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 be 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. This 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 a 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.
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: 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.