Agile Project Management Certification: PMI and the Scrum Alliance

There are now multiple variants in agile project management certification and these approaches are becoming more widely used where appropriate. These fall into two main categories: PMI and Scrum.

Project management is all about creating a new product, service or other deliverable. Successful project management focuses on completing the project on budget, on time, and within the scope originally set in the requirements from the client, or requester. Using this approach, the requester defines their needs at the outset and the project team proceeds to build accordingly. Upon seeing the finished product, however, requesters often feel the final result missed the mark. Too often in the past this was after it was all built at great cost. Enter scrum and its other agile descendants.

The Nature of It

An Agile approach to project management emphasizes an iterative approach to design and development of product very early, then adjusting and adding features gradually and evaluating them frequently. A want list called the backlog may be created and items picked from it for implementation with short (possibly two week) iterations called sprints. At the end of each sprint the product is “complete” and demonstrable even if with limited features. The more general principles of agile development are contained in the Agile Manifesto.

The PMI-ACP® Credential

The Project Management Institute’s (PMI’s) Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP®) credential (aka certification) is designed for application to any suited project and not just for software development.

Unlike the sister Project Management Professional (PMP) credential, there is no single reference book for this exam. In keeping with the agile concept of “minimal documentation” the group resisted the idea of a traditional “standard.” Instead, there are 11 recommended reading books on which the examination is primarily based.

Scrum Credentials

People in various industries are scrumming all over these days. One might well assume that scrum is an acronym, but it’s actually a reference to what happens in the sport of rugby. Traditional project management was like a relay race with a series of handoffs from one phase to the next. Takeuchi and Nonaka1 in a 1986 Harvard Business Review article entitled “The New New Product Development Game” felt that the rugby analogy of a single team going the distance with continuous back-and-forth was a better fit in today’s environment.

While PMI offers a single credential (appropriate for generalized agile cases), the Scrum Alliance offers a series of credentials focusing on the various and distinct software development roles. The latter series includes Certified Scrum Master (SCM), Certified Scrum Product Owner® (CSPO), Certified Scrum Developer® (CSD) and Certified Scrum Professional® (CSP).

Comparison of Requirements for Agile Project Management Certifications

Below is an overview of requirements. See clarification and full details at or

Requirements and TopicsFor PMI-ACP®For Certified Scrum Professional®For Certified Scrum Master®
Frameworks Covered in ExamScrum, Lean, XP, othersScrumScrum
Education21 hours of related instructionCurrently hold CSD, CSPO or CSM credential; 70 Scrum Education Units (SEUs) within the past three years.Required 18 hours by Certified Scrum Trainer
Experience2000 in project management within last five years; 1500 separate in agile projects within last three yearsAt least 36 months of successful Agile/Scrum work within the past five years.None except taking a two day class
Industry OrientationIndustry and product agnosticFormerly mainly software development; now product agnosticFormerly mainly software development; now product agnostic
Exam120 questions; three hours150 questions; three hours35 questions online; multiple attempts allowed
Re-certificationContinuing education on a three year cycle.Continuing education on a two year cycle.Retake evaluation every two years.
Code of EthicsPMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional ConductCode of EthicsCode of Ethics

1Takeuchi, Hirotaka and Ikujiro Nonaka. 1986. “The New Product Development Game.” Harvard Business Review, January, 137-146.