An interesting question that some of my students have been asking lately is whether they should spend time studying for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® Exam or concentrate on studying for the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® Exam. In response to this question I give one of my favorite answers as an instructor – “Well…. it depends!” You might as well ask me “Should I get a Master’s Degree in Mathematics or Physics?” Or “Should I become a Painter or a Philosopher?”
The answer to this question cannot really come from me, but it has to come from within you and depends largely on your goals, desired career path and preferences. For example, do you want to be managing a 10-Year project for SpaceX to send satellites to Jupiter? Then do your PMP® Exam prep first, because we are talking serious Waterfall-based approaches. Or do you want to be working for a small startup company developing software? Then go for PMI-ACP® because you need Agility. So the answer isn’t “what Cornelius says”, but instead “what you want and what you need”. To help you determine which is a better fit for you, let’s delve into the benefits of each approach and then you can make your own educated decision.
Waterfall or Agile? – Projects and Career Path
In order to determine which certification is more important for you to obtain as a project manager really starts with the question of what type of career you are seeking in the project management field. Just like many organizations need to decide if Waterfall or Agile Project Management is the right choice for any specific project, so it is also true that an aspiring or current project managers need to decide which type of project management training and experience will help them successfully continue their project management career well into the future. The PMP exam is largely based on A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), which outlines mainly a Waterfall Project Management best practice approach to successfully executing projects, while the PMI-ACP (as well as other Agile Project Management certifications) are based on an Agile Project Management best practice approach.
Waterfall Project Management Overview
Waterfall (sometimes referred as ‘Traditional’) Project Management involves an in-depth upfront planning process and follows a linear, pre-determined project schedule over a specified period of time. Waterfall projects are typically predictable, have a definitive end date, and have explicit procedures of how projects are initiated, planned, executed, monitored and controlled, and closed (Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle). The advantages of using the Waterfall method to manage projects is having clear expectations and meeting those expectations by achieving certain milestones. Waterfall originated in the Manufacturing industry as a result of understanding that changes in scope mid-project were usually very costly. Generally companies use Waterfall on their projects when:
• They have executed a similar type of project previously and it is almost cookie-cutter
• They are able to determine up front the specific project scope and requirements
• They can fairly accurately estimate the resources, cost and work effort necessary to finish the project on budget and on time
Agile Project Management Overview
Agile Project Management is an iterative approach that helps project teams deliver the highest value work possible to the customer within a rapidly changing environment. The essential aim of Agile is to be flexible and be able to adapt to changes rather than being forced to execute against a pre-defined plan that may become obsolete as the project progresses. There is usually no definitive end date because the customer may decide at any point in the project that the functionality already delivered is sufficient for their needs. And Agile also uses Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle. The only difference is that product components are delivered to the customer every 2-4 weeks rather than only at the end of the project, so that they can provide feedback to ensure the project team is headed in the right direction. Agile originated in the Software Development and Mobile Application industries to help companies be first to market with new and innovative products, giving them a competitive advantage. Generally companies use Agile on their projects when:
• They do not know specifically what they want
• They do not know how long it’s going to take to produce
• They do not know how much it will cost to produce
The Future of Waterfall and Agile Project Management
So you may be wondering what the future of both Waterfall and Agile Project Management is and what types of opportunities will be available to you as a project manager. Well I firmly believe that Waterfall will never truly go away since some of the basic principles are also used in Agile, such as decomposition, rolling wave planning, continuous improvement and process tailoring, to name a few. Aerospace, Medical Device and Government Contracting will still be alive and well for many years to come, although they are now embracing a ‘Hybrid’ Project Management approach, which allows companies to tailor their processes to a combination of the best practices of both Waterfall and Agile. However, it will be important to have your PMP certification in order to understand the basics of how these mainly traditional companies have been operating in the past.
Waterfall or Agile? – What’s Right for You?
If you decide that Agile is the career path for you then there are a few different ways you can go. The first would be once again to gain a good foundation in Waterfall by obtaining your PMP certification but also getting your PMI-ACP Certification soon after, which will provide you an overview of Agile principles, best practices and different Agile methods. This will give you a solid background in both Waterfall and Agile Project Management methodologies that will position you nicely for the new ‘Hybrid’ approach that many companies are embracing. You can also choose to go with an organization that is new to Agile and become a champion or driving force for change across the company using Agile. And lastly, if you really want to be ‘extreme’, you can choose to seek out companies that are cutting-edge and use advanced Agile methods such as Lean Software Development, Kanban and Extreme Programming, which will require more extensive and specialized certification training outside the realm of the PMI-ACP certification.
Waterfall or Agile? – How About Both?
In my own experience I have seen that many aspiring or current project managers decide to obtain their PMP first since it is the most globally-recognized Project Management certification and is still the methodology used on the majority of projects being executed, and then obtain their PMI-ACP certification in addition to their PMP. I believe this is a good way to go because once you understand the basics of general project management by obtaining your PMP, you may start to work on a few Agile projects with your company and decide it’s a better fit for you. And bear in mind again that the majority of contemporary projects are no longer strictly ‘Waterfall-Only’ or ‘Agile-Only’. More traditional companies in the Aerospace, Medical Device and Government Contracting industries are now embracing a ‘Hybrid’ Project Management approach, which allows them to tailor their processes to a combination of the best practices of both Waterfall and Agile.
So… once again… when you ask me the question ”Should I become PMP Certified or PMI-ACP Certified?”, in the end… it depends! And it really depends on you!!!