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Examining the Value of Agile Certifications

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Ben Linders, an Agile and Lean consultant from the Netherlands, recently authored several pieces examining the benefits of living by the principles and behaviours of Agility, over pursuing Agile certification or adopting specific frameworks. His latest piece on how true Agility looks, continues a topic which triggered some online discussion after he recently wrote about alternatives to Agile Certifications, and the rationale behind a personal choice not to seek out any particular certification. Knowledge Hut's recent comparison of various Agile certifications also appears to indicate that those with a greater focus on work-based experience tend to correlate with higher earnings.

Linders, who also writes for InfoQ, and has authored a number of books including Getting Value out of Agile Retrospectives, instigated a flurry of discussion following a LinkedIn post about his blog on Agile certifications. He emphasised that across the breadth of certifications and organisations present, would-be participants often incur both time and cost but do little in adding to their overall value and impacting their organisations. Linders wrote:

Doing exams and spending money on fees to keep certificates alive won't make me a better trainer, advisor, coach, writer, or presenter. Sure, these certificates and the badges that come along look nice in presentations... But they don't increase the value that I deliver, which is what matters most to me, and to the people that I work with."

Linders, who stands by the Oath of Non-Allegiance, wrote about how choosing not to identify with specific frameworks or professional Agile bodies added to his ability to remain objective as a consultant. He stated that he is "not a member of the Agile Alliance, Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, Agile Consortium, or any other official agile membership organization."

Linders made the point that certifications and allegiance to specific approaches can often result in a myopic view of the world, where individuals align themselves with specific approaches which may result in falling into the trap of seeing all problems through the lens of a particular hammer. He writes:

What I see a lot is that people who are certified in a specific method, framework, or approach tend to think that there are no other solutions. It's the classic "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" approach. Which often comes with "my hammer is bigger, better, faster, and cheaper than yours".

Linders pointed out that he has invested in a breadth of learning, academic qualifications and continuous improvement, experimentation, daring and the experience of delivering real value. He suggested a list of alternatives to certifications for assessing individuals, which focus more on their actual accomplishments, social profiles, deliveries and bespoke best fit. Linders wrote in his recent blog post that:

Taking a two-day course with an exam to become a CSM can help you and your team to do agile, but being truly agile takes a lot more: practicing, experimenting, and learning by doing.

Linders wrote that acting within the principles of the Agile Manifesto and its resulting behaviours, form the basis of an experience-based learning curve, which allows individuals to demonstrably add value through their collaboration and contributions. He wrote:

True agility doesn't come with a certificate. You can't learn it in a course or take an online training. You have to live it. Becoming truly agile by doing and learning...It's all about value delivered by people who have experience and dare to try out new things!

In a piece titled Are Your Tech Certifications Actually Worth the Money? Nate Swanner of Dice recently investigated the value of different certifications. He points out that while, on average, certifications can lead to a 10% increase in salaries, there is little which distinguishes the good from the bad. He observed that there is a fine line between certifications which add value and those which are "certifications which appeal to our sense of accomplishment", but do little for employability. He writes about the preferences for demonstrable output from engineers:

Whatever tech certifications you've earned, we still advocate for having a host of projects published and a GitHub presence. You prove your worth when an employer can see your work.

In the Linkedin discussions around Linder's critique of certifications, comments from hiring managers, trainers, practitioners and those certified argued the value of certification in candidate selection, teaching an understanding of methods and fortifying existing knowledge. Many commentators recognised that it is hard to certify success in the application of deep knowledge. Adrian Lander, a founder of Agnostic Agile, commented that:

What is harder to certify is that knowledge is being effectively and suitably applied (practice) and the deeper knowledge that is more implicit to the "body of knowledge" or a conceptual advancement of it.

Knowledge Hut's comparison of various Agile certifications placed a mean value for salary against each qualification. From the sample surveyed by Knowledge Hut, the top two highest paying certifications which lead by a margin of more than $8K USD, were those which had a pre-requisite for practical Agile work-based experience: ICP-ACC (ICAgile- Agile Certified Coach) at $119,883 p/a and PMI-ACP® (PMI - Agile Certified Practioner) at $123,000 p/a.

Linders wrote on the value of those who have grown through a process of experience-based continuous improvement, which he describes as being of greater value than certifications by themselves:

Value comes from someone who truly tries to understand your problems and provides multiple solutions that might work, instead of pretending to have the one right answer. Who experiments, verifies, learns, and improves."

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