While both qualifications are related to project management, PMP® certification leans more towards traditional project management methods, while an ACP® certification has a larger focus on agile methods.
They are similar in some ways, but different enough that it’s worth talking about how each approach the issue of project management.
We’ll start with some general questions you might have regarding career aspirations and certifications, before moving on to the real differences between the PMI-PMP® and PMI-ACP® before wrapping up with where you can expect to take your career with either an ACP® or PMP® qualification.
One deciding factor is likely to be your future career aspirations, as your choice in certification may dictate where you eventually progress. For example, a team leader who wants to move into a project management role may choose to take the a PMP® exam, while a developer who wants to become a scrum-master may choose the agile-oriented ACP® certification.
This of course assumes that you don’t choose both qualifications (which is entirely viable, some might even say it’s recommended). Keep in mind that choice of one over another won’t close any doors, it will simply show potential employers that your knowledge in leadership and management is more suitable to either traditional or agile management roles.
If you’re currently employed and want to obtain a project management qualification to increase your chances of promotion, or if you want to secure a role at a specific business or organisation, you’ll need to consider current organisation needs.
This is fairly self-explanatory: If your business operates according to agile principles, you’ll need an agile qualification to match (e.g. ACP®). If your business follows more traditional project management methodology, then you would be better off with a PMP® certification.
Again, we must stress that choosing one over another won’t close any doors as both are recognized and respected qualifications, but you need to be aware of what recruiters are looking for and ensuring you make yourself as marketable as possible.
Breadth of understanding
Your choice of qualification will also depend on your personal understanding of project management. While both qualifications require several hundred hours of project management experience, there are a lot of roles and tasks accepted as ‘project management experience’ that don’t necessarily provide understanding in every aspect of project management.
PMP® training covers every dimension of project management, from initiation to personnel management, to risk management, to closing a project. ACP® training however forgoes a lot of these basic concepts in favour of focusing on agile concepts.
So, if you think your knowledge of project management is incomplete, it may be wiser to take a more comprehensive PMP® course. But, if you’re confident that your CV demonstrates competence in the core areas of project management, perhaps you might choose to expand your horizons and learn something new by enrolling in an ACP® course.
Mind-set and strategy
Traditional project management and agile aren’t just different ways of working, they are different mind-sets.
Traditional project managers act as ‘coaches.’ They educate and take a re-active stance to problem solving (at least in comparison to agile). In short, they control projects through formal procedure and other governance methods.
Agile roles act as ‘servant-leaders.’ They too help educate teams but adopt a pro-active stance to problem solving. They help create teams that can solve their own problems and then take a back seat as development commences. In short, they have very little say in the control of projects, their role is most relevant to the planning of projects and otherwise have relatively little say in how people go about completing tasks.
There’s no ‘better’ or ‘worse’ strategy here. Both are completely viable approaches to take. Your choice of qualification to a large degree depends upon the kind of environment you intend to work in.
The difference between a PMI-ACP® and PMI-PMP® qualification
To be eligible for a PMP® qualification, candidates must have:
- 4500 hours of project management experience (with a Bachelor’s/Equivalent Degree)
- 7500 hours of experience (with High School Diploma/Equivalent).
In addition, candidates must have 35 hours of education by any registered training provider.
To be eligible for an ACP® qualification, candidates must have:
- 2,000 hours of general project experience working on teams.
- 1,500 hours working on agile project teams or with agile methodologies (in addition to the 2,000 hours of general project experience).
In addition, candidates must have 21 hours of education by any registered training provider.
As a Project Management Professional® you will be expected to have sufficient knowledge of project management to implement specific project management methodology, practices and strategies to successfully complete projects. You’ll be responsible for controlling and regulating all aspects of project governance. More importantly, you’ll be responsible for managing budgets, risks assessments, providing forecasts and other important documentation.
In contrast, agile practitioner who obtain an Agile Certified Practitioner® certification will need to be well versed in agile practices to help accommodate the changing requirements and prefaces of an agile project. Your role will require a solid understanding of agile methodologies and mind-sets to ensure transparency, effective communication and coordination. You must adequately fulfil the requirements of your role while interfering as little as possible with actual development.
Accountability and responsibility
In traditional project management roles, project managers are usually accountable for the success or failure of projects. Other team members rely on information given to them by projects managers.
Agile practitioner roles focus more on transparency and the diffusion of accountability and responsibility among all team members. As an Agile Certified Practitioner® you will probably see the sharing of accountability and responsibility across the team as preferable and therefore your focus will be on ensuring clear and effective communication and cooperation.
PMP® certification requires a comprehensive understanding of project management. ACP® certification overlaps PMP® only in a few ways. ACP® is more niche and doesn’t provide as holistic a view of project management.
PMP® careers vs. ACP® careers
We have already touched on some of the difference between roles common to PMP® certification holders as opposed to those of ACP® certification holders. But, if you still can’t decide which role you’d like to play in a project development team, see below.
|You will monitor projects and answer to upper-management and stakeholders. You act as a ‘middle-man’ and help mediate the demands of clients.
|You will work within development teams, often in the same room. You will interact with individual team-members on a regular basis. You don’t monitor projects but will rather monitor productivity.
|You look at results and data that your developers produce, someone else is responsible for producing that information.
|You’re directly responsible for your teams’ productivity. If development fails to provide results, you must find a solution to the problem.
|You work on projects that might have several teams working under you. Your primary role is to identify and solve inter-departmental dependencies.
|You will work within a team of up to 10 or so. Your primary role is to help individuals communicate and cooperate using agile values to inform your decisions.
|You will spend a lot of time handling complex documentation, such as monitoring reports, risk assessments and project planning.You need to distil information in a way that upper management can understand.
|You will prepare simple reports, but most monitoring doesn’t involve documentation, rather you’ll spend a lot of time in meetings and talking ‘one-on-one’ with team members. Reports are often ‘low tech’ and visible to the whole team.
|You need to manage stakeholder demands in a way that satisfies project requirements but doesn’t halt development.
|You need to make stakeholders understand how their decisions will affect development and incorporate them into the decision-making process.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I transition from an agile role to a project management role?
That depends very much on the role. The more ‘niche’ your agile role is, the less likely it is that you can easily transition into a traditional project management role without significant re-training. For example, scrum-masters fulfil almost none of the tasks required by project managers. The soft skills you acquire in agile roles will be of great benefit, but they alone won’t make you eligible for a project management role.
Can I transition from a project manager role into an agile role?
There are no formal project manager roles in agile environments. Rather, tasks that are generally handled by project managers alone in traditional roles, are shared among development teams, products owners and other agile practitioners in an agile environment. With additional training however, you’ll find your expertise in more formal project governance methods will aid you in an agile role but will also require you to drastically alter you approach to management which may be difficult and even frustrating for some.
If I already have a PMP® certification, will a PMI-ACP® certification help my career?
Absolutely. More and more businesses are adopting agile approaches. A good understanding of agile methods and practices will likely come in handy. Often the move toward agile occurs in increments and the adoption of just a few light-wight agile practices can improve productivity. Earning you ACP® in addition to your PMP will not only prepare you for a transition to agile but will improve your personal marketability as a project manager.