PMI-ACP vs SAFe: How to choose the right agile certification

In this competitive age, the fight for jobs is getting tougher and tougher. Therefore, it has become extremely important to learn new skills in order to stay relevant. In the project management world, Agile methodologies have gained quick ground in the last few years. In the IT sector as well as service industries, Agile is the new mantra. Accordingly, there has been a growing demand for certification for Agile tools, techniques, and concepts. There are dozens of certifications available in the market and choosing one can be very tricky. Hence, we have zeroed in on two leading certifications in Agile methodologies: PMI-ACP and SAFe® Agilist.

This article describes the key differences between both in order to help you make the decision of choosing one. But, before that let us first understand what Agile Certification is all about.

What is Agile Certification?

‘Agile' refers to the ability to move easily. In other words, it is a skill to adapt and evolve based on changing situations. Agile certification has similar connotations in the world of project management. Agile methodologies involve the iterative approach allowing for flexibility, pragmatism, and collaboration in the delivery of the product. It prioritizes interactions over processes, dynamism over fixed plan and practicality over documentation. It tries to achieve the objective of the project by breaking it into smaller deliverables and assigning teams to achieve them. This is, in turn, allows the customers to continually monitor and check the progress allowing constant collaboration and feedback.

Top 5 reasons to get certified in Agile Methodology

  1. Increasing demand for certified practitioners

    In an age when every other industry is adopting agile software, becoming certified will help you stay relevant. Why? Some companies only shortlist candidates based on whether they have the certification or not. Also, employees in some companies get promoted to certain positions only if they are Agile certified. Hence, to avail these opportunities, it makes sense to seek Agile certification.

  2. Proof of your credentials

    If you are agile certified, you do not have to waste your time proving your skills to your employer and peers. Your certificate does that for you. It also showcases you as a person who is committed to learning and improving one's skills.

  3. Knowledge and skill expansion

    One of the key reasons to get certified is to build an in-depth knowledge of the evolving Agile tools. This is truer for those who are new to this technology. Even for those with several years of experience using Agile software, the certification helps them stay updated on the new developments.

  4. Ticket to move up the professional ladder

    If you are someone motivated to make it big in your field of work, agile certification can act as an add-on. It will help you stand out among the crowd and promote yourself better. Further, it will allow you to network with other certified Agile professionals to discover opportunities and build your skills.

  5. Boost your salary

    Agile certified professionals are not only most sought-after but also are much better paid compared to their peers. According to an estimate, the salary of Agile professional ranges from $100,000 to $120,000. This is not surprising as the certification is preferred by many of the fortune 500 companies.

What is PMI-ACP?

PMI-ACP (Agile Certified Practitioner), developed by the project management institute, is one of the most reputed certifications in the market. To be certified, you need to study various Agile technologies. These include Scrum, Lean, Kanban and XP. It ensures that a professional is skilled in managing real-world agile projects. In the project management landscape, it is considered as a catch-all agile certification.

Benefits of PMI-ACP


Broaden your knowledge

It helps you broaden your knowledge base by making you study various agile methodologies. By spanning many approaches to Agile, it makes you versatile and dynamic in any scenario.


Agile methodologies

It focuses on the differences between various Agile methodologies. Consequently, it helps you build a better perspective and comprehensive outlook on each of these processes.



There is a rapid rise in the demand for its certification today as it is considered the best certification. No wonder that it is one of the most sought after certifications from the PMI.


Project management experience

To be certified, the candidate needs to have 2000 hours of project management experience. Moreover, the test itself requires a certain level of hard work from the professionals. Therefore, there is credibility attached to the PMI-ACP certification.


Certification maintenance

There is a certification maintenance program provided by PMI. It ensures that the practitioner stays up-to-date with the latest agile methodologies. It also allows the certification to stay relevant in the ever-changing project management landscape.


Reliable asset

This all-around certification allows you to earn as much as 20% higher than your non-certified peers. By making you a highly qualified and reliable asset to the company, the certification adds to your earnings significantly.


Professional growth

As the certification is widely recognized, it opens up a whole new world of opportunities. It provides immense professional growth and helps you climb up your career ladder quickly.

What is SAFe® Agilist?

Scaled Agile Framework or SAFe is one of the widely used scaling agile frameworks. Scaling becomes inevitable in many organizations which initially start out with small teams. A SAFe® Agilist is a person who ensures this agile transformation in a large enterprise. Hence, the SAFe® Agilist (SA) Certification program targets executives, managers other Agile change agents.

Benefits of SAFe® Agilist


Demand for SAFe Agilist

The reputation of the SAFe® Agilist can be gauged from the fact that 70% of the fortune 100 companies use SAFe. Therefore, the demand for SAFe Agilist certified professionals is growing at an ever increasing speed.



The SAFe certification proves that you have the credentials to work in a lean agile enterprise environment. Many companies make this certification mandatory to apply to some positions.


Career development

If you are seeking professional and career development, SAFe certification can open up new opportunities for you. This is true in case of both within the same company and outside of it.


Natural progression

SAFe certification provides a role-based curriculum based on the current position and skill level of the professional. Hence, it ensures a natural progression from an entry level SAFe practitioner to SAFe expert.


Earn more

As the demand for a certified professional is more, SAFe® Agilist earns considerably more than a non-certified professional.


Join the network

There are about 150,000+ trained professionals working in more than 100 countries. Getting certified helps you join this club and network with others interested in the same field.

PMI-ACP vs SAFe® Agilist

So, should you choose PMI-ACP or SAFe® Agilist? Before we answer this question, let us look at some differences between both of these certifications:

  1. Exam Pattern
      PMI-ACP SAFe® Agilist
    Format Multiple Choice Questions Multiple Choice Questions
    Number of questions 120 45
    Duration 180 Minutes or 3 hours 90 minutes or 1.5 hours
    Passing Score Unknown but 70% is considered a safe score 34 out of 45 (76% passing score)
  2. Certification/ Course Fee

    The cost for PMI-ACP, if you are a PMI member is US$435. If you are not a member, then you need to pay US$495.

    For SAFe® Agilist, one must first attend a SAFe training course. The fee for the same varies based on the date and location at which the course is being conducted. If one takes the exam within 30days, the cost of the fee is included in the course fee. After that duration, every retake of the exam will cost you US$50 for each attempt.

  3. Certification Validity and Renewal

    The PMI-ACP certificate is valid for 3 years. You need to collect 30 professional development units (PDUs) in Agile concepts before the expiry date in order to renew it.

    SAFe® Agilist certificate is valid for a year. Afterwards, you need to pay $100 per year in order to renew your certification.

  4. Experience/Eligibility

    PMI-ACP requires the following conditions to be met by the people applying for the certification:

    • Education: - High School Diploma or Secondary Degree or an Associate's Degree.
    • Experience: 2000 hours of general project management experience. Additionally, it needs 1500 hours of Agile project management experience. The exam also requires that you have this experience in the immediate past 5 years from the day of application.

      Let's say you are a PMP-Project Management certification holder or PgMP-Project Management Professional. In that case, PMI doesn't check your general project management experience. That's because you would have been already verified by PMI for these certifications.

      For Agile Management experience, you need to be part of a project team that used Agile methodology. These 1500 hours approximate to about 8 months of Agile Management experience. However, PMP doesn't consider two Agile projects overlapping within the same duration. For example, let's say you worked on Agile Project A from January to April (4 months). Additionally, you were also part of Agile Project B from March to August (6 months) in the same year. PMI will consider it as only 8 months of experience and 10 months. PMI follows the same rule for general project management experience as well.

    • Training: PMI requires that you undergo 21-hour training in agile methodologies, agile practices or agile philosophy. One concession is that you need not complete this training when you apply. You can apply and then finish training before you sit for the exam. The training can be in the form of workshops, educational sessions or some courses. One should remember that self – learning is not considered as training by PMI.

    Further, the training should include the following 7 modules in order to be considered by PMI:

    1. Agile Principles and Mindset

    2. Value Driven Delivery

    3. Stakeholder Engagement

    4. Team Performance

    5. Adaptive Planning

    6. Problem Detection and Resolution

    7. Continuous Improvement

    SAFe® Agilist certification is open to everyone. However, it prefers the following skills or knowledge in the interested candidates.

    1. More than 5 years of work experience in the domains of software development, business analysis, testing, and Product or project management.

    2. Experience in Scrum

    As obvious, it is easier to be qualified for SAFe® Agilist certification than PMI-ACP. If you do not have the necessary qualifications as required by PMI-ACP, then it is better to choose SAFe® Agilist certification.

  5. Course Content

    As mentioned under eligibility, PMI – ACP tests your expertise in 7 domains. The preparatory course also should accordingly focus on these domains. The following table gives information on each domain's contribution to the overall score in the exam.

    S. No. Domain Name Percentage of Items on Test
    Domain 1 Agile Principles and Mindset 16%
    Domain 2 Value-driven Delivery 20%
    Domain 3 Stakeholder Engagement 17%
    Domain 4 Team Performance 16%
    Domain 5 Adaptive Planning 12%
    Domain 6 Problem Detection and Resolution 10%
    Domain 7 Continuous Improvement (Product, Process, People) 09%

    SAFe® Agilist course should more or less cover the following aspects of Agile methodology:

    • Introduction to Scaled Agile Framework

    • Lean and Agile Values

    • Core SAFe Principles

    • Development of High-Performing Teams and Programs

    • PI Planning experiences

    • Lean-Agile Enterprise growth

    • Agile Portfolio Empowerment

    • Creation of Large Solutions

    In this aspect, it's difficult to choose between the two. Both cover topics that are essential to mastering Agile methodologies.

  6. Market Value

    Whereas almost everyone understands the value of certification authorized by PMI, SAFe® Agilist is relatively new to the market. The market value, in this case, depends on the area that one is looking for a job in. Some companies prefer in-depth learning that takes place through SAFe agilest. Others attach gold standard to PMI-ACP for the proven track record. Also, PMI-ACP boasts that not everyone can clear the test and hence assures the quality of certification. But, SAFe® Agilist certification can be passed by most and hence considered flimsy by some.

Final Verdict:

So, finally which certification should you choose between PMI-ACP and SAFe® Agilist? It's very difficult to just pick one over the other. If you work for a big company with large teams, SAFe might be a better bet for you. If you are looking for general training in Agile methodologies which can be applied anywhere, then PMI-ACP answers your need. Moreover, various other factors such as your previous work experience, years of experience, size of the company, finances etc also play a role. Hence, there can be no single definitive answer for everyone. One needs to make the decision considering one's preferences and work experience.

Explore more about the PMI-ACP. Get Certified!

About Author
Madhavi Bodepudi