Monday 29 September 2008

Certifying the organisation

One of the the main things I have been working on in the certification side of things is getting the entire Microsoft development team here, certified. We had about 40% certified before we started on this program and now its nearing completion.

So how do you certify a team of developers? How do you make it work so that the people themselves push through all the work required to get certified?

What I found (and your mileage may vary) is that it is best not to make it into a competition but give each person their own seperate track and timelines so that they can work on the material at their own pace. As a competition type program, it can lead to unneccessary stress and people playing the system to win rather than achieve the knowledge and skills that come with certification.

I met with each developer individually, and we worked out between us what exams would be best for them, ie developers in the Windows arena were directed at the MCTS Windows Applications, SharePoint developers towards the WSS/MOSS certifications.

Once a suitable certification had being identified, a realistic timescale was put in place. This took into account things such as personal activities, holidays, current experience with the subject matter etc. Some wanted to push it out as far as possible, and in those cases it had to be reasoned back in. Mostly I didnt want people trying to study during holiday times, so most of the exams were scheduled to be taken before that.

Using the Partner Skills + offer (PS+) a lot of the people here took a couple of free sample MeasureUp exams to get a baseline on their skills. Unfortunately the offer is now over.

Now, in the background, I had arranged with the testing centre that my colleagues could email the tester and get a slot and that the bill would sent directly to the company. They didnt have to pay it directly and get it reimbursed. So that took a little of the hassle out. Also with the email they could just specify the exam number and their MCP ID if they had it and a day they would like. After that it was booked and they were ready to go.

The developers themselves worked on the material using the training kits, code samples and whatever else they needed to get the job done. Once they started getting 90% and above in the practice exams I encouraged them to book their exam, so that they would have a point to work for. This focusses the person on the exam and gets them into the mindset to do them.

Now.. the final thing. Nobody does these exams for the good of their health. There has to be a tangible reward of some sort. Some people link them to performance bonuses or give a cash bonus on completion. We gave everyone who passed with their agreed timescale a shiney new Zune (which arent readily available in Norway). Also there was the recognition by the upper management who had bought into the program which is an important factor.

The management team backed the program and made a positive impact into it. They provided the monetary support as well as giving good feedback when people achieved their goals. It went all the way up to the chain. This meant there was management recognition for the effort and accomplishment. This is a very important part of the process. Besides the team aspect of it, the acknowledgement of your effort and accomplishment is a good bonus. You also need buy in from your senior team if you have one. Leading by example the senior developers will encourage those around them to also do the exams.

Each developer was required to get only(!) one certification and once they had completed that they could decide where they wanted to go from there. We now have devs going on to complete their MCPDs and looking outside their own scope and expanding their knowledge.