PMP and CSM – Can they coexist?

In a previous post, I itemized some of the various certification types that exist for those within the project management realm. (For reference, please consult the post: Project Management Certifications – Which one should you get?)

There are naturally, a swath of various certifications out there. Some are focussed on quality, some on process and still others on specific technology methodologies or skills, like a Microsoft or Cisco certification.

Within the project management realm, two key certifications seem to have become the staple when it comes to the most popular and, arguably, the most valuable. Those two being: the PMP (Project Management Professional) and the CSM (Certified Scrum Master).

To understand these two a little further, its best to provide a brief explanation of the two and what they signify:


This certification is basically the staple offering of the PMI Institute, which is the most well-known resource in the realm of project management that currently exists. The certification itself leverages the concepts and methodologies that are derived from the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge), which defines the key process groups and knowledge areas that someone within the field should understand. Those that attain this certification are individuals that have experience in project management and are looking to expand their scholastic knowledge and general bank-ability by demonstrating their competency in their field.


This certification is offered by a variety of different agencies and is part of the overall Agile (or Lean Agile) process methodology. Those that attain this certification are generally in industries or companies that have adopted the Agile process, specifically the SCRUM concept of rapid development with frequent, fully functional iterations of the end product. The whole premise behind Agile (and SCRUM) is the elimination of what is considered ‘waste’. i.e., time-consuming or drawn out processes that some argue are more common in the waterfall process model.

With the inception of these two certifications, there has been some debate within the project management blogosphere of whether or not these two can actually co-exist. Some argue that on a fundamental level, they are opposing philosophies that cannot find common ground. That the two simply ‘think differently’ and that individuals attaining one or the other will be at opposing spectrums. But is this actually true?


To delve into this a little deeper, its important to understand what these two certifications are at the core level and what they represent. If we take a look at the PMP, what precisely is it conveying? For starters, the PMP (as mentioned above), is derived from the key knowledge areas and process groups that make up the PMBOK. Without going into too much detail (since one can spend entire books defining them all), what the PMBOK actually is would be considered a ‘framework’. For those who spend time in the realm of software (as I do) a good analogy for a framework would be something that would be akin to a reusable common resource that programmers might utilize to do their work. Frameworks themselves can be thought of almost like Lego; they offer some of the foundational constructs and templates to do something but don’t actually dictate what or how to build it. (Except the default toy)

With that being said, what exactly is the CSM? As alluded to earlier, it is a certification that dictates one’s competence in a particular process; in this case, the Agile (SCRUM) process. The process is a way of doing (or building) something. To draw on our Lego analogy, a process might be to organize the Lego in functional pieces and then build the end result in a certain manner.

So what exactly is the key distinction? It can be summed up thus: PMP is a certification leveraging a framework. CSM is a certification leveraging a process.


So why is this important? The main conclusion to draw is that, often times, PMP gets lumped in with a particular process. (Usually waterfall) Individuals will read the PMBOK and draw the conclusion that it is advocating waterfall. When in essence, the PMBOK is completely process agnostic. It may make reference to certain types of processes that one ‘could’ utilize for different areas (like Six Sigma in the Quality Assurance portion of Monitoring and Controlling a project), but on a core level, the process has nothing to do with the framework. They are mutually exclusive.

One interesting side-bar to drive the point home is that the PMI institute now actually offers SCRUM certifications as part of its full certification offerings. Which basically demonstrates their desire to want to provide the option of that certification but also fully recognizing that they are not in any way clashing with their other certification offerings, including their staple PMP.


About tomtsongas
Versatile Program/Development Manager with 20 years of diverse background and experience in managing, defining, designing, developing and evangelizing advanced software applications that exceed customer expectations Current responsibilities include: - Coordinating and monitoring the scheduling and technical performance of company programs - Preparation of proposals, plans, specifications, and finalized requirements of various projects - Researching new opportunities and technologies - Ensuring adherence to master plans and schedules - Developing solutions to program problems - Directing work of incumbents assigned to program from various departments while also ensuring projects are completed on time and within budget - Acting as adviser to program teams regarding projects, tasks, and operations.

One Response to PMP and CSM – Can they coexist?

  1. Thanks for the post on PMP and CSM. I am trying to learn more about CSM after obtaining the PMP.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: