Why I am NOT Going to Renew My PMI, Agile & Scrum Certifications (2020)

Why I am NOT Going to Renew My PMI, Agile & Scrum Certifications (2020)

Updated 2020: Over the last year I have explored professional certifications in detail. I have learned that many of the Agile and Scrum Certifications expire if you don’t renew them. And the renewal, while ostensibly about learning, is really just a way for the certifying bodies to make more money. So I am not going to renew my certifications.

As part of this work, I am also exploring and getting more Agile and Scrum certifications. I know, sounds crazy right? Read more here in The Circus of Agile Certifications.

So as of January 2020, I am going to let the following certifications lapse:

  • Certified Scrum Master (CSM), Scrum Alliance
  • Certified Scrum Professional (CSP-SM), Scrum Alliance
  • Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP), Project Management Institute
  • Project Management Professional (PMP), Project Management Institute

I admit that initially it felt a little risky and feckless. It was emotional.

First, I felt like I was losing my investment. Like all my hard work to pass the exam in the first place was going to be thrown out if I did not renew.

The reality is, that the investment is a sunk cost and should not factor into future decisions.

The second reason it was emotional was that it felt like it would put at risk my path to future agile and scrum certifications from the Project Management Institute and the Scrum Alliance. Would this block my future success somehow?

Both PMI and Scrum Alliance Certifications Expire

I was always aware that the PMI certifications expire. I obtained my PMP back in 1995 and renewed it every 2 years. That takes PDUs and Money. Getting the PDUs to re-certify was easy for me. Over the years I’ve attended training courses, developed and delivered training courses, wrote books targeted to project managers, spoke at chapter events and even volunteered with the local PMI Chicagoland Chapter. And frankly the money wasn’t a huge deal.

Frankly I was surprised to learn that my Scrum Alliance Certifications would expire. I was certified as a Scrum Master in 2014 and as a Scrum Professional in 2015 and at the time I thought they were for life. As it turns out, they’ll  were not for life and this renewal requirement has been in place for at least 10 years.

I first heard about this from a friend who has his CSM.  A colleague of mine reached out to me, alarmed that he had just found out he was no longer certified as a Scrum Master. He couldn’t find himself in the Scrum Alliance online certificant directory. (You may want to check for yourself.)

The colleague has been acting as a Scrum Master for nearly 7 years. He had achieved his Scrum certification like most of us – by sitting through a 2-day certification course taught by a Certified Scrum Trainer from Scrum Alliance. When he took the class, he was not even required to pass the token quiz that was added later.

Did he become any less competent as a Scrum Master that his certification should “expire”? Actually, it is probably the opposite. I know I’ve learned a ton as an active Agile Coach over the last 5 years since I was certified.

I don’t think that renewing your certification is necessarily a bad idea. Plenty of other organizations do it. In fact, I’ve been certified with the Project Management Institute since 1995 and always had to renew my certification every 3 years.

Agile and Scrum Certifications Are a Money-Making Racket

That’s right, Agile and Scrum Certifications are a money-making racket. Through the use of Certified Scrum Trainers and PMI Registered Education Providers, they operate like a multi-level marketing scheme.

The Scrum Alliance approach has always felt a little like a puppy mill – churning out those “Certified Scrum Masters” certification to anyone who paid for a 2-day training class. They created a virtual monopoly on Scrum certifications and controlled it through the limited number of certified scrum trainers that they controlled. As long as people paid and attended their 2-day training, they got their Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certification.

Despite widespread criticism, Scrum Alliance hasn’t changed their approach much. They did add an end of course exam for some of their certifications, but that is about it. Which leads me to believe it really is only about the money. The Scrum Alliance charges money to give you what I increasingly consider a meaningless certificate. I’ve met too many “certified” Scrum Masters who went through the 2-day class and still know little or nothing about Scrum.

I am not sure that the PMI approach is much better. They do require the professional development units (PDUs) but those PDUs are pretty easy to obtain and there is no verification of continued learning. It really seems to be about the money.

A Cleaner Scrum Certification Approach

I’ve started to steer clear of the Scrum Alliance certifications in favor of Scrum.org. I think that Scrum.org is using a cleaner and more scrupulous approach. To get the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certification from Scrum.org, you need to demonstrate competency by passing a rigorous assessment. They don’t care how you get the knowledge. You can take training from them or self-study. Or get it from hands on practice. And unlike the Scrum Alliance certifications, the PSM from Scrum.org won’t expire; it lasts for your lifetime.

Is shifting from one certification body to the other a good idea? I think it is too early to tell. The real test will be whether Scrum.org changes their certification model to require renewal. There may come a day when someone in the finance department at Scrum.org recognizes how much money they are leaving on the table.

How Does Certification Relate to Agile Training or Coaching?

I am hard pressed to see how lack of scrum certification will impact my role as an agile trainer and agile coach. In fact, as I continue to work, I deepen my knowledge and skills as a practitioner, trainer and coach. I continue to grow in my understanding of Lean, Agile Methods and the Scrum Framework.

And this is that is the irony.

I am less “certified” now than someone who took the training this week and got their CSM certification but has zero experience. Which is part of the problem with the certification racket. What does certified really mean??

Agile and Scrum Certification Updates

Updated July 2019 – Scrum Alliance

As of today, my two Scrum Alliance certifications are still showing on the Scrum Alliance certification directory. The CSM and CSP-SM are both showing as active though they were earned in 2013 and 2015.

I also learned from the Scrum Alliance that my CAL1 is considered a “designation” and not a certification and it won’t expire. I don’t know why the CAL1 does not show on my Scrum Alliance profile.

Scrum Certification Update from Scrum Alliance CSP-SM and CSM

Updated August 2019 – New Scrum.org Certifications

I took the Professional Agile Leadership Class from Ryan Ripley at Scrum.org. It was a great class and a good learning experience. Following the class, I went online and took both the PAL-E and the PSM assessments. So 2 new Certifications.

Updated January 2020 – The Certifications Challenge

I’ve further expanded on this topic in the blog A Circus of Agile Certifications. Would you believe there are now over 256 different Agile and Scrum Certifications??? For your benefit we compiled a list of all the known Agile and Scrum certifications that you can filter and search: Agile Certifications Directory

In the Circus of Certifications post I also announced that I am challenging myself to get one new certification per week in 2020! More to come on this!

We are also working on a website where we can crowdsource information about the 256 certifications. We believe that bringing some transparency will be a benefit to all and perhaps this will help shift certifications from being a money-making racket.

Stay Tuned, more to come.

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This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Aaron Kopel

    Full disclosure… I am a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST) and have been a member of the Scrum Alliance for about 10 years.

    I think this issue often comes down to the view of scrum certifications. For some, it’s about passing a one-time test and claiming the credential. I view CSM a little differently; as validation that you’ve been taught Scrum, as designed in the scrum guide, by a vetted and certified expert… a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST). Further, the renewal for the CSM certification is not just for the credential, but also continued membership in a 500,000+ person community that offers support and benefits such as discounted global and regional conferences, free educational webinars, agile careers and job postings, and many much more. If a member wishes to attend a Scrum Gathering, they receive a $200+ discount on registration, so the bi-annual renewal fee of $100 easily pays for itself from a raw dollars standpoint. Additionally, Scrum Alliance sponsors many local events such as conferences and meetup events simply to support those local agile communities. Scrum Alliance is a non-profit organization offering many benefits to the community for over 17 years where no other organization had existed. So I am proud to be part of this community and proud to continue to support it as I see it as offering a win-win-win situation. I suppose its each individual’s choice if $100 every 2 years is too much to contribute for continued membership in the largest global agile community, funding the support and outreach to local and underserved markets, and renewal of their own certification.

    As for the certification renewal itself, Scrum Alliance certifications have been on a 2-year renewal cycle for at least 10 years (if not from the beginning), so this isn’t something new. What is new is the requirement for continued learning to maintain the certification. In 2018 the requirement for 20 SEUs (Scrum Education Units) was added to CSM renewal promote continued learning. And coming in early 2019 there will be an updated exam for CSM, and a new exam for CSPO.

    In addition, in 2017 the Scrum Alliance began offering the Advanced level for CSM and CSPO to further provide a path on the journey for certification holders who choose to gain experience, in addition to training and self-study. The A-CSM and A-CSPO certifications both require 12 months of experience. The next level beyond that is the Certified Scrum Professional (CSP) level, which requires an additional 12 months of experience in the role. I know of no other certification body offering this type of advanced learning path for agile or scrum certifications with various opportunities for class room learning as well as offerings for extended peer group collaboration, mentorship, coaching and other formats which are all actively supported by the most well vetted trainers in the agile community.

    People that attend my CSM classes understand that this is the first step in a journey, and that the Scrum Alliance offers a path on that journey. It is up to them to decide if they chose to take this path. If they want to continue, I ‘m here to help them. It’s up to them to choose.

    I hope that helps to clarify a bit of the Scrum Alliance / CST perspective.

    1. Anthony Mersino

      Hi Aaron, thanks for the detailed explanation. I was not aware that the Certifications were on a renewal cycle for the last 10 years. I must have renewed them 2 years ago and not remembered it. And though the renewal fee isn’t significant (as you’ve pointed out), I am still not convinced there is value to me in renewing the certifications.

      Happy New Year!
      Anthony

    2. Val

      Aaron, in your answer you confirm that ScrumAlliance certification is not about getting knowledge and learning practical professional skills, but about being a “proud” member of the “proud team” on their journey to the “Agile new normal”, – that’s definition of a religious cult, more like a Scientology-type cult rather than something with real value.
      You may have success in trying to convince kids that a 2-day training can produce anything valuable, by using your awkward cyclical logic that ScrumAlliance certification is good, because it is being taught by a certified ScrumAlliance coach. You have a multi-layer marketing system that emphasizes structure and highly formalized levels, – just like sort of Herbalife…
      Try to change my mind… )
      Val

  2. Tim Baffa

    Anthony, I am also considering not renewing my CSM when it expires. And my reasons are similar to yours. I question the value of the CSM certification ($50/year), the need for certification renewal (revenue generator?), and the lack of a member community within the Scrum Alliance web site (they disbanded it in early 2018).

    In addition, the online webinars offered through Scrum Alliance have become increasingly lacking in value, in my opinion. As you know, I originally started as a CSM through Scrum Alliance, but I’ve found a much more robust online Scrum community through Scrum.Org. I am currently preparing for my PSM2 certification through Scrum.Org. I would encourage you to explore the Scrum.Org community, along with their many certifications (gained through what you know, and not based on time logged).

    Best regards,

    Tim Baffa – CSM, PSM

    1. Anthony Mersino

      Tim, thanks so much for your comments. I’ve seen that you are active on the Scrum.org discussion boards and I’m glad you find value in it.

      After posting this, I received a stern note from Scrum Alliance about misuse and disparagement of their badges and their service marks. I’ll comply but it just reinforces the notion that I’m probably going to be OK going outside the SA Community.

      Happy New Year,
      Anthony

  3. Thomas

    Thanks for your comments. Honestly, why should you have to spend hundreds or thousands for scrum certifications. I spent $19 at AgileScrumAcademy.org. Now I am scrum certified for life. It doesnt expire.

    1. Anthony Mersino

      Thank you Thomas for your comment. I have not personally heard of the Agile Scrum Academy though I understand your sentiments.
      Anthony

    2. Poonam

      Hello Thomas, Is AgileScrumAcademy.org reputed?

      1. Anthony Mersino

        Hi Poonam, I have never heard of AgileScrumAcademy.org. A quick visit to their website reveals a pretty thin site with security issues. I tried to take the online exam for “Agile Scrum Master” which cost $19 but the site kept erroring out.

        There is an odd statement on their about page (/about-agile/) which I think is indicative of the quality:
        About Agile scrum academy the Best scrum
        certification Statistics say that by using Agile Project
        Management, on average, the time to
        is 37% faster and the efficiency
        of you team is increased with a
        productivity higher by 16% that the average.

        Bottom Line: I would avoid the AgileScrumAcademy and stick with either Scrum Alliance or Scrum.org for Scrum Master certification training.
        Thanks, Anthony

  4. George

    So, my CSM has expired on March 25 2020 and have not renewed yet. Checked my online profile and it still shows as active and it is searchable. Am I under a grace period? Will it be like this for ever if I do not renew? My point is…what exactly will happen if you do not renew? You just get removed from their searchable database? If yes, can I just pay the renewal fee and reinstate it, if needed? The whole thing seems a bit scummy…

    1. Anthony Mersino

      Hi George, thanks for your comments. I don’t know exactly how this is being implemented. After a friend alerted me, I checked my own and it had not expired. I obtained my CSM in 2014 and so technically it should have been renewed in 2017?? It is still showing as valid in the Scrum Alliance directory so I don’t know if they have a grace period, or if this is just behind schedule or what is exactly their approach. You would have to check with someone from the Scrum Alliance. Perhaps they are not worrying about it, in particular with all the real world problems people have.

      I know if it was PMI that would be a different story :).

      Let me know if you learn anything different.
      Thanks!
      Anthony

  5. Jonathan

    It’s likely for the same reason News Paper companies continue to deliver after you have canceled… active subscriber count increases their sales (ads in the case of News Papers). FWIW I never even thought about renewing my cert, or any cert for that matter. Once you have work experience the cert only gets you search hits, not contracts/jobs. My Java cert from back in the day still gets filtered on Job sites, and people mostly want to see something there for a specific job, but again it comes down to the interview and your skills/fit. I’ll likely check out Scrum.org for actual career benefits, as SA seems more sales-based vs knowledge-based.

    Appreciate the lively debate as it helps inform decisions.

  6. Senthil

    Well. Scrum Alliance can have something to say inactive or active instead of deleting the name from their list for the expired certificates

  7. Nadir

    The CSM is a joke. There is no accountability to prove the person actually has any experience. The fact that anyone can take a 2 day class and have a CSM says it all. The PMI-ACP is much more stringent and subject to a rigorous audit process. When I’m looking for agile PMs I only look for ACPs.

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