Does Certification Always Equal Excellence?

In today’s workplace, the need to keep skills sharp is crucial to maintaining your professional edge. With the rapid, ever-evolving pace of technology influencing changes in business processes and operational trends, professionals responsible for development and delivery have quickly embraced the need to become certified in their respective fields. But does certification always equal delivering excellence?

Certification Marketplace

Over the last ten years, the number of certifications has exploded. There are certifications ranging from security and project management to Agile and networking — all with multiple levels in each area. The certification marketplace has also increased exponentially, with several major organizations in the field. Certifications usually require people to show a certain amount of experience in their field, take some level of standardized testing, and attend a set of classes. The marketplace has also spawned additional areas that may supplement certification, such as coaching, mentoring, and facilitation. While certification is indeed valuable, specializing in one area should be balanced with taking an overall view of organizational needs.

Pros and Cons of Certification

An individual and a company can realize specific benefits from certifications. For starters, the individual often receives a morale boost once obtaining the certification. The employee can see a tangible improvement in his or her career, and that usually translates to a more productive worker. The employee can then show employers and potential employers that he or she has been successful in achieving a certain level in a given field. On the flip side, the company receives a more knowledgeable and productive employee. However, the company sometimes suffers a level of turnover when an employee receives a certification and then leaves for greener pastures.

Training companies and certification bodies have yet to address a number of challenges, such as quality of training that can differ greatly from supplier to supplier. This difference in training approaches and techniques by vendors results in certified professionals that present clients with inconsistent directions, abilities, and learnings. The critical ability to apply real-world experience to enhance the certification value for the business can be lacking.

Does Certification Equal Excellence?

If we are trying to determine whether certification always equals excellence, the short answer is no. However, there is one defining issue that companies and individuals must realize once they receive certification: They must transform their mindset from passive to active. This move from passive to active means that the newly certified must adhere to the approach of continuous improvement. Continuous improvement takes the stance that business must not be static on how it produces “product” but must constantly look at better ways to make their products.

There are some commonly held certifications in the Agile and project management fields. Some certifications focus on the enterprise, such as portfolio and program designations. These enterprise certifications help new certificate holders provide more value to enterprises. However, these certifications must still teach to not only deploy these practices but to make them sensibly fit into a specific business.

This shift encompasses a few aspects, like being more active in how projects are executed and understanding how to provide greater value for a company, client, or customer. Newly certified individuals must help drive real-world action. Individuals must also be able to quickly and practically employ the theories and knowledge gained to provide real value that will enable a company to produce its product with greater speed and at lower cost and higher quality. Finally, there must be an understanding that the only way to “get things done” is to marry theory with the ability to make change happen. These are the types of interpersonal skills that are needed to navigate the tricky political waters of every company.

What Should Happen Next?

Certification bodies should all intertwine these important “soft” skills into their learning courses and material. Certification will always provide a benefit to individuals and companies, but unless they can employ the skills, it will never provide value. This realignment of learning materials and approaches to teaching will ultimately produce a more productive workforce.

High-performing teams must motivate liberated individuals who are challenged and rewarded for learning. A critical step in building the new team member is certification, but they also need to make their certification work in the day-to-day business to drive real value for customers.

This article originally appeared in the February 13th edition of Scrum Alliance | (C) copyright Scrum Alliance