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Which PMI Agile Certification Should I Get?

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People have been asking me lately whether they should get the Disciplined Agile Scrum Master (DASM) or Senior Scrum Master (DASSM) Certifications from PMI. Or should they get the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)? The short answer is “it depends”.

Prior to PMI’s acquisition of Disciplined Agile, people would ask me if they should get the PMI-ACP or a Scrum Certification like the PSM or CSM. Each of those has strengths and weaknesses to consider in view of your personal situation. You can read about my thoughts here: Which Entry Level Agile Certification Should I Get?

But this post is specific to the PMI Agile Certifications. Let’s start by taking a look at all the PMI certifications and then focus on the three agile-specific PMI certifications.

PMI is in the Certification Business

Certifications drive PMI, going all the way back to the 1984 introduction of the Project Management Professional or PMP. Today there are 1.3M holders of the PMP. At about $500 per PMP, that is about $6.5M in PMI revenue generated from those current PMP holders.

But that isn’t all. The PMP needs to be renewed every 3 years so the actual revenue from those certified PMPs is much higher. I first obtained my PMP in 1995 and renewed it every year up until 2019. It was then I realized that some organizations force you to renew your “expired” certifications while others grant you a lifetime certification. My knowledge of the content did not expire; the only thing that expired was 3 years since my last payment. I wised up and stopped renewing my certifications.

The PMP is the cash cow and PMI’s attempts to introduce new certifications have not fared nearly as well. The chart below shows all the PMI certifications, sorted by the number of holders as of June 30, 2022.

PMI certification stats sorted by number of holders as of June 2022

The PMP continues to be the MacDaddy of the PMI certifications with 87,822 net growth in PMP between January 2021 and June 2022.

As a reference point, consider the Scrum certifications. There are two key bodies that offer Scrum Certifications and of those, Scrum.org publishes their statistics on certifications.

Scrum.org offers three different levels of Scrum Master certification (PSM-I, PSM-II, and PSM-III). In 2021 alone they added 89,249 new Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certifications for a total of 462,047 scrum masters certified since 2009. While the overall number of PMPs is greater than the PSMs, the net new number is nearly the same for both. And since Scrum.org is just one of the two main certification bodies for Scrum and Scrum Masters, it is fair to say that the Scrum Master certification is outstripping the PMP certifications.

Second place in popularity is held by the CAPM which is an entry-level PMP for those who lack work experience. It is popular with recent college graduates heading into Project Management Careers.

In third place is the Agile Certified Practitioner or PMI-ACP. Introduced in 2012, it is one of the only newer certifications to really take off. In fact, there are more than double the number of PMI-ACP holders than all the other certifications offered by PMI combined excluding the PMP and CAPM.

Most of the other certifications offered by PMI are niches related to the project management role, like Risk Management, Program Management, Scheduling, and Portfolio.

PMI also tried to get into the Business Analysis area with somewhat limited success. That domain is dominated by the International Institute of Business Analysis and they offer seven different certifications.

One might conclude that PMI found Agile as the best area to grow their non-PMP certifications. Which is no surprise then what happened in 2019.

PMI Expands Their Agile Certification Offerings

The 2019 purchase of Disciplined Agile from the DA Consortium and co-founders Scott Ambler and Mark Lines should not have surprised anyone keeping an eye on the PMI Agile certification business. With the PMI-ACP as the only real performing certification outside the PMP, they decided to expand into agile ways of working. This is ironic since PMI and Agile ways of working have been a little bit like oil and water.

It has taken PMI a while to digest the Disciplined Agile acquisition and refactor the certifications to fit with PMI’s approach. Last year I wrote about the PMI certifications and what is known from the publicly available information. In my 2021 Update on the PMI Certifications I noted that there were actually 4 new DA certifications being introduced:

  • Disciplined Agile Scrum Master (DASM)
  • Disciplined Agile Senior Scrum Master (DASSM)
  • Disciplined Agile Value Stream Consultant (DAVSC)
  • Disciplined Agile Coach (DAC)

PMI didn’t share much about the takeup of these certifications until January 2021 when they began to provide monthly updates via the fact file in the Critical Path Blog. But they only published statistics for the first two in the list above. For the other two – the Disciplined Agile Coach (DAC) and the Disciplined Agile Value Stream Consultant (DAVSC) – there is currently no public information being shared.

PMI Fact File Showing PMI Agile Certifications as of Jan 2022

So how have the new Disciplined Agile Certifications from PMI fared? The ones where information is available?

To be clear, it is early on. PMI released the DASM and DASSM in mid-2020. I would say that the reception in the market has been lukewarm with each of those only gaining 2,204 new certification holders in 2021. That is paltry by PMI standards and is dwarfed by the PMI-ACP. Even the niche Risk Management Professional certification was higher.

Why are the PMI DA certifications so low? I can only speculate. The fact that it is new is certainly one factor. Another could be the fact that PMI named their DA certifications “Scrum Master” even though that is a, well, a term from the Scrum Framework. It’s actually a pretty weird choice given that DA prides itself on being agnostic. And early on the Disciplined Agile folks prided themselves on being different than Scrum which they derided as too prescriptive. In fact, the DA folks used to beat Scrum up pretty badly as I noted in my writeup about the DA training when I took it back in 2020.

The certifications are certainly accessible. We (Vitality Chicago Inc.) offer both DASM and DASSM training courses at least quarterly. Of course, we also offer a broad range of training courses including the PMI-ACP and Scrum certification courses.

So now we return to the original question – which PMI Agile Certification should I get?

How to Choose between the PMI Agile Certifications

I am going to put aside the DAVSC and DAC certifications for now because I don’t know enough about them to have an opinion. And there is no data on marketplace acceptance. I am personally interested in the DAVSC. I would like to better understand how to help organizations leverage the value stream concepts and I also have great respect for Alan Shalloway, one of the thought leaders who helped create that certification.

But for purposes of this discussion, let’s focus on the PMI-ACP, the DASM, and the DASSM. Those three PMI Agile Certifications are similar in these ways:

  • That they are all offered by PMI.
  • They are more open and less prescriptive than some of the other certifications like those from Scrum
  • They include coverage of Scrum as well as other agile methods like Lean, XP, and Kanban
  • They keep you in the PMI ecosystem

The PMI-ACP, DASM, and DASSM differ in these ways:

  • While the DASM is an entry-level certification and it does not require experience, both the PMI-ACP and the DASSM require experience. This may make them inaccessible to some people.
  • For the DASM and DASSM, students must attend a training class and then pass the exam. For the PMI-ACP, students simply need to pass the exam.
  • The DASM and DASSM courses are exactly the same; instructors need to use the PMI materials and cover all slides. For the PMI-ACP, the materials are not produced by PMI. Instead, each course developer uses the exam content outline to develop appropriate training materials.
  • The knowledge base for each is different. For the PMI-ACP there are 13 reference books. For the DA certifications, the knowledge base is the Disciplined Agile Toolkit
  • The DASM and DASSM include aspects of project lifecycles and phases that are not in the PMI-ACP.
  • The DASM and DASSM provide a decision toolkit of practices along with guidance on what to apply to your context. The PMI-ACP does not provide that context and is more about understanding the full landscape of agile approaches.
  • The PMI-ACP is somewhat recognized in agile circles while the Disciplined Agile Certifications are still relatively unknown.

So, which PMI Agile Certification should you pursue?

  • If you lack hands-on agile experience, then you won’t have a choice but to start with the DASM
  • If you are good at self-study and want to save some money, you can pursue the PMI-ACP with study guides and online tools without having to pay for training. Mike Griffith has published a study guide for the PMI-ACP exam which I often recommend; Griffith also facilitates a PMI-ACP self-study group that costs significantly less than a typical training course.
  • If you want to set yourself apart, the PMI-ACP does this better than the others (IMHO)
  • If you have some agile experience and want to learn how to use a toolkit of possible approaches, then one of the Disciplined Agile Certifications would probably be helpful.
  • If you already have been certified as a Scrum Master, I would recommend the PMI-ACP
  • If you want access to a toolkit of good practices that you can apply to fit your context, then either the DASM or DASSM will be helpful
  • If you are PMP or operating in a project management organization, you will probably find the DASM certifications closer to the PMBOK approach taken by the PMP

Another Way to Look at the Question of Which Agile Certification

In a LinkedIn discussion from a few years ago, someone shared something that really made sense to me. While I often tend to think of a certification as a goal to be achieved, I was challenged to look at the attainment of a certification as a journey to be appreciated. More specifically, a journey of learning and growth.

By that, I was encouraged to consider pursuing whichever certification provided the most challenge, learning, and growth opportunities. The one that would make me the best trainer and coach that I could be. They convinced me to think less about the acronyms I would add to my profile, but to my own development. It relates to Mastery which is one of the three factors that Dan Pink attributes to intrinsic motivation in his book Drive.

That is a very personal consideration.

Do you have firsthand experience with any of the certifications mentioned in this post? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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