Agile Project Management Certifications: A Comparison (Update)

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+++ Which Agile Certification Is Right for You? +++ What Is New in the Scrum Guide 2020 +++ Comparison of Agile Project Management Certifications +++

Our world is becoming ever more complex, interconnected and dynamic. Predicting developments is becoming more and more difficult. As a result, agile project management is becoming increasingly important. The same goes for the respective methods and agile project management certifications.

Yet, no two projects are alike. Agile approaches do not always work and cannot be applied at will to all project types.

Instead, we need more innovative strength and creativity. Working on projects requires a clear focus on the business value. Plus, shorter, yet still solid planning horizons. Companies are implementing this change which is evident from the emergence of, and request for, new job descriptions.

What you will find out in this article:

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You will learn why Scrum certifications make sense if you are just getting started with agile methods. Moreover, you will get to know a certification for advanced agile project managers, the PMI-ACP. Plus: You will get an overview of prerequisites and fees for several agile certificates.

Agile Project Management – Definition

In traditional project management, you tend use the approach of planning as much and as far ahead as possible. Traditional methods for project control can be helpful. They will provide structure and bring order into your workflows. As a result, you forfeit flexibility to an extent. Especially in the software world (but not just there), this may feel a little rigid. This is why agile methods have pursued a particular goal since the 1990s: to provide more lightweight and flexible frameworks for development processes. These are referred to as “agile”. They are highly flexible and adaptable planning and control methods for particularly dynamic project environments.

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What Is the Benefit of the Methods for Agile Project Management?

Agile project management was developed for highly complex environments such as the software industry. Nevertheless, they enjoy increasing popularity in other fields, too.

In particular, agile methods are used in projects that have very vague requirements at the outset. Often, frequent changes are foreseeable. In most cases, there will be little more than a vision. The team is expected to implement this vision in an innovative way.

For the duration of the project, compact focus teams work together closely to realize and specify these goals. This always takes place in short periods of time with results that build on each other.

The teams enjoy a large degree of autonomy. In order to stay on target nonetheless, they are in regular communication with all project participants.

In addition, the teams apply techniques to increase transparency towards the outside and team cohesion within.

Supporters such as Scrum Masters help the teams master challenges. At the same time, they help the organization to increase the maturity level in the application of agile methods.

The agile manifesto sums up what is essential for all agile methods.

Due to the high flexibility of its general framework, agile project management with Scrum is particularly well suited to application outside the software industry.

New Job Descriptions through Agile Project Management

Did you know that ‘Scrum Master’ and increasingly ‘Product Owner’ are turning into fully-fledged job titles?

Originating in the name of a role in the Scrum team, these terms are explicitly used in job advertisements more and more often. Moreover, companies are including these terms in the career path for the employees.

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As in every field, the candidate’s experience is key. It must not be underestimated.

Beyond professional experience, Scrum Masters require the below skills in their highly mediatory and supportive role:

  • Knowledge of human nature
  • Tact
  • Ability to moderate
  • Conflict resolution skills

Why Scrum Certifications Make Sense

In and around Scrum, there are countless misunderstandings. The successful introduction of the methods is also hugely dependent on the participants’ stock of knowledge.

This is why certifications in the basics of agile practices such as the “Professional Scrum Master I” by Scrum.org or the Scrum Alliance’s Certified Scrum Master can be very helpful.

These two certifications are meant for those starting out in agile methods.

Certificate holders indicate that they have understood the fundamental principles of the Scrum Framework and have demonstrated this in an exam.

By means of one of the above certifications, they furthermore show their readiness to:

  • lead and support others in such a role.
  • help the organization implement Scrum.
  • be willing to gain more experience with Scrum.

The last point is particularly relevant if you are still at the beginning of your Scrum career.

Properly Prepared for the Scrum Certifications

There are no prerequisites regarding prior experience for the two certifications “Professional Scrum Master I” and “Certified Scrum Master”.

However, the exam for Professional Scrum Master I is rather challenging. To be on the safe side, it is a good idea to attend a Professional Scrum Master seminar in preparation.

Your agile project management certifications will demonstrate that, as a Scrum Master-to-be or an active Scrum Master:

  1. you are familiar with the relevant contents of the Scrum Guide and further literature.
  2. you have demonstrated this knowledge in an exam situation.
agile project management certifications – PSM I by Scrum.org

The certificate for Professional Scrum Master I by Scrum.org

What Is New in the Scrum Guide 2020

On the 25th birthday of Scrum, November 18, 2020, the Scrum Guide 2017 received an update. The new Scrum Guide describes Scrum as a framework which helps generate value by means of adaptive solutions to complex problems. In the process, some text passages were shortened or even deleted from the old version. Overall, the Scrum Guide 2020 now describes less how the elements of Scrum should be implemented. This actually makes it easier to follow the content while reading.

Learn more about the Scrum Guide 2020 in our overview of all changes since 2017.

Further changes in the Scrum Guide 2020 include:

  • Roles: instead of “Development Team”, it now refers to “Developers”.
  • There are three levels of objectives to which the team should commit itself: the Product Goal for the product, the Sprint Goal for the Sprint and the Definition of Done for the increment.
  • The Scrum Master is now officially accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness.
    Instead of “self-organizing”, the Scrum Team is now “self-managing”.

Tip: As of January 9, 2021, all Scrum.org exams will be based on the new version of the Scrum Guide 2020. Read the new Scrum Guide 2020 here.

Further Approaches and Methods for Agile Project Management

Excellent Scrum Masters do not limit themselves to Scrum alone. There is a variety of agile methods and approaches. They can be combined and have many aspects in common. For example, many methods are based on the following:

  • A trusting and open concept of man
  • An iterative-incremental method of operation

If in doubt whether a project needs an agile, traditional or hybrid approach, read this article.

Moreover, there are environment issues in organizations to which agile methods often pay little attention. For instance, we could name the following here:

  • Portfolio management
  • Resource management
  • Project selection methods
  • Organizational structuring

All this takes us back from product development at individual team level for which Scrum was primarily developed to project management issues. This requires a more holistic and higher-level perspective on things.

This is where the PMI-ACP® (“Project Management Institute Agile Certified Practitioner”) comes in.

Project Management Institute Agile Certified Practitioner

The PMI-ACP certificate is meant for people who already look back on (agile) project experience. It claims to gather the ideas of all agile methods and consolidate them in a standardized way.

The Project Management Institute (PMI)® is actually very serious concerning this goal: After all, its standard manual for the project management industry, the “Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge” (PMBOK® Guide) in the 6th edition was published in a bundle together with the new Agile Practice Guide in 2017.

Agile Practice Guide

Apart from the consideration of individual agile methods, the Agile Practice Guide also contains guidelines and assistance for situational method selection. In addition, it bridges the gap between agile and traditional project management methods.

These are still very much needed in all the situations in which agile approaches are not sufficient to tackle problems.

The contents of the Agile Practice Guide are the result of the collaboration of the PMI with the Agile Alliance (an association of many promoters of agile ideas, not to be confused with the Scrum Alliance).

This indicates a solid expert base for the new Agile Practice Guide.

Since March 2018, this guide has also been the official exam reference for the PMI-ACP – but only as one of many relevant sources from the catalogue of agile literature.

As of late, the popularity of the Agile Certified Practitioner certificate has risen sharply. Hence, there is a demand for high quality material to prepare for the exam.

At least, the Agile Practice Guide helps exam candidates pin down the perspective of the PMI on agile project management. It also gives practical examples of how to use the methods presented.

agile project management certifications

The PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) certificate

Combination of PMI-ACP with the PMP Certification

By the way, the PMI-ACP certificate and the traditional traditional PMP® (Project Management Professional) of the PMI are an excellent combination of certificates.

Interested in hybrid PM? Find out how to combine agile and traditional approaches.

Another point in favor of the combination is that the examination requirements are easier to meet for holders of the PMP® certificate. You will not have to prove additional project experience if you are PMP. However, the same does not apply to agile project experience and training. Proofs and certificates of this will be requested from all candidates.

Watch out: As of January 2, 2021 the PMP® exam will include additional questions on the following three project management approaches:

  • Predictive
  • Adaptive / Agile
  • Hybrid

 

This means that even prospective PMPs have to be familiar with a few agile ideas and methods now, for instance Backlog maintenance, estimation methods or Retrospectives.

Overview of Agile Project Management Certifications

Below, you will find a comparison of the agile project management certifications mentioned in this article. In addition, we have included information on the certifications Certified Scrum Practitioner (CSP) for advanced agile project managers and Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) for agile scaling.

The PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)
Certificate awarded by: Project Management Institute

Prerequisites
– 2000 hours of project experience (does not apply to holders of a PMP certificate)
– 1500 hours of experience in agile environments
– 21 contact hours of training in agile practices (e.g. by completing the PMI-ACP training at TPG)
Type of Exam
On-site at the test center; 120 multiple-choice questions with four answer options and only one correct answer, to be answered in 3 hours

Alternative: Online proctored exam (online exam with webcam monitoring by an offsite proctor)

Passing Score (share of required correct answers)
Secret (estimated at approx. 70%)
Exam Fee
$435 (PMI® members, a little higher for non-members)
Validity
3-year cycle (30 Professional Development Units – PDUs have to be earned over this period in agile environments and / or topics)
Purpose
Standardization of as many agile practices as possible
Target group
People looking to prove and improve their experience with agile methods and their understanding thereof

Certified Scrum Master (CSM)
Certificate awarded by: Scrum Alliance

Prerequisites
Completion of a 2-day training by a specially authorized trainer, no more than 90 days before taking the exam
Type of Exam
Online; 35 multiple-choice questions, to be answered in 1 hour
Passing Score (share of required correct answers)
68,6%
Exam Fee
Exam can only be taken after booking a training and is covered by the training fee
Validity
2-year cycle (thereafter re-certification online for $100)
Purpose
Clarification and promotion of Scrum
Target group
People wishing to take a first step towards mastering Scrum

Professional Scrum Master I (PSM I)
Certificate awarded by: Scrum.org

Prerequisites
No formal prerequisites (deep understanding of the Scrum Guide is necessary to pass the exam; practice exam “Scrum Open” is available at scrum.org)
Type of Exam
Online: 80 multiple-choice questions with a range of different answer options and one or more correct answers, to be answered in 1 hour

Tip: At TPG, we offer a Scrum company seminar with the option of taking the exam directly after. After only three days, participants will be able to hold their PSM I certificate in their hands.

Passing Score (share of required correct answers)
85%
Exam Fee
$150
Validity
Unlimited
Purpose
Clarification and promotion of Scrum
Target group
People wishing to take a first step towards mastering Scrum

Certified Scrum Practitioner
Certificate awarded by: Scrum Alliance

Prerequisites
– Certificate as an A-CSM (Advanced Certified ScrumMaster), minimum of 2 years of experience in the role of Scrum Master within the last 5 years
– Completion of the homework assigned at the end of the course within 12 months

Participation in the course is also possible without meeting these prerequisites. However, in this case no certificate will be acquired.

Type of Exam

Passing Score (share of required correct answers)
Exam Fee
$250
Validity
Permanent
Purpose
Expanding the agile product management expertise
Target group
The CSP-SM certification is suitable for Scrum Masters whereas the CSP-PO certification is suitable for Product Owners.

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)
Certificate awarded by: Scaled Agile, Inc.

Prerequisites
– 5+ years in software development, testing, business analysis, product or project management & experience with Scrum
– Course covering the SAFe content with a training provider
Type of Exam
45 multiple-choice questions in 90 minutes, possible online
Passing Score (share of required correct answers)
76%, 34 answers
Exam Fee
$435
Validity
1 year after the validity expires the certification can be renewed for a fee of $100 without taking another exam.
Purpose
Agile scaling / Scrum methods
Target group
Senior staff, Scrum Masters, Product Owners, managers of requirements, releases and testing, coaches, project managers who wish to organize multiple teams successfully using agile methods

Which Agile Certification is Right for You?

You are familiar with the most important agile project management certifications now. Yet, how do you know which one is right for you? Initially, it makes sense to begin with the basics of Scrum – thus, you create a good basis for the majority of the above certifications. Afterwards, you have the option to expand your knowledge as shown in the following figure:

Agile project management certifications – Overview

Overview of which certification makes sense at what point

Conclusion – Comparison of Agile Project Management Certifications

This article has introduced you to agile methods in general. You have also found out where their application can make sense. Particular emphasis was placed on Scrum.

You have become familiar with the following agile certifications:

This will make it easier for you to judge which path would be most advisable for you and your employees.

Give us feedback!
What experience have you had with agile project management? Are there important agile project management certifications or aspects that we have missed? Did you find the tips helpful? We look forward to receiving your comment below.


About the author:Antje Lehmann-Benz, PMP, PMI-ACP, PSM expert is a trainer for project management with a particular focus on agile practices and Scrum seminars. Furthermore, she has experience as a software trainer (JIRA, Confluence) and consultant. In addition to teaching frameworks and theory, she is experienced in the use of agile games and practical exercises to reinforce the knowledge gained.

Read more about Antje Lehmann-Benz on Linkedin.

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