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More Details about PMI’s Agile Certification

PMI Unveils Agile Certification Program

PMI-APP The PMI took the wraps off their new PMI Agile Certification program today. If that sounds like an oxymoron then take a closer look. There have been a growing number of agile sessions at PMI conferences over the last 6 years and an entire agile track at the last PMI Global Congress. The PMI reports that 65% of its members are involved in IT projects and Gartner are predicting agile will be used by 80% of software projects by 2012, so the demand is huge. My PMI SeminarsWorld course is popular not because anyone wants to see me, but instead the demand is high for information on how to run agile projects within PMI based organizations.

I have been working with the PMI on the program for about 18 months now, but muffled under NDA contracts so it is nice for it to be out in the open. Doubtless there will be criticism against the whole idea of certification and then again about an agile certification from the PMI. I thought long and hard before agreeing to participate, but then committed enthusiastically. Two things were clear to me.

  1. The PMI had a big elephant in the room. Many IT projects were using agile methods and project managers were offered little guidance from the PMI on how to incorporate such endeavours.
  2. The PMI were committed to providing a knowledge base, training options, and a certification program with or without me. If it was going to happen anyway, I wanted to be on the inside trying to steer it in the right direction rather than on the outside wondering if it might suddenly take a left turn.

Fortunately others felt the same way and the core team of steering committee has a wealth of grass roots agile knowledge. With Agile Manifesto authors and industry experts, we have a great pool of agile knowledge feeding into the design. Plus for some of us it was not the first go round of defining an agile project management certification. Mike Cottmeyer  and myself were engaged on the APLN effort that morphed into the DSDM program and is now quite popular in the UK. The PMI-APP materials, training and certification will provide people with vetted information based on practices found to work in these hybrid environments.

While the routes taken by agile and PMBOK methods can appear very different to the lay person (explore and validate versus plan, plan, plan) both approaches have the same ultimate destination of successful projects and satisfied stakeholders. Tools and techniques that help determine the appropriate level of planning and introduce agile team benefits are vital tools for today’s project manager’s toolbox.

While certifications do not assure competence or capability to manage projects, they are a useful learning tool for people new to the domain. In this role I welcome the certification for the training and awareness it will bring to this important and expanding field.

I am especially pleased by the quality of the agile thought leaders engaged in the design and evolution of the program. By having expert contributors from the agile field, the risk of misapplication by the uninitiated, or rejection by the agile community should be reduced (but not eliminated).

So for me it is not so much about the certification, but hopefully the training materials, studying and increased awareness of successful adoption strategies it should bring. 

What do you think? I would love you hear your thoughts…



Respect your thoughts, and specially your willingness to influence from inside the PMI-Agile to right direction.

However, in my opinion we need less certifications, not more. I agree that a certification like this has some benefits,as you mentioned, but the disadvantages far outweigh the merits. It is not difficult to get certified with just bookish knowledge and it reflects absolutely nothing of anyone's true competency. Worse, it is used as a kind of token by people, organizations and recruiters for fuelling recruitment and faking competency.

I cannot imagine why the increased awareness or materials or whatever, as you mentioned, cannot be achieved without certifications. And does anyone doubt that PMI don't smell business opportunity here?

Mike Griffiths

Hi Subabo,

Thanks for your comments, and yes, someone with bookish knowledge and no true competence could get certified, but people don’t get hired solely because of credentials. We look into their experiences too, ask how they would respond in a given situation, check references, etc. I like the DSDM Leadership credential for this reason, you submit an experience report and they interview you asking real application and experience questions. Yet this is hard to scale to the volume of people the PMI is likely to see.

I think the trouble with materials without certification is that not enough people read them. If earned value analysis was not in the PMP exam, how many project managers would actually sit down and read a book about it and work through a dozen examples until they understand it? – I suspect not as many as when required to do so to pass the exam.

As for the money, yes it would be naive to believe the PMI does not see the revenue potential, certification and ongoing renewals bring revenue. Market share plays in too, if people are cancelling their PMI membership and joining the Scrum Alliance or other groups because they offer more relevant content then that is lost revenue opportunity plus core fees erosion. Like any other group, the PMI must remain relevant to retain its members and getting on the agile bandwagon (albeit some 10 years after the fact) by offering agile material, training and certification is one way to do so.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, I think they are very valid and the “more good than harm, or more harm than good” debate will run and run. As agile is absorbed into the mainstream I wonder if this will reduce. Has the PMP certification hurt or assisted general project management industry?

Best regards

Luke Jones

Hi Mike,

For me, PMI's formal recognition of Agile and its introduction of related certification represents a big step forward for the PM industry. Like it or not, PMI is the most ubiquitous PM standards org out there, so Agile recognition and accreditation at PMI is important for Agile best practices to receive a wider audience and, ultimately (one hopes), for projects to achieve greater success down the road.

I do, however, have a concern with the accreditation, just sent to the pilot address. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts:


I would like to participate in the Agile pilot.

I would also like to share my thoughts on the following exam eligibility requirement:

"1,500 hours working on Agile project teams or in Agile methodologies. These hours are in addition to the 2,000 hours required in general project management experience. These hours must be earned within the last 2 years."

This is a problematic requirement because Agile leaders are often not working in Agile project teams with specific Agile methodologies, but are working carefully to introduce Agile in traditional organizations and org structures with entrenched traditional mind sets (e.g. waterfall). I emphasize the word "carefully" because in many orgs, particularly government-related, change requires a lot of work and time (it rarely happens quickly and is rarely "one size fits all"). These Agile leaders (like myself) are carefully introducing Agile-like changes (e.g. dedicated, self-organizing teams, user engagement/commitment, iterative and incremental delivery, time-boxing, test-driven development, adaptation, continuous integration and so on) without necessarily marching in with all of the Agile out of the box branding and prescriptions ("Scrum", "XP" and so forth - which can be quickly perceived as arrogance or ignorance depending on who you're working with). So - where does the credit go for all of this hard work?

I would submit that the above requirement be adjusted to read as follows:

"1,500 hours working on Agile project teams or in Agile methodologies or in implementing Agile best practices in project environments".

I would also submit that "in the past two years" is questionable. Why does previous Agile experience (prior to two years ago) not count? The fundamental concepts and practices have not changed, so why this requirement?




Emily Foster

I too support the PMI taking the initiative on this elephant in the room, but question more certification. I already attend local meetings to maintain PDU's and frankly some of the presentations are certainly not to the standard you would expect and a total waste of time.

On another point, we have one of our 30 year veteran consultants who implements enterprise project management (in IT organizations) not having gained his certification by the PMI. In the past, one client rejected him because of this, which supports the other comment that too much emphasis is placed on a certificate. Finally, I have met another person who got their PMI certification and admits that they are not that literate in the subject as they are not a practitioner.

I'm not trashing the PMI, which I hold in high regard, I'm questioning whether all the implications of these decisions have been fully thought through. Love Agile though!

Best Regards,

Ten Six Consulting

Mike Griffiths

Hi Luke.

As you say the Eligibility Requirements ask for “1,500 hours working on Agile project teams or in Agile methodologies. ... These hours must be earned within the last 2 years.”, but I think you might be being too hard on yourself if you think your efforts to carefully introduce Agile to traditional organizations does not count. I would say this very much fits in the second “Agile methodologies” category and suggest you use it as the basis for your submission.

Also, the 1,500 hours over 2 years is less than a half time commitment. So out of the about 4,000 hours you probably worked in the last two years, the PMI is asking that just 1,500 be related to agile projects or your agile introduction work.

I recall from working on the Agile Alliance board a few years ago when certification was debated, that the Agile Alliance issued the statement saying that they felt agile certifications should be “experience based and difficult to achieve”. I think the 1,500 hours in the last 2 years should go some way towards meeting the “experienced based” portion. As for the “difficult to achieve” – well, while we have developed the knowledge areas, the questions have yet to be written so time will tell.

Anyway, I think your agile introduction work should count (assuming you were actively engaged in introducing agile approaches) and the 1,500 hours a useful entry bar to make sure people are actually doing something in agile as opposed to just reading about it.

Thanks for your comments and good luck with the pilot, should you chose to pursue it.

Best regards

Mike Griffiths

Hi Emily,

I hear you; certification does not equal competence, and more importantly, lack of certification should not be viewed as a negative sign around competence. If the lengths of the discussions on this are anything to go by, then yes I think it has been thought through.

This very debate divided the APLN Board when we reviewed Agile project management certification. Some people were opposed, some were in favour if it was inevitable in the industry anyway, and we could help steer it. The APLN made a commitment to deliver an agile PM certification, but then did not deliver on it. It is funny looking back now, but one of the inputs for the APLN to undertake the work was to prevent groups who don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to agile from implementing a high visibility, poorly constructed program that fails and brings down the name of agile with it. Back then we were worried about the PMI trying something all waterfall-ish. Now we have come full circle and people on the APLN certification initiative are working with the PMI to make sure it is properly constructed.

Anyway, this goes beyond your point. Yes, certification does not mean competence. Some industries, I am thinking of doctors and nurses right now, use a lot of accreditation, but still the news contains stories of malpractice and incompetent behaviour. On the whole though, I am glad medical workers are accredited. While it does not guarantee competence, I think it is one possible step, in what needs to be a larger framework of assessments, to gage where people are at.

Best regards

Luke Jones

Thanks for your feedback Mike. I still think "in the last two years" is questionable as there are likely many consultants who, at times, have to work within the non-Agile parameters of their clients (at the end of the day, we all have to make a living) yet have relevant experience with Agile in the past. However, I remain interested in the pilot.

Mike Griffiths

Hi Luke, I agree the “last 2 years” rule seems a bit arbitrary. On the one hand it could be argued that recent experience is sought, but I suspect “in the last 2 years”, makes it easier to check up on the people randomly selected for verification.


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