10 Ideas for Better Certification

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In the Lean-Agile community, there is a ton of criticism on the topic of certification. Most certificates have little meaning, prove nothing, empty your wallet, and are little more than nasty money-making schemes of savvy certification bodies. At least, that is the sentiment that I usually hear when I bring up the topic. I believe it’s worth trying to do better.


1. Accomplishments

One reason for improving upon the idea of certification is that many people find the motivational aspect of certificates to be a positive thing. Human beings crave recognition. We all want to feel appreciated for the work we do and the successes we have achieved. Badges, awards, trophies, and certificates are standard techniques for signaling accomplishments. When implemented well, they can bring out the best in people.

I want certificates that truly represent actual accomplishments.


2. No Shortcuts

Though it is common practice in the industry, rewarding someone for participating in a two-day workshop has little meaning or value. What was the accomplishment? Paying the workshop fee? Joining in some games and conversations? Arriving too late and leaving too early? A proper certificate validates that someone worked hard, contributed a lot, and did everything that is required. People should never be rewarded for taking shortcuts or not doing very much.

I want certificates that make it very hard to cheat or take shortcuts.


3. Knowledge

Some certificates merely test a sufficient understanding of a particular domain. This makes sense for the kinds of jobs where it is essential that a professional is well-versed in the subject matter. I wouldn’t want to work with an accountant who is unfamiliar with the standards and vocabulary of accounting, or a doctor without any diplomas that validate that she has absorbed sufficient medical knowledge. But does any reader care if a book author passed an exam for writing?

I want knowledge certificates only for memorization of relevant facts.


4. Values & Principles

The Lean-Agile community is unlike many other communities. Our values and principles emphasize collaboration, customer value, and continuous change. So why do we mostly have certificates for individual progress, focused on employer value, and earned by satisfying static requirements? That doesn’t make much sense from a Lean-Agile perspective.

I want collaborative, dynamic, and customer-focused certificates.


5. Self-development

One crucial benefit of certificates and diplomas is that they commonly offer good starting points and development paths. Without some guidance, codified by experts, it can be tough for a novice to figure out where to begin, which options to choose from, and where best to end up. The right certification enables people to focus on what matters most to them.

I want certificates that help people find the best path for self-development.


6. Continuous Delivery

Now that we’re talking about values and principles, it is also worth pointing out that most traditional certificate programs follow the mechanics of big-batch deliveries. An entire group of people has to work for quite a bit of time and then, at some point, everyone earns the certificate they have been waiting for, and all at the same moment. Why do we not deliver value iteratively and incrementally?

I want iteration, increments, and continuous delivery of certificates.


7. Transparency

Some certification bodies are accused of bad business practices. The institutes operate with non-value adding money-making schemes and unethical business models. When certificates represent value to people, the effort involved in providing that value should be paid for. But when an organization doesn’t do very much, it makes sense for their certificates not to cost very much. The artificial inflation of pricing is not a great reputation technique.

I want certificates that are priced reasonably and transparently.


8. Meaningfulness

Meaningful certificates can be precious for recruiters. Finding job candidates online usually involves typing keywords and reading descriptions. The three-, four- and five-letter acronyms that come with most certificates are a convenient shorthand and standardization mechanism that saves many recruiters a lot of time. Think what you want, but this will never change. Therefore, it’s best to help them by offering search terms with a perceived value that is more accurate.

I want certificates to be meaningful for those who search for them.


9. Multiple Solutions

In the Lean-Agile space, many certificates are siloed and restricted to one specific method or framework. But would you trust a doctor who had diplomas issued by only one pharmaceutical company? Coaches and consultants best serve organizations with validated experience across multiple methods and frameworks. However, instead of ten certificates from one source each, why not have one certificate representing ten different sources?

I want certificates representing experience with multiple solutions.


10. Happiness

Last but not least, I don’t think I ever heard the words certification and happiness in the same sentence. Despite their occasional worth and usefulness, certification programs are usually not much fun. Why is that? If we want more people to learn and grow their experience, shouldn’t we make the development paths to achieve that more joyful and engaging?

I want a certification program that helps people be happy.


It is probably true that many certificates represent little meaning or value. I believe we can do better, and I am willing to give it a try. Are you in? Do you want to help me? Sign up here.


Qualification Agility & Innovation Expert

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