Should I be PMP® or Agile Certified?

Those looking to expand their project management career often ask for advice about which certification to pursue: Waterfall or Agile? Given the prevalence of the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification for those using traditional (or “waterfall”) project management methodologies, some refer to any project certification as “PMP.” But in fact, there are separate certifications for different project methodologies and roles. As for comparing PMP vs Agile, the question should be considered beyond just the certification aspect as it is about methodology, business needs, and what are the professional goals of the project manager. Furthermore, to understand the difference between Agile and waterfall project management certification options, one must know about perquisites and the exams themselves.

Difference between Agile and Waterfall Project Methodologies: PMP vs Agile

Agile is an iterative approach to work with a focus on immediate customer value reflecting ongoing changes. At the core, Agile is a project management approach that is about building in change rather than building to fit a predefined plan. Agile is most commonly associated with technology industries, like software development, but by no means is it limited to that area. Within the Agile certification sphere, some of the possible choices might be the Scrum approach in addition to Kanban, and Disciplined Agile. Each has potential certifications from an array of professional organizations. Project Management Institute (PMI) and Scrum Alliance are two of the leaders in the Agile certifying organization space. Learn more about Agile as a Project Management approach, and available training in it, with this Project Management Academy article “Agile Methodology Training.”

PMP vs Agile Methodologies

The waterfall, also called traditional or predictive, project management methodology is built on the idea all work can and should be planned, should be managed by specific tools and processes, and will be completed in a predictable linear fashion. It is called “waterfall” due to the idea of a linear, top-down progression with work tasks leading into each other. The certification most widely known in the United States for waterfall project management is the Project Management Institute (PMI)’s Project Management Professional (PMP)®. PMI maintains strict requirements to get approval to take the PMP certification exam and also manages a training vendor program to authorize vendors with approved training materials. It is important to note that as of January 2, 2021, PMI has incorporated agile and hybrid concepts and principles into the PMP exam. Although the exam is still 50% focused on waterfall practices, they are looking to broaden the base of knowledge project managers should be familiar with to better reflect changes in the project management industry.

Depending on your company’s industry and organizational culture, there can be Agile, Traditional, and hybrid project management approaches all in different states of use at once. Some companies have done a comparison of PMP vs Agile certifications and decided to support employee development in one or the other, and in some cases both. Therefore, instead of thinking of “which should I get, PMP waterfall or Agile?” it is better to understand certification requirements and options to earn the one that will help your current career first, then add other certifications as your career journey evolves.

Project Management Certifications: PMP vs Agile

Whereas a PMP certification seeks to verify a wide understanding of core project tenants, tools, and techniques, in the world of Agile there are multiple certifications to pursue.

The PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® certificate should not be viewed as a replacement for the globally recognized PMP certification. There is no “Agile PMP vs traditional PMP” certification. Both have incredible professional value, and in fact, the best approach is one in which the project manager or project professional does work to gain knowledge in both traditional and Agile project work.

Waterfall (Traditional) Project Management Certification Overview: PMP vs Agile

The PMI updated the PMP certification exam in 2021 to reflect the overall international profession of Project Management, including the use of multiple approaches. With that PMP certification exam update, questions may test knowledge of Predictive (waterfall), Agile, and Hybrid. PMI also offers different levels of project management certification so if you are early in your career or more seasoned, there is an option. As noted below, PMI has strict requirements for applying to take the PMP or CAPM exams. What some project managers have to do is spend time completing training or gaining more experience before they can apply to take a PMP certification exam.

Here is a breakdown of waterfall/traditional project management certifications:

Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)®
– Secondary degree (high school diploma, Associate’s degree, or the global equivalent)
– 23 hours of project management education completed by the time you sit for the exam
– 150 questions
– 3 hours to complete
Project Management Professional (PMP)®
– A four-year degree
– 36 months leading projects
– 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM® Certification
— OR —
– A high school diploma or an Associate’s degree (or global equivalent)
– 60 months leading projects
– 35 hours of project management education/training or CAPM® Certification
– 180 questions
– 230 minutes to complete

Agile Project Management Certifications

There is not a single “Agile” project management, just as there is not a single Agile PMP certification.

PMI, as a global leader in managing project manager certifications, offers multiple Agile based certification choices, including the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)®, Disciplined Agile Scrum Master (DASM)™, Disciplined Agile Senior Scrum Master (DASSM)™, Disciplined Agile Value Stream Consultant (DAVSC)™, and Disciplined Agile Coach (DAC)™. However, PMI is not the only agile certification option. The member-driven, nonprofit Scrum Alliance® provides a suite of agile-oriented certifications including Certified Scrum Master (CSM)®, Certificated Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)®, and even Certified Agile Leadership. Key points are shared below for convenience including what each certification has as requirements.

Here is a list of Agile project management certifications:

PMIPMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)®  
– Secondary degree
– 21 contact hours of training in agile practices
– 12 months of general project experience within the last 5 years. A current PMP® or PgMP® will satisfy this requirement but is not required to apply for the PMI-ACP®
– 8 months of agile project experience within the last 3 years
– 120 multiple-choice questions
– 3 hrs to complete  
PMIDASM® Disciplined Agile Scrum Master– None– 50 multiple-choice questions
– 120 minutes to complete
Scrum AllianceCSM Certified Scrum Master  – None– 50 multiple-choice questions
– 1 hr to complete
Scrum AllianceCSPO Certified Scrum Product Owner– None– Find and complete a CSPO class to gain 14 hours of instruction and accept the  license

Which Certification Should I Pursue?

Do not let requirements or length of the exam be your only deciding factor when weighing what you should pursue: PMP vs Agile certification. 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 specific certification within your industry (software development has a bias to 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

The certifications include what is needed to apply to take the exam, what the certification represents professionally, and what company reimbursements and/or incentives may be available.

Studying for the PMP Exam?

Exam Prep for Any Project Management Certification

For both Waterfall and Agile project management certification options, preparation and focus are needed.

When considering what training to use for PMP® certification prep, be sure to leverage the free PMI “PMP Exam Content Outline” for the most updated insights on PMI’s certification exam.

A PMI Authorized Training Partner (ATP) should be able to provide sample test questions and full exams. What is evident in ATP training for the PMP® exam is agile is just but one potential topic of many, for example knowing the role of Scrum Master or Agile Coach. Of course, for an agile-only certification instead of the PMP® certification, the scope of content to study is different.

When considering which certification to gain, make sure you have the needed training for the area (Waterfall or Agile) and where possible, complete the corresponding exam prep. None of the certification exams are easy and all are specifically designed to challenge even the most seasoned project manager. The time you put into exam preparation will be well spent with a passing exam score.


Verified project management certifications from a trusted certifying body have incredible professional value. As demand for project management continues to grow and competition for highly compensated positions increases, many project managers and project professionals are seeking to gain knowledge in both Waterfall and Agile.

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Megan Bell
Megan Bell
Project Manager & Writer at Project Management Academy
Megan Bell