Friday, April 23, 2010

Architect Certification and Trust

@mattdeacon @wendydevolder @karianna @flowchainsensei @gojkoadzic @unclebobmartin .

Lots of good comments on Twitter and elsewhere about certification, in various contexts (enterprise architecture, agile, ...).

The purpose of a certificate is to enable you to trust the bearer with something. So we need to understand the nature of trust. In their book Trust and Mistrust, my friends Aidan Ward and John Smith identify four types of trust ...
  • authority
  • network
  • commodity
  • authentic
... and we can apply these four types to the different styles of certification that might be available.

In his attack on the World Agile Qualifications Board, @gojkoadzic quotes the Agile Alliance position on certification: employers should have confidence only in certifications that are skill-based and difficult to achieve. Yet, as Gojko continues, "most of the certificates issued today are very easy to achieve and take only a day or two of work, or even just attending the course".

If a certificate is issued by a reputable professional organization, then the value of the certificate is underwritten by the reputation of the issuing organization, so this counts as authority trust. In my post Is Enterprise Architecture a Profession? I have already stated my view that claims for professional status for enterprise architecture are at best premature, so there is no organization today that has sufficient authority to issue certificates of professional competence. However, if you can acquire a certificate simply by attending a short course and/or memorizing some document (such as TOGAF), then this is a commodity-based form of trust. Basically, such certificates will only be regarded as valuable if just enough people have them. (Which seems to be why some large consultancies have put all their practitioners through TOGAF training.)

Bob Marshall (@flowchainsensei) prefers vouching

Just found - Should keep me busy vouching (why oh why "certifying???") for capable folks for some time.

which is a form of network trust. If someone receives a lot of vouchers from his friends, that could either mean he is very popular or that he is involved in a lot of reciprocal back-scratching. (This kind of mutual recommendation is easily visible on Linked-In, where the list of incoming recommendations often exactly matches the list of outgoing recommendations.)

The trouble with all these mechanisms is that they are both one-sided and lacking context. The certificate purports to tell us about a person's strengths (but not weaknesses), in some unspecified or generic arena. This can only go so far in supporting a judgement about a person's qualifications (strengths and weaknesses) for a specific task in a specific context. What if anything would serve as an authentic token of trust?

Aidan Ward and John Smith, Trust and Mistrust - Radical Risk Strategies in Business Relationships. John Wiley, 2003


zx12bob said...

What is "Authentic trust"?


Charlie Bess said...

The Open Group is trying to move TOGAF beyond the "test based" certification with TOGAF 9. It then starts to conflict with the more proven experience based approach that is in ITAC.