PMP Certification for ScrumMasters? – Should a ScrumMaster Get Their PMP Certification?

PMP Certification for ScrumMasters? – Should a ScrumMaster Get Their PMP Certification?

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Question: PMP for ScrumMasters?

Hey Tom,

I just started as a ScrumMaster for a new team as part of our agile transition. Prior to this role I was a project manager, managing multiple projects. I was looking into getting my PMP, but now that we are switching to agile I’m not sure if it is still worth it to pursue my PMP or if I should look into one of the other agile certifications instead.

Thanks,
Kim W.

My Thoughts

Thanks for the question Kim. This is a common question and does not have a clear answer, but below is some guidance to help you make the best choice for you.

For those who are not aware, the PMP (Project Management Professional) certification is the most recognized certification for Project Managers. In order to even sit for the certification test, you have to show a certain number of hours spent working on projects (4,500, as well as several other pre-requisites). Then you have to take the exam, which is often cited as one of the most difficult exams that people have taken. There are many reasons for this, including the sheer amount of information in the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) as well as the format of the questions themselves (ex. pick the most correct answer, pick any answer that applies, etc.).  Additionally, people who have actually taken the exam often say that you have to make sure to answer based on what the PMBOK says, not based on what you may actualy do in the real world.  This means that many people often purchase study guides and take prep courses before actually taking the exam to make sure that they thoroughly understand and memorize all of the information.

The PMP exam is “all-encompassing” and is traditionally related to Waterfall projects, while an agile certification does not go nearly as deep in project management but is focused on the specific agile concepts/delivery model. Below are a few key characteristics around Waterfall (Traditional) projects and Agile projects.

Waterfall

-Projects are broken into phases, generally one phase completes before the next starts (ex. Requirements, Design, Develop, Test, etc).
-During the initial phases (Requirements, Design) a lot of work is done to try and figure out the needs and solution to deliver.
-Once a plan is drafted, the general goal is to follow the plan and reduce changes. Changes that are needed come in as change requests and are managed.
-After the development phase, one or more testing phases will occur and defects will be sent back to developers to fix.
-This approach generally works well for things that we have done before and don’t change a lot, which tends to be less common in software projects.

Agile (Scrum specifically)

-Features are gathered at a high level and prioritized on a backlog.
-Small, cross-functional teams (5±2) work on a portion of a feature (called a User Story) during a short timebox (called a Sprint or Iteration).
-Instead of defining all of the requirements/design upfront, agile teams work on defining details just in time (JIT).
-Change is ok within agile and the team will adapt based on need and feedback.
-This approach generally works well for unknown things and efforts that may experience a lot of change.

The image below does a good job of comparing waterfall and agile as well, based on what elements of the “iron triangle” they constrain vs. keep variable (given that you can’t constrain all 3).  The items at the top are what each approach constrains (scope for waterfall and cost/time for agile) and what is estimated/variable (time and/or cost for waterfall and scope for agile).  Generally, waterfall is described as “plan driven” where agile is defined as “value driven”.

Agile Waterfall Triple Constraint Comparison

Agile Waterfall Triple Constraint Comparison

When organizations transition from a waterfall model to more of an agile model, there are a few common scenarios regarding Project Managers:

-They transition from Project Managers to ScrumMasters.
-They stay Project Managers but work within an agile methodology.

It sounds like in your scenario you are transitioning into a ScrumMaster role.  Given this, I’ll walk through some of the pros and cons of getting your PMP as a ScrumMaster.

The Pros of Getting Your PMP as a ScrumMaster

-Well known and respected certification
-Many of the concepts still apply to agile projects (such as identifying and managing risk), so it will help round out your project knowledge and skills
-You can join a local PMI chapter, which provides a network of other Project Managers
-There is a lot of relevant knowledge that the PMP training offers
-May be a good step/balance with the PMI-ACP (Agile Certified Practitioner) certification, which is PMI’s only agile certification

The Cons of Getting Your PMP as a ScrumMaster

-There is an investment in time and money to get and maintain the certification, especially given that it must be renewed every 3 years
-In terms of “bang for your buck”, it is easier/cheaper to receive one of the agile certifications such as the PSM I or the CSM)
-The certification touches very little on agile concepts and practices
-You may be viewed as “too traditional” by some organizations if this is the only certification that you have

Another thing to be aware of is that most certification have a progression. The PMP is the “top” progression within PMI, while some of the agile certifications that you may be referring to are not the top (ex. CSM and PSM I). Each of these certifications also have a path that the certifying organization specifies. For the CSM certifiation offered through Scrum Alliance, the “top” certification that may compare to the PMP might be the CSP, while for Scrum.org’s ScrumMaster certifications, the PSM II would be the “top” certification.  The reason that I am mentioning this is that another option is getting more of an entry level project management certification, such as the CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management).  It is not nearly as popular or recognized as the PMP, but it may be a good balance in between option as the requirements are not as heavy.

Final Thoughts

The PMP is a well respected certification and many organizations will look for it when hiring Project Managers. When organizations transition to agile, typically the PMP certification becomes less of a focus, and some organizations will even shy away from people who have a PMP, fearing that they will be too set in the “traditional” project methodology and not be willing to work within an agile environment.

If you plan to stay within a company or move to another company that is agile, then you probably don’t need to get your PMP.  It really comes down to personal preference.  If you may end up with another Project Manager job in the future, especially outside of IT, then getting your PMP may still be good option.

If you plan to eventually transition to the role of an Agile Coach/Consultant, then you may also want to look at getting your PMP. Agile Coaches help organizations make the shift from traditional practices to agile ones. In doing so, it is very helpful to have a deep understand of traditional practices as well as agile practices so as to help bridge the gap and help people transition. Even though I did not get my PMP, I did take a lot of time to study the material, and actually took the practice exams until I consistently scored over a 90. This has really helped me as I consult with large organizations. Because it is so encompassing, I believe the PMP training provides a solid base to understanding the various aspects of Project Management.

Whether or not you ultimately decide to get your PMP, you may also benefit from some of the other ScrumMaster related certifications, such as the CSM, PSM I or PMI-ACP. See the ScrumMaster page for a complete list of recommendations that may be beneficial to a ScrumMaster. Also, if you are looking for a project management related certification that does not have as many prerequisites, you should look at the CAPM. It is not nearly as well known, but ti does provide some training and a certification.

Thoughts From Others

The above is just my perspective, but the real value to Kim and others like her is hearing multiple perspectives.  Do you think Kim should get her PMP?  Why or why not?