Perspective: Does the Myriad of Agile Certifications Create a Path for Something More?

Updated: Aug 18

By Susan Parente, PMP, PMI-ACP, PMI-RMP, PSM I, CSM, CSPO, CISSP, CRISC, RESILIA, ITIL, GCLP


I recently read an article called “The Circus of Agile Certifications…And a Challenge” by Anthony Mersino. This article pointed out a total of 256 agile certifications provided by 41 certifying bodies! (Mersino, 2019) No wonder why the most prevalent question I receive from professionals interested in agile is, “Which certification should I obtain?”. I currently have 5 agile certifications from 4 certifying bodies – this is not even the tip of the iceberg. My agile certifications include:

  • PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® from Project Management Institute (PMI);

  • Professional Scrum MasterTM I (PSM I) from Scrum.org;

  • Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) from Scrum Alliance®, Inc.;

  • Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO) from ScrumAlliance®, Inc.; and

  • Scrum Fundamental Certified (SFCTM) from SCRUMstudyTM

These certifications represent only 2% of today’s agile certifications, and 10% of the certifying bodies. Given this landscape, one can understand why people are lost in the deluge of certifications.


Certification validates one’s knowledge and skills in agile. Naturally, seeing all of these certifications has one think, which is the right one to obtain? As any good project management consultant would answer, I say "It depends!” Perhaps a better question is, “Which is right for me and what do I want to do with it?”


My Agile Certification Journey

I will attempt to answer this question by sharing my experience and why I obtained the certifications that I have. The first certification I obtained was the PMI-ACP from PMI and the reason I prioritized it was because of my current association with PMI, my existing Project Management Professional (PMP)® Certification, and my desire to teach the PMI-ACP certification. I believed that agile was an approach that was going to become more popular to use than the traditional project management approach. (This was my prediction about 6 years ago, and it seems I was on the right track.) The PMI-ACP has been the fastest growing of the PMI certifications for several years now. When I obtained my PMI-ACP, I was already teaching general agile and Scrum courses. I also had experience with Lean, knowledge of eXtreme Programming (XP), and a specific interest in Kanban. I sought knowledge across multiple agile methodologies while having a stable foundational knowledge of the general agile approach. The PMI-ACP was really the only certification that provided that and I still believe it is the strongest contender for that purpose.


After obtaining my PMI-ACP certification, I noticed that many of my colleagues were getting a Scrum Master certification. Everything seemed to be focused on Scrum, so much so, that I found people asking me the question, “What's the difference between agile and Scrum?” This question shows how pervasive the Scrum methodology is since Scrum is only one of several methods of the agile approach. So, I pondered which Scrum certification would be best to obtain. The CSM from Scrum Alliance was, and is, the most popular, most widely known Scrum certification; however, I was reluctant to obtain the certification due to its cost and the required time commitment. This is one of the more expensive certifications to obtain. Unfortunately, one must attend a two-day class to be eligible to take the exam. As a consultant, not only did I need to consider the cost of the class, but also the opportunity cost of losing two days of work. Given this, I chose to obtain my Scrum Master certification from Scrum.org. They do not require a training class and the fee for the PSM (Professional Scrum Master) Level 1 certification exam is extremely low (the lowest I’ve ever paid for a certification, $150). However, it was a difficult exam to pass. Of my 12 professional certifications, this one has the highest passing grade, a score of 85%. Even for a senior specialist, like myself, who has taught agile and Scrum classes for years, I needed to schedule focused study time to pass this exam. Another positive aspect about this certification is its certifying body, Scrum.org (started by Ken Schwaber, one of the founding fathers of Scrum). Additionally, this certification exam is based on The Scrum Guide, written by Ken and his colleague Jeff Sutherland (the other founding father of Scrum).


Soon after obtaining my first Scrum certification, I gave in and took a CSM class, which was available via a client of mine. I was fortunate enough to be sponsored for this course along with the CSPO course (which is another two-day course via Scrum Alliance). I only took the course and did no additional study, for either computer-based certification exam, and passed both exams on the first attempt. This really isn't a huge feat, since I don't know anybody who has failed the CSM exam. Perhaps appropriately, as an agile subject matter expert, I evaluate the value of obtaining a certification, just as we evaluate the value of the work we do on any agile project. In the case of the CSM, I was getting a push from my clients on having this well-known certification, so I chose to obtain it.


This brings me to my last certification, the Scrum Fundamental Certified (SFC) from SCRUMstudy, which I obtained last month. I obtained this certification because of an interest from one of my clients to be able to train the following certification courses: SFC, Scrum Developer Certified (SDC), and Scrum Master Certified (SMC). So, I obliged my client and started down this path.


The Journey Continues

As you can see, I have 5 agile certifications and I am not yet done building my toolbox of knowledge and skills in Agile. I am pursuing the SDC and SMC certifications next. I'm also continuing on the path of obtaining two more agile certifications from Scrum.org, the Professional Scrum Product Owner (PSPO) and Professional Agile Leadership (PAL). I figure that it will be valuable for me to obtain my PSPO, so I can share the value of this verses the CSPO. I also have a significant interest in agile leadership as a consultant and instructor of leadership courses. The PAL certification will support this well.


So, what do I recommend? It depends! Ask yourself, “Am I focused only on Scrum or am I looking for a general agile certification?” If you are looking for a general agile certification, my recommendation is PMI-ACP. If you are interested in a Scrum certification, it depends on if you have knowledge and experience with Scrum or not. If you don’t have the knowledge, the less expensive (actually free) certification you can get is the SFC from SCRUMstudy. This will give you a Scrum certification and is a good starting point. To get the full knowledge, the SDC and SMC can also be obtained at a low cost, if you are interested in taking a self-directed online course. CSM is still the most widely known, but it doesn’t carry much weight since the exam pass rate is so high. I am also not fond of the high cost for the training (which is required to obtain the certification). That being said, I had an excellent trainer and this could be quite valuable for someone with little to no experience with Scrum. For someone with significant experience in Scrum, I highly recommend the PSM Level 1, it is a quick and inexpensive way to obtain a Scrum certification and it is quite a reputable certification due to the requirement of an 85% to pass the certification exam.


The Future of Agile: Insights for Traditional, Agile, and Possibilities for Hybrid Agile

With all this variation in certification training classes, exam requirements, and desire to learn agile methodologies, one could speculate that there’s flexibility beyond the existing traditional and agile methodologies for a new methodology: Hybrid Agile. I’ve debated just that thought with a colleague of mine, Mark Tolbert. Mark and I will be panelists at an upcoming free virtual event: "Navigating the New World of Project Management – With Agility” hosted by Essential Assets Group, Inc. in September 2020 (Sign up Now!)


The virtual event will share pragmatic ways to meet the adaptive challenges of today's workplaces and customers. Also, feel free to reach out to me at parente@s3-tec.com if you have additional questions. As I said, which certification is right for you depends on you and why you are obtaining the certification. I am happy to help you along your path to find what is right for you.


About the Author

Susan Parente, PMP, PMI-RMP, PMI-ACP, PSM I, CSM, CSPO, CISSP, CRISC, RESILIA, ITIL, GCLP, MS Eng. Mgmt.

Susan Parente is a Principal Consultant at S3 Technologies, LLC, a Senior Instructor-Consultant at Essential Assets Group, and a University Professor at multiple Universities. Mrs. Parente is an author, mentor and professor focused on risk management, and traditional and Agile project management. Her experience is augmented by her master’s in engineering management with a focus in Marketing of Technology from George Washington University, DC, along with several professional certifications. Ms. Parente has 24+ years’ experience leading software and business development projects in the private and public sectors, including a decade of experience implementing IT projects for the DoD. She has co-authored a book on global Risk Management best practices called “Global Hot Spots: How Project and Enterprise Risk Management Practices Drive Business Results Around the World” and is the co-author on a forthcoming publication, “Hybrid Project Management: Using Agile With Traditional PM Methodologies to Succeed on Modern Projects”.


Reference: Mersino, A. (12/27/19) “The Circus of Agile Certifications…And a Challenge


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