Agile Certifications – Which One is Right for You?

Eugene LaiWed, 06/06/2018 - 10:22

As Agile frameworks and practices continue to grow in popularity, the market for certifications follows as well. Over the past few years, as I work with different Agile teams across various organizations, I consistently receive questions related to certifications, such as: “Which certification should I get?”, “Are certifications really worth the money and effort?”. Since this is a two-part question, I will make an attempt to address each separately.

The value of certifications, based my experience, varies greatly depending on the individual’s situation. There are many industry studies that imply (without direct correlation) that having certifications generally enables professionals to earn a higher salary. It is my opinion that there is a loose relationship between a professional who has a certification versus someone who does not. The perception of “value” varies greatly simply because every individual is different in terms of their experience, level of education, core skillset and competencies, industry experience, career goals, etc. In a sense, it’s similar to comparing people with Graduate degrees to those who only have Bachelors degrees, in that there are no guarantees in the value derived in this investment in time and money.

Being a holder of several certifications, I do believe they do provide a multitude of benefits such as:

  1. Improved visibility/marketability in the job market,
  2. Improved self-confidence through mastery of a specific domain,
  3. Enhanced depth of understanding of that domain or specialty.

Because many of these benefits are intangible and difficult to quantify, many professionals hesitate to invest significant time and money into training programs. Without seeing direct benefits to such credentials, some workers find it challenging to commit time to acquiring them.

I personally feel that there are tremendous benefits to be reaped through the journey of earning a professional certification. Even if you do not get a promotion immediately upon earning a particular credential, you will most likely gain a deeper appreciation of the subject matter, which improves your confidence and self-esteem, which could lead to better performance and job satisfaction. At minimum, even if you learn nothing new in the process of earning a certification, you increase your probability of getting through the first “HR recruiter gate” where resumes are filtered by keywords. I’m certain that not all companies do this, but as hiring is increasingly done through digital means (i.e. job sites, social media sites, etc.), having the right keywords can make a difference in terms of getting noticed or left behind. Based on my own experience recruiting and staffing teams, I see this practice as a growing trend. Again, there is no hard evidence or guarantee here, just my personal opinion.

Now, let’s assume that you have decided to pursue an Agile certification to bolster your career profile and to build your long-term career path, which one should you pursue? When it comes to Agile training courses and certification programs, there are a multitude of options that seem to be increasing on a regular basis. Which Agile certification makes sense for an individual generally depends on two (2) factors such as:

  1. Current job position – What is your current job function and responsibility?
  2. Career goals – Are you looking to change career paths or build upon the current path?

Below I provided my recommendation on a few possible paths for a professional who is either already working within the Agile domain, or working to enter this space. This is based on my experience staffing and standing up teams over the past several years; I’m certain there are many different approaches.

Current Job Role

Desired Next Role

Recommended Certification

Recommended Training Course

Project Manager, Business Analyst,

Software Engineer,

Test Engineer

Scrum Master

Certified Scrum Master (CSM) or Professional Scrum Master 1 (PSM1)

Certified ScrumMaster Workshop (CSM)


Business Analyst,

Product Manager

Product Owner

Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) or Professional Scrum Product Owner (PSPO)

Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) Workshop

Project Manager

Agile Project Manager

Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)

PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) Boot Camp

Scrum Master

Scrum Master within a multi-team (scaled) project team

SAFe Scrum Master (SSM)

SAFe 4.5 Scrum Master with SSM Certification (SSM)

For professionals who have limited experience with Agile projects, Scrum training is a great place to start. The Scrum Alliance offers several training classes throughout the world. Even if you do not intend on becoming a Scrum Master, the Scrum Master training course provides a very effective overview of the Scrum framework as a whole as well as the various roles and artifacts.

For those who already experience with Scrum, either direct or indirect, training should be aligned to the desired certification, which can serve as a tangible goal to focus the learning. For those who wish to step into the Product Owner (or Product Manager) role within an Agile organization/team, Product Owner certification is a good strategy towards this goal.

For Project Managers who desire to learn the fundamentals of Agile practices, but not necessarily make a drastic change to a different career path, the Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP) certification program offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI) is designed with professional project managers in mind. This is an effective path for Project Managers to adopt a more Agile mindset in anticipation of being more involved in Agile/Scrum teams in the future. Even if you are Project Manager who do not plan to migrate into the Agile space, boarding your understanding of Agile practices will enhance your marketability and mobility, and likely open up new opportunities for you as more companies adopt Agile as their standard way of managing work.

For Scrum Masters who have ample experience operating within Scrum teams, but seek to expand into a scaled environment where multiple Scrum teams need to collaborate to build a large, complex product or system, Scaled Agile Inc. offers variety of training and certification programs that will build upon the foundation of Scrum and Agile principles. SAFe Scrum Master is a hands-on course that provides Scrum Masters with the knowledge to operate an Agile team within the context of SAFe. This course will prepare you for the SSM certification which is relatively new but growing in popularity. This is an important path to take if you are pursuing the SAFe strategy for your organization because SAFe’s implementation of Scrum contains distinct differences compared to what is documented in the Scrum Guide.

Regardless of which career path you are interested in pursuing, having basic knowledge and understanding of Agile principles and practices will become increasingly important and vital to professionals who build and deliver technology solutions. Leveraging the wide array of training options available in the market today, I encourage you to invest in yourself – select a certification as a goal to focus your learnings, continue to cultivate your professional capabilities, and position yourself for a broader range of job opportunities in the near future!