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Performance-based Certification for Enterprise Software Companies

Written by Kristine Xu

Published on June 22, 2016

Don’t let all the energy put into designing your enterprise software training programs go to waste. Adopt performance-based certification as a way to make sure your customers learn, retain, and perform the tasks learned in the course.

Performance-based certification is similar to regular forms of testing, except it ensures the customer is capable of performing a task or action instead of just regurgitating information. It’s more than just remembering and understanding a concept, it’s being able to perform. It’s a tool used to ensure that knowledge is not only being taught correctly, but also that your customers are able to use your software the perform their job.

ServiceRocket Webinar Performance-based Certification TrueAbility and Hortonworks

In the webinar, How to Create Performance-Based Certification (recorded May 24, 2016), we interviewed Frederick Mendler, Rich Raposa, and Judith Hale, about performance-based certification based on the newly published white paper from TrueAbility called, How to Create a Performance-Based Certification Program for Software and Technology. Mendler is the CEO of TrueAbility, a platform providing performance based certification. Raposa is the Certification Manager at Hortonworks and has created effective performance based exams. Hale is an expert on performance based certification and the author of Performance Based Certification: How to Design a Valid, Defensible, Cost-Effective Program.

During the webinar, we discussed the five step process for creating a performance-based certification, and this is a brief overview of that process.

  1. Due diligence
  2. Planning and designing the test
  3. Developing content and test questions
  4. Internal vs. outsourcing
  5. Testing and launching

Due Diligence

Before diving into the process of developing performance-based certification, it's important to establish a mission statement so you know exactly what you're asking from the customer taking the test. What kind of information do you want to know from the customer? What kind of tasks do you want the customer to be able to perform?

By taking the time to narrow down the variables and conditions; such as target audience, potential problems, possible solutions, and overall effectiveness; customers will have a better idea of expectations and the quality of questions will improve.

Planning and Designing a Test

In addition to creating a mission statement, there should also be predetermined standards to define whether a customer’s performance is adequate enough. Planning the boundaries and parameters of the test ensures the customer knows to score a certain percentage or finish in a certain amount of time. It provides guidelines for the customer to know exactly what you're asking for.

A performance based test is also designed differently than a regular multiple choice exam because the questions are easier to write. There’s no need to brainstorm wrong answers to trick the customer because the only thing needed is defining a specific task for the customer to fulfill. You are not so much interested in knowledge or even "how" a customer performed the section. The point of a performance based exam is not to test knowledge, but rather to test performance. In other words, you are testing the end state of the action you want customers to perform. 

Though there may be concerns about whether performance based testing can be threatened by exam security threats ("What if someone 'steals' the questions?"), there needn't be. Take for example a general driver's license exam. There are two different portions of this exam, the multiple choice test (identifying signs) and the performance based test (actually driving). When drivers go to take the driving portion of the driver's license exam, they already knew they had to parallel park. It's also virtually impossible to cheat on a performance based exam because there are so many different subtleties and differences that need to be followed. The answer ends up being so precise that the only way to duplicate it is through actually demonstrating the section.

Developing Test Questions

When developing test questions, it's important to include subject matter experts. These individuals are important because they help determine the scope of the questions and in making sure the right kind of performance is being tested. 

As for determining what kinds of questions should be on the test, Hale pointed out making sure to ask the right kinds of questions. There are three general sources of error when it comes to asking questions.

  1. Sampling error: Asking the wrong people.
  2. Asking the wrong questions: Focusing purely on non constructive questions like "Why?"
  3. Asking questions in the wrong way: Avoid introducing bias and keep questions general.

Internal vs. Outsourcing

Beyond structuring and developing performance based certification, there's also a concern for resources. If you can maintain and manage an exam internally, go ahead and keep it internally. However, if internally managing exams is too time-consuming, consider outsourcing the work for better use of resources.

Keep in mind that internal support for exams might require hiring more employees, learning the process, and taking time to build adequate capacity. Otherwise, determine what can be accomplished with your company's culture to decide if outsourcing is a good option.

Testing and Launching

Lastly, testing and launching the performance based certification isn't any different than having customers take the test themselves. Beyond scanning for errors, the main purpose of testing the exam is to determine a passing score. Don't forget to also have SMEs take the test to spot any obvious errors. Afterward, the only step left is launching the performance based certification.

A surefire way of ensuring your customers understand and retain the skills taught in your software training course is implementing performance based certifications. If you’re thinking about using performance based certification with your customers, check out TrueAbility's website for certification programs to get started. 


This is just a short recap of the webinar. If you are interested in learning more about how to build performance-based certifications, you should watch the recording of the webinar. You should also read the TrueAbility white paper, How to Create a Performance-Based Certification for Software and Technology. The webinar is based on the content of this white paper.

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