Agile Certifications: Worth Pursuing for Your Tech Career?

You’ve heard a lot about Agile as a skillset. But what about Agile certifications? Do those exist, and do employers demand them as a perquisite for employment?

Agile software development, which encompasses frameworks such as Scrum and Kanban, encourages rapid and flexible response to change. Solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams. It takes some time for many teams to adjust to Agile methodology, but once they master it, they’re often capable of churning out projects and iterations with blazing speed.  

According to Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, jobs that involve Agile development skills will grow 7.3 percent over the next 10 years; the median agile project management salary is $103,000. The vast majority of those who heavily leverage Agile skillsets in their jobs have a bachelor’s degree; this isn’t the kind of skills cluster that demands a hyper-advanced education. 

Also, take a look at the tech professions that heavily leverage Agile skills; if you’re interested in one of these, changes are good you’ll need to know some Agile fundamentals:

Agile is practiced everywhere from the smallest of the companies to the Pentagon (which actually released an amazing document breaking down best Agile practices). For those managers and team leaders who want to learn how to run an Agile meeting effectively (and that’s important, since meetings and standups are key to a successful Agile process), there are some very basic tips:

  • Have a clear purpose in each meeting.
  • Don’t get lost in the weeds (i.e., details).
  • Avoid letting meetings get dull or repetitious.
  • Don’t waste time taking formal notes or excessively documenting.

Many team leaders also hate conducting Agile standups via email, messaging app, or phone, and it’s easy to see why: They believe that having everyone together in one room creates camaraderie and makes teams function better. But with COVID-19 forcing many companies to work entirely remotely, some adjustments may need to be made.

(If you’re completely new to Agile, and you don’t feel you’re quite ready to pursue certifications, there are other routes you can take to build your knowledge of Agile and related methodologies. For example, you can study the Agile Manifesto, the document that kicked all of this off, as well as the Scrum Guide. There’s also always the option to enroll in a free online course, or take a two-day Certified Scrum Master or Professional Scrum Master training course. In addition, most cities have Meetups or user groups where you may find a coach or other helpful folks. If you’re a little more adept then consider Dice’s other resources to learn about getting your next job: Project Manager Interview Questions and Project Manager Sample Resume.)

And yes, there’s a host of Agile certifications out there. Knowing which one is right for you (or which will help you best in your career) can be tricky, though. Dice Insights spoke with PMI’s director for network programs, Stephen Townsend, in order to discover the most in-demand Agile certifications, the length of time it takes to get one, and the true benefits of getting them.

How many Agile certifications are there? 

As Townsend noted, there are several Agile certifications currently on the market, with some certifications focused on a specific type of Agile methodology or framework, such as Scrum or Kanban. Others offer a more holistic view.

“PMI’s Agile certification, the Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP), for example, is grounded in the Agile values and principles and spans numerous Agile frameworks and methodologies such as Scrum, Kanban, Lean, extreme programming (XP) and test-driven development (TDD),” he said. “Certifications like the PMI-ACP can help increase Agile practitioners’ versatility, wherever their products and projects may take them.”

There are also Agile certifications for specific roles such as Scrum MasterProduct Owner or Coach. Scrum.org has a handy overview of a number of related certifications, including Professional Scrum with User Experience.

Which Agile certifications spread to be most in demand and why?

Townsend said the Scrum Master certification is the most in-demand Agile certification, and pointed out there are several Scrum Master Certifications, including ones offered by the Scrum Alliance, Scaled Agile and PMI’s Disciplined Agile.

“As Agile continues to expand beyond the IT and DevOps world, more people are turning to certifications that encompass more than one type of Agile framework, like the PMI-ACP,” he said. “This is one of many reasons that the PMI-ACP is PMI’s fastest growing certification.”

According to PMI’s latest report, nearly one in four projects completed last year used Agile delivery approaches. “We expect the use of Agile techniques to only increase in the workplace,” Townsend added. 

How long does it take to get an Agile certification?  

“Every Agile-related certification is different. Some require you to attend a class and then take an examination at the end of the class,” Townsend said. “Others require real-world experience in actual practice.”

For example, the PMI-ACP requires 2,000 hours working on project teams and at least 1,500 hours specifically working on an Agile project. In other words, it’s for someone who’s kicked off their career and looking to certify a toolbox of skills they’ve already developed.

What are the benefits of an Agile certification?

At a base level, any certification is about investing in your continued professional development.  It shows a commitment to lifelong learning and expanding your toolkit of approaches for delivering results for your organization. 

For practitioners, getting certified in Agile, project management, or similar discipline helps build your credibility when you’re on the job market. By highlighting your knowledge of Agile approaches, it shows you’re ready to tackle even the most complicated projects. 

What are the required skills to get certified?

Different certifications require different skills and levels of experience. “We believe that Agile is a mindset that enables behaviors focused on helping teams perform and deliver value,” Townsend said. “Tools, methods and frameworks provide mechanisms to ensure the team communicates, collaborates and coordinates work effort effectively.”

Working effectively within an Agile team requires technical skills such as coding or engineering; soft skills such as communication, emotional intelligence and empathy; and an understanding of how the team’s work advances overall business objectives.

“A strong combination of technical, people and business skills are vital to any successful [Agile practitioner],” he said. 

How hard is it to get an Agile certification? Are some easier than others? 

Given the range of certification offerings, there is a wide spectrum of difficulty associated with the various options. “For some, individuals take a class and then an examination at the end,” Townsend said. “For others, there are front-end experience and educational requirements and back-end continuing professional development requirements to maintain the certification.”

For practitioners, the good news is that there are options with different degrees of rigor that fit with their career needs. “In that case, there are options targeting quick learning with a comprehension check and others in which some level of actual experience qualifies individuals to take the exam,” Townsend added.

6 Responses to “Agile Certifications: Worth Pursuing for Your Tech Career?”

  1. Eric Naiburg

    Good article, but also looks like this is missing some key information. You are missing Scrum.org certifications although you mention Professional Scrum Master. Scrum.org is led by the co-creator of Scrum, Ken Schwaber and provides Professional Scrum training and certifications which go deep into the roles and Scrum compared to ACP which is much more general. You can learn more at https://www.scrum.org

  2. Brian Milner

    This article is highly suspicious to to me. It feels like a paid ad by PMI in an effort to promote their aquisistion of the Disciplined Agile this past year. The reader should note that all the information from this article comes from PMI’s “Director for Network Programs” so the information is very biased. The Agile community mostly views PMI as a group that resisted Agile for years and now that they see it’s taking over, they want to get a piece of it and not become more obsolete than they already are.

    The quality of what you might get from a PMI Agile certification I think can be measured by the fact that Townsend refers to Test Driven Development (TDD) as an “Agile Framework.” This is not true. TDD is a practice that came from Extreme Programming (XP). XP is an Agile Framework. There were no TDD representatives that created and signed the Agile Manifesto. While some practices it, they did so as part of XP.

    He mentions their Agile certifications are their fastest growing ones. This should not be taken as an indication of their quality but the lack of quality and overall relevance of their other certifications. Referring to PMI Agile certifications as “holistic” and inferring in some way that they are of better quality than the Scrum Alliance’s or Scrum.org’s is just marketing speak. They provide no greater depth and the other two organization’s certifications by far dominate the market.

    The story behind this article is very likely that PMI has paid Dice for a long-form advertisement disguised as honest reporting. If it were honest, there would be quotes from someone other than a representative of a for-profit organization who has a financial stake in you believing they are a respected Agile certification. They are not. This article should have a disclaimer.

    My disclaimer – I am a Certified Scrum Trainer with the Scrum Alliance and while I obviously believe our certifications to be the best and our model highly superior to others due to the fact that the Scrum Alliance is non-profit, I can tell you honestly that either a Scrum Alliance or Scrum.org certification will give you a highly more respected industry credential from a professional trainer. Scrum.org competes with us but I still would highly recommend them over anything PMI puts out. Just keep in mind that PMI has made it’s mark by promoting, training, and endorsing Waterfall methods. Agile is the opposite of this.

    • Nick Kolakowski

      Hi! Thanks for writing in. Obviously, PMI didn’t pay us. The guy from PMI is quoted but he’s far from the only link/source/reference here. Those quotes from a particular source aside, we did our best to provide a balanced overview here.

  3. David M Stewart

    As Brian, has already pointed out this piece feels like an advertisement for the PMI’s certification course. If you are looking for certification that is respected then I would suggest looking to get certified by trainers associated with Agile Alliance or Scrum Alliance. It was only recently that the PMI started taking Agile methodologies seriously. As someone who makes hiring decisions, I value Scrum Alliance and Agile Alliance’s certification programs over the PMI’s. For those looking for additional training on coaching practices I would look to ICAGile.
    That said, certification does not actually mean you are fully skilled in leading Agile initiatives. You need to be well versed in XP, Lean, DevOps and Product Design Thinking practices. Understanding concepts in behavioral and organizational psychology is also a must. And nothing beats experience that demonstrating you can apply all these concepts to deliver great product to your users.

  4. Animesh Yadav

    Thanks for sharing such an amazing topic about Agile Coach objectives & hopefully it will be a great motivation for all. Actually, to be a professional Agile Coach, a person should have properly aware of Agile topic so I must recommend for tryScrum to get a better Agile Coaching for the beginner.