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Agile PM Certifications - What's Out There?

CertifiedThis is the first article in a series on Agile Certifications, Career Advancement, Exam Prep and Advanced Learning I am writing for www.ProjectManagement.com that I will also post here.

Many people believe agile methods and certifications are like oil and water. One is a context-sensitive, adaptive framework; the other is a prescriptive, rigour-based measurement model. Certifying agile methods is like trying to bar-code clouds – a misapplication of quantification in a domain that resists it.

Yet, if the research organizations are to be believed and Gartner’s predictions of agile being used in 80% of software projects, there are a large group of people doing it. Whenever an in demand skill exists in the workforce a few things happen:

  1. Hiring managers and recruiters want a way to screen and identify potential skilled applicants
  2. Individuals want certifications to recognize their skills and knowledge within a domain. (Both to promote themselves for career opportunities and for personal development.)
  3. Organizations want roadmaps for employee growth and career development.

Certifications help address these needs. Of course certifications do not guarantee competency, job suitability, experience or even knowledge. They are not substitutes for interviews, background checks, or references, but they are a tool frequently used to pre-screen candidates before these activities occur.

Most people realize that certifications are neither evil nor silver bullets; they are instead an inevitable side effect of a maturing integration of agile into the work place. Future articles in this series will examine the value of certification and pitfalls of certification, but to begin with let’s get an appreciation of the popular agile certifications available, focussing in the project management space.

Certified Scrum Master – CSM is probably the most widely held agile based certification. Starting in September 2012, passing a multiple choice test is now required to be awarded the CSM designation. Up until this date the CSM was awarded to everyone who successfully completed a two day CSM training class.

If your organization uses Scrum then a Scrum based certification makes sense. The number of Scrum related certifications and offering bodies has exploded in the last couple of years. It is now possible to obtain Certified Scrum Master, Certified Scrum Practitioner, and Certified Scrum Developer designations, amongst others from the Scrum Alliance. Also available are Professional Scrum Foundations, Professional Scrum Master, and Professional Scrum Developer from Scrum.org and Scrum Master Accredited, Scrum Team Member Accredited from the International Scrum Institute.

Agile Certified Practitioner - PMI-ACP is a new certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI) that tests knowledge of agile, lean and kanban approaches. Similar to the PMP exam, the PMI-ACP exam requires experience working on projects, a mandatory training requirement, and a multiple choice test administered by a Prometric Test Center.

The PMI-ACP exam requirements are: 2000 hours working on any kind of project, plus 1500 hours of agile experience. Candidates must also have 21 contact hours of agile related training and then sit a 3 hour, 120 question exam. Further details can be found here

 Less well know agile certification options include:

Certified Agile Project Manager – Cert. APM is offered by the Project Management Association of Canada, but is available to anyone world wide. It too is not focussed on a single methodology, but instead tests “generally accepted” agile knowledge. Applicants must already have a recognized project management credential (like CAPM, PMP, PRINCE2 Foundation) and complete a PMAC-accredited agile project management course. The exam consists of a 2 hour, 40 multiple-choice question exam. More details can be found here.

Agile Project Management – AgilePM offered by APMG International provides Foundation and Practitioner level certifications for agile project managers. It is based on the DSDM Atern agile process and incorporates links to the more traditional PRINCE2 framework. The Foundation level requires a 1 hour, 60 question multiple choice exam. The higher Practitioner level requires answering 4 scenario questions with written responses in a 2 hour exam. More details can be found here.

The following table summarized the certifications (listed in the order they are introduced above)

Agile PM Certifications

People usually look for what is most relevant for their work first and then the best credential available within that area. So, if you use Scrum you would look to one of the Scrum certifying bodies for a credential, if you use DSDM and PRINCE2 then likely an APMG offering. If your company uses a variety of methods or you are looking to promote yourself as an individual skilled beyond a single approach then a PMI-ACP or Cert. APM could be the way to go.

There will always be people who inherently dislike certifications, claiming the testing models are flawed, that they test recall rather than application, and they exist to make money not serve the industry. I think there is some truth in each of these arguments,  but also a naivety in thinking that the dangers of misapplication should prevent their development or useful adoption.

History is filled with measurements that were misused, the CMM (Capability Maturity Model) started as an assessment tool to assist organizations measure and develop their process. Yet CMM was dubbed by many as the “Consultant Money Machine” as companies used it to sell assessments and services. Measurements are tools, that like any tools, can be used well and also misapplied, the responsibility rests with the individuals using them to act appropriately.

Future articles will dig into the developing world of Career Advancement, Exam Prep and Advanced Learning. We will try to dispel some of the myths, like salary surveys that claim getting a “XYZ” certification will add $15K to your salary, and provide some practical steps for certification and career development, like a 15 minute pre-exam exercise that increased test scores by 10% - hang on, that sounds like a myth! Stay tuned, all will be revealed.

Note: This article first appreared on ProjectManagement.com here

Bio: Mike Griffiths holds PMP, Prince2, PMI-ACP, CSM, DSDM Practitioner and 25M breaststroke certificates. He maintains the agile and leadership blog Leading Answers at www.LeadingAnswers.com.


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