CAL vs. PAL – Which Agile Leader Training Should You Take?

CAL vs. PAL – Which Agile Leader Training Should You Take?

One thing that is critical for a successful Agile Transformation is training at all levels, especially agile leader training. Unfortunately, many leaders don’t believe they need training, even though I insist that they do!  This post explores two of the most popular offerings for agile leader training, the strengths and weaknesses of each and my recommendations.

The two main leader offerings are the CAL and the PAL. Sounds friendly enough, right? Scrum Alliance is offering the Certified Agile Leadership training course or CAL and Scrum.org offers the Professional Agile Leader or PAL. Let’s dig into the details of each of these agile leader training courses.

The Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) – Agile Leader Training Course

The Certified Agile Leadership or CAL was introduced by Scrum Alliance in September 2016. The course development team included Pete Behrens, Steven Denning, Angela Johnson, Pollyanna Pixton and Simon Roberts.

The CAL is a 2 or 2.5-day course, depending on the instructor preference. There are 17 contact hours of training and those hours may all be in class, or up to half of them may be completed via distance learning or reading case studies. I took the class in a 2-day format in 2017 from Michael Sahota.

The target audience is identified as agile coaches and consultants, managers, executives and leaders. In the course I took in 2017, all participants were coaches. I think this affected the course and I would have liked to have had more managers and executives in class to better understand them, how they engage with the material and what they consider important and useful. I wasn’t sure how impactful it would be to leaders in organizations.

The CAL course was certainly helpful to me as an agile coach. We focused quite a bit on organizational culture though frankly no one in the room had the power to directly change culture.

Unlike the PAL training which I will cover in a moment, no assessment or test is required to get the CAL credential. You simply attend the class or do the readings and you get it. This is similar to how the CSM used to be (and was widely criticized for).

Another key difference between the CAL and PAL is that the training materials for the CAL are all developed by the instructor. So as long as the instructor meets the learning objectives (see CAL Learning Objectives) they can choose whatever approach that they like.

In contrast, the PAL course uses a standard set of slides, case studies and exercises. Of course, individual trainers will bring their own experiences, perspective and ideas to the class, but the intent is to deliver a consistent course globally.

The cost for an individual to attend the CAL course ranges from about $1,500 on the low end to $2,500 on the high. The variability is based on location, early bird signups and demand for the course. Bringing the course onsite or delivering remotely for one organization will result in a slightly lower cost per person.

Summary – My Thoughts on the Certified Agile Leadership (CAL) Training Course

I enjoyed the CAL training class very much. Michael Sahota did an excellent job for us back in 2017 and I’ve heard he has evolved and improved the course greatly since then. Michael allowed the participants to prioritize topics in the course for more depth and I thought that was helpful. I did find that I got lost a few times and did not go as deep in a few areas as I would have liked because it felt like we kept moving to try to cover more material.

I also really like the CAL focus on culture and the understanding that I gained from that. I also liked that even though it was other coaches, I met people that are now part of my professional network.

One other thing that I liked about the course was that Michael initiated a peer learning component as a follow up to the course. For a nominal fee, Michael hosted a monthly video conference that allowed participants from past courses to interact and learn from each other. The timing of this bonus offering did not work well for me so I was only able to participate a few times.

The Professional Agile Leadership Essentials (PAL-E)

The Professional Agile Leadership Essentials (PAL-E) is the Scrum.org agile leader training course. This offering from Scrum.org includes two parts. First, there is the PAL-E assessment, which is an online 80-question test of knowledge and application. And there is a 2-day training course.

Unlike the CAL, you must pass the online assessment to get the PAL-E credential. In fact, you can skip the training and just pass the online assessment for $200 if you feel you know all the content and just want the credential. This is not something I recommend of course.

I took this PAL-E course from Ryan Ripley, Professional Scrum Trainer (PST). Ryan is also one of the 2 course stewards. As stewards, Ryan and fellow PST Ron Eringa are responsible for thought leadership and continued maintenance of the PAL-E course.

The PAL-E is a 2-day training course. There is no pre-work or online readings and no 2.5-day options like the CAL.

The course materials are standard across all Scrum.org trainers. I like this approach because it means that all instructors use the same materials. Of course, that could limit what an individual instructor could bring to the course.

The target audience for the PAL is similar to that of the CAL, though it doesn’t mention agile coaches and consultants. The training materials say it is for managers responsible for the introduction and establishment of Agile methods and techniques and Scrum Masters and Product Owners engaging in Scrum, seeking professional leadership development, to influence greater change and success in their organization.

Similar to my experience with the CAL, the audience of the PAL training was other trainers, coaches and then 1 person who was in a leadership role at a company. The majority of the questions came from the trainers and a fair share of them were about HOW to deliver the course and had little to do with how to apply the concepts in an organization.

And that I feel is one of the important differences between the CAL and PAL. The CAL seemed focus on the culture of the organization and leadership behaviors. The PAL seemed more focused on how Scrum works and what is the managers role in supporting agile teams. So I felt the PAL was more tactical and focused on the nuts and bolts of the Scrum Framework and the relationship of the 3 Scrum roles to the manager. Ultimately, both of these agile leader training courses are focused on creating an environment for agile teams to succeed. And I think they are quite complimentary.

[Check out our related post Should Managers be on the Scrum Team?]

Summary – Professional Agile Leadership Essentials (PAL-E)

My experience with the course was affected by my personal circumstances – I was actually quite ill during the course and especially the second day. That aside, I liked the course a lot. We worked in small groups for both days and that enabled me to connect with others. And there were a lot of case studies throughout the course which allowed us to think through the content and how we would apply it. The time went quickly and I felt like I learned a lot.

The PAL-E assessment was also straightforward. There is an open assessment which shares some questions from the actual assessment so you can practice and get a sense of how you will do. I passed on the first attempt a few days after the course. My only criticism was that several of the assessment questions had nothing to do with the content that we covered in the class.

Recommendation for Agile Leader Training

If you can, take both of these agile leader training courses! They both provide excellent tools and insights for change agents and coaches. I think the perspective between the two is helpful.

If you are a senior leader in an organization, then I think the CAL may be more appropriate. It focuses less on Scrum team interactions and more on creating the appropriate culture in an organization.

If you are a first or second-line manager, I think the PAL may be more helpful. It provides more case studies and learning about the interactions and maturity of the Product Owner, Dev Team, Scrum Master, and the manager.

What do YOU think? I would love to hear your perspective on these two agile leader training courses.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Brad Appleton

    Great review. I was worried it might be one sided. Boy was I wrong. I also took the CAL course from Michael Sahota ( in Jan 2018. with Mike Beedle). I thought it was fantastic, and it involved a lot of “deep work” that was very literally more focused on individuals and interactions between all of us, and building trust, and mindfulness. Plus you don’t just get Mike Sahota but also Audrey and a more active coaching approach with feedback and reflection.

    But when I first registered for the CAL, it was from another instructor. With the CAL in particular you need to look at both the instructor *and* the syllabus (and if the instructor won’t provide a detailed syllabus, then that is a red flag., or at least a yellow one).

    I preferred the CAL over the PAL in this case, but primarily because of the instructor and the material. I think for any of the courses it is important to get a.great instructor (even if the course has a standard syllabus). For CAL in particular it is even more important, and I am glad I waited for that particular instructor.

    1. Anthony Mersino

      Brad, it is great to hear from you and thanks for sharing your experience with the CAL. What a class that must have been with the late Mike Beedle – I saw a recent LinkedIn post from Emanuel Fonseca that referenced that specific class (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/steps-becoming-scrum-phd-emanuel-fonseca/?trackingId=yvs7WvM2RpigiTlFkzEtqw%3D%3D).

      Thank you for the detailed feedback on the CAL as well and Michael Sahota as instructor. I didn’t get both he and Audrey but was exposed to her through the follow-on peer to peer sessions he facilitated. And I COMPLETELY agree with you on the importance of the instructor and not just for the CAL but for any course.

      Thanks again for your comments Brad!
      Anthony

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