Is Agile Certification Worth the Cost?

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It seems as though everyone is talking about Agile these days. Originally the domain of software developers, the demonstrable success offered by ‘Agile ways of working’ has led to their adoption across multiple areas of business. Project managers, program managers, and business analysts can create a significant amount of value by adopting Agile best practices, as well as by understanding how Agile environments affect more traditional elements elsewhere.

Naturally, the growing popularity of Agile has created a steadily increasing demand for Agile practitioners. Becoming qualified is not just about earning a specific certification, however. Agile as a general approach can be applied to various areas throughout a business, including development, project and program management, business analysis, and so on. Because of this, much of Agile’s ‘value’ comes from a practitioner’s ability to apply it in specific circumstances.

That is not to say that Agile certification training has no value, however. Studying a demonstrably effective Agile framework is an excellent way to gain a comprehensive understanding of how Agile works, as well as how it can be applied within a specific sphere of a business. It has even gotten to the point that globally-recognized framework providers are taking notice, with AXELOS having released ‘PRINCE2 Agile’ due to the sheer amount of demand in the market for training on how to succeed in Agile environments. Meanwhile, organizations like the APMG are offering frameworks that can apply Agile at various levels, such as Agile Project Management (AgilePM) and Agile Programme Management (AgilePgM).

It is also worth pointing out that Agile training is not just for newcomers. Earning a practitioner qualification can verify a candidate’s understanding of Agile, as well as their ability to apply it in practice. With most large businesses placing a great deal of importance on qualifications during the hiring process, many experienced Agile users will also become certified in order to stand out.

So, with this in mind, exactly how valuable can Agile certification training be? How much can practitioners earn, and which frameworks are most relevant?

Let’s take a look at whether Agile certification is really worth the cost.

What is Agile?

The Agile ‘methodology’ has been around for several decades. It began as an approach to software development: teams would focus on flexibility, adaptability, and client interaction, making short-term goals reflecting the most pressing considerations at different project stages, rather than sticking rigidly to goals set early on. Team members would also operate with more autonomy, allowing them to produce results far more efficiently.

With faster turnaround times and results that were far more in line with what customers expected, Agile ways of working quickly became popular. Agile also became far more relevant as time went on due to companies having to operate in the competitive and dynamic environments of the Digital Age.

Over the years, Agile has been adapted for various aspects of business management. This is not simply because of the growing importance of software and IT service management (ITSM) for high-level business strategy, but also Agile’s general applicability. Teams that do not have the time, resources, or structure in place to follow more traditional waterfall methods will often have to compensate with decentralized management, flexible targets, and so on. In fact, many businesses utilize Agile ways of working without even realizing it!

The evolution of Agile over the years has also seen far more practitioners earning recognized qualifications in order to advance their understanding and improve their career opportunities. Many members of the old guard of Agile are dismissive of this, given that they and their colleagues became qualified by gaining experience on the job.

Nevertheless, studying a demonstrably effective Agile framework is an excellent way for students to absorb several decades’ worth of practical experience and insight quickly. While experience may still be the key to turning qualifications into opportunities, new Agile students should never make the mistake of seeing certifications as not being worthwhile.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular Agile certifications on the market.

What is AgilePM?

Agile Project Management (AgilePM) is the world’s most popular framework for, what else, managing Agile projects! It offers a number of tools and best practices to help practitioners plan, implement, and evaluate the success of Agile projects.

What really makes AgilePM unique is the level of control it has to offer. It is based on the Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), an agile project delivery framework that offers a number of practices for planning and directing Agile projects in a way that is not dissimilar to more traditional management methods. This is a big bonus for many companies, as the lack of top-down control in Agile is often seen by many as a disadvantage.

It is also worth pointing out that AgilePM is a lot more friendly to newcomers than other Agile frameworks. This is largely because it does not require any existing knowledge of other methodologies. PRINCE2 Agile, in contrast, requires that users have an understanding of PRINCE2.

The AgilePM certification path

Studying AgilePM is fairly straightforward in terms of the direction of the certification path:

  • AgilePM Foundation – This syllabus introduces students to the framework, including essential tools like MoSCoW Prioritization and Timeboxing. There are no prerequisites to sitting the exam, and becoming certified is an excellent way for candidates to learn how to contribute to Agile project teams.
  • AgilePM Practitioner – This syllabus builds on the content covered in the Foundation course. It looks at how to apply and assess the use of AgilePM in practice, utilizing a detailed case study to provide context for students. To sit the AgilePM Practitioner exam, candidates must first pass the Foundation exam.
  • AgilePM Foundation & Practitioner – This combined syllabus is designed for learners who wish to pass the AgilePM Foundation and Practitioner exams as quickly and efficiently as possible.

What is AgilePgM?

‘Agile Programme Management (AgilePgM)’ is another APMG framework. Unlike AgilePM, however, AgilePgM is designed to be applied at a program level. This is a significant step forward for Agile, with the AgilePgM framework offering a strong governance model to keep strategic programs on track even as teams continue to exercise the agility, autonomy, and flexibility of classic Agile.

The tools, processes, and best practices of AgilePgM are valuable for traditional program managers, as well as project managers wishing to improve their skills and stakeholders seeking a clearer understanding of Agile. AgilePgM training is also valid for anyone involved in Agile programs, such as team members, risk managers, PMO managers, and so on.

The AgilePgM certification path

As a relatively new framework, AgilePgM has an extremely straightforward certification path.

  • Agile Programme Management (AgilePgM) Foundation – This exam examines whether candidates have a clear understanding of the fundamentals of AgilePgM. This includes the structure and nature of the ‘Agile program lifecycle’ as defined by the framework, how to support Agile programs, management and control, communication, stakeholder strategies, and how different team members are organized within Agile programs.

What is PRINCE2 Agile?

PRINCE2 is the world’s most popular project management framework. The growing success of Agile led to demand for a PRINCE2 framework that could mesh better with Agile environments. This is exactly what PRINCE2 Agile is: a comprehensive framework that offers the world-class governance of PRINCE2 alongside the autonomy, speed, and flexibility of Agile.

Studying PRINCE2 Agile can be an excellent choice both for traditional and Agile project managers, the reason being that it offers the best of both worlds and has practices that can be applied regardless of an organization’s preferences. It can also work well with other project management frameworks, including AgilePM and AgilePgM.

The PRINCE2 Agile certification path

While PRINCE2 Agile makes certain departures from PRINCE2, the certification path is almost identical:

  • PRINCE2 Agile Foundation – This exam ensures that candidates understand the governance requirements of PRINCE2, as well as popular Agile techniques like Kanban, Lean Start-up, and SCRUM. It also looks at how PRINCE2 and Agile can interact in project environments.
  • PRINCE2 Agile Practitioner – This exam deals with a candidate’s ability to apply PRINCE2 Agile in practice. The syllabus itself focuses heavily on case studies to help with this.

To sit the PRINCE2 Agile Practitioner exam, candidates would usually need to pass the PRINCE2 Agile Foundation exam first. However, there are also several other applicable prerequisites:

  • PRINCE2 Foundation (or higher)
  • Project Management Qualification (PMQ)
  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • IPMA Levels A, B, C and D (Certified Projects Director)

What is AgileBA?

Agile Business Analyst (AgileBA) is another framework based on the DSDM. However, it approaches this methodology from the point of view of a business analyst rather than a project manager. This is because, essentially, the booming popularity of Agile has required many business analysts to develop an understanding of how it works. How can a business analyst keep Agile projects on track? How can they extend the benefits of Agile to other areas of a business? How can they convince stakeholders that Agile projects are producing worthwhile results?

In truth, ‘Agile business analysis’ has been a topic for a number of years. AgileBA sets out best practices for the role and serves as an excellent entry point to Agile for both prospective and experienced business analysts. It has also proved useful for business stakeholders who simply need a better understanding of Agile ways of working.

The AgileBA certification path

Studying AgileBA is fairly straightforward in terms of the direction of the certification path:

  • AgileBA Foundation – This entry-level syllabus lays out the key concepts of AgileBA and the DSDM, such as the Agile business case, prioritization, and stakeholder engagement. There are no prerequisites for sitting the AgileBA Foundation exam
  • AgileBA Practitioner – This syllabus builds on the content of AgileBA Foundation and looks at how to apply it in practice. It also helps students evaluate the success of AgileBA implementation via an interactive case study
  • AgileBA Foundation & Practitioner – This combined syllabus is perfect for anyone seeking to earn the AgileBA Foundation & Practitioner certifications in quick succession. There are no prerequisites for taking this course

What is the Value of Agile Certification for Individuals?

Studying Agile can offer a number of benefits to students. As well as providing them with the contextual knowledge required to contribute to Agile teams, it can also help them to qualify for additional responsibilities and even higher-paying roles. That being said, it is important to keep in mind that experience will always be a factor in the value of certification. Organizations will always look at a candidate’s history in applying a framework rather than stopping at their qualifications.

This is reflected in the range of salaries enjoyed by Agile practitioners. According to Payscale and Glassdoor, the average salaries for Agile users in the US and UK are as follows:

  • Agile Project Management salary – US $52,000 to over $166,000, UK £22,000 to over £118,000
  • Agile Program Management salary – US $112,000 to $168,000, UK £32,000 to over £208,000
  • Agile business analyst average salary – US $65,000 to over $115,000, UK £30,000 to over £91,000

What is the Value of Agile Certification for Businesses?

As we mentioned previously, the Agile methodology is widely applicable in the world of business. As such, Agile certification can enable benefits across multiple areas of a company, including project and program management, software development, business analysis, and more.

Investing in Agile training for a team will ensure that everyone is on the same page in terms of best practices, management styles, and terminology. This can enhance the benefits of Agile ways of working, which include faster turnaround times, increased adaptability, higher client satisfaction, and more efficient resource usage.

It is worth pointing out that Agile is not the be-all-and-end-all of project management, business analysis, or anything else. It is simply a popular management style; one that will be less applicable in some situations than others. Indeed, options like AgilePM and PRINCE2 Agile also incorporate elements from more traditional management practices.

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