PMI-ACP vs CSM: Discover the Best Agile Certification for Your Career

Debating PMI-ACP vs CSM for your agile career trajectory? You’ll find that PMI-ACP caters to a broad scope of agile methods, ideal for various roles, while CSM is tailored to Scrum leadership. Our direct comparison will navigate you through their distinct paths, prerequisites, and the career doors each one opens, pinpointing the certification that aligns with your professional pursuits.

Key Takeaways

  • The PMI-ACP certification covers a wide range of Agile methodologies and is suitable for various professional roles in project management, while the CSM focuses specifically on Scrum principles making it ideal for Scrum Masters or product development teams.
  • Obtaining PMI-ACP requires a secondary degree, 21 contact hours in Agile practices, and general project experience, whereas CSM certification requires completion of a 2-day training course followed by an exam.
  • While the PMI-ACP is acknowledged across diverse industries for its comprehensive applicability, the CSM certification is highly regarded in fields like IT and software development where Scrum practices are predominant.
Ultimate Guide to PMI-ACP Certification

Download the Ultimate Guide to learning about the PMI-ACP Certification.

Brief overview of Agile certifications

Agile certifications are the golden tickets to the world of Agile project management, a domain that has been gaining considerable traction in various industries. These certifications offer industry recognition, enhance professional worth, and validate one’s expertise and experience in Agile practices. Two of the most sought-after certifications in the realm of Agile project management are the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) and the Certified ScrumMaster (CSM).

Both certifications are highly respected in the Agile field, but each one is tailored to different Agile methodologies and professional roles. The PMI-ACP is provided by the Project Management Institute and certifies an individual’s understanding and experience of diverse Agile methodologies. This makes it a fitting choice for both project managers and team members. On the other hand, CSM, provided by the Scrum Alliance, specifically focuses on the Scrum framework, making it ideal for Scrum Masters and product development teams.

What is PMI-ACP?

The PMI Agile Certified Practitioner covers a wide array of Agile methodologies, such as Scrum, Kanban, Lean, extreme programming (XP), and test-driven development (TDD). It aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of Agile principles and various techniques. The PMI-ACP is recognized across numerous industries for its emphasis on equipping practitioners with the skills necessary to effectively lead Agile teams and manage complex, adaptive projects in rapidly changing environments.

What is CSM?

The Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certification, provided by the Scrum Alliance, is a Scrum-specific certification that has become the benchmark for Scrum expertise. The certification is primarily centered around Agile values and principles, in addition to providing a thorough understanding of Scrum practices and principles.

A Scrum Master plays a pivotal role in the implementation of Scrum. Their responsibilities include organizing the development team, ensuring smooth progress on projects, and providing guidance and leadership to uphold Scrum principles through coaching. The CSM certification equips individuals to assume such roles and implement Scrum principles in their respective organizations.

Analyzing PMI-ACP vs CSM: Core Differences

Despite both being Agile certifications, PMI-ACP and CSM display some key differences. The PMI-ACP encompasses several Agile methodologies, providing a wide-ranging understanding of Agile practices.

These methodologies are popular in project management for their efficiency and flexibility. The agile certification aims to impart proficiency in multiple Agile frameworks, setting it apart from other Agile certifications.

In contrast, the CSM certification solely focuses on Scrum and does not include other Agile methodologies. It is designed specifically for managing Scrum-based projects. The certification offers thorough coverage of Scrum principles and practices, preparing professionals specifically for the Scrum Master role.

Earning either the PMI-ACP or CSM certification requires a combination of education, experience, structured training, and exams. The PMI-ACP requires a secondary degree, 21 contact hours of training in Agile practices, and at least 12 months of general project experience within the last 5 years. On the other hand, to qualify for the CSM certification, individuals are required to successfully finish a 2-day CSM training course instructed by a Certified Scrum Trainer.

Regardless of whether you opt for PMI-ACP or CSM, bear in mind that these certifications offer more than mere validation of your skills. They represent a commitment to continuous learning and dedication to Agile principles and practices. They are not just career milestones but also stepping stones to a wider world of Agile project management.

PMI-ACP Certification Path

The PMI-ACP certification path includes the following steps:

  1. Meet the eligibility requirements, which include a secondary degree, 21 contact hours of training in Agile practices, and 12 months of general project experience within the last 5 years.
  2. Complete a full PMI-ACP certification course.
  3. Take a full-length practice exam.

These steps are mandatory for obtaining the PMI-ACP certification.

Once you pass the PMI-ACP exam, which comprises 120 multiple-choice questions, you become an Agile Certified Practitioner. Acquiring 30 professional development units (PDUs) is necessary to maintain the certification. This ensures that your skills and knowledge are constantly updated.

CSM Certification Path

The journey to CSM certification is relatively simpler. The only requirement to qualify for the CSM certification is to successfully finish a 2-day CSM training course under a Certified Scrum Trainer. The training course provides a minimum of 14 hours of interactive instruction on the Scrum framework’s roles, events, artifacts, and core values.

Following the training, you’re required to pass the CSM exam, which consists of 50 multiple-choice questions. Upon successful completion, you become a Certified Scrum Master, ready to lead your Scrum team towards success.

PMI-ACP vs CSM: Examining the Exams

The exams for each certification are unique, mirroring their respective focus areas. Here is a comparison of the exams:

  • PMI-ACP: The exam is broad-ranging, covering various Agile practices. It is challenging, yet generally regarded as slightly less intense than the more comprehensive PMI PMP exam.

  • CSM: The exam is more concentrated, focusing on Scrum practices and principles. It is less demanding compared to the PMI-ACP and PMI PMP exams.

While the PMI-ACP exam consists of 120 multiple-choice questions to be completed within three hours, the CSM exam has 50 multiple-choice questions to be completed within an hour. Both tests require a deep understanding of their respective Agile methodologies and a commitment to continuous learning.

Career Trajectories: PMI-ACP vs CSM Impact

The influence of PMI-ACP and CSM certifications on career paths can differ quite substantially. PMI-ACP, with its comprehensive coverage of Agile methodologies, is better suited for Project Managers (PMs) in diverse industries. It presents broader career advancement opportunities across various industries, making it ideal for professionals seeking to showcase their adaptability in varied Agile settings.

On the other hand, CSM certification is more specialized, focusing on Scrum practices and principles. It is specifically geared towards product development and is highly valued in industries such as information technology, software development, and other sectors focused on product development. It serves as a valuable credential for professionals pursuing roles as Scrum Masters or within Scrum-focused teams.

Pros and Cons

PMI-ACP (Project Management Institute – Agile Certified Practitioner)


  1. Broad Agile Methodologies Coverage: PMI-ACP covers a wide range of Agile methodologies, including Scrum, Kanban, Lean, and XP (Extreme Programming). This makes it a comprehensive choice for professionals who want to gain a broad understanding of Agile practices.
  2. Recognized Globally: PMI is a globally recognized institution, and its certifications are highly valued across industries. This universal recognition can significantly enhance career opportunities.
  3. Rigorous Requirements: The eligibility criteria for PMI-ACP, which includes 2,000 hours of general project experience and 1,500 hours working on Agile project teams, ensure that the certification holder has substantial real-world experience.
  4. Focus on Practical Application: The certification emphasizes the practical application of Agile methodologies, which can be directly applied to the workplace.


  1. Stringent Eligibility Requirements: The extensive experience requirements can be a barrier for individuals new to project management.
  2. Broader Focus, Less Depth in Specific Areas: While covering a wide range of methodologies, PMI-ACP might not delve as deeply into specific areas like Scrum, which might be a con for those looking for specialized knowledge.
  3. Higher Cost: The cost of certification, including examination and preparation materials, can be higher compared to other certifications.

CSM (Certified ScrumMaster)


  1. Specialized Focus on Scrum: CSM provides in-depth knowledge and expertise in Scrum, one of the most widely used Agile frameworks. This specialization is beneficial for professionals who primarily work with or intend to work with Scrum teams.
  2. Widely Recognized in Agile Communities: CSM is recognized and valued in Agile communities and industries that heavily rely on Scrum methodologies.
  3. Great for Beginners: The entry barriers are lower for CSM compared to PMI-ACP. It’s ideal for individuals starting their journey in Agile project management.
  4. Interactive Training Requirement: The CSM certification process includes mandatory, interactive training sessions, which can enhance learning and understanding through practical engagement.


  1. Limited to Scrum: CSM focuses exclusively on Scrum, which can be a limitation if you are looking to gain knowledge in other Agile methodologies.
  2. Less Emphasis on Hands-On Experience: Unlike PMI-ACP, CSM does not require extensive project experience, which might be a drawback for employers seeking experienced Agile professionals


In conclusion, both PMI-ACP and CSM certifications hold significant value in the Agile project management landscape. PMI-ACP offers a comprehensive understanding of Agile methodologies, making it suitable for diverse roles in project management across various industries. On the other hand, CSM, with its emphasis on Scrum, is more specialized and ideal for professionals in specific industries, particularly those focused on product development. Deciding between the two depends largely on your professional goals and the industry you wish to excel in. Remember, the best certification is the one that aligns with your career aspirations and adds value to your professional journey.

Honoré LaFlamme