PMP vs. Agile: which certification is best?

Project management certificationsOn my post about the pros and cons of PMP certification, project managers (and wannabe project managers) often ask me: Which certification is best, PMP, or ScrumMaster (Agile) Certification?

I myself am both PMP and ScrumMaster Certified, and the short answer that I give is that I believe they are both worth getting. If you’re going to be managing projects for a wide variety of companies and clients, it’s in your best interest to know and understand a wide variety of project management frameworks that you can apply in different situations. I’ve worked on projects suited to Agile methodologies, projects suited to waterfall methodologies, and projects that have benefited from a combination of different approaches. The deeper your knowledge of different approaches, the better you and your team will be suited to tackle a wide range of problems.

That said, it can’t hurt for me to explain a little bit about the differences between the two approaches, and take a closer look at some of the trends in the popularity of each framework.

Waterfall vs. Agile methodologies

PMI’s framework is based on a waterfall methodology, while the ScrumMaster Certification is based on Agile. Both of these methodologies comprise very different approaches to software development.

Here’s a short summary of some key differences between waterfall and Agile methodologies:

Waterfall methodologies

  • Waterfall methodologies feature distinct planning, development, and testing phases
  • Software development projects are heavily planned during the planning stage, where little to no code is completed
  • During the build (development, or execution) phase, the product of the project is built
  • Any changes to product design are normally handled by change requests to the original project plan
  • After the build phase is completed, products are tested during a comprehensive testing phase. Clients (or customers) do not normally receive the finished product until all work on the project has been completed and delivered

Agile methodologies

  • Agile methodologies feature iterative development phases
  • Product features are gathered and prioritized in a backlog of features
  • Scrum teams take on development of product features during sprints, where they are designed, constructed, and tested – normally during a two-week period
  • After the sprint, features emerge as deliverable product
  • Clients are presented completed features from an individual sprint during a sprint demo
  • Product changes may not take place during sprints, but they are accepted at any other time, so products are constructed organically

The tale of the trends

So which framework is more popular, and which one should you consider getting certified in?

Let’s take a look at the tale of the trends, thanks to Google Trends. This is not the most scientific approach to be sure, but looking at Google Trends is an easy way to see what people are interested in over time.

PMP vs. Agile

First, let’s compare the general search terms “PMP” and “Agile”.

PMP vs. Agile

Click to enlarge the graphic. Here you can see that searches for PMP appear to have peaked at some point in 2008, and have recently declined. Meanwhile, searches for Agile, while spiking in late 2009, are generally trending upwards.

Note that this does comparison not take into account that people might be searching for PMP or Agile for reasons other than interest in project management methodologies – but I still found this chart quite interesting.

PMP Certification vs. ScrumMaster

The two most popular certifications for waterfall and Agile methodologies are the PMP and ScrumMaster certifications. Since you can search for ScrumMaster in different ways (ScrumMaster Certification, Certified ScrumMaster, and so on), I used “ScrumMaster” as the search term to compare with “PMP Certification”. Here are the results:

PMP Certification vs. ScrumMaster

Click to enlarge the graphic. You can see here that while ScrumMaster searches are trending upward, there are many more searches for PMP Certification. And I wouldn’t say that searches for ScrumMaster are skyrocketing – they appear to be relatively level. One interesting search that you might try yourself is a search comparing “ScrumMaster” and “PMI-ACP”, PMI’s own, and relatively new, Agile certification. I’d be glad to hear your opinions on that comparison in the comments section of this post.

Which project management certification is best?

It does seem to me that interest in PMP certification is level, or perhaps even waning, while interest in Agile methodologies is growing – though interest in the most popular Agile certification, Certified ScrumMaster, does not appear to be “taking off” as much as I had originally thought it might be. Remember, this is a very simple analysis using Google Trends, so I may be way off the mark here – please be sure to tell me if I am! I’d be interested in seeing any data or opinions contrary to what I’ve explored here. I should note that I have noticed that PMP certification appears to be growing in popularity in India… I get a lot of questions from Indian professionals, especially software engineers and test engineers, who are interested in becoming project managers and getting PMP certified.

I still haven’t answered the question “which certification is best”… a lot of factors go into making this decision, and it turns out that one certification may be best for some, while the other certification may be better for others. It seems to me that PMP certification is more powerful if you’re interested in applying for a job as a project manager – many recruiters require PMP certification of their project managers – while Agile certification is important if you’re working for an iterative software development shop, or want to learn about a methodology that is slowly but steadily gaining in popularity. In my opinion, Agile methodologies will see even more recognition in the future while interest in waterfall methodologies will continue to wane.

As I mentioned above, I personally recommend getting both credentials. In fact, I make it my own mission to continue to improve myself both personally and professionally however I can, whenever I can, and education is one of the surest ways of doing this. Whichever path you choose to pursue, best of luck to you!

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35 Responses to “PMP vs. Agile: which certification is best?”

  1. pmp is a good to have but not an all around answer for delivering successful projects. being in software development for years, pmp is not a perfect fit for software development and i had seen certified pmp’s who had produced failing projects especially when there are requirement changes along the way… pmp can not handle changes gracefully and in turn results in lots of documentation changes and quality issues. pmp is excellent for buildings and architectural projects.

    • Hi jjdjdjxm,

      Thanks for your comment – I appreciate it! I’m always glad to hear from the experiences of project managers working in the field which frameworks and methodologies they prefer.

      All the best to you in your career.

    • I agree to your last comment. But 1 of the strongest reasons in my view and experience as to why certified PMs too failed is because they did not adhere to ALL the concepts of PMP. They had deviated/diluted on the processes somewhere down the line, due to various factors – some of them being lack of support, time, feasibility at that point of time, determination to move fwd. Eventually, they just looked at some shortcuts to resolve issues and cross over. 🙂

      • Hello there,

        Thanks very much for the comment – I really appreciate it! I agree that taking shortcuts to resolve issues can often lead to problems. All the best with your project management endeavors!

  2. Hi ,

    I am working as a Business analyst in an operations department , in which I was a part of implementing 2 different service based projects by connecting between the client and my organization and am thinking of doing a project management course .I also need to perform operational services on the project implemented.
    please suggest me a certification which can help me growing professionally.

    • Hello Deepak,

      If you have the 4,500 hours (with a Bachelor’s degree) of getting PMP certified, and can take the Agile Development classes, then why not get certified in both? If you have both, you’ll have more doors open for you, and will also have the ability to manage projects using different frameworks depending on which framework you believe would be most effective.

      Otherwise, I’d go for the PMP certification first, as that one tends to look better on a resume, at least in my experience.

      Best of luck!

  3. Hi Brian,

    Thank you for sharing your opinion on this one. I am trying to decide which certification I can get, and I believe you might be able to help with that.

    I have been involved in delivery projects (roll out projects) in the telecoms field for almost 2 years and I have been working as a Service project manager(Service Delivery) for over 1 year now. I am trying to decide between CAPM /Scrum Master(since I don’t have experience managing projects as Such) and ITIL (since I am now working on Managed Services,Support Services, etc.).

    Does it count as Project Management Experience if you work as service operations & maintenance manager (dealing with problem/incident management, change management, etc.)?

    • Hello Emilio,

      It sounds to me that ITIL might be a good choice for you, especially if you are located in the United Kingdom. If you’re primarily working in IT Service Management, ITIL is very useful. That said, if I were you, I might go for all three certifications if you can get them! Having multiple project management certifications has helped me in my own career.

      Meanwhile, project management experience is experience “leading and directing projects”. So it does not seem that incident management would fit the bill unless you managed projects to handle those incidents. Change management, same thing.

      All the best to you.

  4. Vijayendra Achar Reply July 8, 2014 at 2:59 am

    Dear Brian!

    Thanks for your inputs.

    I completed my MBA and currently working for an IT company and has 5 years of experience in project Management (non-technical).

    To get promoted, I have plans to do certified course so that it will add as an catalyst to my career.

    I had inquired about certified ScrmMaster, but to work as a Scrum Master you need to be a technical sound.

    But I am a non-technical guy, could you suggest which certificate course would help me to grow with my career??

    • By “but to work as a Scrum Master you need to be a technical sound.”, what do you mean? A Scrum Master has to know the technicalities in Scrum and Agile in general, but not really the technicalities in programming or coding.

      • Hello Jerome,

        Thanks for the comment – I agree! It’s useful to know programming technologies, and to understand what your coders are doing when they are working in their sprints, but not a necessity.

        Thanks again.

    • Hello Vijayendra,

      I do not completely agree that you need to be highly technical in order to work as a ScrumMaster. It certainly helps. But you don’t need to know all of the ins and outs of the technology in order to manage a Scrum team.

      Meanwhile, for a non-technical guy, I would say that any or all of the certifications would be useful. You might check with your Human Resources professionals to see what they have to say? It really depends on your own company and your own projected career track.

      All the best to you.

  5. Hi…
    I completed my BE and currently working for an automobile company and has 6 years of experience in Quality Assurance in project Management(non-technical.
    But i am looking forward for switching my sector from Automobile to Consultation or IT sector.
    Please suggest whether the PMP or Scrum certification will be helpful for me while switching & getting jobs in other sectors?
    Which certification should I go for & whether I will be eligible for the certification.

    • Hello Pooja,

      If you have project management experience, then it seems that PMP certification would be most useful for you. In my opinion, if you can get the PMP, and are interested in project management, you should get it – many project management jobs require PMP certification of their applicants. That said, ScrumMaster certification is also useful, and if you can get both certifications, that might be even more of a help, especially in the field of Information Technology.

      Best of luck to you in your project management career.

  6. Good article..I am PMP certified and in midst to claim PDU when came across to free 10 PDU at ScrumMaster. I have no idea what scrum was all about but have heard this buzz word everywhere. In the short videos it sound very similar to PMP hence googled PMP vs Scrum and found your site!!

    My personal experience is, Agile/Scrum used in Software Dev due to the fact you can produce any feature during sprint and customer can feel the functionality and provide feedback if need to be changed. It can be also done modular. PMP more suited in distinct assembly or deliverables like automotive (u cant give customer the door to feel and touch to appreciate, they want full product that is CAR) or construction (whole house or roads etc). Just IMHO and 2 cents

    • Hello TT,

      Thanks very much for contributing your thoughts – I really appreciate it! It does seem to me that PMI’s waterfall processes and the Agile processes used in Scrum can be applied to different project management problems to great effect. It’s good to have different project management tools at your disposal when managing a variety of different projects.

      Thanks again, and all the best to you in your own project management endeavors.

  7. Hi,
    I have done BE in Computer Engg. and MBA Part time in Finance (Intention was to handle Financial Domain Projects very easily (Techno + functional)).
    Having 5.5 years of Software Development Experience in dotnet technology.

    Currently working as Team lead/Technical Lead in Private limited company.

    Which certification will help me to get into project management side.

  8. Hi Brian,

    First of all thank you for sharing lots of valuable information about PMP and its related topics. This topics gave me an idea about PMP and other methodologies.

    I am into IT and now a days our projects are running on Agile methodology. When I saw the google trend for “ScrumMaster”, I was shoocked that the trend is not at all good. Just thought of high lighting one point here after I changed the google trend search to “Scrum Master”. I found a good trend in that certification.

    As an experienced person what you suggest for professionals like me who are into IT where agile is used widely. Is it SCRUM or PMP?

    Thanks a lot.

    Asish.

  9. I would say your acticle is misleading. While both approach is leading to a successful project management but they are covering or you should say they are focusing in very different industry. Using Google search result to determine how popular is the certification is totally nonsense. Did you consider how many developer vs real project manager out there?
    In a team of ten people… There could be 9 developer vs 1 project manager and imagine this is searching for certification in their domain.

  10. Hello Brian,
    Thank you for sharing detailed information regarding various aspects of project management.
    I have a bachelor’s degree and have worked for 13 years in software development/architecture along with program/project management. For family reasons,I took a break from working for 7 years. Now I want to get back in the industry with PMP and Scrumaster certifications. Can I still show my experience from the past to apply for PMP even though few years have passed in between?
    Thank you.

  11. I am looking for relevant certification for enhancing my skills. Having 9 years technical experience in telecom. I think PMP has great value but looking at technical background scrum master certification will be more relevant for me . Can you suggest which one holds the best recognition out of many available scrum master certifications?

  12. I’ve 5 yrs of IT experience in support and development projects(completely technical). I want to change domain, move to Project management side(non technical). Please suggest me which certification is best ITIL/CSM/PMP. how much experience is required for each of the course

  13. Hi,

    I am a Java/J2EE technical lead with ACP, CSM and a PMP certifications. i wrote agile certifications as they are useful for a developer and also management side. I want to move into management and find it difficult to get a break. Most of the recruiters see my technical experience and suggest me for architect or lead roles however i want to move into management roles.Can u please give some inputs or thoughts or tips on how to approach for management jobs?

    Thanks,
    Sush

  14. Hi, I am Having 8.5 years of experience in IT , I am looking forward to do an agile certification.I am in a dilemma whether to do EXIN Agile foundation and Scrum Master certification or to do a PMI-Agile certified practitioner cert.
    can anyone shed some light on this.

  15. Dear Brian,

    I have 10 years years of experience in ERP Sales and Last 3 & half years I have been doing project management along with business development. Personally I am involved from the initiation of the project to the final completion. Now I want to shift my carrier to Project Management entirely. So between PMP or Scrum Master, which certification will be best suitable for me?
    Thanks & Regards,
    Prithwish

  16. Hi Brian,

    I have 10years of experience in IT as QA lead and have been working in agile scrum model for past 2 years. Now my question would be as a QA background will I fit into ACP or PMP certs? like someone will offer job for project manager in IT from a QA background employee???

  17. Anshuman Tripathi Reply June 7, 2016 at 6:22 am

    I have been doing a lot of research on the best Scrum Master Certification in the market currently and came across this wonderful certification ASM(Agile Scrum Master) which Simplilearn is providing in partnership with EXIN, a reputed name for certifications such as PRINCE2 AND ITIL. It offers a lot of advantages over all of these old certifications and is the most suitable in today’s competitive environment where just the knowledge of scrum would not take you long and you need to have good knowledge of Agile as well. The Agile Scrum Master training is delivered online, making it accessible to learners across the globe whereas in CSM and PSM, learners need to attend offline workshops at the trainer’s location, making remote training impossible. The ASM course was developed with the needs of geographically-dispersed Scrum teams in mind. Teams that are co-located but coordinate online also stand to benefit. Other certifications are not designed to meet the flexibility that modern-day Scrum teams demand. In keeping with the latest trend, the ASM course incorporate elements of Agile training, with Agile modules preceding the Scrum training. The CSM and PSM courses focuses only on Scrum and include no Agile modules. The bar for clearing the ASM certification is higher, making it more valuable for professionals. However, the course content developed by Simplilearn is so exhaustive that anyone taking the course can clear it with ease. Although more comprehensive and valuable than the Scrum Master certification, the ASM delivers better ROI. The ASM course is currently the only training on the market that supplants training sessions with e-learning content fully aligned to the workshop, with game-based learning and scenarios. Other courses do not come with e-learning content. This makes revision of key concepts difficult as there are no means to revisit what was learned. Moreover, with Flexi Pass feature of Simplilearn learners may attend multiple, repeat sessions with having to pay only once. Last but not the least, ASM training is delivered by high-profile thought leaders and is standardized across batches whereas CSM and PSM trainings vary from trainer to trainer leading to different learning outcomes.

  18. Hi All,

    I applied for the PMP and my application has been approved. I mentioned my 4500 hours from March 2013 to may 2016. I haven’t scheduled my PMP exam as of yet.

    Now, I want to apply for PMI-ACP exam. Can I use the 8 months from the above 3 years towards 1500 hours of Agile methodology. I am still working on Agile and PROJECT management simultaneously.

    Please help.

    Regards,

    Asif.

  19. Hi Brian,

    I have been into Operations for past 10 years in staffing industry. I have managed several transition projects (vendor consolidation) and have exposure in ERP implementation. I am interested in getting certification that will help me in effectively managing such projects. Please advice which certification will best suit my background.

    Thanks,
    Dipali

  20. The answer is quite simple. Both
    Reasons are also simple:

    1) We are leaving in a very competitive environment where you need to know more and more
    2) These two frameworks combined can be a very powerful mix.

    3) I explain more here: http://www.blog.pmmetrics.com/#!SCRUM-Traditional-Project-Management-Chaos-in-IT-Industry/uiho7/577428320cf2e26a9986aa33

  21. No matter your management position in your organization, I think it’s advisable to go for PMP certification and learn, without bothering for certification, the Agile framework (Scrum) and apply both methods interchangeably when it is necessary. Remember, project managers don’t have control over team in Agile PM; they only ensure that the process is moving correctly. Agile (scrum) is self organizing, which means team member chose roles by themselves. Personally, I favor PMP certification as the full frame of project management over Agile method. But learn Agile and apply when needed.
    Thanks
    Uche

  22. Hi Brian,

    I am working as a IT Service Manager for a reputed firm, and hold a total experience of 17 + years in IT Service Delivery. not sure if doing PMP will add weight to my CV or please suggest which Certification is best suited for me.

  23. Hi Brian

    I work in banking in corporate lending sales. I want to move to Financial Services consulting. Could you help me understand if PMP/Agile certification will help in this. I have very little IT background and have 12 years of work ex with an MNC bank.

  24. I also wanted to know if there were any offline projects that I could take up to complete the hours required for the certification. Tx

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About the Author


Website: Brian Crawford
I'm a Canadian and British dual citizen with an internationally-focused American MBA and an MS in International Project Management from a French business school. I am PMP, ScrumMaster, and ITIL Foundation certified. I'm particularly into travel, writing, and learning about different languages and cultures.