Agile Prep for the PMI-ACP®: Tips from Personal Experience

PM College has upped its agile game over the last few months. We now have a full suite of offerings across a variety of agile approaches: Scrum, XP, Kanban, Lean, and different ways to combine them for success, including SAFe or agile certifications.  As I reviewed our course offerings, I became curious and followed a link to the requirements for PMI’s Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP®) certification. I’ve been in and around agile for quite a while now, from the first stirrings of what became SAP’s Agile Business Add-on to ASAP, to using VersionOne daily as a program recovery manager, to now teaching our Introduction to Agile course. I figured that if I was eligible to apply, perhaps I could bone up and pass the exam. My experience with it, I figured, could benefit the training managers who rely on us, as well as their course participants.

Over the next few posts, I’ll walk through some of what I found when applying for, then studying for, the PM-ACP exam. This post will be an overview, then I’ll dig in a bit more to specific agile domains.

First, it turned out that I was just in time: my live project experience would’ve aged out in six months! The application process was relatively smooth—though waiting for an audit decision is always nerve-wracking—but I was indeed eligible. If you’re like me, a practitioner who gets sucked into management every so often, I suggest applying straightaway after you complete a relevant agile project.

Because I had just built an agile course, I figured that I was ahead of the game when it came to studying. I had a lot of material about the elements of Scrum, XP, and other agile and iterative methodologies. Therefore, it was easy for me build a study sheet and practice questions. After a few rounds of practice exams—gradually getting my percentage correct into the mid-90s—I figured I was good to go.

Well, it didn’t feel like it when I sat before that Prometrix screen! I was faced by a series of situational questions on the application of agile principle, value-driven delivery, stakeholder engagement, and team performance. The emphasis on these topics wasn’t a surprise: the PMI-ACP exam outline notes that they make up 69% of one’s exam score. The cleverness of the questions was a surprise, however.

Therein lies the heart of my first suggestion in this series: don’t expect cramming to be successful. While prep exams are useful to ensure you know your terms, the exam doesn’t reward simple rote learning. I had a head crammed full of agile tools and methods, but I found few questions amenable to regurgitating those facts “fill in the blank” or “this statement defines” answers. In question after question, I had to walk through the brief agile scenarios, walk through them, and then apply my agile experience to select the right answer. My take is that inexperienced agile practitioners will struggle with large sections of this exam, largely because they will not be able to put themselves into the agile dilemmas presented. This is a certification that requires some agility in preparation, as well as in response to the questions. And that’s how it should be.

Stay tuned for more tips on agile certification prep, coming soon.

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