Improve your Team or Get a Silver Person?

June 7, 2007 — Posted by Al Shalloway

What do I mean by a silver person? Well, that's the Scrum Alliance version of a silver bullet.

Net Objectives is one of the biggest Scrum training providers in the world. We have one trainer who estimates he's trained 350 people at one company in Scrum over the last couple of years. None of this training is ScrumMaster Certification training, however. Why? Because why would a company need 350 ScrumMasters? They need 350 Scrum team members. Doing CSM training for all of them is comparable to sending all team members to PM training. Kind of like a football team. Do you send everyone to a school to teach everyone how to coach? Or do you send them to a school where they all learn how to play football? Tobias Mayer, a former CST, writes about this in a blog entry in July 2006 as well "The Problem With CSM Courses".

But people are clamoring to become a CSM. Why? Because it sounds good. Why does management agree to this? Because it sounds easy (and less expensive). Get one person trained (be a CSM), bring them back, and voila! my team can do Scrum. Wow! What a deal! I don't need a silver bullet, I have my silver person. My one solution to my team's process and challenges!

Of course, it's not that easy. One person isn't going to change a team's behavior. It's doubly ironic that this approach is so strongly endorsed by a group that claims Scrum's success is because of the team. OK, why isn't this going to work if so many experts claim it will?! Well, two main reasons. The person who becomes a CSM probably won't be able to teach Scrum to the team. Being a PM or a CSM does not necessarily give one the skill to be a good trainer/educator. It is very likely that if he/she tries to teach what Scrum is to the team, the amount of knowledge lost will be enormous. If the person just tries to lead the team without them understanding Scrum, then he/she will have to tell the team what to do! So much for self-directed teams. I'd go so far as to say it's an oxymoron to attempt to start Scrum (a team-centric approach) with an individually led approach where the team has not been led. And if you train them all as ScrumMasters, then you are giving them the wrong training.

At Net Objectives, we take a different approach than training one person to lead the team or sending the entire team to ScrumMaster training. OK, sorry if this is sounding like a sales pitch and not a blog entry. What I'm trying to do is to wake up many of those who are out there to re-think what they need to do to take their team to Scrum. Anyway, we believe that learning Scrum requires a team approach. Because of this, it is important to get the team involved. That's why we offer Implementing Scrum For Your Team as our main Scrum course. This way, your team learns what to do - instead of counting on one member knowing what to do. We, of course, also offer CSM training, but not very often to companies. Our experience has shown that companies don't really need this very often.

I remember one case where we even refused to offer CSM training that was requested and told them we would only offer them our team course. We are usually not this heavy handed, but in this case it was clear (they were training 2 overseas teams) that team training was needed. Fortunately, they stuck with us instead of a company offering only CSM training. If you are going to get CSM training, at least get it from a company that can offer both team or individual training - then you'll know you're getting an honest proposal. Whoops, that did sound like a sales pitch (sorry! :) )

In our opinion, if you have a team that wants to learn Scrum, take one of these approaches:

  • Bring a Scrum team course to your site
  • Find a really good Scrum coach and have them interject some training of what Scrum is to your team while they work with your team for a few weeks

In either case, send one or two people to ScrumMaster training or find a good team leader to be your ScrumMaster as being a good ScrumMaster is not that difficult for natural leaders. You'll find that both of these choices is less expensive and much more productive than paying $1200 for each team member to attend a two day Certified ScrumMaster course.

My point is, if you want to transition your team to Scrum, transition the team, not an individual.

BTW: If you really need 30+ CSMs, please give me a call! :) Heck, give me a call if you just have a team to transition to Scrum. We're happy either way - as long as it's the right training for you!

Alan Shalloway

CEO, Net Objectives


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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With 45 years of experience, Al is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, Scrum and agile design. He helps companies transition to Lean and Agile methods enterprise-wide as well teaches courses in these areas.


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