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.


The Biotech IT PMO 2.0

As a CIO, you have either made – or heard – recommendations to create an IT project management office. Perhaps you have implemented one, and your department is reaping the benefits of project planning, monitoring, and controlling. IT delivers its projects on time, on budget, and to spec. Congratulations! You and your IT PMO have put the foundation of consistent innovation in place.

Nevertheless, it is no more than a foundation. A PMO must…

For more, see the full article at CIO Review.

Preparing the Agile Kool-Aid

After a long hike at Scout camp, there’s nothing like seeing a cooler with bug juice on tap. It’s even better when it’s real Kool-Aid, not the generic stuff. That first sip’s a step back into childhood…well, except for the fact that you need to wait for all the Scout to drink up first!

“Drinking the Kool-Aid” is another twist on the old bromide “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” In this case, Scouts are notorious for refusing to drink enough water to stay hydrated. Heat exhaustion is perhaps the most common reason Scouts head to the medic, though homesickness and ticks are close behind. A cooler full of Kool-Aid turns that hydration chore into a treat.

The same principle applies to agile adoption. I’ve found that while agile is supposed to get an organization away from “command and control,” it’s often implemented from the top down, with a catechism, and all heretics are burned. Someone, somewhere, gets the bright idea to go agile…and everyone has to follow along. Or pretend to.

Of course, agile is just like any other change program from which you expect transformative results. Just think about the challenges that agile is supposed to address:

[P]roducts developed today are the product of massive capital investments. Product refresh cycles continue to shrink in an effort to be competitive in ever evolving markets. The risk of a failed project must be mitigated. Successful risk mitigation today relies more on benefiting from evolving knowledge rather than seeking to avoid it. — From PM College’s Agile Project Management

Such game-changing results require awareness, understanding, and buy-in from each and everyone on your teams. That’s why, before you dive into pilot projects, software spend, or a large-scale agile rollout, you should begin with a bit of discovery.

I highlighted our Agile Project Management course above because it’s a great way to start. It lets you bring together individuals who are all over the place re: agile: veterans, newcomers, and skeptics. Rather than jumping into a boot camp or selling straightaway to executives, you assemble the key players who will implement and advocate for agile together for an introduction. While you may not come out of that session singing every line on the Agile Manifesto, what you say will at least rhyme. In two days you’ll have moved along incrementally, but clearly, which is what agile is all about anyway.

Oh, and everyone on the team now has a little Kool-Aid in their back pocket…to slip in the naysayers’ vinegar.

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