Agile Certifications that Scale Your Career to New Heights

Over the past few years, a new way of creating software is driving the software development and testing industries to great heights. This new way of project management is called Agile, and as per VersionOne’s State of Agile report, is used by 97% of organizations in some form or the other. The term “Agile” was coined in 2001 (credit to Martin Fowler) when a group of 17 software developers met at Ski resort in Utah and uncovered new ways of developing software. However, the idea originated in 1970 when Dr. Winston W. Royce published and presented a paper titled: Managing the Development of Large Software Systems. He argued that the software development methodology should be changed from the traditional way of development and cannot be equated to assembly line manufacturing.  

Besides, the Department of Defense (DoD) standard DOD-STD-2167 was changed in the 1990s to explicitly support iterative processes. In 1997, Michael and Richard in their paper How Microsoft Builds Software stated that waterfall model of development had gradually lost its favor because companies were able to build better products after changing specifications, getting feedback from the customer, and continually testing as the product evolved. All these events collectively led to newer ways of developing software products.

Why Should You Obtain an Agile Certification?

The 12th State of Agile Survey 2018 report says (see Fig 1.0) that organizations are realizing the benefits they set out to achieve by adopting Agile. The survey provides indicators that agile adoption is growing more broadly and deeply. The top reasons stated for adopting agile are accelerated software delivery, enhanced delivery predictability, improved IT/Business alignment, and reduced project cost. This accounts for the growing demand for IT professionals who have a strong hold of agile principles and their applications.

Fig 1.0 (source: VersionOne)

The benefits of getting Agile certifications are multifold:

Slushpile to shortlist - The Agile certifications can help you get through the resume search by the recruiters easily. Recruitment databases have millions of profiles available and possessing the right Agile certification catches the eyes of recruiters instantly.

Compensation Leverage - The Agile certification(s) along with real-time experience over a period of time could become so valuable in one’s career. You can use the experience (proven demonstration) in leading Agile projects or programs coupled with in-demand certifications as a lever to negotiate compensations while looking out for an exciting opportunity to work in the Agile world.

Moving up the ladder - Requirements have now become tougher and dynamic due to the nature of the business and customer demands. Having an Agile certification, for ex. PMI-ACP can help navigate these tides seamlessly and deliver value to the business/clients.

Overview of the Top Agile Certifications Available in the Market

Let’s us now see some of the most sought-after Agile certifications in the industry along with their benefits.

Agile Scrum Foundation

The Agile Scrum Foundation certification is provided by EXIN, a leading independent exam and certification institute that has certified millions of professionals in the digital domain. Agile Scrum Foundation certification testifies your understanding of Agile methodologies and Scrum framework. The exam checks your understanding of core concepts and provides a unique credential that combines agile service management practices and Scrum frameworks on development projects.

The exam details are:

  • Duration of the Exam: 1 hour
  • Total Number of questions: 40 (Multiple Choice)
  • Pass Percentage: 65% (Closed Book)
  • Requirements: Successfully complete EXIN accredited Agile Scrum Foundation Training

Agile Scrum Master (ASM®)

The Agile Scrum Master certification, offered by EXIN, is ideal for managerial professionals working in the fields of IT project management, software development, business management, and IT service management. The ASM certification positions you as an evangelist in the agile adoption journey of your organization. It is a unique certification that involves a combination of methodologies, Scrum practices, and practical assignments. The exam tests the competency of one’s ability to function as a facilitator, coach and enable a highly cross-functional team.

The exam details are:

  • Duration of the Exam: 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • Total Number of questions: 40 (Multiple Choice, Closed Book)
  • Pass Percentage: 65%
  • Requirements: Successfully complete EXIN accredited Agile Scrum Master Training

Certified Scrum Master® (CSM)

Certified Scrum Master is offered by Scrum Alliance which is the largest, most established, and influential professional membership and certification organization in the agile community. It has adopted the Scrum Guide created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, the co-creators of the Scrum as their guiding program of study. As a CSM you are expected to build a body of knowledge of the Scrum, including its roles (Scrum Master, Product Owner, Development Team), ceremonies (Sprint Planning, Backlog Refinement, Sprint Retrospective, Sprint Demo, Daily Standup) and artifacts (Product Backlog Increment, Sprint Backlog and Product Backlog). But keep in mind, integrating Scrum principles and practices takes lots of conscientiousness, fortitude, and commitment to continuous improvement.

The exam details are:

  • Duration of the Exam: 60 minutes
  • Total Number of questions: 50 (Multiple Choice, Open Book)
  • Pass Percentage: 74% (Open Book)
  • Requirements: Attend an in-person, 16-hour Training taught by a Certified Scrum Trainer

Professional Scrum Master (PSM)

Professional Scrum Master is from Scrum.org, an organization that provides broad training, tests, and certifications to improve the profession of software development and delivery using the Scrum framework. Throughout the world, the community of Professional Scrum Trainers (equivalent to Certified Scrum Trainers by Scrum Alliance) endows people and organizations to achieve agility through the Scrum. The Professional Scrum Master level I (PSM I) test is available to those who wish to validate the depth of knowledge in the Scrum framework. On clearing the assessment, you will achieve the PSM I Certification validating your fundamental level of Scrum mastery. Professionals consider the PSM certification as one of the toughest certifications in the industry due to its rigorous syllabus, higher pass percentage, and tough exam patterns.

The exam details are:

  • Duration of the Exam: 60 minutes
  • Total Number of questions: 80 (Multiple Choice, Multiple Answer and True/False, Closed Book)
  • Pass Percentage: 85%
  • Requirements: Training not mandatory

Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO)

Certified Scrum Product Owner is also offered by Scrum Alliance. If you’re someone who has a knack for understanding things from the “business side” of software projects, you are probably the right fit for this certification. As a CSPO, you work on defining the product vision, catalog the Product Backlog with the most important user stories on top, delight the customer by delivering most valuable features/user stories and responsible for maximizing the ROI. Once you get the CSPO credentials, you also receive a two-year membership with Scrum Alliance, which you can use to join local community groups, gain access to discounts on Global and Regional Scrum Gatherings and much more.

The exam details are:

  • Duration of the Exam: No exam
  • Total Number of questions: Not Applicable

PMI - Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP)

  • Pass Percentage: Not Applicable
  • Requirements: Attend an in-person, 16-hour training taught by a Certified Scrum Trainer.

The Agile Certified Practitioner from Project Management Institute recognizes your knowledge of Agile Manifesto, its principles, and Agile techniques. The PMI-ACP covers the length and breadth of many approaches to Agile such as Scrum, Lean (Kanban), extreme programming (XP), DSDM, Crystal and TDD, and increases your versatility. PMI-ACP is evidence of your real-world experiences in leading Agile projects, skills and techniques combined. ACP is more rigorous when compared to other certifications as it tests your theoretical knowledge, practical or real world experiences along with your Agile skills.

The exam details are:

  • Duration of the Exam: 3 hours
  • Total Number of questions: 120 (Multiple Choice, Closed Book)
  • Pass Percentage: There is no explicit Pass Percentage mentioned by PMI, but over a 70% score would help you pass the exam.
  • Requirements:
    • 2000 hours of project management experience. (PMP would suffice)
    • 1500 hours working on Agile projects or with Agile methodologies or working in a team
    • 21 contact hours of training in Agile practices and techniques

ICAgile Certified Professional

ICAgile Certified Professional is provided by the International Consortium for Agile. ICAgile Certified Professional lays the foundation in Agile and also paves the way to all other ICAgile tracks. The certification is relevant for those relatively new to Agile, and for practitioners who feel the need to move from “being” Agile to “doing” Agile. Besides, the credential focuses on helping the participants understand the value of learning, regular and continuous feedback, inspect and adapt culture and cross-functional teams.

The exam details are:

  • Duration of the Exam: No exam
  • Total Number of questions: Not Applicable
  • Pass Percentage: Not Applicable
  • Requirements: Attend an in-person, 16-hour training taught by an IC Agile authorized Training Partner

ICP-Agile Certified Coach

The ICP-ACC is again provided by the International Consortium for Agile and is one of two knowledge-based certifications on the Agile Coaching track. The certification primarily revolves around roles, responsibilities, and mindsets of an Agile Coach. After completing this certification or course, the participants will be able to differentiate between mentoring, coaching, facilitating and teaching. As a certified professional, you will also understand how to create an inclusive environment for collaboration and conflict resolution within an Agile team. This credential also presents participants an opportunity to understand team coaching and team development skills while taking into account the organization and processes.

The exam details are:

  • Duration of the Exam: No exam
  • Total Number of questions: Not Applicable
  • Pass Percentage: Not Applicable
  • Requirements: Attend an in-person, 21-hour training taught by an IC Agile authorized Training Partner

SAFe® Agilist

SAFe Agilist is provided by Scaled Agile Academy, a leading organization famous for providing a scaled framework for enterprise agility. SAFe has been widely accepted across the world by most of the Fortune 100 companies. As a SAFe Agilist, you will be able to help organizations scale Lean and Agile development, successfully execute program increments, deliver business value through release trains, and shape portfolio with lean budgeting. Organizations across the world acknowledge Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe) certified professionals for their ability to support the successful transformation of organizations into Lean-Agile enterprise.

The exam details are:

  • Duration of the Exam: 90 minutes
  • Total Number of questions: 45 (Multiple Choice, Closed Book)
  • Pass Percentage: 75%
  • Requirements: Attend an in-person, 21-hour training taught by an IC Agile authorized Training Partner

Top Three Reasons to do Agile Certifications

Increase in Agile adoption

  • “Almost three-quarters (71%) of organizations report using Agile approaches sometimes, often, or always”. (Source: Project Management Institute)
  • Forbes interviewed more than 500 senior executives from around the world in July 2017. “92% said they believe organizational agility is critical to business success.'' (Achieving Greater Agility, Forbes Insights, 2017)
  • State of Scrum Report 2018 says “56% of respondents are yet to be involved in agile transformation and anticipate to be involved in one in the future”
  • “76% of businesses in the Netherlands and Belgium believe that Agile projects will outnumber Waterfall projects by 2020”. (Source: KPMG)

Organizations use multiple Agile methodologies depending on the nature of their business

  • “Over a quarter (27.4%) of manufacturing organizations rely solely on Agile, whereas 56.6% rely on “a combination of methodologies.” (Source: LiquidPlanner)
  • Helps moving up the ladder in your organization and also get deployed in a wide variety of Agile projects.
  • Continued demand for agile professionals (Agile Project Manager, Director – Agile PMO, Agile Coach, Scrum Master) projects - Indeed.com lists around 45,000 job listings around the world in Agile project management skills.

Newer Perspectives

  • Time to Market (More scope of work delivered in the same timeframe)
    • QSM has assessed the performance of Agile development projects against a database of 8,000+ primarily traditional development project in three key areas: productivity, time-to-market, and quality. It was observed that teams using Agile were 50% faster to market and 25% more productive. (source: Deltamatrix)
  • Most Valuable Features (80% of the features are written in 20% of the code)
    • One of the studies reveals that “Just 1.25% of all the features in MS Word attributes to 32% usage, and all of those features are the most basic “Must Have” ones”
    • Implement the 80% of the features early and realize ROI sooner

How to Choose the Right Certification?

There are dozens of Agile certifications available for the professionals to add to their repertoire as evident from the information above. But how do you know which certifications are best?

Well, here are some suggestions:

  • If you are aspiring to become a certified Scrum Master from a world leading organization, you can choose Certified Scrum Master from Scrum Alliance. This will test your Agile skills using Scrum Framework through an exam. However, attending 16 hours of in-person sessions is mandatory.
  • If you wish to take your Scrum mastery skills to higher levels, Scrum.org provides various levels of certifications like PSM I, PSM II and PSM III. The level of difficulty increases as you go on each level. Training is not recommended for PSM I but is essential as you move from one level to another.
  • If you want to understand various Agile flavors like Scrum, XP, DSDM, Crystal and become an Agile expert or practitioner, PMI-ACP certification would be the right fit.
  • If you would like to scale Agile across the enterprise level to enable the organizational agility, getting a SAFe Agilist certification could play a crucial role.

Now that you have learned which certification is ideal for you, you should take the next step in enhancing your career. Simplilearn provides training for various Agile certifications to help you gain the required skills in Agile. So make a wise call and begin your journey to master Agile.

About the Author

Ramkumar ArumugamRamkumar Arumugam

Ramkumar is an Senior Program Manager with 14+ years of success in leading all phases of diverse technology IT Projects in retail, e-commerce, insurance and pharma market research industries. He has more than 7+ years of experience in leading and executing projects and programs using agile and lean methodologies. He is currently working as Senior Program Manager in Cognizant and has a zeal for agile project and program management and his current endeavor includes leading a large scale distributed agile product development team in delivering a world class product features in Supply Chain domain for large retailer. He is a regular contributor to projectmanagement.com and has been a regular presenter in PlayScrum Meetup in Chennai on topics related to Scrum and Agile.

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  • PMP, PMI, PMBOK, CAPM, PgMP, PfMP, ACP, PBA, RMP, SP, and OPM3 are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.