Reflections of a Journey to CTC and CEC

Gene Gendel shares his journey to becoming a Scrum Alliance Certified Agile Coach
Gene Gendel

This writing is way past overdue. I have been putting this off for a few years (at least). But it is better later than never.

Today, I would like to share my personal journey of becoming a Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC) and Certified Team Coach (CTC).

About the Programs

Both of them: CEC and CTC – have been developed by the Scrum Alliance volunteers. The evolutionary path of both programs has been pretty long and full of experiments.

CEC came first. Some years ago (more than 10), what is today known as Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC) used to be called Certified Scrum Coach (CSC). At one point, the decision was made to rename CSC into CEC for a variety of reasons, with one (big factor) being that CEC was more descriptive of a coaching focus, since at this level, a person coached not only Scrum but much deeper and broader (organization, enterprise).

It wasn’t just an acronym change, it was also a complete redesign of the program. What used to be a binary pass/fail outcome for an applicant (you submit, you wait for a while, you get a verdict), has evolved into a high-transparency, enriched with short feedback loops, multi-stage, iterative, full of learning and self-discovery, process. At some point after CEC was redesigned (around 2014), CTC came into existence (about a year later). The main reason for creating the CTC as a separate program/credential was that (multi-) team-level coaches had a somewhat different focus than enterprise coaches: CTCs focus on multiple teams while CECs focus on the whole enterprise. (NB: I was one of the co-creators but more about this below).

Some Common Misconceptions About CEC and CTC

“…There is no degree or accepted global accreditation that provides comfort around the skills and experience needed for the job…” 

Not true. Howard Sublett, Co-CEO/Chief Product Owner of Scrum Alliance explains why this is not an accurate assumption, explaining how CEC and CTC have evolved over years.

"CEC and CTC are just two certification badges that a person gets by simply attending a course and then passing an exam."  

Not true. Both programs are supported by a comprehensive application process that requires a wide spectrum of qualitative accomplishments, including well-documented coaching experience, formal and informal coaching education, mentoring experience (mentoring others and being mentored), long agile community engagement and contribution, deep knowledge of coaching tools, techniques and frameworks as well as qualitative know-how deep agile knowledge, coaching competencies, and mindset. In a way, both CEC and CTC are reminiscent of a dissertation written by a person who tries to capitalize on a long agile learning journey. CEC and CTC can be graphically visualized as these little blue figures, on the left side of this image.

"Having a CEC and/or CTC is a guarantee to easily secure a job with a significantly higher pay."  

Not true. Although in some countries/by some companies, a lot of emphasis is made on certifications, there is no statistical data to support that CEC or CTC holders have a ‘golden key’ to companies’ doors, while making significantly more money than non-holders.

"Once a person obtains CEC or CTC, their learning journey is over." 

Not true. In fact, the opposite is true. The best part of the journey begins after a person earns the credential. Many people consider getting the CEC-CTC credential as a tremendous boost to a personal ego – an ego to learn and further advance, in order to be ahead of others and continue elevating a coaching bar.

"Since the CEC and CTC application process does not involve a multiple-choice test, it is prone to errors and personal bias by application reviewers." 

Not true. Although a personal perception factor is always present whenever one human assesses another human, both programs are very carefully designed to minimize/avoid subjectivity, bias, and anchorage as much as possible (multiple reviewers, calibrated score cards, recusing from review of colleagues/acquaintances etc.).

My Personal Journey

My journey began in 2010 about a year after I received my CSP credential. I applied for Certified Scrum Coach (CSC) – the old version of CEC. I was so confident that I would pass it with flying colors… Oh boy, was I wrong! I did not succeed. Looking back now, I realize that the reason was twofold.

Back then, the process wasn’t too supportive of me as an applicant. Although I was sure that my reviewers were qualified people (I did get to know them in person only years later), the whole process was not transparent nor conducive to iterative learning. For me, personally, it wasn’t a learning journey. I had to work on my application in a complete silo without having any idea if I was on the right track, and without any guidance along the way. Then, I summited, and had to wait, for about 3 months, before I got the result back: not ready.

To be fair, years later, after becoming CEC, when I reviewed my own, old CSC application, I thought: what a mess it was! I wouldn’t have passed myself either. The style of writing, clarity of thoughts, and ability to present content were not up to par with what I would consider today as an enterprise-level coach. After not passing the original CSC, I took the feedback from my reviewers at face value (not without a disappointment, of course) and decided to let some time go by before resubmitting. I wanted to give myself a good chance to advance in my own learning and experience, at my own pace, without having the urge to re-apply fast. Luckily, I did not feel that I needed a credential to find an employer or a client. My other hope was that, eventually, the application process would improve, before I applied again.

Four (4), long years went by…

…Many more coaching gigs, many more books and white papers read and conferences attended. , including retreats and public events, with tons of professional networking. I mentored others and was mentored by more seasoned people. I coached as a part of my paid job and if someone just needed personal help – I would coach for free, one-on-one.

As an agile coach, I also came to terms with the fact that I am an organizational and team design agent, someone who needs to strive towards changing the ‘world of work’ (also, happens to be the motto of Scrum Alliance), not just coach for the sake of coaching.

In the early part of 2014 I learned that the old CSC program had been redesigned (the effort, spearheaded by Pete Behrens and Roger Brown, who later became my greatest mentors) into the new CEC program and a beta-group of coaches-aspirants-volunteers was required to become the first “explorers” to go through the experiment. Being a huge fan of experiments and having a gut feeling that the time was right, I volunteered immediately. As I recall it now, I was probably the only “scarred” applicant – someone who had experience with the old CSC program.

To make a long story short, it took me close to five months to go through the program. The hot summer of 2014 found me spending many hours each week, reading, researching, writing and rewriting. From time to time, I would get feedback or requests for clarification from my reviewers. I would then jump on it, research it, study it, and take another stab at the Google document (by then, the application process was put online). I loved being a Guinea pig . The amount of additional learning and self-discovery that I made while working on my own application was just immense. It also felt as if I almost relived all of my professional experience as a coach (by then I already had many years of coaching under my belt). Along the way, I collaborated with other applicants, sharing our experiences and bouncing around ideas (of course, everyone’s application was filled out independently).

In October of 2014, Scrum Alliance notified me that I was granted the CEC credential. This was one of the most exciting moments in my professional career! It was truly a huge milestone. In fact, I was the very first beta-group applicant who made it through the newly redesigned CEC program. It was a triumph.

Benefits After Achieving the Goal (Becoming CEC-CTC)

Although CEC never became an automatic “golden key” door-opener for me, earning the credential certainly gave me additional self-confidence and boosted my ego. I recall being asked by my clients and interviewers what Scrum Alliance *certified* enterprise coach meant and how it was different from “un”-certified. Those moments were my best opportunities to talk about my professional journey and valuable assets that I bring to the table as a CEC. Some of my more open-minded clients admitted that what they considered as a ‘coach’ up until then was not even near what a coach is/does.

Becoming a CEC has put me in a small group of guide-level professionals. I gained the privilege of joining closed discussion forums with Agile Manifesto co-signers and Scrum co-creators. Seeing them exchange and engage in hot debates, as well as being able to freely engage in any of those discussions on my own, was such a great asset. At times, just following a thread about Scrum, Kanban, organizational dynamics, scaling, product management, technical excellence, classroom dynamics, or business aspect of public training would enrich my personal knowledge by a factor.

Helping Scrum Alliance to Further Raise the Coaching Bar

Some time after earning my CEC, I learned that the group of volunteer CECs was pulled together to create the new Scrum Alliance certification-credential: Certified Team Coach (CTC). I volunteered myself and joined the group (Roger Brown was the leader). The purpose of our effort was to delineate between the two types of a coaching focus: enterprise and (multi-)team. After multiple years of research and discovery, it has become apparent that some coaches wish to focus on teams’ dynamics (e.g. multi-team PBR, multi-team Sprint Planning, Overall Retrospective), while others prefer to focus on enterprise dynamics (HR policies, budgeting-finance, location strategies, vendor management, etc.). Please note, the above are not mutually exclusive.

Rightfully, some of the quantitative (and to some degree, qualitative) expectations from CEC were higher than those of CTC. However, just like the CEC, the CTC program was designed to be a very rigorous and challenging selection process.

In January of 2018, I also decided to gain my own CTC credential, since there were many instances in my career when I coached at a multi-team level. It also did not feel right for me NOT to have the credential, while being involved in its creation.

Today, I run my own mentoring program for people who wish to pursue the CTC or CEC credential. My focus is three-fold: advanced system thinking → improved coaching capabilities → application success.

Other Important Milestones During My CEC Journey

One of the biggest aspirations throughout my entire coaching career was becoming a better system thinker-modeler – a person who could see and assess the whole organizational (eco-)system, not just its individual parts. In enterprise-wide and multi-team settings, this skill is a must, at least in my opinion.

Right around the time when l did not succeed with my initial CSC application, I zoomed my focus onto Lean and agile product development –  at scale and in multi-site settings, something that most of my clients had interest in and trouble with. My attention was drawn to a series of books written by Craig Larman and Bas Vodde (both later becoming my other great mentors), where they have covered many guides and experiments that I found very applicable in my work. Since then, I have applied much of my learning (today, a.k.a. Large Scale Scrum or LeSS), while coaching individuals, teams and organizations. I find LeSS education a significant asset to my own coaching journey (during and after receiving the CEC and CTC credentials). Today, I am one of a few (worldwide) Certified Large Scale Scrum Trainers (CLT) – another very unique and valuable milestone in my career that is also very complementary to being CEC-CTC.

The above is originally posted on my blog.

Disclaimer: The opinions and thoughts expressed in this article belong solely to the author and do not represent the Scrum Alliance.

Facilitation is an important skillset to validate as part of your journey to becoming a Certified Agile Coach. Scrum Alliance's upcoming Agile Coaching Skills - Certified Facilitator (ACS-CF) course will focus on this important skill. Sign up below to find out when the course opens for enrollment. 

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