Certified Agile Leader (CAL) Training Review

I am a cynic. My cynicism is sometimes aggressive in nature. When I heard this year the Scrum Alliance was rolling out a new “Agile Leadership Certification“, I nearly had steam rolling off my bald head. I struggle with the idea of telling a relative n00b that they are a Scrum Master after two days, but really took pause with the idea that someone would be anointed an Agile Leader after 2.5-3 days. I considered the approach toxic and yet another certification for the Scrum Alliance to charge for; so I was not a fan when Brian Rabon rolled out the program in Orlando at the Scrum Gathering.  (The rest of Brian’s keynote was pure brilliance!)

However, when Don MacIntyre told me he was offering one of the very first CAL courses, I decided to attend.  Don is my professional mentor, a practicing enterprise agile coach, and someone I respect a lot in our industry.  My thinking was simple; I got to spend 2 days of focused time with a man I deeply respect and get to interface with some local Agile leaders – the fact it was a Scrum Alliance certifying session was not a deciding factor for me at all.

The training session was this past week, and I have a totally different view of the courseware now.

Certified Agile Leadership from Pete Behrens on Vimeo.

First, either the Scrum Alliance did a horrible job of defining the problem this content was meant to solve or I totally misunderstood the heavy marketing material.  I was under the impression this certification program was for established agile practitioners to advance their agile-ness; a pseudo-MBA for agile.  I was wrong.  Second, having been through the training I think presenting/marketing this as a certification training is a short-sighted approach.

I was under the impression this certification program was for established agile practitioners to advance their agile-ness; a pseudo-MBA for agile.  I was wrong.

The persona most aptly served by this content is either the traditional leader that is looking to enter an agile transformation, or a leader of an organization that has gone through an agile transformation.  But the connective tissues for the persona are twofold: leadership level and that did not come up through the agile practitioner journey.  As a practitioner, there is less value than there would be for the leader described.  The value proposition for the agile practitioner is reduced because most of the content reaffirms the principles we already believe in and look to coach into organizations.  For the executive, however, there are huge upsides to attending:

  • First, the instructors appear to be selected based on industry pedigree (I commend the Scrum Alliance on this, and hope they continue this path).  Don, for example, has lead transformations or been an executive at Lockheed Martin, Monster.com, the DoD, NASA, Hewitt Packard and more.  Having this high exposure creates instant resonance with the leaders entering the training.
  • The prerequisite content is a learning catalyst.  The course has to be a minimum of 2.5 days or greater.  My training had the prerequisite of reading the scrum guide, gaining familiarity with the agile manifesto and the agile principles, as well as a preparation exercise that forces learners to be prepared to share experiential data with the class.
  • Core learning objectives – below are the core learning objectives of the CAL.  It creates an interesting intersection of emergent lean and agile theory, recent organizational behavior science positioned against the traditional Taylorism management theory that sadly is still prevalent today:
  • Cohort/experiential learning was hands down the best aspect of this training.  Sharing transformation stories, successful and failed, created a cohort-based relationship with my peers in the room.  I made some amazing connections that I plan to keep going forward.  I can only imagine the power of the experiential sharing if the class were constructed of leaders all from one organization.  The clashing of ideas would be a fun sight to behold.
  • Outside services mentioned in the session are hugely helpful to organizations of scale.  In particular, Don shared the value of the Leadership Agility 360 assessment program.  I was lucky enough to experience this program first hand and share the perspective that most/all leaders should regularly participate in such reviews and make the action plans part of their own personal accountability KPIs.

Overall, I did draw some learning and a positive attitude from the course.  I believe that is a win.  I also plan to take this experience to my corporate leadership as I think there is huge value for the Director level and above to be exposed to how more modern organizational patterns actually drive better strategic and financial outcomes.  As coaches, we should look for paths that accelerate learning and agile adoption, and helping to craft the minds of the leadership level to be aligned with agile principles does just that.

I remain a cynical man.  I stand firm that the Scrum Alliance should not have rolled this out as a certification.  Zero percent of the people that can benefit from this learning give a damn about a certification.  This would have been better positioned as a leadership program or part of an endorsed transformation approach or similar.  The certification aspect still feels gross to me, but the message is much stronger.  That said, I now have CAL on my resume 🙂