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.
Classifying the Agile Certification Providers
To make this guide easier to read, I have divided the providers of Agile qualifications into three categories:
- Principle Promotors of Agile Project Management
These are either the organizations that promote Agile, widely-used Agile methodologies, or the organizations the sole agents they have appointed to provide agile certification against their standards.
- Major Project Management organizations with Agile Certification programs
These include the PMI and other national and international project management professional associations. I have also included the Axelos PRINCE2 Agile qualifications here.
- Third party organizations that offer Agile Certification
These are training organizations that have set up their own qualifications and make their money by providing certification programs.
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.
Tier 1: Principle Promotors of Agile Project Management
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:
- Certified Scrum Master (CSM)
The qualification follows directly from attending a mandatory 2-day course.
- Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM)
- Certified Scrum Professional – Scrum Master (CSP-SM)
- …and similar hierarchies of certification for Product Owners and Developers
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.
- PSM – Professional Scrum Master at levels I, II, and III
Level I is broadly equivalent to CSM.
- PSPO – Professional Scrum Product Owner at levels I and II
- PSD – Professional Scrum Developer
- PAL – Professional Agile Leadership
- PSK – Professional Scrum with Kanban
- SPS – Scaled Professional Scrum
Why we recommend PSM (scrum.org) over CSM (Scrum Alliance)
The principle criticisms of CSM are that it:
- Requires no experience of Agile projects
- But does require you to take the specified 2-day training
- Requires frequent re-certification
- Costs a lot of money
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.
[thrive_text_block color=’note’ headline=’Study the Scrum Framework with OnlinePMCourses’]Here at OnlinePMCourses, we offer training towards the PSM Level I certificate exam, The Scrum Framework. [/thrive_text_block]
Agile Business Consortium, through APMG
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:
- Agile Project Management (AgilePM) Foundation – Level 1
Takes the Project Management elements from the DSDM Agile Project Framework so an experienced Project Managers can adopt a mature, scalable corporate-strength Agile approach within their organisations. This is supported by an APMG accreditation and certification process.
- AgilePM® Practitioner – Level 2
For project managers who want to be Agile. The Practitioner examination is based on scenarios and has the Foundation level as a pre-requisite.
- DSDM Agile Professional – Level 3
Previously DSDM Advanced Practitioner.
Aimed at active practitioners of DSDM or other Agile approaches. It is an experience based certification, drawing on in-depth knowledge and personal involvement in a project. It will make you look at your projects in greater more, and better understand how to demonstrate best practice and deliver successful business benefits.
- Agile Leader Advanced Practitioner – Level 3
Offers formal recognition of your knowledge, understanding, and application of Agile Leadership. You’ll need to give evidence against the Agile Leadership Competencies in Level 3 – DSDM Agile Practitioner. The examination requires a written Project Synopsis and an Oral Examination.
There are also certifications for Business Analysis, Program Management, and more advanced practitioners at levels 4 and 5.
[thrive_text_block color=’note’ headline=’Study the AgilePM Foundation with OnlinePMCourses’]This is a high quality and substantial set of qualifications. So, OnlinePMCourses, offers training towards the Agile PM Foundation certificate exam. And we also offer access to the exam.[/thrive_text_block]
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:
- SAFe for Teams
For Lean-Agile team members in a SAFe Agile Release Train (ART). Will teach you to break down features, write user stories, improve team and train processes, and plan and execute Iterations.
- SAFe Scrum Master
Learn the role of Scrum Master in a SAFe enterprise context. You’ll be able to facilitate Team and Program Level events for successful program execution, explore Scrum in the context of the entire enterprise, and become a servant leader and coach. SAFe Scrum Masters help Agile Teams to deliver the maximum business value that is achievable through SAFe.
- SAFe Advanced Scrum Master
For a system-wide view of Scrum at enterprise level and facilitating teams in the largest Agile programs.
- SAFe Product Owner / Product Manager
For product owners working with enterprise-scale Agile, who need to apply Agile approaches, write epics, and define capabilities, features, and user stories within the context of SAFe.
- Other Agile Certifications include:
- Leading SAFe
- Implementing SAFe
- SAFe DevOps
- SAFe Release Train Engineer
Disciplined Agile Consortium (DAC)
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:
- DA: Disciplined Agilist®
- CDA: Certified Disciplined Agilist®
- CDAP: Certified Disciplined Agile Practitioner®
For experienced practitioners
- CDAC: Certified Disciplined Agile Coach®
For experts who will pass on their knowledge
- CDAI: Certified Disciplined Agile Instructor®
For the deepest experts
- International Consortium for Agile
International Consortium for Agile
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:
- ICP-APM: Agile Project Management
Focuses on core components of the agile project manager role and how it is different from the traditional project manager. It will equip you with strategies and techniques for successfully implementing Lean and Agile projects.
- ICP-ATF: Agile Team Facilitation
Focuses on the mindset and role of an agile team facilitator. It will give you group facilitation tools and techniques, so you can effectively design meetings and workshops to both engage the group and drive towards your outcomes.
Tier 2: Major Project Management Organizations with Agile Certification Programs
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.
Project Management Institute (PMI)
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.https://www.pmi.org/certifications
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 Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-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:
- 2,000 hours of experience in project teams.
A current PMP® or PgMP® will satisfy this requirement but is not required to apply for the PMI-ACP.
- 1,500 hours working on agile project teams or with agile methodologies.
This requirement is additional to the 2,000 hours above.
- 21 contact hours of training in agile practices.
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:
- PRINCE2 Agile Foundation
Designed for people who are new to PRINCE2 and are working in or around an agile project environment. The course gives an overview of PRINCE2, an introduction to agile, and shows how to apply the two together. There are no course prerequisites.
- PRINCE2 Agile Practitioner
Designed for project managers who are already certified in either PRINCE2 or PRINCE2 Agile Foundation levels. PRINCE2 Agile Practitioner focuses on the practical application of the PRINCE2 Agile method with real-world scenarios. You will need one of the following project management certifications: PRINCE2 Foundation, PRINCE2 Agile Foundation, PMI’s PMP or CAPM, or IPMA Levels A, B, C, or D.
International Project Management Association (IPMA)
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.https://www.ipma.world/ipma-agile-leadership/
International Association for Project Managers (IAPM)
The IAPM is a Europe-based global professional body that offers a range of certifications, including three-tiers of Agile Certification:
- Certified Junior Agile Project Manager (IAPM)
…for agile project management novices, students or people who are interested in a future career in agile project management. The examination covers basic agile project management using Scrum. IAPM asserts it qualifies you to work in projects and is an asset in a job application.
- Certified Agile Project Manager (IAPM)
…for candidates with a basic knowledge of agile project management. This knowledge will help you organize and implement an agile project effectively. You won’t need to prove any project management experience, but it is an advantage.
- Certified Senior Agile Project Manager (IAPM)
…for candidates with both knowledge and extensive practical experience in agile project management. Candidates need at least five years of agile project management experience. Three must be in a management or leadership role.
Association for Project Management (APM)
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.
American Academy of Project Management (AAPM)
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:
- AAPM Accredited Agile Project Manager
- AAPM AgCC Agile Communications Certification (may be the same as above)
- ChPM Chartered Agile Project Manager
(although, it is not clear who the chartering body is, nor how it is available)
Tier 3: Third party organizations that offer Agile Certification
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.[thrive_text_block color=’note’ headline=’Study Agile Scrum Foundation with OnlinePMCourses’]This is a useful qualification. So, OnlinePMCourses, offers training towards the EXIN Agile Scrum Foundation certificate exam. And we also offer access to the exam.[/thrive_text_block]
International Scrum Institute
The International Scrum Institute offers a wide range of its own Scrum certifications:
- SMAC™ – Scrum Master Accredited Certification™ Program
- SPOAC™ – Scrum Product Owner Accredited Certification™ Program
- STMAC™ – Scrum Team Member Accredited Certification™ Program
- Three more advanced level certifications for trainers and coaches and an expert level
- Three certifications for developers in Java, web, ad mobile apps
Lean Kanban University
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:
- Team Kanban Practitioner certification (TKP)
Introductory course for beginners. They claim it’ll help you improve the flow of work for your team. It includes Kanban principles, practices, and process.
- Kanban Management Professional I (KMP-1)
This is the beginner to the intermediate certificate. It is for people in a leadership role and looking to make changes in their team environment.
- Kanban Management Professional II (KMP-2)
Intermediate to advanced certificate in Kanban that covers various continuous improvement models. It is for people who are experienced in leadership and in Kanban. KMP-1 is a pre-requisite.
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.https://twitter.com/kschwaber/status/628692322977513472
Certification is by passing their own exam. Reports online of their quality are varied.
Other Training Companies that Offer their own Agile Certification
- The Knowledge Academy
- Scrum Inc (in the US)
What are Your Experiences of these Programs and Qualifications?
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.