorship experiences leading to client success with Scrum. We also sought out to raise the bar above the CSM, CSPO and CSP programs. To review, the CSM and CSPO certifications are achieved through education and the CSP certification is achieved through a peer reviewed experience report in applying Scrum for 1 year. In most cases, an effective CSM or CSP becomes a local Scrum coach for the team or few teams they are working with. The CSC certification, on the other hand, requires years of practice (successes and failures) in Scrum at multiple-levels of engagement and leadership within one or more organizations and across numerous teams. A CSC candidate must demonstrate experiences as an organizational change agent working across multiple team and organizational boundaries and levels. In other words, a CSC is an enterprise agile coach.
The CSC Program receives dozens of applications each year from experienced coaches around the world. Overall, only about 40% of the coaches which apply are accepted into the CSC Program. This is not because the CSC is an impenetrable wall protecting those inside, but rather is due to the lack of awareness and understanding of the depth and breadth of Scrum coaching expertise we are expecting from candidates we certify. We expect those with CSM and CSP credentials to be able to coach Scrum teams. And for many, this is the right level of certification for what they do day-to-day within their organization or as a contractor working with client organizations.
If you believe you are one of the few who have the experience and expertise to become a CSC, I want to share with you a few thoughts about the application process and what will be expected of you. I am intending this message will not provide a "cheat sheet" for the application, but rather help to limit applicants to those who have the proper credentials and help those applicants better prepare them for the review process. We want our community to grow, we are just unwilling to sacrifice our standards to do so. That is not to say we think our application process is ideal or perfect - far from it. We know that our application process has limitations, along with issues of objectivity and bias, and we are working towards continuing to improve it with your help. I have articulated six principles below which I encourage you to consider prior to applying.
First, take your time. The CSC Application is difficult and time consuming. People tell us that they spend months (and some years) on the application. We intended for this. Sure, you can fill out the application in a few hours, but you will not pass the certification. As a candidate, we fully expect, and hope, for your own growth through filling out the application. So before you begin filling out the application - take the big picture and plan an agile sprint-based approach to filling it out. Do some "release planning" before you begin - read over all of it, look at the sections, read and understand the context of each section, look at the questions and across the questions in each section, evaluate the prerequisites and what they mean, and treat it like a backlog to be approached over a longer term. Every section and question of the application has a purpose and your understanding of that purpose will not only help you through the review, it will help you be a better coach.
Second, overachieve the CSC prerequisites. The prerequisites are included to create an initial bar to achieve, but achieving them does not mean you will pass the certification. The prerequisites include 1) being an active CSP with years of experience in using Scrum, 2) Three years and 1,500 hours of coaching (not as a ScrumMaster) across multiple teams/organizations, and 3) Scrum community engagement and leadership. We expect CSC candidates to not only have practiced Scrum, but to have practiced and coached Scrum in multiple team, product, project, and organizational environments. Experience comes not from the depth of one experience, but from the depth and breadth of varying experiences. Additionally involvement in the community is more than just posting to discussion groups, it means taking leadership in your local agile community, speaking at conferences and gatherings, writing articles and more in-depth reviews, and collaborating with (and more importantly engaging with) other industry leaders and your CST/CSC peers. In other words, it means becoming a leader and active partner in our community.
Third, demonstrate a trail of learning and mentoring. While the objective of a Scrum coach is to mentor, one of the best ways to be an effective mentor is to have received mentorship yourself. In reviewing candidates, we look for a history of learning and growing through self-direction and work with others. This includes formal education courses, book reading, conferences and gatherings, user group sessions, and engaging in real work with more experienced agile leaders. This includes learning within and outside of Scrum - we look beyond Scrum because that is where the world of the enterprise coach lives - with leaders and organizations. So we look for learning in other dimensions including other agile methods, consulting, mentoring, facilitation, psychology, business, leadership and organizational development. And while there is only one question in the application on your learning and mentoring, it encompasses a world of exploration to master. This is the Shu, Ha Ri of Scrum coaching - learning is never done and we see the CSC as just one step along that learning path.
Fourth, avoid book answers and use your own context. Often times we say "Scrum is easy, implementing it is hard". The same is true with the CSC Application - answering the questions may be done easily by providing generic or book answers, but putting it in the appropriate context to draw out the breadth and depth of your coaching experience and expertise is hard. The CSC Application is the principle product you have to represent yourself in the CSC review process. Thus, the application is a reflection of you, your experience and your approach. And while it may not appear agile to put documentation over collaboration, we believe that a coaches ability to present their ideas clearly and concisely is critical to their ability to communicate and work with clients. Thus, as you are filling out the application, don't just answer the question - put your coaching context and experience into play.
Fifth, be balanced in your answers. Balance is one of those words to live by - balance in diet, exercise, work, play, etc. Balance is a critical success factor for Scrum coaches as well and one of the keys we look for in candidates in both their work with clients and how they present their work in their application. Balancing clear and concise answers with enough context and detail to bring out your own experience, expertise, competencies and approaches will aid you in the review process. We have found that more experienced coaches have the ability to surface the most critical principles with just enough context and support to demonstrate their importance. Less experienced coaches tend to provide either terse responses or ramble through a series of ideas without a clear purpose. This is actually quite easy to see in a review, but very challenging to write in an application because it is a skill learned from years of articulating to clients these same talking points over and over again. Experienced coaches will not only provide this clarity, but also demonstrate a balance in their thought through presenting multiple viewpoints or competing ideas which may both be true. So choose your words carefully and balance clarity, conciseness and context.
Finally, be open for feedback. Einstein is quoted to say "Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them." As to be expected, applicants often react defensively toward negative feedback. As David Rock would say - their status has been threatened and they are responding to protect their self image. Agility is not only for organizations, it applies to people (and coaches) too. We find that the more experienced coaches tend to have a more mature ability to reflect on and reappraise feedback to more quickly move from threat to reward. As an applicant, recognize that reviewers are seeing your application from a different perspective and to better understand their feedback, it often helps to put yourself in their shoes. It is easy to blame the system, the people, and the process, but that doesn't move us forward. Working with us to understand your feedback and help us improve our process while also improving yourself goes a long way. Going back to the third point - demonstrate a trail of learning - it actually shows us a great deal with how you deal with failure.
This concludes the six principles to consider when approaching the CSC application and review process. Some of these principles may required a year or two of work on your behalf to develop the competencies or experience required by the program, the rest require a thoughtful and reflective approach to filling out the application. Visit the Scrum Alliance Coaching Page to review the application requirements further and download your application materials.
What are your thoughts about the CSC and the application process? I am open to your feedback - feel free to comment here or contact me directly - pete at trailridgeconsulting dot com.