Agile Certifications – The Top 10 Certifications in Agile
Before beginning my studies (I chose the PMI-ACP® certification), I talked to over 100 hiring managers and agile experts to complete this list of the top ten agile certifications.
I conducted the bulk of my research connecting with experts on the project management forum, Reddit r/Agile and r/projectmanagement, and on LinkedIn.
Today, I’m sharing my research with you. This is what I found to be the most prominent and sought after agile certifications that hiring managers look for. These are the certifications helping project managers increase their salary, get promoted, and get that dream job.
1) PMI-ACP® Certification – PMI Agile Certified Practitioner
Far and away, the PMI-ACP® (otherwise known as the Agile Certified Practitioner) is the number one agile certification that you can pursue. Of the hundreds of experts that I spoke with, when discussing the various certifications and which look best on a resume, the PMI-ACP® was ranked first 9 out of 10 times.
Here is a bit of the feedback I received what asking about the PMI-ACP®: “The PMI-ACP® was extremely rigorous and I learned a ton. On the other hand, those from the scrum alliance, which I did after, were trivial and I only learned a few new techniques here and there. PMI-ACP®, you actually have to have experience. ScrumMaster and product owner you just need the money.”
This feedback REALLY stood out to me, and actually steered me away from the ScrumMaster certification. I have no doubt that I will pursue the ScrumMaster as my next certification, but this consistent feedback about the PMI-ACP® being the only certification that exemplifies real-world experience in agile pushed me towards pursuing the PMI-ACP® first.
This certification covers a wide range of agile topics. The exam is specifically broken up into seven sections, each section covering a different agile topic. According to the handbook, the seven sections of the exam are weighted as follows:
- Agile Principles and Mindset – 16% of the exam will be based on this topic.
- Value-driven Delivery – 20% of the exam will be based on this topic.
- Stakeholder Engagement – 17% of the exam will be based on this topic.
- Team Performance – 16% of the exam will be based on this topic.
- Adaptive Planning – 12% of the exam will be based on this topic.
- Problem Detection and Resolution – 10% of the exam will be based on this topic.
- Continuous Improvement (Product, – 9% of the exam will be based on this topic.
If you want to stand out as an expert in applying project management in the real world, with most companies using Agile, I recommend the PMI-ACP®. Agile and the number of companies adopting agile methodologies, will only continue to grow. As the Project Management Institute stated, the PMI-ACP® is the fastest-growing certification, simply because more and more companies are applying Agile principles and looking for experts in the field of applying Agile in a real-world project management role.
For more information about the PMI-ACP® including exam topics, eligibility, cost, and how to get started studying check out our blog everything you need to know about the PMI-ACP® certification.
2) CSM® Certification – Certified ScrumMaster®
The Certified ScrumMaster®, otherwise known as the CSM® Certification issued by Scrum Alliance, comes second in our list of the top ten agile certifications. The ScrumMaster® was mentioned by almost every single expert that I spoke with. Right behind the PMI-ACP®, usually in the same breath, hiring managers and experts in the agile industry recommend the ScrumMaster® certification.
Here is the description of the certification from Scrum Alliance: As a Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM®), you’ll help the Scrum Team perform at their highest level. CSMs also protect the team from both internal and external distractions. Through the certification process, you will learn the Scrum framework and gain an understanding of team roles, events, and artifacts.
The one caveat is the CSM® is considered to be easier than the PMI-ACP®, and hiring managers know this. The ScrumMaster® certification shows you have specific knowledge and expertise in Scrum, but studying and earning the certification is not as rigorous and does not require a full working knowledge of agile. Unlike the PMI-ACP® where you must have a working knowledge of agile to pass the exam and must have worked on agile projects for at least twelve months to be eligible for the exam (proving you have real-world experience in agile), with the CSM® you must simply attend a training course (live online or in-person) and pass a 50 question exam answering 37 out of the 50 questions correctly.
As one interviewee said: “[The CSM®] is easy, take the two full day class and you take 50 questions exam right after the classes. Thats why I recommended CSM® as it is quick and in parallel, you can prepare for PMP® or PMI-ACP®.”
Once you earn your Certified ScrumMaster®, you can pursue the Advanced Certified ScrumMaster® and then the Certified Scrum Professional® from the Scrum Alliance. This gives you the opportunity to advance your Scrum knowledge and expertise further beyond the CSM®.
If you are looking for a quick certification to add to your resume and boost your Scrum knowledge (up to three certifications if you pursue the advanced degrees), I recommend the CSM® Certification.
3) SA Certification – Certified SAFe® Agilist
The Certified SAFe® Agilist (SA Certification) is an agile certification issued by Scaled Agile, Inc. There are a number of agile certifications available from Scaled Agile, I will recommend a few Scaled Agile certifications in this blog. Scaled Agile is the certifying body of the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®). As stated by Scaled Agile: “[the Scaled Agile Framework®] provides a valid, reliable, and consistent method of assessing SAFe skills, knowledge, and mindset. Certified SAFe professionals are globally recognized for their ability to support the successful transformation of organizations into Lean-Agile enterprise.”
The SA Certification is third on our list. Of all the agile certifications available from Scaled Agile, the Certified SAFe® Agilist (SA) is by far the most recognized and recommended by agile experts. In fact, a lot of hiring managers that I spoke with recommended project managers and aspiring agilists earn their credentials in the “big three” meaning the PMI-ACP®, Certified ScrumMaster®, and Certified SAFe® Agilist. That’s why we rank these as the top three in our list!
As stated by Scaled Agile, a Certified SAFe® Agilist (SA) is a Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe) enterprise leadership professional who is part of a Lean-Agile transformation. You will learn to:
- Apply SAFe to scale Lean and Agile development in the enterprise
- Apply Lean-Agile Mindset and principles
- Plan and successfully execute Program Increments
- Execute and release value through Agile Release Trains
- Build an Agile portfolio with Lean-Agile budgeting
4) SP Certification – Certified SAFe® Practitioner
The Certified SAFe® Practitioner is another agile certification issued by Scaled Agile, Inc. This is another widely recognized and sought after certification. From talking to project managers and agile experts in the industry, agilists often earn the Certified SAFe® Agilist certification first and then pursue their Certified SAFe® Practitioner certification immediately after earning the SA certification. It’s a great way to knock out two certifications from Scaled Agile.
Scaled Agile states: A Certified SAFe® Practitioner (SP) is a Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe) team member responsible for using Scrum, Kanban, and Extreme Programming (XP) in a SAFe environment. Key areas of responsibility include planning Program Increments and Iterations, breaking requirements into stories, developing incrementally with built-in quality, demonstrating value at a team and program level, and problem-solving impediments to drive relentless improvement. You will learn to:
- Explain SAFe Agile Principles
- Plan Iterations
- Plan Program Increments
- Execute Iterations and demonstrate value
- Improve Agile Release Train processes
- Integrate and work with other teams on the Agile Release Train
- Perform as member of an Agile Team on an Agile Release Train
5) SPC Certification – Certified SAFe® Program Consultant
The third certification from Scaled Agile, Inc. on our list of top ten agile certifications is the Certified SAFe® Program Consultant. This came up from a few hiring managers, described as a “niche” agile certification.
Scaled Agile states: A Certified SAFe ® Program Consultant (SPC) is a Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe), change agent who leads all levels of an organization through a Lean-Agile transformation at scale by training, coaching, facilitating, and mentoring. This servant-leader plays a critical role by applying expert knowledge of SAFe. You will learn to:
- Design a SAFe implementation
- Develop an enterprise transformation plan
- Launch and facilitate an Agile Release Train (ART)
- Extend the Lean-Agile portfolio by launching additional ARTs
- Assist an organization with change management practices
- Train and coach an enterprise through a SAFe transformation
6) CSPO® Certification – Certified Scrum Product Owner®
The Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO®) is another certification from Scrum Alliance. This certification is recommended for individuals on the business side of software development and project management.
Scrum Alliance states: If you’re someone who is comfortable with the “business side” of projects, you are probably the right person to aspire to achieve a Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO®) certification. While the Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM®) helps the Scrum Team work together to learn and implement Scrum, as a CSPO, you create the product vision, order the Product Backlog, and make sure the best possible job is done to delight the customer. Benefits of a Certified Scrum Product Owner certification:
- Expand your career opportunities across all industry sectors adopting Agile practices
- Demonstrate your attainment of core Scrum knowledge
- Learn the foundation of Scrum and the scope of the Product Owner role
- Engage with Agile practitioners committed to continuous improvement
7) POPM® Certification – Certified SAFe® Product Owner / Product Manager
The Certified SAFe® Product Owner / Product Manager is another agile certification issued by Scaled Agile, Inc. Similar to the CSPO®, the POPM® Certification is recommended for individuals on the business side of software development and project management.
Scaled Agile states: A Certified SAFe® Product Owner/Product Manager is a SAFe professional who works with customers and development organizations to identify and prioritize requirements. You will learn to:
- Apply Lean-Agile Mindset and SAFe Principles and practices
- Identify customer needs
- Write Epics, Capabilities, Features, and Stories
- Prioritize work to deliver value to the enterprise
8) Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC)
If you consider yourself an agile expert, and if you have already earned Certified Scrum Professional® certification from Scrum Alliance, then you should consider becoming a Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC).
This is only for experts in Scrum that have already earned Scrum Alliance certifications and consider themselves to be experts in the industry.
Here is the description from Scrum Alliance: A Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC) is a Certified Agile Coach who is an expert in agile practices and theory, including Scrum. CECs have in-depth understanding of the practices and principles of Scrum, and real-world experience with actual organizational agile transformations. CECs successfully guide organizations through the challenges of agile and Scrum adoptions. CECs have deep experience in leadership coaching, organizational transformation, and Agile practices at the enterprise level. Those who obtain the CEC certification have had years of practice, with successes and failures, in Scrum at multiple levels of engagement at the leadership level, as well as across various business functions. A CEC candidate must demonstrate experiences as a hands-on organizational change agent working across multiple team and organizational boundaries using professional coaching frameworks and practices. As a CEC, you help companies navigate the ambitious process of becoming an Agile organization using the Scrum framework to transform the world of work. Sweeping organizational change doesn’t happen overnight and requires commitment and a shift in perspective. CECs help leadership and team members remove the barriers and embrace the transformation by helping each organization find its own path, approach, and solutions to becoming Agile. Through the Certification Via Coaching program, CECs may recommend individuals for whom they have provided 25 hours of in-person, one-on-one, or small group Scrum coaching (eight individuals maximum) for Certified ScrumMaster® and Certified Scrum Product Owner® certification. Individuals recommended for the CSM® certification must pass the CSM exam. In order to recommend individuals for the CSPO® certification, the participating CEC must hold the CSPO certification.
9) SAFe® Scrum Master
If you are comfortable with the SAFe® framework after earning your Certified SAFe® Agilist and Certified SAFe® Practitioner, you may want to consider the SAFe® Scrum Master program.
Scaled Agile states: In this two-day course, attendees gain an understanding of the role of a Scrum Master in a SAFe enterprise. Unlike traditional Scrum Master training that focuses on the fundamentals of team-level Scrum, the SAFe Scrum Master course explores the role of the Scrum Master in the context of the entire enterprise, and prepares attendees to successfully plan and execute the Program Increment (PI), the primary enabler of alignment throughout all levels of a SAFe organization. This includes learning the key components of Agile at scale development, how Scrum is facilitated throughout the enterprise, and how to execute Iteration Planning. Attendees discover how to build high performing Agile teams by becoming a servant leader and coach, and how to coach those teams to deliver the maximum business value at scale. SAFe 5 Scrum Master (SSM) certification signifies that people are prepared to perform the role of Scrum Master in a SAFe environment, increasing their value to teams and organizations that are implementing SAFe.
10) Professional Scrum MasterTM (PSM I)
The final certification on our list of the top ten agile certifications, the certification mentioned briefly by a few agilists is the Professional Scrum MasterTM (PSM I) from Scrum.org.
Here is the description from Scrum.org: The Professional Scrum MasterTM level I (PSM I) assessment is available to anyone who wishes to validate his or her depth of knowledge of the Scrum framework and its application. Those who pass the assessment will receive the industry-recognized PSM I Certification to demonstrate their fundamental level of Scrum mastery. Taking a course is not required and if you feel that you already possess a high level of Scrum knowledge, understanding of the Scrum Guide and how to apply Scrum within Scrum Teams, you have the option to take the PSM I assessment directly. However, there are courses available to help you prepare for the assessment and gain a stronger understanding of Scrum. Depending on your role, either the 2-day Professional Scrum Foundations or Professional Scrum Master course is highly recommended.
This certification is not as widely recognized as certifications such as the PMI-ACP®, Certified ScrumMaster®, or Certified SAFe® Agilist, but it can act as a good resume building showing your qualifications in the Scrum framework.
Agile Certifications Conclusion
Choose one and get started studying. You can’t make a wrong choice. No matter what you do, no matter which certification you choose to pursue, you are advancing your knowledge and advancing your career. Choose one to start with, start bettering yourself today, and help us create a more educated project management community.
You cannot make a wrong choice no matter which of the many agile certifications you choose. Choose one and get started studying. You can’t make a wrong choice. No matter what you do, no matter which certification you choose to pursue, you are advancing your knowledge and advancing your career. Choose one to start with, start bettering yourself today, and help us create a more educated project management community.
Start Studying – Agile Certifications
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