The Circus of Agile Certifications…And a Challenge

The Circus of Agile Certifications…And a Challenge

Previously I wrote about the three most popular entry-level agile certifications and I referenced a great 2016 article from Bob Galen. I was surprised – shocked actually – to learn that Bob had catalogued 113 possible certifications for agile people. The list was overwhelming and I put it aside.

Recently, Tom Cagley and I created a hiring guide for Scrum Masters and Coaches. We thought it would be helpful to hiring managers if we included a reference table in our guide, listing all the possible agile certifications out there, sorted alphabetically. Little did we realize how challenging that would be. I’ll get back to that challenge but first an aside about my relationship with Agile Certifications.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Agile Certifications

You may recall my rant a year ago when I found out that my certifications from the Scrum Alliance would expire. I was already questioning the rigor and value of the certifications from Scrum Alliance. They only required me to sit through a 2-day class taught by one of their Certified Scrum Trainers and then answer 35 easy questions.

But then I learned that the certifications would expire and have to be renewed. The renewal is simply an opportunity to have you pay again; it has nothing to do with learning, experience or demonstrating technical competency. (Though as some have commented, SEUs are required.) This is the way other certifying bodies like the Project Management Institute operate.

I decided I wasn’t going to re-certify any more because of that. If they expire, they expire. And I posted a great image of my certification badges melting down on my blog. And then I had to remove it cease and desist notice from the Scrum Alliance. So yes I guess I have a bit of a love-hate relationship when it comes to agile certifications.

A Proliferation of Agile Certifications

So back to the present, Tom and I spent some time going through the list that Bob Galen created in 2016. Not surprisingly, we found a few that had become defunct. We also found a slew of new agile certifications. Even the oldest certifying bodies had introduced more certifications. In total, the 113 certifications in 2016 has expanded to over 256 today. That’s right, over 256 possible agile certifications from a total of 40 different certification bodies. (And we probably have missed a few!)

A summary table of the 256 agile certifications is included below, listed by certifying authority. In addition, we have created a website that has details about all the certifications here: AgileCertificationReviews.com.

summary of agile certifications

What is the Value of Those Agile Certifications?

Initially I tried to assign some attributes for each certification. I considered cost, exam requirements, experience, relevance, difficulty to obtain, and popularity for each certification. Unfortunately, data about each of the certifications is inconsistent and in some cases not readily available.

What I really thought would be most helpful to others was value.  I thought it would be helpful to have some measure of the value of the certification to the holder or in the marketplace. Unfortunately, value turns out to be quite subjective.

There are some certifications that I am familiar with and can provide my own perspective. I currently hold a paltry 8 of the 200 certifications from 4 different certification authorities:

  • 3 from Scrum Alliance (CSM, CSP-SM and CAL)
  • 3 from Scrum.org (PSM, PSPO and PAL-E)
  • 1 from the Project Management Institute (PMI-ACP)
  • 1 from AgilityHealth (AHF)

The Agile Certifications Challenge

So here is the challenge part. I am going to use 2020 to explore as many of these certifications as possible to gain as much first hand experience as I can. I’d like to get at least one certification from each of the 32 certifying authorities, if that is possible. And I would like to try to achieve 52 new certifications next year – that is one per week.

In doing so, I will post about my experience including what I learn, the value it provides to me. I will also post my findings about the various certifying authorities and invite you to share your own perspectives.

Some that are at the top of my list because I want to learn more include LeSS, DAD, Kanban and SAFe. Unfortunately, they are also going to be some of the more costly ones. They can easily be $1,500 or more for the training and that excludes travel. So if you have tips for doing this on a budget please let me know those.

I welcome your feedback on this challenge including your own first-hand experience.

PS: I am working on an approach to allow people to provide their own ratings of all these certifications, like a Rotten Tomatoes approach. Hey, if we can crowdsource it we can probably cut through the BS. If you are interested in helping me test drive this, please email me directly at: AMersino@VitalityChicago.com

agile coach ebook

This Post Has 30 Comments

  1. Chris Belknap

    No disrespect intended, but why set your goals on entry level certifications, as many of those are basic. If you already have a PSM and a CSM, is another entry level cert going to help? I’d rather focus my time on learning something valuable from a trainer who works in the trenches and who I can learn from. Quality over quantity. Outcomes over outputs.

    I’m biased to Scrum.org trainings. If you want to challenge yourself, try the PSM II and PSM III.

    1. Anthony Mersino

      Hi Chris, I agree 100% with your comment about learning something valuable from an experienced trainer. I’ve attended training from poor instructors and that is not much fun. I have been asking around for recommendations on trainers for classes, especially SAFe.

      I am considering the PSM II and III and the PSPO II. But I need to be opportunistic to achieve one per week so I may need to take more of the entry level and fewer of the advanced.

      Thanks for weighing in!
      Anthony

  2. Pradip Ghosh

    I feel some certifications & certification bodies are missing. For example Agile Testing Alliance/DevOps++ Alliance provides some Agile Testing, DevOps, DevSecOps related certifications.

    1. Anthony Mersino

      Thank you Pradip – we will look into those other certifications and add them as appropriate.
      Anthony

  3. gowri

    Certifications are one way for people to feel they are accomplishing something in addition to qualify to apply for jobs. However these certifications show how much ‘independence’ an agilist has in coming up with their own version of Agile. How many articles and books we know about ‘User Stories’. These US are backlog in scrum guide.

  4. Dave R

    I agree with you that value of a certification is the appropriate measure, but it’s tricky to quantify. In the job market, employers tend to value the more recognized and established Agile certifications (from Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, etc) which is why they get away with charging you to renew.

    I’m torn on certifications as well – they seem to be a necessary evil if you are trying to establish your expertise to a new employer, but other than getting your foot in the door, I don’t know that a 2 day course and easy online exam provides much value to the certificant in terms of knowledge or training. So for myself personally, I’ve acquired the basic Scrum Alliance certifications (CSM and CSP-SM) for credibility with employers, and am in the process of acquiring other certifications that are more competency based where I feel I’m actually gaining new skills (currently pursuing the ICE-AC expert in Agile Coaching from ICAgile, and have several Atlassian certifications for Jira and other tools, and will eventually do some of the scaling frameworks just to round out my knowledge).

    It would be great to see some objective data on certifications (most popular/recognized in the market). So if you come across any that would be great to share. Good luck on your journey!

  5. Praveen Kumar

    If you are seriously going to do 52 certifications,Book a flight ticket to India for ~1200 USD and do your certifications from there – SAFe Agilist cost around 30K INR which is 428USD against 1500 USD here in US. I am CSM (India 430 USD), CSPO (1500 USD, US) , SAFe Agilist (430 USD, India) and PSM I (150 USD Online). Little more planning and preparation can target few certifications in a single trip.

  6. Gary K Evans

    Anthony, A resounding ‘Amen’ to this article. I obtained my CSM after working in Agile projects for about 6 years, and I sat for that only because a potential client was requiring it. The other 10 people in that certification course had only Waterfall experience, but we all got the same CSM. After 22 years in agile efforts I obtained a SAFe Program Consultant cert only because clients were asking for it. In neither certification did I actually learn anything revolutionary or even new. The certification ‘Mill’ is a money-making machine. Vendors love it for the revenue. Hiring companies love it because they equate certification with experience and expertise. Aspirants love it because it confers a cache of ‘status’ in email signatures. It’s a win-win with very little value for any of the participants. I chronicle the Big Three Scrum Master certification groups in the book I have almost finished. One revealing figure is the PSM 1, 2, and 3 certifications: the number of people holding these almost doubled in one year: from 140,000 in May 2018 to over 238,000 in July 2019. These are inexpensive relative to the CSM’s so people are gravitating toward PSMs. Regarding the cost of scaling framework certifications: I called Scaled Agile directly less than two weeks before the class I wanted. They had empty seats, and I negotiated a lower rate so they could fill one more seat.

  7. Paul

    I would like you to try out the BCS Agile Practioner certificate, since it is actually quite different from the others

    1. Anthony Mersino

      Hi Paul, thank you for weighing in. Do you have any recommended trainers for the BCS? Also, can you identify how the BCS Agile Practitioner differs from the PMI-ACP?

      Thanks,
      Anthony

    1. Anthony Mersino

      Hi Pradip, thanks for the feedback. I’ll update accordingly!
      Anthony

  8. Jay Hrcsko

    Anthony-Love this experiment! We’ve done some shows on this topic on our podcast (podcast.agileuprising.com) and I would love to have you on to discuss this topic, or any other “agile shirts & certs” topics!

    1. Anthony Mersino

      Hi Jay, I’d be happy to join the podcast. It will help me to stay accountable to the goal.
      Anthony

  9. Andy Cleff

    > So if you have tips for doing this on a budget please let me know those.

    What about a gofund me?

  10. Tim

    Thank you Anthony for your willingness to explore the rat’s nest of Agile certifications.

    1. Anthony Mersino

      Hi Robert, thank you for your comments and your article link. I like your point about the recruiters using the certs as a way to screen candidates which may or may not reflect the ability to do the job. Most job seekers have then felt it necessary to get more certifications to remain competitive which provides an opening for more and more certification providers who all have similar names.

      I left a comment on your article that I hope to implement some form of user reviews – similar to Rotten Tomatoes – that we can use to crowdsource feedback on these various certifications.

      Thank you for your comments.
      Anthony

  11. Kristine Corbus

    There is an alternative to agile certification which is exactly within the spirit of agile: a learning community – Agile Testing Fellow!

    1. Anthony Mersino

      Hi Kristine, thanks for joining the discussion. What is the difference between the Agile Testing Fellows and the other certs? I looked at the home page and it looks quite similar.

      Thanks!
      Anthony

  12. Kylle Dietz

    Thank you so much for looking at this. I was just speaking to some other coaches about this. When working in a large transformation effort it is difficult to determine which type of training let alone certification can be the most helpful. I just started in this journey a few years ago and I’m still searching, but I have found the most helpful to be the ones from Kanban University(TKP, KMPI, KMPII, AKT) and the ICP (ATF, ACC) and I’m working on the ICE-AC. So I think the answer may be two-fold, 1) which are recognized in the workforce and 2) which are helpful in your learning journey. They may be two separate lists.

    1. Anthony Mersino

      Thanks Kylle for weighing in. I am hoping to get at least one of the Kanban certifications and perhaps a couple of the ICP certs.

      I am exploring a user rating system for the certifications and once implemented, I’d love you to rate the ones that you have.

      I like your suggestions but I am not sure if I completely agree with you on the twofold answers – workforce recognition and learning. I think they both contribute to value to the person seeking them.

      I am hoping to learn more this year!
      Anthony

  13. Laurent THOMAS

    Contrary to what you affirm (“And as an aside, this is the way others like the Project Management Institute operate”), in order to renew a PMI certification, the candidate has to provide the proof of continuous learning through the obtention of Professional Development Units. The candidate has still to pay a fee though …

    1. Anthony Mersino

      Hi Laurent, thank you for your comment. You make a good point that I overlooked. For a few of those certifications that require renewal, it is more than simply paying the fee.

      I would point out that the requirements for those PDUs is pretty loose – it can be showing up at a chapter meeting or reviewing an online webinar. It is better than no learning requirement, however, it doesn’t necessarily validate continuous learning.

      In any case, it is more about the fee than it is the continuous learning IMHO.

      After my one year challenge to get an additional 52 certifications to add to the 8 I already have, I am not going to renew any of the certifications.

      Thank you for weighing in. Cheers!
      Anthony

  14. Jamie Heath

    If we’re not careful this model will expand to the colleges and universities. Pretty soon you’ll have to pay a yearly fee to keep your bachelors degree.

    1. Anthony Mersino

      You are right Jamie! Actually, for some degrees the fact that you need PDUs to maintain the licensing is pretty much the same.
      Thanks for your comment.
      Anthony

  15. Ken

    I’ve been in the IT industry some time. Largely I’d avoided vendor certifications. My primary qualification was a BSc, and to most employers that demonstrated learning capacity above subject matter knowledge. Recently as a project manager I’ve certified as a PMI-PMP and a Scrum.org PSM. To me the question of certification/qualification/degree/masters is largely one of knowledge and value. The instrument you achieve should have some value to you, or people with whom you work. It can clarify a standard way of working (say scientific method), a standard terminology, or a standard set of principles. Where this knowledge requires regular curation, it often appears as PDUs. So to my mind, if you are walking in cold to an environment and need to demonstrate a common framework, a continuing certification is a good idea. If you actually need the knowledge, get trained. If you think you will never need to expand your knowledge after getting a certification, I think you have missed the point. If you rebel against proving this by (funded) validated tests, well, that’s a value equation. While some demonstration of PDU value can be low, if you undertake it with the mindset it is only a money making instrument, isn’t that about the value you want to assign to your qualification? If you take it as an honest attempt from the provider to ensure your qualification has value, is the concern you don’t have the knowledge or someone else might be sulling your valuable 5 day course certificate? Anyway, to my mind someone like Anthony, who is in effect a teacher (or master in education parlance), he is undertaking an independent curation of the body of teaching materials. In effect he is moving from subject knowledge to teaching knowledge. Rather than a plethora of low grade certs, it sounds like he should be pursuing a government supported qualification in education, so the method of curation is the common framework and provides more value. .

    1. Anthony Mersino

      Ken, I really appreciate your perspective about the “value” we assign to these various learning opportunities and certifications. While my own certification “challenge” has been temporarily put on hold, I am still working on learning and mastering the various frameworks and approaches. I agree that getting a “plethora of low grade certs” would be pointless though, there is value in having some first-hand exposure to all offerings and to be able to share my opinions of various offerings with some level of perspective and perhaps even objectivity.

      Anyway, great input and certainly food for thought! I hope you will explore other blogs and articles on the site and continue to provide your feedback and opinions.
      Cheers,
      Anthony

  16. sreenivas

    Excellent list of certifications. Never knew these many exist.

    Based on the role you are in and you want to be in, required certifications can be picked and try to achieve,which could help personally and professionally.

    Don’t think it’s of any use, if any one tries to get the certifications just to increase the number.

  17. Jordan Lamborn

    Thanks for this. I just started investigating what is out there that I can do. I suppose the online training surge of COVID worked out quite well for you certification goal!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.