Monthly Archives: May 2017

Scrum Master Certifications – Two Cents from an Agile Coach

“Which Scrum Master Certification should I get?” That was the question I got just a week ago. This lead to a good conversation with the person asking, and this blog post is based on our conversation and my answer. What do you think?

To answer “which should I get,” one might first ask “Is it worth getting a certification?” There are two ways I want to explore this topic. One facet is financial the other is more intrinsic. First, some companies require a certification before they consider a candidate for a position. This is a lazy way to screen candidates. It’s like requiring a 4-year college degree as a litmus test that prospective candidates must pass, even if the job doesn’t really need a four-year degree. Hopefully some day we will have more enlightened hiring practices. Until then, however, we’re stuck with the game. The other way to look at it is about how well going through the certification process can position you for the role. There can be a lot of indirect value in the learning that comes from preparing to take the exam.

Here is my perspective on the four certifying bodies we talked about: Scrum Alliance,, PMI, and

Scrum Alliance

Scrum Alliance issues the Certified Scrum Master (CSM), Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), and other “Certified Scrum *” certifications. To take these exams, you must to take a two-day class from a Certified Scrum Trainer (CSD), and then take the exam. The cost of one exam attempt is included in the cost of taking the training. Cost of training varies from one trainer to another. Certifications have to be renewed periodically. I think that cost might be about $100 every two years, or something in that neighborhood.

There is a vast difference in the quality of CSTs. Some have deep knowledge and communicate well, and others are more style than substance. When people ask me about CSTs, I always recommend spending the extra money and going to one of Mike Cohn’s training courses. He’s not the least expensive option out there, but his experience and ability to communicate is excellent.

From an employer perspective, I see CSM as the most asked-for certification when I see position descriptions for Scrum Masters or Scrum Coaches. So, from a “get a job” perspective, I’d put this one at the top of the list. was formed by a couple of the founders of Scrum. They offer “Professional Scrum….” Certificates. For example, Professional Scrum Master level 1, 2, and 3 are certifications that are offered. Unlike the Scrum Alliance certification, you can take the exams without taking a training class at all. There are study guides available on the web site. The PSM 1 certification exam cost is $500. There is no requirement to renew these certifications.

If you want to attend training in preparation for the exam, you can certainly do that. There are certified trainers that can deliver training from a standard set of materials made available by Admittedly, I am conflicted about where you should get the training, since my employer, AgileThought, provides the training. However, at this time, AgileThought does not have a public training class offered. Should you have a group of folks in your company who would like to get trained, we can arrange to have a trainer come to your business.


The Project Management Institute (PMI) issues the PMI-ACP certification. This certification requires that you have a certain number of hours of agile project experience (2,000 hours of general project experience, an additional 1,500 hours on agile project teams), plus 21 hours of training in agile practices. The training that I provided at Zillion could be counted toward your 21 contact hours, although I didn’t look into exactly how to document those training hours. For non-PMI members, the cost is $495, so very comparable to the PSM 1 certification.

This is one of the lesser known options. Honestly, I know relatively little about it. Without having looked at the Scrum Body of Knowledge (SBOK), I’d think it might have good reference information in it. That said, since the scrum master-related certification from costs almost as much as the one from or the PMI-ACP, I would be inclined toward either the or PMI-ACP, since they are more recognized in the industry. It’s not to say that the education you will get from one or the other is better or worse, but if the goal is recognition in the industry, I would put the one from scrum study at the bottom of my list.


I feel like you could really start with any of these and do well. My opinion is that the test has the lower barrier to entry. By that, I mean you don’t have to document the thousands of hours required by PMI to take their exam. And, you don’t have to attend a two day class like you would for CSM. If I were pursuing a certification on my own, I think I would start with certification.

If the company I worked for were paying for the time and the exam, I would probably get a CSM from Scrum Alliance, and I would try to attend a class given by Mike Cohn. Of course, that is if all the costs of attendance and travel were covered by my company. I got my CSM from Mike Cohn several years ago, and really respect him as a trainer.

As for the PMI-ACP, I have heard that the preparation is valuable. I’m not sure what the market demand for that is, but I could see an organization that values PMP certification also being interested in PMI-ACP.


The best “certification” I can think of is a personal reference from a trusted source. No piece of paper will replace this. As a person looking to step into that role, look to connect with others in the agile community. Seek out opportunities to build your experience base and allow others to see what you can do. Demonstrating competence of the material, as well as the ability to apply the knowledge in an engaging way, is much more valuable than a piece of paper that says you sat in class and/or passed a written test.

What are your thoughts? Comment on the post below….

Slack Tips for Agile Teams

Image result for slack iconIt seems like Slack is becoming the default chat tool for both distributed teams and collocated teams. This really astounded me. There was a time not long ago where I hated slack. Yes, I hated it. The signal-to-noise ratio was awful. There was no value to it that I could see. Zero. I couldn’t figure out why some of my friends used it. So I asked. And I kept asking.

For folks who used it, Slack seemed to be a simple way to connect to teammates. I get that it is a chat client, but I already have Outlook, Skype for Business, texting on my phone, and any number of other tools for communicating. What value could yet another channel create? It seemed like yet another damn place to go try to figure out what was going on. Frustrating.

When I asked about the signal-to-noise issue, they would tell me about configuring alerts for specific topics of interest to them. So, granted, I can configure alerts to get alerts on keywords that I’m interested in, and I can turn off alerts. That approach can help to amplify the signal and dampen the noise of the communication. Baby steps.

But since those frustrating times, Slack has grown on me. What really changed for me was having a client that set a really good example of how to use Slack. Here are some of the lessons I learned and want to share with you:

Lessons Learned

Use Channels Effectively

The company set up channels for individual teams, channels for build servers to post test results to, and even channels for communicating about lunch plans. If people were interested in a topic, they could join the appropriate channel. No interest? Don’t join the channel. Just like you cannot expect to be part of every conversation in the office and not feel overwhelmed, don’t feel a need to be in every Slack communication. Let go of the desire to be engaged in every Slack message.

Use Slack Integrations

If you’re going to use a tool, get the most out of it. You can have up to 10 integrations in the free version of Slack. Some integrations can be useful, and others are mostly for fun. Here are a couple apps that we have added and have been getting used:
/Giphy – Add fun animated GIF to your chat. You can type “really?”, but doesn’t a brown puppy shaking its head convey so much more emotion? For those concerned about whether the GIF might be NSFW, you can configure the rating of the GIFs that are returned. Don’t fear the HR people. Well, at least don’t fear them because of Giphy.

/Donut – This randomly pairs people up each week for coffee. I’ve found this to be an excellent way to connect with remote colleagues I might not otherwise engage with during the work week. If you’re collocated, you can go somewhere and get coffee. With my distributed team, we hold an impromptu video call to have coffee and catch up.

Remember it is Temporary

Slack’s free tier of service provides capabilities that might meet all your needs. An interesting feature of the free tier is that it preserves the 10,000 most recent messages. So, with any meaningful level of use, you will hit that limit. For $7/user/month (billed annually) Slack removes this limitation and allows you to search an unlimited number of messages in your video archive.

Before you open your wallet to pay, consider this: do you take minutes and archive the conversation at the watercolor, lunch, or happy hour? Do you document the hallway conversation you have with a teammate? If you do, grab your wallet. If not, the free Slack tier is good enough for you. Shifting your mindset from thinking of Slack as an archive of decisions to thinking of it as a temporary conversation space really changed how I viewed the message limit. Be OK with the fact that it is a tool for conversations, not a tool for documenting decisions.

If you make a decision by chatting in Slack, use your system(s) of record to preserve the conclusion. If you clarify a User Story, add it to the Story. If you find a document needs updating, update the document. Troubleshooting a bug? Fix the bug.  Make it safe for the conversation history to be lost.

Pin Items

Even though Slack may only hold messages temporarily, some of the messages may be more valuable than others. For those messages that you want easily accessible, Slack provides the “Pin….” option. On can click on the “…” button and select “Pin to <channel name>”

Now, when a user visits a channel, they have the option of viewing those pinned items in a sidebar. This is a very convenient way to see the more important messages.

Send Notifications When Needed

Slack allows notifications using the “@” command. If you want to notify everyone who is currently active, start your message with “@here” followed by a space and your message. Start your message with “@channel” followed by a space and your message to notify the whole channel about a message.  You can use these notification options to alert your team to more valuable or urgent messages in Slack. That said, don’t be “the boy who cried wolf” and over-use the @here or @channel mentions.

Use the Call Feature

Communication via text can be convenient. I also find that people use text chat because it feels less emotionally risky. That said, sometimes it is just not an effective or sufficient mode of communication. Arguably the most effective form of communication is face-to-face. That is true whether you are collocated in an office, or half a world away. If you are in the same office, walk to the person you’re wanting to talk to. If you’re working with a remote colleague, view their profile and click the “Call” button, turn your camera on, and start a video call. It might feel awkward at first, but the reward is worth the risk.

Configure Slack on All Your Devices

Slack is available for so many platforms (Mac, Windows, iOS, Android…) that I found it valuable to make sure I had all my Slack Teams on all my devices; each computer, iPhone, iPad. This solved the problem of not realizing that I’d missed updates from the Hack Michiana, a Code for America Brigade, when I was away from my non-work computer.

Slack Magic Link

Get a Magic Link for logging in. It is easier than remembering passwords.

“But typing in the passwords to use on a bunch of devices is a pain in the butt,” you might say. I agree. To make that pain more tolerable, use the “Get a Magic Link” option when signing in. When you are adding a team to a device, you enter the team URL. Then, you enter the email address you used to sign up for that team and click the “Get a Magic Link” button to get a one-time-use e-mail sent to me for signing in. Poof! No more remembering complex passwords and typing them in.

Benefits of using Slack

Open Communication

Slack’s biggest benefit, for me, is that it allows a “public” conversation to take place amongst the team, and allows individuals to contribute how they see fit. No longer are inboxes getting filled with communication that they may or may not need to know about.

Reduced Email

Speaking of inboxes, you can really reduce the amount of e-mail sent and read. I recently wrapped up a client engagement where the whole company used slack. I no longer suffered through reading all the new messages only to figure out if I should care about their contents or not. And, I didn’t have to get hit with all the unfounded “reply to all” email. One side-effect of this, however, was that at times someone would say “did you see my e-mail?” In fact, it was rather interesting to see how much my communication mode shifted to Slack, and how much more effective it was for getting prompt responses.

Virtually Unlimited Options

There are so many integrations for Slack that can help to streamline communication. In addition to fun tools like Giphy, or tools to facilitate team member engagement like Donut, there are tools for voting on options. There are integrations for your calendar app to facilitate setting up meetings. And, if you don’t like those integrations and are inclined toward writing your own, there is an API that can open up a world of new possibilities. Search through the available apps and integrations and find ones that you want to try. Many are free.

A Starting Point

Because my client used Slack, that meant I was expected to use Slack during the engagement. And, I feel a responsibility to gain some level of proficiency with the software tools I use. After all, what’s the point of having a tool and not knowing how to make it work for you?

Since Slack was now part of my daily responsibilities, I found it easier to be in tune with other Slack teams on which I have been either lurking or neglecting. I’m not only got in tune with my client’s Slack, but many other Teams in Slack that I belonged to It is simple to get started with Slack. If you’re curious about Slack here’s what I would recommend.

  1. Start with the free tier of Slack service.
  2. Set up your Team in Slack.
  3. Invite your team members.
  4. Chat freely.
  5. Add some integrations. Try them out.
  6. Use “@” mentions of user names to pull people into the conversation.
  7. Allow members to add channels and experiment with what might work for them.
  8. Don’t try to control the Team with burdensome policies.

The reason I say to not try to try to control Slack is that if rules and regulations about how people use Slack, there is nothing to stop people from setting up their own Slack Team for free and communicating with a subset of the team in their own Slack Team.

In conclusion, if you are curious about Slack, try it. Try the tips from earlier, and see how you like it.

What has been your experience with Slack? Do you have tips you’d like to share? Please feel free to comment on this post.