Q&A: Agile Certification: Certified ScrumMaster or PMI Agile Certified Practitioner? Which one is right for you?

In case you missed it, I recently gave a talk on the interwebs about, “Agile Certification: Certified ScrumMaster or PMI Agile Certified Practitioner? Which one is right for you?” Since the start of the Agile movement, the only certification that has meant anything has been the Scrum Alliance Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) credential. While it’s still the most widely known and held Agile certification in the world, things started to change earlier this year when PMI announced a new certification called the “PMI Agile Certified Practitioner” (PMI-ACP). These days, the questions I get asked most often in my public workshops (http://www.fearlessagility.com/events/) are, “What are the differences between the CSM and PMI-ACP certifications?” “What are the benefits of each?” and “Which one is right for me?”. In this webinar, I answered these questions and suggested where to look for more information.

Some of the questions we talked about were:

  • Why get an Agile certification?
  • Who are the global leaders?
  • What are the leading certifications?
  • Which certification is best?
  • What’s my next step?

During the webinar, we encouraged our attendees to interact with us by participating in polls and by entering questions for the live Q&A session that we had at the end of the presentation. We received a bunch of great questions that I couldn’t get to during the live event so I have provided answers below.

While you’re kicking around on the ‘net, between your tweetering and your myfacing, visit http://www.fearlessagility.com/events/ for more information about upcoming workshops from me and my team mates and sign up for the next one in your home town! If you do I can personally guarantee all your dreams will come true (assuming you mostly dream about Scrum, agility, certification or attending workshops that include playing with ping pong balls)

As promised, here’s the follow up to the live audience questions…

Q: on the PMI cert. for the 3 days, is that a specific class or can it be a collection of webinars etc.  I have the 2 days csm training but need the other day for the acp
A: It needs to be “21 contact hours”. So it must be instructor lead course work (i.e. not self-study). Distance education is permitted, I think, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Also depending on who you got your CSM from and when will be a big factor in whether or not you’re prepared for the exam. As a bonus, if you take one of our workshops you can also use those hours for PDUs to maintain an existing PMI certification.

Q: I’m interested in the kind of questions we’re likely to see on the ACP exam / how to prepare
A: About 50%-60% of the questions are Scrum and general Agile questions. Another 1/4 to 1/3 are on eXtreme Programming, There are maybe a couple dozen (out of 100 scored items) on Lean, Kanban, Risk Burndowns, Agile EVM and other topics. To prepare I’d recommend reading from the PMI reading list and taking a prep course.

Q: My question is, how can it be called CSM when you take a class and they give you that title.  With PMI we were required to show “proof” of work/school/etc plus take and pass a test
A: It’s largely an historical accident. When Ken Schwaber first started “certifying” people as ScrumMasters, he generally knew them and could judge personally. The first small handful of trainers Ken “deputized” were in a similar position. It was a small community with a lot of visibility between people. No one expected the CSM designation to take off like it has. That said, it’s grown so much in the last several years that many of us have been criticizing the designation as misleading.

In 2 or 3 days no one (not even me) can “certify” that a roomful of strangers are “ScrumMasters”. Also having the word “master” in the name of the role is confusing because A) It sounds kind of command & control and B) it suggests mastery of Scrum. The first problem is, IMO insurmountable until the ScrumAlliance changes either the requirements for the designation or it’s name, the second problem is fixable with good education (certainly the “master” in ScrumMaster should mean the person has a good mastery of Scrum, but that doesn’t happen in 2 or 3 days). The problem with changing the designation is that it has huge brand recognition (same with the ScrumMaster role). Many of us in the trainer community have stepped it up on our own by changing the 2 days to 3 days, requiring pre-work (and sometimes follow up work) outside of class and demonstration of Scrum knowledge on an in class exam among other approaches.

Q: And Kanban approach falls under which certification?
A: “Kanban” (which is a dumb name for a cool thing) is one technique for managing workflow of a single team. There might be A question on the ACP exam referring to it, but it depends on the “item pool” you draw. Using a card wall (which smarty pants know-it-alls call a “Kanban Board”) to visualize work and limiting your work in progress (the only two rules of “Kanban”) are great techniques which can be used within any Lean or Agile approach, but there’s not enough to it to spend two days “certifying” anything. I teach my students how to use a card wall in my CSM workshops.

Q: Most of the certifications are for software development management. Do you have any certification suggestion for marketing manager?
A: Well, agility was born in the software industry, that said the principles and many of the practices (certainly Scrum’s practices) are applicable in all parts of a business. I get lots of non-software and non-technical people in my workshops. In terms of existing Agile certifications I think CSPO (Certified Scrum Product Owner) is likely the best one for marketing and product management people.

Q: What are the maintenance requirements for the two certifications?  (e.g. have to renew PMP every 3 years with 60 PDU’s)
A: ACP requires 30 PDUs every 3 years. The PDUs must be specifically related to agile project management. The CSM currently has no maintenance requirements. The Certified Scrum Professional (CSP) is on a two year cycle and recertification will require PDUs at some point. ScrumAlliance have said this will be in place by January of 2013

Q: Now that PMI is providing their ACP, is there a benefit for an Agile project manager to get the PMP certification?
A: Not unless they want to continue working on traditional projects, although it’s been my experience that having a solid understanding of traditional project management practices is essential to A) deciding which approach to take and B) convincing traditionalists when an agile approach is more appropriate.

Q: I have been CSM for almost 3 years, do you know if I will be grandfathered in, or if I will need to write the test?
A: ScrumAlliance have seemed to go back and forth on this. I believe they plan to “sunset” the CSM with no exam. Originally I heard they were going to “expire” all CSMs awarded prior to the exam going pass/fail 2 years from the go-live date on the pass/fail exam and require everyone to take the exam to recertify. So far though there’s no official word.

Q: Do the hours on Agile projects count towards both the 2000 and 1500 hours?
A: No. Those are mutually exclusive requirements. You need 2000 hours general project experience PLUS 1500 hours agile project experience. If you already have a PMP the 2000 general hours requirement is waived.

Q: Can you recommend a reading list that would provide useful background for the ACP test?
A: This is the list I recommend in class:

  • Agile Software Development with Scrum – Ken Schwaber & Mike Beedle
  • Extreme Programming Explained – Kent Beck
  • Agile Estimating and Planning – Mike Cohn
  • User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development – Mike Cohn
  • Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit – Mary & Tom Poppendieck

PMI’s complete list is here

Jimi Fosdick