You want to embrace Agile as part (or maybe all) of your Project Management practice. And you know that a good qualification will help you get the jobs you want, to put it to use. But there is such a wide range of choice. Which Agile Certification program should you follow?
First, let me say that I am not going to tell you which one is best. What I hope to do is give you the information to start researching which is best for you.
I have spent many hours researching all the qualifications out there, from around a dozen providers. And in this guide, I will share everything I have found out, in my longest article ever.
To make this guide easier to read, I have divided the providers of Agile qualifications into three categories:
This article is a companion to our earlier guide: ‘Project Management Qualification: Should I or Shouldn’t I?’ If you have not read that, you may find it useful to look at it first.
If you are interested in learning about Agile, take a look at the range of courses we offer in conjunction with The Agile Project Management Academy.
If you are interested in certificate training programs, take a look at the project management certificate courses we offer (many that we discuss below) in conjunction with unbored training, and the Professional Training Center of Excellence.
These are the big players in the world of ‘formal Agile’ if that is not a contradiction in terms.
Each of these organizations seeks to lead in one aspect or another of the development, promotion, and best practices of an Agile approach. I very nearly placed Axelos PRINCE2 Agile in here and could equally well have done so, but you’ll find that certification discussed in my Tier 2 section.
Scrum Alliance was the first (2001) major organization to promote scrum, and to offer its certifications. Its Certified Scrum Master (CSM) qualification is still the most widely known agile certification. Scrum Alliance claims to have issued over 750,000 certifications.
As you would expect, Scrum Alliance offers a who set of qualifications:
However, Scrum Alliance’s approach has come under some criticism, not least from one of its founders, Ken Scwaber. This led him to found a new organization, that also offers a range of qualifications…
Currently, the qualification program from scrum.org offers the better agile certifications if you are serious about a career in agile project management. I will justify this statement after I’ve shown you what scrum.org has to offer.
In 2009 Ken Schwaber left Scrum Alliance to build his own Agile certification, PSM (Professional Scrum Master), at scrum.org. You will find plenty about the history and the politics of this move, and the two organizations on the web. I don’t intend to dive into it.
The principle criticisms of CSM are that it:
PSM has more robust assessment, and the training (if you choose to take it) uses standardized training materials, giving greater confidence of the quality you’ll get.
The Agile Business Consortium is a not-for-profit that pioneered and continues to promote Agile practices. So, it too offers a comprehensive range of Agile certifications, at five levels. Most relevant are:
There are also certifications for Business Analysis, Program Management, and more advanced practitioners at levels 4 and 5.
The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) is a methodology that focuses on developing and delivering enterprise-class software and systems as quickly as possible. It is widely used by large corporations that want to adopt Agile practices at enterprise level. It is promoted by Scaled Agile, who offer its own set of qualifications:
DAC is a membership organization that supports the use of its own proprietary ‘Disciplined Agile’ framework for enterprise-level agile working.
Their certified Digital Agilist qualifications are more software development than project management certifications. They are designed to demonstrate knowledge of Disciplined Agile principles and show the practitioner is ready to apply them. Certifications include:
ICAgile is a certification and accreditation body, that collaborates with worldwide agile thought leaders to develop learning programs that lead its own qualifications. It has the most complex set of options of any organization I have reviewed. For us, the ones I’d draw out are:
There is a wide range of primary project management organizations, that each offer Agile certifications to their members.
In this category, I’ve also included Axelos, the owners of PRINCE2. While they aren’t a professional body, they certainly do not fit into our Tier 1 or 3 categories. Here seems the best place for them.
I think it would be a fair assessment to describe the PMI as the leading professional body for project managers. It is US-based, but it’s qualifications are highly regarded world-wide. Of its certifications , Project Management Professional (PMP) is the most prestigious, which it describes as:
the gold standard of project management certification. Recognized and demanded by organizations worldwide, the PMP validates your competence to perform in the role of a project manager, leading and directing projects and teams.
PMI has introduced a significant element of Agile project management nto the PMP examination, with the 6th Edition of its Project Management Body of Knowledge, the ‘PMBoK’. However, it also offers a dedicated Agile Certification, PMP-ACP.
PMI-ACP is designed for project managers who need to apply agile principles and practices in your projects. The qualification needs a combination of training, experience, and an exam. It covers a range of agile approaches such as Scrum, extreme programming (XP), Test-drive Development (TTD), Lean and Kanban. As you might expect of the PMI, the pre-requisites are challenging:
It is one of the more demanding examinations and also one of the more expensive. However, what you get is PMI recognition and a very broad-based understanding of agile methods.
Axelos promotes best practice in project management globally. Its predecessors may have developed the PRINCE2 and ITIL qualifications for use in the UK Government sector, but public and privae sector organizations value their rigor, around the world.
So the adaptation of PRINCE2 to the agile paradigm must be an important step. And the quality of the Axelos accreditation also contributes to the value of these credentials. There are two tiers of PRINCE2 Agile:
IPMA is a Europe-based federation of something like 70 Project Management associations, around the world. They have a very effective 4-tier project management certification program, which we mentioned in our earlier roundup of Project Management qualifications.
But, at the moment, IPMA does not offer any Agile certifications. So, why include them here? Because they have made a clear statement of intent about a forthcoming Agile Leadership Certification:
IPMA has started the initiative to develop a certification program, based on competences, for professionals with a leadership role within an Agile environment. The certificate focus on the establishment and acknowledgement of the individual competences of the professional and is for example additional to other agile certificates like Scrum and SAFe.
The IAPM is a Europe-based global professional body that offers a range of certifications, including three-tiers of Agile Certification:
The Association for Project Management is the principal professional body of UK-based project managers. It’s website offers a fine array of resources about agile. However, rather surprisingly, they do not (yet?) offer any form of agile certification or qualification.
APM offers a strong certification framework for its project managers. So I am unsure whether the absence of agile from its line-up is strategic, an omission that reflects a low priority, or a temporary situation that the APM is working in the background to remedy. If you are a senior APM member or officer with information to share, please do so, below!
I am including APM in this round-up merely because many of my readers would expect to see them here.
I honestly cannot tell you much about the AAPM. It is US-based and seems to focus on a wide range of certifications. However, before researching this guide, I had not come across it. I don’t know how influential it is as a professional membership body, not where its qualifications are most valued.
The AAPM’s site is, frankly confused and confusing. There are two pages that offer differing lists of qualifications and differently styled qualifications link to the same course description. However, in the interests of completeness, AAPM appears to offer:
Here are commercial organizations who exist to sell training and certification to project professionals. This does mot mean their training and examination standards are necessarily lower, but it may mean their qualifications are less-widely valued by employers.
EXIN is a Dutch certification body that offers qualifications such as ITIL and Agile. EXIN is independent and a highly credible certification body, but their Scrum qualification was launched relatively recently. This means it is less-widely recognised, but highly up-to-date.
Their Agile Scrum Foundation exam focuses on the concepts, roles and processes of Scrum. But as well as the Scrum framework, it also covers the most common Agile practices and techniques, like XP (eXtreme Programming), DSDM methodology, and Kanban.
The International Scrum Institute offers a wide range of its own Scrum certifications:
This is the only provider I have been able to find that offers certified qualifications in Kanban. Kanban is an Agile method and is most appropriate for delivering evolutionary change to operational processes and systems. LKU offers:
LKU Kanban certifications do not require exams. You just need to attend their accredited courses. Their certifications need no renewal.
ScrumStudy is part of Edusys, a global training company specialising in online learning. They have their own Scrum methodology document and an Agile certification programme based around this. Ken Schwaber, co-founder of Scrum and founder of scrum.org, said:
SCRUMstudy turns my 16 page framework into 350+ page methodology. They didn’t read Agile Manifesto.
Certification is by passing their own exam. Reports online of their quality are varied.
If you have an Agile certification, or have followed any of these programs, please share your experience and comments. And if you think we have missed something here, do let us know.
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 13 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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