No More Mills!

August 20, 2009 by
Filed under: Leadership 

I have found over the years that there are two reasons that people will engage organizations like ours to work with them: to demonstrate to a third-party that they are doing a bang-up job, or to actually improve at what they do.

One way of telling these two camps apart is their view of time.

Is there some event (now or in the near future) where they will benefit from being able to say they have things under control? Are they courting a potential suitor, possibly for an acquisition, investment, or partnership? Do they need to achieve a particular certification or level of maturity to do business in a given market? Will they be measured at some point in the future by how efficiently they have spent their training budget?

If any of these are true, it is a safe bet that a good chunk of their motivation comes from their need to objectively demonstrate excellence, and the results they are looking for will primarily be a certificate or an assessment report, some expression that they are good enough for the job.

In many ways, this engagement approach is very similar to the often frowned upon industry of diploma mills that has sprung up over the years. Given a certain amount of money, there is an expectation that a level of certification can be achieved, with the paperwork to ‘prove it’.

There are plenty of anecdotal stories around CMMi maturity levels and ISO certifications to make me dubious of such things. I tend to look for actual performance over any qualifications, and am usually less than impressed with what I see.

Technical assessments for teams that are looking for investments are often done after the decision to move forward has been made, and expressions of concerns are often either ignored or seen as a minor speed-bump in moving forward (this is from first-hand experience, on more than one occasion). The reports are usually adequate to fill in that check-box that an assessment has been done, and the investment moves forward.

What can a 1 or 2 day Scrum Master Certification course do to prove capabilities in the field? Or a PMP designation (yes, I have first-hand experience here as well)?

When providing training, I will provide a certificate of attendance, but nothing that can be construed as attesting to the student’s ability to perform what has just been presented. I have stopped performing due-diligence for VC’s (but would do so if I found one that was actually interested in the true performance of their investment), and don’t play the certification game.

If, however, someone is considering time as they ponder what went wrong with their previous project, or are looking to improve for the future or sustain excellence as they grow their team or enter a different domain, this is a different story. If they are willing to carefully look at their practices as they stand today, the good and the not so good, compare these practices with their performance, and act on this understanding to get better at what they do, I’ll do whatever I can to help them out.

If the group recognizes that everyone can improve, that it is more important to strive to get better than to brag about where they are now, they are thinking strategically, and can make tremendous strides. These are the teams I enjoy working with, and it is always a pleasure to find one.

It is better to measure against actual performance than qualifications and certifications. – JB

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