PMP vs Agile vs Scrum The 3 Certification Paths

PMP vs Agile vs Scrum: Comparing the 3 Certification Paths

The Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification is one of many project management certification options. Research your options to select the one that best meets your professional goals. Each project management certification has professional requirements, an application process, a fee-based proctored exam, and ongoing continuing education credit maintenance.

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Ultimate Guide to PMP® Certification

Navigate the process of becoming a PMP® certified professional.

PMP vs Agile vs Scrum | Methodology

To earn a project management certification, you must understand the project management approaches behind it. The PMP, Agile, and Scrum certifications all have value but meet different needs.

Project Management Professional (PMP)® | waterfall project management

PMP certification originated with what is now called waterfall, traditional, or predictive project management. Waterfall is the most used methodology in plan-based project management. In this approach, projects are completed linearly, with each stage completed before moving on to the next. The Waterfall approach is an effective way to manage projects, but it can also be inflexible and lead to delays if unexpected problems arise.

PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® | agile project management

The Agile approach is already in use across software and IT environments and is increasingly popular as more organizations in other industries adopt it. Agile projects are completed more adaptively and iteratively, with new features and updates released regularly. As a result, this approach can be more adaptable to change and can help reduce the risk of delays or unexpected problems. The PMI-ACP certification exam tests your knowledge of the many agile principles, tools, and values.

Certified Scrum Master CSM® | iterative project management

The Scrum approach is another popular project management methodology. Scrum is especially well suited for complex projects that require close cooperation between team members. For Scrum, use short cycles, called “sprints,” to complete projects. The Scrum approach ensures that work is focused and that progress is more continuous. The Certified Scrum Master certification, overseen by the Scrum Alliance, is the most popular Scrum certification.

PMP vs Agile vs Scrum | The Big 3 Project Management Certification Paths

The ‘big 3’ credentialling paths in project management are PMP, Agile, and Scrum certifications. Each certification has its benefits and drawbacks, so choosing the one that best fits your individual needs and goals is essential.

Project Management Institute (PMI) oversees multiple project management certifications for waterfall and agile project management. Agile and Scrum are both newer certification pathways but are becoming increasingly popular as more organizations adopt these project management approaches. Other non-PMI professional project management organizations offer certifications specifically for Scrum. You can earn all, one, or a combination of certifications but note that the PMP credential is the most established and well-known.

What is PMP certification from PMI?

PMI governs the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification program. PMP certification is the world’s most widely recognized and respected project management credential. PMP certification is ideal for those who want to demonstrate their experience and knowledge in the project management field. The most current version of the PMP certification exam tests your knowledge of Predictive (waterfall) processes and Agile and Hybrid concepts.

What is Agile certification from PMI?

Agile certification is a good choice for those who want to learn more about this rapidly growing approach. There is no single “Agile” project management methodology, just as there is no single Agile PMP certification. PMI offers multiple Agile-based certification choices, including the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner certification (PMI-ACP)®, Disciplined Agile Scrum Master (DASM)™, Disciplined Agile Senior Scrum Master (DASSM) ™, Disciplined Agile Value Stream Consultant (DAVSC)™, and Disciplined Agile Coach (DAC)™. A PMP certification does not preclude you from earning the PMI-ACP credential, as they are complementary certifications. Most project managers earn the PMP certification first, but it is not a prerequisite.

What is a Scrum Certification from Scrum Alliance

In contrast, Scrum certification is ideal for those who want to focus on delivering projects using a single project management approach. Scrum Alliance® provides a suite of project management-related certifications, including Certified Scrum Master (CSM)® and Certificated Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)®. CSM is an entry-level certification grounded in Scrum as an agile method and team performance. It does not replace nor equate to a PMP or PMI-ACP certification. However, CSM is a widely accepted agile project management certification required by some companies to ensure the project manager’s knowledge of Scrum best practices. 

Studying for the PMP Exam?

PMP vs Agile vs Scrum | Certification Prerequisite and Exam Prep

PMI and the Scrum Alliance are global professional organizations managing Project Management and Agile skill certifications. PMI administers the PMP and PMI-ACP certifications, while Scrum Alliance administers the CSM certification. As a result, project managers may have multiple certifications from different organizations, each requiring training and continuing education credit work.

When considering which certification to gain, including if you should start with the PMP certification, check that you have the required professional experience for the exam application and complete the corresponding exam prep. Certification exams challenge even very experienced project managers. Therefore, the time you put into exam preparation helps you earn a passing exam score.


Project Management Academy’s PMP certification requirements resource page provides a step-by-step overview of the PMI requirements for eligibility to take the PMP exam. When considering what training to take for PMP certification prep, leverage the free PMI “PMP Exam Content Outline.”  Additionally, use a PMI Authorized Training Partner (ATP) to access sample PMP exam questions and complete PMP certification example exams. 


Leverage Project Management Academy’s PMI-ACP® Exam Prep Certification Requirements resource page to support your certification prep. PMI governs the PMI-ACP® (or Agile PMP) certification program that “was created by agilists for agilists.” Both the PMI-ACP and PMP certifications have incredible professional value. The best approach is when a project manager or professional works to gain knowledge in both traditional and Agile projects, so getting both certifications helps demonstrate this knowledge. 


It is crucial to prepare for any project management certification. Scrum certification is no exception. Review the Scrum Alliance certification options and requirements for alignment with your professional needs. For example, your business may require a Scrum certification. Or you may pursue a whole Scrum certification track as part of your professional goals. Scrum Alliance provides Scrum Master and Product Owner tacks, among other options, so pick what is right for your career path.

PMP vs Agile vs Scrum | Salaries and Job Outlook

Project Management job salaries vary greatly depending on experience, education, industry, and geographic location.


The job outlook for individuals with a PMP certification is very positive. Project management is a rapidly growing field, and organizations increasingly recognize the value of hiring project managers with PMP certification. According to PMI, the demand for Project Management Professionals® will increase by 33% between 2017 and 2027 . This growth rate is much faster than the average for all occupations. Thus, individuals with a PMP certification should be able to find employment in the project management field.

The average salary for individuals with a PMP certification is excellent. According to PMI, the median salary for certified project managers in the United States is $112,000 annually. Thus, individuals with a PMP certification can expect to make a salary that is above average for many occupations.


The job outlook for individuals with a PMI-ACP certification is very positive, as well. More and more organizations are adopting agile principles and practices, and there is a growing demand for project managers familiar with these methods. According to PMI, the need for Agile Certified Practitioners is growing faster than the average for all occupations. Thus, individuals with a PMI-ACP certification should be able to readily find employment in the project management field. However, less recognized than the PMP, so many employers will likely require or prefer the PMP certification as well.

The average salary for individuals with a PMI-ACP certification is exceptional. According to Zip Recruiter, the median wage for Agile Certified Practitioners in the United States is $130,000 annually. Unfortunately, PMI has yet to release a salary report for PMI-ACP, so salary aggregators like Zip Recruiter and PayScale are currently the best sources for this information.


Scrum Alliance shares that across all age groups, experience levels, number of certifications, and roles, Scrum professionals have an average annual base salary of $100,500. Moreover, 55% saw an increase in their annual base salary from 2016 to 2017.

PMP vs Agile vs Scrum | Which Certification Path is Right for You?

When planning your first (or next!) project management certification, consider the project management approach, your business needs, and your own professional goals. Consider these elements:

  • Company certification requirements for specific project management roles
  • Company reimbursement options for certification prep training
  • Company reimbursement options for certification exam fees
  • Company incentives for earning certification 
  • Prevalence of a particular certification within your industry (software development has a bias toward Agile, for example)
  • Overall career goals (becoming a deep expert in one methodology or demonstrating expertise in multiple)
  • What is needed (time and money) to gain the certification’s required training hours/credits 
  • What is needed (time and money) to gain the certification’s required professional experience hours.

Refrain from letting requirements or exam length be your only deciding factor when weighing what you should pursue.


Earning a project management certification includes what is needed to apply to take the exam, what the certification represents professionally, and what your professional goals are within the field of project management. Understand the project methodology emphasized by the certification and ensure it aligns with your goals. Additionally, invest in exam prep and training to better ensure a positive outcome of any certification exam. Achieving any one of the certifications of PMP, PMI-ACP, or CSM is an achievement that enhances your career opportunities.

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO