Nader K. Rad

Project Management Certification Landscape


This article is an overview and comparison of various certifications that are directly or indirectly related to project management. Yes, I've included Scrum as well because it has much to do with how you manage projects, even though it doesn't have a project manager role.

project management ≠ project manager


The following is a list of the certifications covered in this article, with the 3-letter abbreviation I've chosen (sometimes made up) for each to refer to them in diagrams:

You can hover over the 3-letter abbreviations in the diagrams to see their full names.

There are other notable certifications, but I haven't added them because I'm not familiar enough with them, because they have different localized forms and can't be discussed in general, or for other reasons.


  1. I've tried to be as objective as possible in this article. However, we all have our own biases and are never completely objective. So here are some of my potential biases:
    • I've been a core development team member for PMBOK 7 (closely related to the PMP certification), a core team member for, and a consultant for PRINCE2 v6, and
    • our company offers eLearning courses for PRINCE2, PSM, and AgilePM.
  2. Some of the topics in this article are subjective in nature, and some people may not agree with my opinions.

Certifications nature, composition, and depth

Diagram of the nature, composition, and depthThis diagram has two axis: the horizontal axis from "general knowledge" on the left to "way of working" on the right. The vertical axis has "minimalist" on the top and "maximalist" on the bottom. The top-left quadrant, which is minimalist general knowledge, is empty. The top-right quadrant, which is minimalist way of working has two items: PSM, P3P. The bottom-left quadrant, which is maximalist general knowledge, has the following: PMP, PM², ACP. The bottom-right quadrant, which is maximalist way of working, has the following items: APP, P2P, APF, P2F.MinimalistMaximalistGeneral knowledgeWay of workingProject Management PractitionerP3PProfessional Scrum MasterPSMPRINCE2 PractitionerP2PPRINCE2 FoundationP2FAgilePM ProfessionalAPPAgilePM FoundationAPFPM² FoundationPM²PMI Agile Certified ProfessionalACP


Some certification programs focus on a specific way of working (sometimes referred to as methodologies or frameworks), while others are about general knowledge of the field. Both are useful, but in very different ways. People who learn a way of working are more likely to be able to use it in their projects and make fundamental changes, whereas general knowledge is more of a source of inspiration.

In general, the best solution is to have a way of working first, and then use general knowledge to make it better. This is the topic I've covered in depth in PMBOK® Guide 7, Underneath the Surface (A libre book).

Note: PRINCE2 used to be all about a way of working, but the trend in its latest version has changed that and pushed it to the left side of the diagram, as also evidenced by its new version of the exam.


To be clear, a maximalist system is one that tries to cover everything that can add value, while a minimalist system is one that focuses on the most essentials.


The radius of the circles in the diagram above indicates the average depth of the information required for each certification program. For example, if the only thing you know about Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a single-sentence description, it would be shallow. However, if you know all its details, implications, strengths, and weaknesses, it would be deep.

Being deep is helpful because it makes it more practical. However, those that are not deep are still helpful because they create awareness and expose the person to a range of possibilities that they can explore on their own.

Application domain

Application domain diagramThis diagram shows a spectrum from "domain-specific" on the left to "general" on the right side. The following are the items sorted from the very left to the middle: PSM, APP and APF, ACP. From the middle of the spectrum to the right we have these items arranged: PMP, PM², P2P and P2F, P3P.Domain-specificGeneralProject Management PractitionerP3PProfessional Scrum MasterPSMPRINCE2 PractitionerP2PPRINCE2 FoundationP2FAgilePM ProfessionalAPPAgilePM FoundationAPFPM² FoundationPM²PMI Agile Certified ProfessionalACP

People with skills in a general-purpose program have a significant advantage: Their skills are portable, and they can move to other types of projects. Switching may seem unlikely, but I've seen many people do it, and their portable skills really helped them.

On the other hand, domain-specific programs provide more details that may be useful for their target domain, thus making implementation easier. One might say that such details belong to a different level of abstraction and are better covered by technical resources that are available for most domains.

Development method

Development method diagramThis diagram is a spectrum from "adaptive/Agile" on the left, to "predictive" on the right. Each item is shown with a bar that covers a certain range in this spectrum. P3P and P2P and P2F cover the whole range, meaning that they support both development methods very well. PM² covers most of the spectrum, but not all the way to the left (the most Agile side). PMP expands from the right (predictive) to more than half of the spectrum. APP, APF, and ACP expand from the very left to the middle. PSM covers the very left to about one fourth of the length of the spectrum.Adaptive (Agile)PredictiveProject Management PractitionerP3PPRINCE2 Foundation and PractitionerP2P & P2FPM² FoundationPM²AgilePM Foundation and PractitionerAPP & APFPMI Agile Certified ProfessionalACPProfessional Scrum MasterPSM

Predictive development is one that first defines the product that can deliver the desired outcomes and then builds it. This is the normal method for most projects (e.g., building a bridge, a building, or a road), but it's not a great choice when the outcome depends entirely on the subjective perception of end users. In these cases, an adaptive method would work better. In this method, instead of designing everything upfront, we go on and build a small subset based on our assumptions, let the end-user representatives work with it, generate feedback, and determine the next step based on the feedback. Adaptive methods are commonly called Agile, and the Agile community calls the predictive methods "waterfall".

Some people believe that one of these two methods is right and the other is not. In reality, some products are better developed using a predictive method and some using an adaptive one.

Note: PMBOK (a key resource for the PMP certification), before version 6, was more about predictive projects, but its version 7 supports both methods equally. However, the PMP exam is still influenced by the previous versions of the PMBOK Guide and, therefore, leans toward predictive development.


Freedoms diagramThis diagram has two sides, one that shows the proprietary items and one that shows the libre ones. The proprietary ones are ACP, P2P, APF, PMP, APP, and P2F. The libre ones are P3P, PM², and PSM.ProprietaryLibreProject Management PractitionerP3PProfessional Scrum MasterPSMPRINCE2 PractitionerP2PPRINCE2 FoundationP2FAgilePM ProfessionalAPPAgilePM FoundationAPFPM² FoundationPM²PMI Agile Certified ProfessionalACP

The subject of each exam and the approach to teaching it can be proprietary and subject to copyright restrictions, or libre and available to everyone. This is important for practitioners and trainers because their investment in providing services for a proprietary program can be destroyed overnight if the owner of the program makes unreasonable changes (e.g., charging a lot of money to let people provide those services). This has actually happened to varying degrees with two proprietary programs in recent years.

Project size

Project size diagramThis diagram shows a spectrum of project sizes from the smallest on the left to largest on the right. This spectrum is divided into 5 sections with the following titles for size: micro, small, medium, large, mega. Each item is shown by a bar that expands in this spectrum and shows which project sizes are well supported by it. PSM is only in the micro section. ACP is in micro, small, and medium. APP, APf, PM², P2P, P2F, and PMP are in medium, large, and half-way through mega. P3P is in small, medium, and large sections.MicroSmallMediumLargeMegaProject Managment PractitionerP3PPRINCE2 Foundation and PractitionerP2P & P2FPM² FoundationPM²AgilePM Foundation and PractitionerAPP & APFPMI Agile Certified ProfessionalACPProfessional Scrum MasterPSM

Project size is mainly about the number of people involved in it and is a key factor in determining how complicated or even complex the project is. Although, size is somewhat relative: an IT development project with 200 team members is a large one, but a process plant project with 200 people is usually considered medium or even small.

Note: is not designed for very small projects, and instead, there's a flavor of it called, specifically designed for very small projects. is not included here because it doesn't have a certification program at the time of this writing.

Training duration

Training duration diagramThis is a bar chart that shows the relative training length of each item or group of items. The longest is PMP. Then is the combination of APF and APP, followed by the combination of P2F and P2P. ACP and PM² are next, which have a length approximately half the length of PMP, which is the longest one. P3P is next, which is a little shorter. Finally, PSM has the shortest PractitionerP3PPRINCE2 FoundationP2FPRINCE2 PractitionerP2PPM² FoundationPM²Professional Scrum MasterPSMPMI Agile Certified ProfessionalACPAgilePM FoundationAPFAgilePM PractitionerAPPProject Management ProfessionalPMP

I've added this because it indicates the amount of study required for the exam.

Note 1: If you only spend a few days learning something, take an exam, and then move on to other things, there's a good chance it won't have much impact on you. Instead, stay with it for at least 6 months, let your brain absorb the information, observe your environment through the lens of what you've learned, review the information with additional resources, etc., and only then proceed with the exam. See it as an exciting journey, not a sprint.

Note 2: The relative values here are about the effort required to pass the exam, which may differ from the effort needed to learn the subject enough to use it in real-world projects. Passing the PSM or Practitioner exam is more or less enough to give the candidate enough skills to start using the subject, but there's a big gap between passing the exam and being capable of using the subject for some programs such as PRINCE2; i.e., you have to learn a lot more than what's required for the exam before you can start using it.

Exam prerequisites

Exam prerequisites diagramThis diagram is a matrix that lists the certificates on one side and the 4 prerequisites on the other, and then connects them when they apply. PMP has 3 prerequisites: code of conduct, work experience, and contact hours. P3P only has the code of conduct. P2P and APP have other certificates as their prerequisite. They rest don't have any prerequisites.Code of conductWork experienceOther certificatesContact hoursPMPProject Management PractitionerP2PPRINCE2 PractitionerP2FPRINCE2 FoundationPM²PM² FoundationAPPAgilePM PractitionerAPFAgilePM FoundationACPPMI Agile Certified ProfessionalPSMProfessional Scrum Master

Some people favor having more prerequisites, such as requiring relevant work experience, and others believe that the exam should be representative enough to work without prerequisites.

It's interesting to note the programs that go beyond the typical topics and consider the social responsibility of project managers, requiring them to accept and adhere to a code of conduct before taking the exam.

Certification cost

Certification cost diagramThis bar chart shows the relative cost of certifications without giving the actual monetary amounts. From the most expensive to the least expensive they are: P2P, P2F, PMP, ACP, APP, PM², APF, PSM, P3P.P2PPRINCE2 PractitionerP2FPRINCE2 FoundationPMPProject Management PractitionerPM²PM² FoundationAPPAgilePM PractitionerAPFAgilePM FoundationACPPMI Agile Certified PractitionerPSMProfessional Scrum Master

The diagram is about the cost of the exams. However, for people who prefer to take classroom or eLearning courses, there's also the cost of training, which depends on many factors, such as accreditation cost. For example, the accreditation is free of charge and only focuses on quality, whereas the PRINCE2 and PMP accreditations cost training organizations a few thousand euros per year, and the training providers have to increase their prices because of that.

Note: The PMP certification used to be the most expensive one, but the PRINCE2 exams costs have increased significantly since its owner changed in mid-2021.

Cognitive level of the exam

Diagram of the cognitive level of the examThis diagram shows a spectrum from "memorization" on the left side to "analysis" on the right side. From the very left to the middle we have the following items: P2F, APF, PM², ACP. From the middle to the right we have the following: PSM, P2P, APP, PMP, P3P.MemorizationAnalysisProject Management PractitionerP3PProfessional Scrum MasterPSMPRINCE2 PractitionerP2PPRINCE2 FoundationP2FAgilePM PractitionerAPPAgilePM FoundationAPFPM² FoundationPM²PMI Agile Certified ProfessionalACP

Exam questions range from those that rely entirely on memorization and are easy to answer if you have the right material in front of you, to questions that require deep analysis. An exam that relies on analytical skills is a better representation of the capabilities of the candidates in real-world projects.

Certificate validity

Certificate validity diagramThis diagram is a matrix with certificates on one side and different elements related to validity on the other, and then the relationships between them are shown. PMP and ACP require renewal, which is done by submitting development units, and a payment is required. P3P is valid for life, but people can also take the exam again every year without paying. P2P and P2F should be renewed either by taking a new exam or by submitting development units, and a payment is required. APP should be renewed by taking the exam again, and a payment is required. PM², APF, and PSM don't require renewal.Valid for lifeRequires paymentRe-examinationDevelopment unitsPMPProject Management PractitionerP2PPRINCE2 PractitionerP2FPRINCE2 FoundationPM²PM² FoundationAPPAgilePM PractitionerAPFAgilePM FoundationACPPMI Agile Certified ProfessionalPSMProfessional Scrum Master

Some certificates are valid for life, and some require renewal. Being valid for life has a disadvantage in that the candidate may forget everything and still have a certificate to claim that they are competent in the subject. However, the renewal requirement is also unpleasant for many because it usually requires payment.

Note 1: For PRINCE2, there are two options. Candidates can either take a new exam or submit development units. The latter is easier.

Note 2: has a new certificate every year (e.g., P3P-2024 at the time of this writing). Each certificate is valid for life, but practitioners are encouraged to take new certificates each year. People with the previous certificate can take the new exam for free at the beginning of the year.

Note 3: P2F used to be valid for life, but since the owner changed in mid-2021, they've changed it, and the change also applies to old certificates retroactively.


Which certificate is the best? It depends :)

These certificates provide value in different ways, targeting various audiences. Moreover, the skills and knowledge one gains from a certificate is one key criterion, but there's also the general perception of their environment; how do different people perceive your certificate? For example, the PMP certificate is usually perceived as valuable if you work with construction projects, but it may sound out of place or even negative if you work in IT development environments with a superficial understanding of Agile.

So, if you're trying to decide among these, simply prioritize them, aim for the one on top of the list, and proceed further whenever you can. If their cost is an issue for you, don't let it stop you: You can always learn the topics according to the certification program without taking the exam.

Update 1, 2024-01-17: As a reader on LinkedIn pointed out, my last suggestion doesn't easily apply to PRINCE2, because PeopleCert doesn't allow training providers to offer courses without exams and prohibits most other resources. Interested individuals can still learn it by reading the official manual and a few other resources, but unfortunately it will be limited.

Good luck!

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