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There Are Trainers, And Then There Are CSTs

As Agile frameworks like Scrum have exploded into the mainstream of technology work, so has the pool of people offering Scrum training as a paid service. A quick search of LinkedIn for the term “Agile Trainer” yields 1.7 Million results for individuals that include those words in their job title or bio. But there are […]


February 26, 2020

As Agile frameworks like Scrum have exploded into the mainstream of technology work, so has the pool of people offering Scrum training as a paid service. A quick search of LinkedIn for the term “Agile Trainer” yields 1.7 Million results for individuals that include those words in their job title or bio. But there are only 270 people in the entire world that can call themselves “CST,” or Scrum Alliance Certified Scrum Trainer.

So, what’s a CST?

A Certified Scrum Trainer is a person with a demonstrated body of experience working on Scrum Teams (typically in more than one role over time), a deep understanding of the foundational concepts and mechanics of Scrum, and the ability to present Scrum in an engaging learning environment. CSTs are professional educators who can leverage a wealth of real-world work experience to illustrate key concepts and tradeoffs. CSTs are people with a verified ability to create and manage a training experience that gives students a solid basis to begin working on a Scrum Team. And that’s why CSTs are the only people licensed by the Scrum Alliance to teach Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) classes.

Why are there so few CSTs in the world?

Anyone can call themselves an Agile Trainer, but only a handful of people in the world are Certified Scrum Trainers. And the reason for that is simple: it’s really, really difficult to become one.

The path to becoming a Certified Scrum Trainer starts with learning and work experience as a person progresses through one or more of the role-based certification paths until they attain a Professional level certification. For example: “Certified Scrum Professional – ScrumMaster” (CSP-SM) or “Certified Scrum Professional – Product Owner” (CSP-PO). These credentials reflect not just that someone took a class or two, but that the holder also demonstrates validated work experience in one or more roles on real Scrum teams.

For many people, attaining a CSP-level credential is a capstone achievement pursued over a number of years. But for those interested in becoming a CST, CSP status is just the start. It’s not enough to merely ‘know’ Scrum; CST candidates must also demonstrate that can effectively teach Scrum to others. To do that, candidates seek out opportunities to lead multi-day Scrum-relevant training events, as well as opportunities to refined their skills through co-teaching with CSTs. They build and refine a learning experience that can meet all of Scrum Alliance stipulated objectives for a specific foundation-level class like ‘Certified ScrumMaster’. They collect letters of recommendation from CSTs and customers that attest to their deep Scrum knowledge and teaching prowess. They organize and participate in meetups, conferences, and events, establishing a reputation as someone who supports and contributes to the global community of Scrum practitioners.

And finally, after all of that, a candidate convinces the CST community to let them join their ranks. This starts by submitting an application that documents all of the professional, training, and community experience mentioned above to a rotating group of volunteer CSTs called the “Trainer Approval Committee.” If an applicant’s submission is reviewed favorably, they are invited to appear in person before a panel of TAC members and Scrum Alliance representatives (typically at the major conference like a Global Scrum Gathering) for an in-person interview and teaching simulation. If the TAC panel votes to approve the candidate, they become a CST then and there.

But none of those steps are rubber stamps. It’s common for applicants to be asked to revise and supplement application packages multiple times because they don’t yet possess the experience as an Agilist or enough skill as a trainer. It’s also common for approved applicants to go through the in-person TAC panel multiple times before being accepted as a CST.

Why is it so hard to become a CST?

Real Scrum, as described in the Scrum Guide and practiced by seasoned professionals in the real world, is a powerful set of behavior patterns that can drastically improve the ability of a team of people to deliver actual value quickly. And because Scrum emphasizes the ability to deal with continual uncertainty while valuing workers as human beings, it can also significantly improve the day-to-day lived experience of the people who build that value.

But none of those great outcomes can happen if students don’t actually learn Scrum. When a trainer reads through hundreds of slides, but can’t answer any questions from a position of actual experience, students don’t learn Scrum. When a trainer can’t connect with students and catch misunderstandings before they become entrenched, students don’t learn Scrum. When a trainer allows the core assumptions of the framework to be substituted with anti-pattern after anti-pattern, students don’t learn Scrum. And when students give up the time and money to site through an entire two-day class, but then leave with no understanding of how anything they just did might apply back at the office, students don’t learn Scrum.

That’s why there’s such a high bar for becoming a Certified Scrum Trainer. We want to ensure that when you see those letters after someone’s name, you’ll know that they know what they’re talking about. You’ll know that they have a compelling approach to communicating Scrum to learners, whatever their prior knowledge level. And you’ll know that they can speak from a wealth of personal experience as to what it’s like actually doing Scrum in the real world.

Dr. Patrick McConnell is one of NextUp Solutions’s two CSTs on staff. Register for one of his upcoming courses here.

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