ScrumMaster and ZenMaster: The joke of certification

Many people object to ScrumMaster certifications:

  1. It’s a money making machine
  2. Scrum Masters do not learn anything during classes
  3. The certification is nothing worth – because nothing is certified

I have been a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) and a Scrum practioner for some years. People who object to the certification do see it from the wrong angle. You need to understand Zen to understand the goodness in CSMs.

Creative Commons License photo credit: darkpatator

Certification is a Zen joke, because the role of a ScrumMaster cannot be certified. It’s not about knowing some technical questions. What should a trainer certify in such a class? That you can lead an agile Scrum team as a ScrumMaster? No one can certify the fact that you’re a leader, catalyst and enabler. You either are or you aren’t. Zen masters (ha, another master without a master!) would laugh at the fun in the ScrumMaster certification. They laugh about the idea of certifying enlightenment.

Scrum without ScrumMasters

As another parallel, both in Scrum and in Zen, masters are only enablers. They are not needed after the act of enabling Zen/Scrum. My Scrum trainer told me, the goal of a ScrumMaster is to make himself obsolete. There is a Zen koan which goes like this:

If you meet the Buddha, kill him.
— Linji

If you see a ScrumMaster, kill him. Zen tells you:

If you are thinking about Buddha, this is thinking and delusion, not awakening. One must destroy preconceptions of the Buddha. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki wrote in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind during an introduction to Zazen, “Kill the Buddha if the Buddha exists somewhere else. Kill the Buddha, because you should resume your own Buddha nature.”

If you think the ScrumMaster is Scrum, you’re delusioning yourself. In Scrum the product owner and the scrum team can, and should from my view, act by themselves, without the need of a ScrumMaster. The ScrumMaster helps them achieve their Scrum. Helps them overcoming initial obstacles in their productivity.

Kick your ScrumMaster
If the ScrumMaster is not good enough for them, certification and coaching inside the company hasn’t helped, the Scrum team has always the right to kick their SM if he isn’t good enough for them. And they should do so. If in Zen a master isn’t good, pupils will just leave him. This might lead to problems within the organization, especially if the ScrumMaster is their boss, but that should be the problem of the organization, not a team problem.

Practitioner certification

There are many more certifications from the Scrum alliance. If you dig deeper, the real fun part is that CSM doesn’t mean anything, practitioner means much more:

The practitioner level of certification (CSP) is only offered to those CSMs who have hands-on experience using Scrum. Applicants must complete an extensive questionnaire with probing questions that focus on applicants’ real-world experience using Scrum on software development projects. Their application is reviewed for answers demonstrating competence and comprehension of principles that can only result from hands-on work. The applicant may be questioned to determine eligibility. To maintain CSP status, you must submit a new application every two years.

Is the certification any use?

Yes. The Certified Scrum Master training has several merits:

  1. Calling the Scrum training “Certified” guaranties the quality of the trainer
  2. It motivates the Scrum master to think in Scrum
  3. If managers take part, it helps the organisation adopt a “we can do it” view about Scrum
  4. Certification (CSM) seems to be one of the main reasons for Scrum success in the enterprise. The certification makes Scrum compatible for managment.

The view about acceptance is shared by Peter Stevens:

It is also about branding, and has been quite successful. The acceptance of the CSM program is high (especially from corporate customers, and this is where the money is). I believe the CSM program is an important reason why Scrum is better accepted than say, XP, in corporate management circles.

Scrum is successful. I’ve seen it help development departments gain productivity. If you do not scrum yet, go for it.

Sharding destroys the goals of your relational database

Sharding does destroy your relational database – which is a good thing. The idea behind sharding is to distribute data to several databases based on certain criterias. This could for example be the primary key. All entities that keys begin with 1 go to one database, with 2 to another and so on (often modulo functions on the key are used, or groups based on business data like customer location, or function). Several reasons exists for sharding, the main two being better performance and lower impact of crashed databases – only persons with a name that starts with S will be affected by a database crash.

Relational databases were the tool of choice for several decades when it comes to data storage. But they do more than store data. Even reading operations can be split into several functions. There are at least three kinds of database read queries:

  • Data graph building queries: With these you get your data out of the database, customers together with adresses etc.
  • Aggregation queries: How many orders have been stored in the August, aggregated by product category
  • Search queries: Give me all customers who live in New York

Sharding now does away with the second and third query and reduces databases to data storage. Because the shards are different databases on different systems you can’t aggregate queries (compared to a cluster) without custom code across systems and you cannot search with one query (only several ones – one to each database). Databases have lead to the notion that search and retrieval are linked together and should be dealt together. Most people think as retrieval and search as the same thing. This has blocked development on technologies. Sharding, S3, Dynamo, Memcached have changed this preception recently. I’ve written about splitting search and retrieval in “The unholy legacy of databases”. There I quote Rickard from Qi4j fame:

Entities are really cool. We have decided to split the storage from the indexing/querying, sort of like how the internet works with websites vs Google, which makes it possible to implement really simple storages. Not having to deal with queries makes things a whole lot easier.

and have concluded

Free your mind! Storage and search are two different things, if you split them, you gain flexibility.

People talked about splitting storage and search for some time now. Search engines like Lucene have driven searching out of databases. But mainly the notion of store&search is prevalent. Sharding as a mechanism for more perfomance and lower risk will move into many web companies and reduce databases to storage mechanism and drop the aggreation (data warehouse and reporting) and search parts. Those can be better filled with real data warehouse servers like Mondrian and search services based on Lucene or semantic enginse like Sesame. And storage might move from databases to simple storages like Amazon Elastic Block Storage or JDBM.

Thanks for listening, and think about your databases.