In this episode we return to the subject of Certification, this time focusing on how to adapt development of programs to meet the breakneck pace of change with growing Software-as-a-Service businesses.

Dave interviews Debbie Smith, who is Sr. Manager of Smartsheet University and an expert in credentialing and certification programs.

Pencils down, it’s time to write your certification! Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

For many Customer Education professionals, we first begin working on certification programs when a senior leader asks us to, but the definition of certification can vary wildly from person to person. It’s crucial to know what you intend to build, what outcomes it will generate, and how much maintenance it requires.

The hypothesis that Dave and Debbie explore this episode is: “Certification programs for SaaS can be delivered in much shorter timelines, but with caveats.”

When some people say they want to develop a certification, what they actually mean is “some learning modules with a quiz at the end.” But to create a legally defensible certification that can be used for hiring, firing, and other high-stakes situations, you need something far more rigorous, fair, and accurate. This means it’s going to take time and money.

In this episode, Debbie walks us through the project management required to build and maintain a certification. She takes us through how to build a JTA (Job Task Analysis) which defines what the job being certified actually is, and what the skills involved are. This means you need to meet with SMEs to understand what is being certified and what skills are involved to do the job.

Then it’s on to item writing – and by “items” here, we mean questions. Writing valid and fair questions is extremely difficult, and there’s an art to it! Debbie suggests some techniques for item writing workshops and writing better multiple-choice questions. And getting the right SMEs in, especially if they are billable and their time comes at a premium, is difficult. But you can also reward them for their efforts by giving them a certification, a badge, or other perks for participating in the program as an expert.

Debbie also shares tips for beta testing, and how many people you need to participate in a beta process.

Keep in mind that for SaaS businesses, whose products constantly change, writing a certification also means that you’re signing yourself (and your SMEs) to update the certification constantly and keep it in tune with your product.

Overall, certifications go to a much deeper level than you may expect if you haven’t built one before. These concepts are helpful to share when an executive asks you to build a certification, because you can help educate them on what’s actually involved in the process. If you’re not ready to commit the time, effort, and resources to build a formal certification, maybe a lighter-stakes credential like a badge is a better offering! If you’re just making a test with no proctoring or controls, you can call it something other than a certification.

Listen to the episode and find out more of those “201”-level techniques.

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