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What is that agile certification really worth?

Sharon Florentine | July 10, 2017
Agile certifications help benchmark a candidate’s familiarity with the agile framework.


Agile has revolutionized how software development and project management get done, increasing demand for IT professionals versed in the methodology and its many flavors. To help vet candidates and give IT pros an opportunity to stand out, a number of agile certifications have arisen, each offering a unique approach to benchmarking IT professionals' knowledge and competency with the framework.

But do certifications, especially with a methodology like agile, truly prove competence and proficiency? How much should hiring managers rely on the “alphabet soup” of agile credentials to take the measure of a candidate’s expertise and experience? And, if you’re looking to pursue certification yourself, what value do companies truly place on agile certifications in the workplace?

"Certifications get a bad rap. The arguments against certification exist for almost every certification, whether that's Java, Oracle, Microsoft — and now agile. It's not something my clients are specifically asking for; they just want to know if teams can build good software," says John Doucette, vice president of consulting operations at custom software development company Magenic Technologies.


Certification doesn't guarantee success

For Doucette, an agile certification can show that a candidate has taken time to study the best practices around the methodology, but having developers on staff that possess agile certifications won't guarantee success of an agile project, he adds.

"Agile project success has less to do with whether or not developers are certified and much more to do with whether or not the entire organization is making the culture shift towards an agile mindset all the way from the lowest-level developer up to the CEO," Doucette says.

Taking time as an organization to understand, adopt and apply agile principles and practices is what it's all about, he adds; agile certification, scrum masters, agile coaches and the like are not going to be effective on their own unless there is companywide buy-in of the principles and practices behind the methodology, Doucette says.


Agile is difficult to benchmark

There's nothing wrong, theoretically, with an attempt to build a benchmark for skills in general, but agile in particular is really hard to gauge because there are so many intangibles within the methodology, says Scott Staples, president and global head of business groups at IT management consultancy Mindtree.

"Things like teamwork, leadership, adaptability, the ability to multi-task, the need to understand and distill business needs into software requirements, planning, an ability to reflect on failures, constructive criticism — these are all skills within the agile framework that are so hard to test," Staples says.

Within smaller companies and startups, these qualities tend to be more apparent, because with limited staff and tight budgets, everyone has to pitch in and work extremely hard as a team. Enterprises, on the other hand, have a harder time expanding agile into their organizations, because of scale.


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