An Agile Certification Guide for Choosing the Best One to Take

Which Agile certification is the best choice? We’re often asked that question and it’s a tricky one, because so much depends on what you are going to do with the certification and how the knowledge gained through studying will help you in your career.

There are several professional bodies offering respected certifications, and frankly, that just makes the choice harder.

In this article, we’ll demystify your choices and help you get unstuck about which certification to take for career advancement.

Why are people getting certified for Agile?

Agile ways of working are on the rise because the principles of Agile fit with the way many projects need to run. Businesses want to adapt to quickly changing market conditions and respond to the needs of their customers. That means there’s a growing demand for people who are certified in using techniques to get work done faster and with more emphasis on customer satisfaction and business value.

“To be honest, after the PMP exam that I took last year, I didn't think I would attempt another certification anytime so soon,” says Ben Altarejos, PMP, PMI-ACP. “But the agile transformation in my current organization pushed me to finally take it.”

Whatever your reason for choosing an Agile accreditation, there will be one that suits you. And if you’re wondering how to get agile certification, there are different options: exam only, exam + evidence of experience or simply attending a course where you are assessed by your in-class participation.

There are also different forms of agile and different approaches for how to apply the agile principles, so it’s important to assess which exam or test is going to best fit your situation. Confused? You won’t be by the time you’ve read this article!

Which Agile Certification is best for you?

Let’s look at some common certifications:
  • Agile Certified Practitioner
  • Disciplined Agile Scrum Master
  • Certified Scrum Master
  • Certified Scrum Professional
  • Agile Certified Coach
  • SAFe Agilist.
Below, we’ll talk about what they are best suited for, what you need to have in place before you apply and what career benefits you can expect to see in terms of salary for certified professionals.

Note that costs given below represent a range based on offerings from different training providers and are accurate at the time of writing. Always check the price with your training provider before registering for the course.

Salaries are indicative based on information from Payscale.com and are accurate at the time of writing.

Agile Certified Practitioner

  • Awarding body: PMI
  • Best suited for: Project managers looking to broaden their knowledge and work within agile environments
  • Pre-requisite requirements: Secondary degree, 21 contact hours of agile training, 12 months of general project experience within the last 5 years and 8 months of agile experience within the last 3 years
  • Cost: $279-$330 plus exam fee payable to PMI
  • Average salary: $109k

This agile project management certification is not method-specific, which makes it great for people who want a broad overview of the different applications for agile. If you already hold a PMP or PgMP certification from PMI, then you automatically qualify for the ‘general project experience’ requirement and will only have to evidence your education and agile experience on your application.

“Among all the Agile certifications I have earned (I have quite a few), PMI-ACP was the toughest,” says Ashwin Lunkad, PMI-ACP. “It was completely scenario based and tested the agile mindset; more like being agile not just doing agile.”

This is also the credential that many people feel gives the broadest overview of agile practices.

“I've been in the IT field for over 17 years,” says Eduardo Enriquez, PMI-ACP. “I was Scrum Master certified back in 2005 and have been a Scrum Master since. Although I have a lot of experience in Scrum, I didn't have the complete picture on Agile.” Eduardo says his study materials for the PMI-ACP exam helped him piece together the whole picture of the agile landscape.

Another big advantage of this test is that there are lots of resources available to help you like the best PMI-ACP exam simulator and a range of books suggested by PMI to round out your studies from whatever training course you decide to do.

Disciplined Agile Scrum Master

  • Awarding body: PMI
  • Best suited for: People looking to move into agile but with no formal background in agile practices
  • Pre-requisite requirements: 2 day course required but no practical experience necessary
  • Cost: $900-$1100
  • Average salary: $94k

PMI has a range of Disciplined Agile (DA) certifications and this is the entry point. This is an agile scrum master certification but at the same time the training allows you to understand the DA Toolkit and how to apply it in a range of environments including lean agile frameworks, SAFe and Kanban. It’s a broad and rigorous certification suitable for people just starting out in agile.

DA is a relatively new addition to the PMI family of methods, and it will be interesting to see how it develops over time.

“Disciplined Agile is a great application of the management 3.0 principles,” says Nikolay Gekht, PMI-ACP, PMI-DASSM, and CTO of software firm Gehtsoft USA. “It sets the goal. It establishes the borders and makes sure that these borders are perfectly aligned with the team’s abilities. And last but not least, it supports the team's success with a variety of options to find, adapt, apply, and evolve the knowledge and skills.”

Certified Scrum Master

  • Awarding body: Scrum Alliance
  • Best suited for: People looking to work in a Scrum Master role or contribute in a Scrum environment
  • Pre-requisite requirements: None
  • Cost: $400-$900
  • Average salary: $104k

What is agile scrum certification? Well, it’s one of the most common agile certificates you can earn, and a recognized standard in the industry. That’s with good reason: according to the 14th Annual State of Agile Report, 58% of agile teams use Scrum - that’s by far the most common agile methodology. Therefore, you’d do well to consider Scrum Master as a certification to support you in this type of agile environment.

It’s going to be less helpful if you end up working in an environment where other approaches are used as the predominant methodology, but as the same scrum principles underpin all the agile practices, you will find it easier to transfer to a different working environment than someone with no agile certification at all.

“Most of my professional history is as a Business Analyst,” says Sarah Mandrekar, PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM. “I earned my CSM certification in 2015 and began working on hybrid Agile projects in 2016.”

Sarah says that attending a CSM certification class was a great foundation to begin using the principles and a basis from which to study for the PMI-ACP, although points out that you don’t need to have a CSM certificate before you move on to the PMI credential as the training courses cover everything you need to know.

Certified Scrum Professional

  • Awarding body: Scrum Alliance
  • Best suited for: Scrum Masters with significant experience
  • Pre-requisite requirements: Advanced Scrum Master certification, at least 24 months’ work experience as a Scrum Master within the past 5 years, and complete an approved course
  • Cost: $540-$1500
  • Average salary: $122k

This is another agile scrum certification, aimed at people further along in their career than the Scrum Master. The Certified Scrum Professional is the most advanced certification in the Scrum Master track from the Scrum Alliance. It demonstrates your professional knowledge and your ability to apply that knowledge in a practical way, guiding and supporting Scrum teams to deliver excellent results for customers.

This is perfect for people who are more advanced in their careers, used to applying the relevant processes and are confident that they will be working in a Scrum environment for the foreseeable future.

“While I understand that not everyone sees the value in agile certifications, as a software development company, we’re all for them,” says Jack Zmudzinski, a senior associate at future-processing.com. “In an ideal world, a candidate would have lots of experience which would make them attractive to an employer. In the real world, this is often not the case and, having a certification not just proves an understanding of knowledge but, the fact that the candidate has completed this, shows that they’ve got the mettle and the work ethic to see the training through.”

Jack adds that for HR departments, this means that your resume may well end up on top of the pile - this will also help during the interview process as it gives you and the interviewer things to talk about. “Scrum is a big thing for companies at the moment and this will also make a certified candidate much more attractive,” says Jack.

Agile Certified Coach

  • Awarding body: ICAgile
  • Best suited for: People who are agile coaches or aspiring agile coaches.
  • Pre-requisite requirements: None, although it might help to have completed an agile team facilitation course first
  • Cost: $330-$700 for the training (no exam fee)
  • Average salary: $129k

The Agile Certified Coach certification is one of the two knowledge-based options available via ICAgile for in their coaching track. This certification provides you with an understanding of mentoring, facilitation, professional coaching and teaching to equip you with the skill set to support a team at work.

This certification is fully assessed with your class experience, so there is no exam and no certification renewal fee.

“The primary reason to choose an Agile certification is always...the necessity of being Agile,” says Nikolay, who also holds the ICAgile-ACC certification. “Being Agile is all about dealing with complexity, and we need to leverage proactive collaboration with others to overcome it. The Agile certifications are one of the best ways to have our knowledge and understanding independently and objectively validated by the best of our peers.”

He adds: “While we all may have relevant experience and honed practices, the wisdom of the community helps to enrich the Agile coach or Scrum master toolkit and be better prepared for the unexpected challenges of the VUCA environment."

SAFe® Agilist

  • Awarding body: Scaled Agile
  • Best suited for: People with practical experience of Scrum, looking to understand how to scale that knowledge to support enterprise projects
  • Pre-requisite requirements: 5+ years of relevant business experience e.g. product/project management, business analysis, software development, or testing, plus experience of Scrum
  • Cost: $700-1100
  • Average salary: $105k

If you are in an organization (or plan to work in one) which does Agile at scale, then the SAFe agile certification is a good bet. SAFe is by far the most common scaled agile approach, according to the 14th Annual State of Agile Report, being used by 35% of scale agile teams. Scrum of Scrums comes in next with only 16% usage across a variety of industries covered by the study.

Scaled Agile offers a range of certifications and the SAFe Agilist is their foundation level. If you are looking for alternative entry points into the world of scaled agile, check out their website for further suggestions about relevant courses.

What’s right for you?

There is no right or wrong answer: all the certifications give you a grounding in practices that will help you excel at work, using knowledge, tools and techniques to help teams deliver fantastic results and projects that meet customer requirements.

The first step on your agile journey is choosing the right certification for you at this point in your career. Whether you’re just starting out or have plenty of experience behind you and looking to solidify your professional credibility with an advanced certification, there will be one that is right for you.

Regardless of the option you pick, many credentials require you to take an exam. The best way to practice for that test is to get familiar with the style and format of questions using a tool like the PMI-ACP exam simulator. The right study materials will help you reach exam success for whichever certificate you choose to pursue. Good luck with your studies!

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