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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