Key Differences between the PMI-ACP vs. PMP Certifications

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 27, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

As a project manager, acquiring a certification helps you develop your skill and communicates your passion to your employer and clients. The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers two certifications you may consider acquiring: the Agile Certified Professional (PMI-ACP) and the Project Management Professional (PMP). Learning about these two designations can help you understand which is relevant to you. In this article, we explain the differences between these two certifications, review which of their exams you may sit for, and highlight why you may want to acquire both.

Why learn the differences between PMI-ACP vs. PMP?

To understand the differences between the PMI-ACP vs. PMP, consider that project managers have roles in various industries, including information technology (IT), construction, oil and gas, and manufacturing. These different industries typically require different project management approaches. For example, the IT industry often uses the agile project management methodology, which helps simplify tasks into smaller sub-tasks and promotes stakeholder collaboration.

To recognize these different industries' needs, numerous organizations have developed various certifications and designations to prepare project managers for their respective roles. The PMI-ACP and the PMP are two of these designations. Learning the differences between the two can help you understand which to obtain for your organizational and career needs or whether it's useful to have both.

What is the PMI-ACP?

The PMI-ACP is an internationally recognized certification that focuses on the agile methodology. Earning this certification helps prove that you understand agile processes and techniques. It focuses on self-organization and discourages micromanagement, which is when a manager closely monitors the activities of employees and reminds them of their tasks. Obtaining the PMI-ACP certification means that you have good collaboration skills, embrace complexity, and deliver projects rapidly. The certification covers various agile approaches, such as scrum, kanban, lean, extreme programming, and test-driven development.

Related: How to Become a Project Manager (With Salary Expectations)

What is the PMP?

The PMP is the most internationally recognized project management designation with holders across the globe. The PMI also offers this certification, and it measures an individual's capabilities and proficiencies as a project manager on different scales. As a project management certification, the PMP confirms that you have high people management skills and possess the necessary soft skills to facilitate successful projects. It also indicates that you can manage processes and monitor the business environment while highlighting the connections between projects and organizational strategy.

Initially, the PMP emphasized the predictive or waterfall project management methodology. The PMI has now incorporated the agile and hybrid methodologies into its program to better prepare project managers for projects across numerous industries and organizations.

Related: What Does a Project Manager Do? (With Duties and Skills)

What are the differences between PMI-ACP vs. PMP?

Below are the core differences between the two PMI designations:

Approaches

The PMI-ACP certification primarily follows the agile methodology, which is common in the IT industry and among software developers. The agile methodology prioritizes people and interactions over software and tools, which means it works by delivering projects in rapid continuous cycles. It's an effective method for projects that frequently change, require a quick launch date, or have an undetermined budget and deadline. PMI-ACP also teaches adaptability and flexibility. It emphasizes transparency, which means all team members share responsibility for the project's progress and completion.

The PMP certification primarily, but not exclusively, focuses on the waterfall or predictive methodology. This methodology works by gathering stakeholders' and customers' requirements at the beginning of the project. The project manager then creates a sequential plan that helps accommodate those requirements in four stages, which are design, implementation, verification, and maintenance. With the waterfall methodology, it's often easy to predict project outcomes and set a definite completion date for the project.

Related: Project Manager vs. Project Coordinator: What Makes Them Different?

Requirements

Requirements are the prerequisites for obtaining a certification. For the PMI-ACP, you need a secondary degree and 21 contact hours of training in agile processes. If you don't have a current PMP or Program Management Professional certification, it requires you to have 12 months of general project experience within the last five years. If you have these certifications, then the PMI waives these requirements. Besides the 12 months of general project experience, acquiring the PMI-ACP requires eight months of agile project experience within the last three years.

To qualify for a PMP certification, you may first obtain a four-year degree, acquire three years of experience leading projects, and complete 35 hours of project management training or education. Alternatively, you may obtain a high school diploma, have 60 months of project leading experience, and complete 35 hours of project management training, education, or a Certified Associate Project Management (CAPM) certification. The CAPM is another designation from the PMI for entry-level practitioners in the project management field.

Preparation

The differences in the requirements of both designations mean that how you approach preparing for their exams also differs. For the PMP, the institute recommends that you prepare for at least 35 hours. That may take one to three months, depending on your commitment level and ability to assimilate the information in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). The PMBOK is a book from the PMI that contains the standard terminology and guidelines for project management. Other study aids that can help you prepare effectively for the PMP exam include courses and study groups.

Preparation for the PMI-ACP exam isn't as detailed as preparation for the PMP. It doesn't have a book like the PMBOK where all related concepts are available. The institute also doesn't specify an amount of time for its preparation, but it suggests following the same methods and watching the available courses. There are also suggested reference materials from authorized partners and training organizations.

Examination

The exam method for both certifications is an electronic test with multiple-choice questions. For the PMI-ACP, there are 120 questions on different project management domains. Ensure you study agile principles and mindset, stakeholder management, value-driven delivery, team performance, stakeholder engagement, adaptive planning, problem detection and resolution, and continuous improvement.

The PMP examination has 180 questions regarding various project management practices, mostly from the PMBOK. Exam proctors typically don't allow reference materials during the exam, but they may allow scratch paper for taking quick notes. This exam tests you in the three major project management domains: people, process, and business environment.

Job opportunities

Holders of both certifications tend to have different experiences regarding job opportunities. PMI-ACP holders often work in companies or industries that implement the agile methodology in the development process of projects. They add value to an organization by adopting the lean management guidelines, which help remove unnecessary steps. IT companies are the primary adopters of the agile method, but it's also common in companies in the marketing, human resources, and engineering sectors.

If you hold the PMP certification, you may have more diverse job opportunities because of its universality. The roles you may find can involve balancing different project constraints while ensuring the effective implementation of strategies. The waterfall approach of this certification makes it suitable for projects that are simple but require a specific and rigid system.

Related: 11 Great Certifications for Managers for Career Growth

Deciding which to choose

When deciding between the PMI-ACP and the PMP, you may consider different factors, including your career goals, present circumstances, and cost. Consider a PMP exam if you're working in a company that requires a traditional project manager who can help with procurement, mitigate risks, and lead other project decisions.

If you're in an agile-focused industry, the PMI-ACP may help you develop your skills and deliver more value to your employer and clients. The exam fees for both certifications also differ, with the PMI-ACP costing more than the PMP for PMI members. For non-members, the PMP costs more than the PMI-ACP. You can visit the institute's website to determine the cost you may pay to sit for either exam.

Related: How to List Your Certifications on a Resume

Can you obtain both PMI-ACP and PMP certifications?

It's possible to obtain both the PMP and the PMI-ACP certifications. For example, if you already have years of experience as a project manager on engineering projects, you may have obtained a PMP certification. You may then decide to pursue a career in agile project management. Your background project management experience can help you progress quickly through agile training and gain practical agile experience, which may qualify you for the PMI-ACP exam.

Suppose you've also been a project manager on software development projects and decide to pursue a career in more predictive projects. In that case, you can leverage your background experience to progress through education or training quickly. In this way, you may also qualify for the PMP exam.

Please note that none of the companies, organizations, or institutions mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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