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PMP vs. Agile

Organizations are in dire need of certified project managers who are qualified to handle the requirements of ongoing projects. Project management certificates give professionals the technical know-how that helps them streamline business processes and improve workflow. 

Incorporating a project management certification to your credentials adds value to your resume and validates your project management skills to prospective employers. Ideally, holding more than one certificate increases your likelihood of landing a better job. However, due to time and financial restraints, this may not be possible.

If you need some help choosing the right certificate for you, you’ve come to the right place. We can help you make the right decisions for your future by comparing the PMP and Agile certifications.

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PMP vs. Agile: How do They Compare?

Defining Each Certification

What’s PMP?

The PMP certification, short for Project Management certification, is an accredited certification in its designated field, regulated by the Project Management Institute (PMI). A good match for the PMP certificate would be a candidate with substantial project management experience.

PMP aims at informing project managers about the procedures featured in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) and the cornerstones of project management altogether. PMP certification enhances project managers’ professional practice and testifies for their eligibility to lead larger and more complex projects.

What’s Agile?

Agile is an alternative approach to project management and software development, popularized by the Manifesto for Agile software development.

Agile’s prime focus is flexibility, as it works to deliver high-quality work while simultaneously adapting to the ever-changing work environment. Instead of delivering all components at project completion, Agile delivers product components every 2-4 weeks and makes use of Deming’s cycle, also known as the Plan-Do-Check-Act management method.

The agile domain features a variety of recognized certificates, including PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP), APMG International, Scrum Alliance, Strategyex Certificate (Associate or Master’s) in Agile, and Certified Agile Project Manager (IAPM).

Since the PMI-ACP certificate is the most widely-recognized of them, we will be taking a closer look at it.

Focus and Scope

PMP

PMP does not allow for much flexibility. It values pre-determined plans, schedules, and set end goals, all with the intent of avoiding any required changes mid-project which would take its financial toll on it.

Therefore, PMP tends to be predictable, as it enforces a definitive end date and has explicit procedures of the project planning, initiation, execution, monitoring, etc.

This does not, however, deem it inefficient. It can be the right choice for a project if similar projects have been executed before. It also works better if the project has pre-set requirements and scope, and fairly accurate estimated resources, cost, and work effort for the project to be executed whilst abiding by a budget and a deadline.

Agile

Adversely, a defining feature of Agile is its wide scope of flexibility. It delivers results in ‘small doses’ as the project unfolds rather than a single ‘big reveal’ at project completion.

This allows for continuous evaluation throughout the process, which in turn makes the team very efficient in coping with change. Consequently, there are no predefined plans or definitive end dates.

Still, Agile is not always the right option. However, projects that can benefit from a highly flexible certification are ones where the desired end goal, the production cost, and/or the production time is not particularly clear.

Methodology

There are two main approaches to software development, and therefore, project management as well. Naturally, the Agile domain functions on an Agile project management best practice approach. By contrast, the PMP certification mainly uses the Waterfall Approach, although Agile methods are also included in the PMBOK.

The Waterfall Method

Also known as the Linear Sequential Life Cycle Model, the Waterfall Method is the more traditional of the two, and it’s the one you’ll deal with more if you go for PMP certification.

It’s a highly sequential approach to software development. It can be broken down into distinct phases that need to be completed one by one before moving to the next one. It separates the planning, development, and testing phases of the project. Clients normally don’t see the final product until all phases are finished.

This method has its drawback, including less customer involvement, potentially rushing the testing phase to stay on schedule, and difficulty implementing changes. However, it still has many advantages, such as a clearer framework, better documentation, and a hands-off approach from the customer.

The Agile Method 

The Agile method is an iterative approach to development and project management. The project timeline is “time-boxed” into phases called “sprints” that usually last 2 weeks with a running list of deliverables, after which the clients can review the progress. 

The advantages of the Agile Method include higher adaptability and customer involvement and continuous testing throughout the whole project. However, the project may fall apart if the whole team is not 100% committed to collaborating and communicating clearly. It also has the potential for increased overall cost.

Certification Prerequisites

PMP

Candidates must meet one of two sets of criteria to be eligible. First, they must be holders of a relevant four-year degree with 35 hours of project management training or CAPM Certification and 3.5 years of experience leading projects.

Second, those who don’t meet the degree criterion and only hold a secondary degree must instead have 5 years of project management experience in addition to the 35 hours of project management education or CAPM Certification.

PMI-ACP

Those with a bachelor’s or post-graduate degree from a GAC accredited program must have 8 months of agile team experience as well as 35 contact hours of formal training in agile practices.

As for holders of a secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree, or global equivalent), they must either hold a PMP and/or PgMP certification or have 12 months of experience working on general project teams within the last 5 years.

Additionally, candidates must have worked in project teams using agile methodologies for 8 months in the last 3 years and must have completed 21 contact hours of training in agile practices.

Exam Structure

PMP Certification Exam

Candidates must answer a total of 200 multiple choice questions in 4 hours with no scheduled break. However, only 175 of the questions are scorable, and the remaining 25 are pretest questions.

Pretest questions don’t affect your score, and they’re only there to test the validity of the questions for future exams. However, you won’t know which questions are the pretest ones as they’re randomly placed throughout the exam.

Sitting the exam costs $405 for members and $555 for non-members, and in order to pass the exam, you need to score 80.6% or above. In other words, you must answer 141 questions or more correctly out of 175. Moreover, the exam is closed-book, which means no reference materials are allowed. 

In addition to covering cross-domain knowledge and skills such as professional conduct and code of ethics, the questions of the PMP exam primarily test the five domains of the project’s lifecycle:

DomainPercentage On The Test
Initiating13%
Planning24%
Executing31%
Monitoring and Controlling25%
Closing7%

PMI-ACP Certification Exam

The total allotted time for the PMI-ACP certification exam is 3 hours. It comprises 120 multiple-choice questions. However, similar to the PMP exam, only 100 questions are counted towards your final score, and the remaining 20 are considered pretest questions.

The PMI-ACP test can either be center-based or online. Either way, it costs $435 for PMI members and $495 for non-members. If you need to retake the exam a second time, you’ll only pay either $335 as a PMI member or $395 as a non-member.

The exam is developed based on the PMI-ACP Examination Content Outline, and it covers the following domains:

DomainPercentage On The Test
Agile Principles and Mindset16%
Value-driven Delivery20%
Stakeholder Engagement17%
Team Performance16%
Adaptive Planning12%
Problem Detection and Resolution10%
Continuous Improvement (Product, Process, People)9%

Certification Renewal

Both the PMP and PMI-ACP credentials are subject to PMI’s renewal requirements stating that unless the certification is renewed every recertification cycle, it will no longer be valid.

Your certification and/or Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) cycle begins the day you pass the certification exam and ends on the same day three years later.

In order to maintain your PMP, you need to earn 60 PDUs (Professional Development Units) every three-year recertification cycle. By contrast, to maintain your PMI-ACP, you must earn 30 PDUs in agile topics.

Final Thoughts

Incorporating project management credentials into your resume is always a great idea, but when it comes to choosing between PMP and Agile, there’s no right or wrong answer. As both of them have their advantages and disadvantages, it should depend on your future career plans.

If you want to focus on incremental development, then Agile is a better choice since the PMI-ACP and other Agile certifications focus only on Agile methodologies. But if you want a more traditional approach that still integrates different methodologies and components of project management, then PMP is the certification for you.

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