PMI's Agile Certified Practitioner: A cert is born

The Project Management Institute's new Agile Certified Practitioner certification might be right for you if your organization uses scrum, Lean, Kanban, and XP.

In February 2012 the Project Management Institute (PMI) began the Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) program. Most project managers associate PMI with waterfall not agile, so you might be wondering not only if the world needs another certification but why PMI in particular is offering an agile cert. I'll provide an overview of the genesis of the PMI-ACP.

Why PMI created this agile cert

In mid-2010 PMI conducted a survey of its members, and the results indicated that only 12% of the practitioners were using agile. In mid-2011 they conducted the same survey and found that over 27% were now using agile.

In response to this increase in agile usage, PMI assembled a group of industry thought leaders and authors including Alistair Cockburn to study how PMI should respond to this growing trend. These leaders were not just PMI's best friends; some of the people were not even "friendly" with PMI, according to Frank Schettini, the Executive sponsor of the project. The Steering committee also had three PMI members, and those members were instrumental in other methodologies such as Kanban and DSDM.

In the initial meetings, only one committee member felt they would have a certification. After months and months of meetings, focus groups, and research, they found there wasn't a common understanding across organizations of what agile means. Some organizations would say Scrum is agile, or XP is agile, or something else; while both Scrum and XP are agile, neither represents the complete definition of agile. The committee realized a certification was needed that clarified the core of what agile means and created a common language and understanding of principles across organizations. The PMI-ACP was developed.

Comparisons of the most common agile certs

Figure A is a general summary of the five major certifications in the agile industry as of this writing: Certified Scrum Master (CSM), Professional Scrum Master I (PSM I), Professional Scrum Master II (PSM II), Certified Scrum Practitioner (CSP), and PMI-ACP. Figure A

A snapshot of the most common agile certs (Click the image to enlarge.)

There are other agile certs, such as DSDM, ICAgile, and all of the specific certifications for agile developers, but this is just a summary of the most common ones. (I am not including DSDM because it does not currently have the same global reach as the Scrum certifications, but it is an important certification.) A detailed analysis of the certifications is beyond the scope of this article. You can, however, read on the Whitewater Projects site how the PMI-ACP differs from the CSM and the CSP.

Which certification is right for you? Well, it depends. If you are just getting started and have no experience but want to learn agile and make yourself more marketable, I recommend the CSM or the PSM I or PSM II certifications. If you have experience in scrum and you see your career staying in organizations that focus on scrum, then I strongly recommend the CSP and PSM II certifications. If you have experience and work in organizations that use scrum, Lean, Kanban, and XP, then PMI-ACP is the way to go.

How will the market respond to the PMI-ACP?

It is hard to predict how the market will respond to the new PMI-ACP certification, but since PMI is the 800 pound gorilla of projects, it is very likely that HR departments of larger organizations will begin requiring the PMI-ACP certification.

There is evidence that the PMI-ACP is gaining ground and acceptance fast. This trend can already be seen on job sites like; there are already 20 or so jobs requiring PMI-ACP certification, and those positions are mostly for high-level positions such as program manager, Agile coach, and agile lead.

As of this writing, there are about 600 certified ACPs in the world, and most of them were from the Beta program and are coaches or consultants. So, if you are looking for that next strategic career move, the PMI-ACP could be just what you need. Like getting Microsoft at $14/share, you could get in on the ground level of something big.

Stay tuned

In my next article, I will cover what the requirements are for becoming a PMI-ACP and what is on the exam.