Category Archives: Agile Project Management Training

How to Prepare for PMI-ACP Certification

I think there is a lot of confusion among project managers about how to prepare for PMI-ACP certification – some people may think that:

  1. Getting PMI-ACP certification is a matter of buying an “exam prep” book or taking an “exam prep” training course and then going out and taking the exam, and
  2. Once you’ve taken and passed the exam, that is your “ticket” to get a job working in an Agile environment as a project manager

Both of those assumptions are far from reality, in my opinion:

  1. You can’t just do some “exam prep” training and/or buy an “exam prep” book and go out and pass the exam for several reasons:
    • PMI won’t allow that – PMI requires a  minimum of 1,500 hours of working in an Agile environment before you can even apply to take the exam
    • There’s such a broad range of topics on the exam, it would be very difficult or impossible to pass the exam for someone who just “crammed” to pass the exam with little or no real-world Agile experience
    • Even if you could do that, simply “cramming” to pass the exam would have very limited value because it would have little credibility without some real-world experience to go along with it
  2. Just getting a PMI-ACP certification is not likely to be a “ticket” to getting a job as a project manager in an Agile environment for a  couple of reasons:
    • PMI-ACP is just a test of general Agile and Lean knowledge – it’s not designed to test your ability to perform a particular Agile role
    • The role of an Agile Project Manager is not well-defined and there is also some controversy that there is a role for a project manager in an Agile environment at all

I think it’s a mistake for anyone to think that getting PMI-ACP certification is just a matter of going out and passing the exam and getting a job in an Agile environment and people have to develop more realistic expectations about it.  I recommend:

  1. Understand the roles that an Agile Project Manager can potentially play in the real-world, develop a vision for yourself of what that target role is, and understand the overall “road map” for moving into that role.
  2. Understand how PMI-ACP relates to other Agile certifications and where it fits into that road map.  For example, a project manager who is new to an Agile environment may have to start out in a Scrum Master role to get some experience and PMI-ACP isn’t the best approach to become a Scrum Master – CSM or PSM is much better-suited for getting into that kind of role as a first step
  3. Don’t limit your focus to simply passing the exam – focus on developing solid, credible, real-world experience and use the PMI-ACP certification exam to validate that you do have the knowledge and experience needed to perform that role

I’ve just developed a new training course for project managers called “How to Prepare for PMI-ACP Certification” that elaborates on this to help project managers develop a strategy for themselves and helps them understand how to position my other Agile Project Management courses in this strategy.  You can find information on this course and my other Agile Project Management courses at the following location:

How to Prepare for PMI-ACP Certification

For a limited amount of time, I’m offering this course for only $5!

Agile Project Management Roadmap

I recently published an article on “Preparing for the PMI-ACP® Exam“. I want to expand on that article in the broader context of: What is the “Agile Project Management Roadmap” for a Project Manager with little or no Agile experience to become a well-qualified Agile Project Manager and where does PMI-ACP® certification fit into that process? Here’s a simplified, high-level diagram that shows what I think that process looks like and how the online training I’ve developed fits into that “road map”:

Agile Project Management Training Roadmap

Here’s some notes on this “road map”

  • It’s important to recognize that the typical Project Manager who has little or no Agile experience can’t just go out and take the PMI-ACP certification exam (even if they took at least 21 hours of training first), you need at least 1,500 hours of experience in an Agile environment to qualify to take the exam
  • In order to get 1,500 hours experience in an Agile environment, you need some knowledge to be able to perform that role. That’s the primary need that my current online training courses fill. Those courses provide an excellent foundation and an equivalent level of knowledge for most of the topics required for PMI-ACP but it’s more focused on preparing someone to assume a real-world role rather than “exam prep” training
  • After you get the 1,500 hours of experience, you need to take an exam-prep course before you can take the PMI-ACP® exam. A total of at least 21 hours of training is required to qualify to take the exam. My courses, as they exist now, will satisfy about 7.5 hours of this requirement
  • Finally, it’s important to recognize that getting PMI-ACP® certification doesn’t immediately give someone the skills to get a job. PMI-ACP® certification is a test of general Agile knowledge and is not oriented around qualifying someone to perform a particular role. This is a very controversial topic; but, in general, there is no role for an Agile Project Manager at the team level in an Agile environment, the typical role for an Agile Project Manager would be at a higher enterprise level and PMI-ACP® definitely does not prepare someone for that role. That’s requires additional training beyond the level of PMI-ACP® certification and that’s the need my Advanced Agile PM Training course are designed to satisfy.

It’s very important to recognize that Agile will precipitate a dramatic transformation of the Project Management profession as we know it today and PMI-ACP® certification is a good step in the right direction but I think most people will agree that it’s just a test of general Agile knowledge and doesn’t go far enough to prepare project managers for a specific Agile Project Management role and to address the real challenge that many project managers face of “How do I blend Agile and traditional Project Management” principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given situation?”

Preparing for the PMI-ACP Exam

Preparing for the PMI-ACP exam should not be an end-in-itself in my opinion…developing the knowledge and skills to do the job is what’s important. I’ve been engaged in some discussion lately on the PMI-ACP® certification and it caused me to do some research into how I can potentially help people prepare for the PMI-ACP® certification. I was among the earliest group of people to obtain the PMI-ACP® certification three years ago in 2012, I’ve published three books on Agile Project Management, and I’ve developed a number of online training courses on Agile Project Management. All of that effort has been focused around helping project managers successfully make the transition to a real-world Agile Project Management role and not specifically focused on helping people prepare for the PMI-ACP® exam; however, I do realize that having certifications can be valuable to help people get a job so I decided to do some analysis to see what, if anything, I could do to help people prepare for PMI-ACP certification.

First, let me explain my philosophy with regard to certifications in general. A lot of people chase after certifications to build up their resume. They cram for taking certification exams using a lot of rote memorization and focus on simply passing the exam. I’m not an advocate of that approach. I believe that the right approach is to build your knowledge and skills through training, self-directed study, and on-the-job experience to gain a solid foundation of the knowledge needed to do the job; and then, as a second step, take the certification exam to validate that you really do have the knowledge that you think you have.

Passing a certification exam should not be an end-in-itself in my opinion…developing the knowledge and skills to do the job is what’s important and a certification exam can be a good way of validating that you do have the knowledge and skills. One of the problems with the PMI-ACP exam; however, is it isn’t oriented around a particular job – it’s more of a test of general knowledge associated with Agile and Lean and isn’t really directly associated with a specific job role. That’s a very important consideration to recognize that getting through PMI-ACP® doesn’t really directly qualify you for a specific job. The role that an Agile Project Manager plays in the real world is not well-defined and it is even somewhat controversial among some Agile people that there is a role for an Agile Project Manager at all. I sat in on a presentation by a very well-known Agile consultant and book author a few years ago who made the statement that “An Agile Project Manager is an Oxymoron”.

There are a lot of PMI-ACP® exam prep courses out there but I’ve taken a different approach. I specifically didn’t want to develop an “exam prep” course for the reasons I mentioned above. I decided instead to focus on better defining the actual roles that an Agile Project Manager might play in the real world and designing online training around helping people prepare for those roles. My “Mastering Agile Project Management” course, for example, has a lot of material that defines the potential roles an Agile Project Manager is likely to play and some actual case studies showing how those roles are implemented in real world situations. That isn’t really an “exam prep” course per se, but I think it helps someone develop into a role to get the real world experience needed to qualify to take the certification exam.

Don’t forget that one of the requirements to take the PMI-ACP® exam is that someone has at least 2,000 hours of project management experience; and, in addition to that, has at least 1,500 hours working in an Agile environment. I think that’s a good requirement and it’s specifically designed to prevent someone from going out and cramming to get through the exam based primarily on rote memorization of information.

So, over the past few days, I did a gap analysis to compare the information in my online Agile Project Management courses to the material that is covered in the PMI-ACP® exam. To do that analysis, I looked at:

  • The PMI-ACP® Examination Content Outline
  • The outlines of several PMI-ACP® exam preparation courses
  • Mike Grifiths’ book PMI-ACP® Exam Prep Book
  • Plus numerous other books that are on the recommended reading list to prepare for the exam and many others I consider essential that are not on that list at all but should be (like latest book, The Project Manager’s Guide to Mastering Agile)
  • What I found from this analysis was that the material required for the PMI-ACP® exam fell into two categories:

    1. Information that is generally useful in an actual real-world Agile Project Management role, and
    2. Information that may have little or no value in the real world, but you have to know because it might be on the exam. Examples of information in this category include:
      • How many people really practice earned value management in an Agile environment?
      • How many people really do an elaborate quantitative value analysis based on NPR, IRR, etc. to optimize the value stream of an Agile project?

    The results of that analysis convinced me that:

    • I already cover most of the topics in category #1 above (topics that are really important in the real world); however, there are a few items that I think have real-world value that will further enhance my Agile Project Management courses. So, over the next few weeks, I will be beefing up my courses to more thoroughly cover those additional areas. The good news is that anyone who is currently enrolled in my courses or has taken my courses in the past will get the benefit of this new information at no additional cost.
    • I definitely don’t want to try to make my courses into an “exam prep” course because I would have to bog down the student in a lot of the information that is in category #2 above because it might be on the exam, even though it may have little or no real-world value
    • If you’re thinking about going for PMI-ACP® certification, my recommendation is don’t do it just to “get your ticket punched” that you have the certification. First go out and get the knowledge and experience required to fill an Agile Project Management role in the real world and then use the PMI-ACP® to validate that you do have that knowledge. The courses I’ve developed are not “exam prep” courses, but they are very well-aligned with that strategy which I think is a good strategy to pursue. When you do get to that point that you do have the knowledge and experience to take the exam, there are a number of resources to help you prepare to take the exam. In particular, I think Mike Griffiths’ book is a good resource but passing the exam and getting the certification shouldn’t be an end-in-itself. That’s only the final step in proving that you have successfully acquired that real-world knowledge and experience.

      Here’s a short video that explains how my courses can help you prepare to develop the knowledge and skills needed to qualify for PMI-ACP® certification:

      Preparing for the PMI-ACP Certification and Beyond,/p>

      It’s important to recognize that Agile is going to cause a major transformation of the project management profession over a period of time and I don’t think that anyone (including PMI) has figured out what the full impact of that transformation will be over time and the PMI-ACP® is only the first step towards making that transformation. It is a good certification and it is a step in the right direction but it is only a test of general Agile knowledge and doesn’t address the primary challenge that many project managers face of learning how to blend Agile and traditional project management principles and practices together in the right proportions to fit a given situation. That’s the challenge my courses are designed to address.

Understanding Agile at a Deeper Level

Understanding Agile at a Deeper Level is important. One of the criticisms I’ve heard often about Agile/Scrum is that people do it “mechanically” – sometimes, they rigidly and dogmatically implement Scrum “by the book”. That’s very ironic because it’s the opposite of what was intended by the Agile Manifesto (remember “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”). That shouldn’t be surprising – you can get a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certificate by sitting through a two-day course and many people never go beyond that level of training.

In my opinion, to develop a high-performance Agile/Scrum approach that is dynamic and adaptable to a broad range of situations, you have to go beyond doing it “mechanically by the book” and understand the principles and values behind it at a deeper level. This becomes particularly important when you try to scale Agile/Scrum to larger and more complex enterprise-level projects.

I’ve developed a new online training course to help fill this need and I’m offering this course at a discounted price of $10 for anyone who wants to take it during the month of June. Here’s a brief video summary of this new online training course:

Understanding Agile at a Deeper Level Video Summary

You can find more information on this course plus the discount coupon code on this blog site training page:

Understanding Agile at a Deeper Level Course Information

If you’re interested in certification, this course should be excellent preparation for the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certification. I think the PSM certification is more rigorous than CSM and it recognizes that training and development should be an ongoing process beyond simply sitting through a one-time, two-day training course.

Advanced Agile Project Management Training

As many of you who have been following my blog post realize, I’m very passionate about closing the gap between the project management community and the Agile community and helping people see these two approaches as complementary rather than competitive. To that end, I’ve published three books on Agile Project Management and I’ve written over 60 articles in this blog site. However, I’m determined to go beyond that and develop an online Advanced Agile Project Management training curriculum that condenses a lot of that knowledge into a well-organized set of training courses that are easy to follow and understand. There are several needs that I’m trying to satisfy with those courses:

  1. Project Managers – Many project managers are unsure about the impact of Agile on the project management profession as well as on their own career direction.

    There are many project managers who have been heavily indoctrinated in a traditional, plan-driven approach to project management and see no need to learn anything about Agile. Agile is perceived to be something that is relevant only to software development and can be ignored by anyone who is not working in that area.I believe that Agile is a fundamental shift in thinking that applies, to some extent, to any area and learning how to integrate Agile principles and practices in the right proportions with a traditional plan-driven approach will make someone a stronger project manager even if they are never involved in a pure Agile project.

    It's a matter of learning to be adaptive and fitting the methodology to the project rather than using a "one size fits all" approach to force-fit all projects to a traditional, plan-driven approach.

    There are some project managers who may think it is just a matter of getting another certification such as PMI-ACP and they're done as soon as they get that certification.I think PMI-ACP is a step in the right direction but I don't think it goes far enough. PMI-ACP is mostly a test of your understanding of basic Agile and lean terminology.

    It doesn't address the real challenge that many project managers face of figuring out how to integrate Agile and traditional plan-driven principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given situation.

    A key objective of the training I’ve developed is to help project managers develop a more adaptive approach to project management that integrates Agile as well as traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit any situation. I do not believe that traditional plan-driven project principles and practices are obsolete and no longer needed; however, I do believe that any project manager who only knows how to do traditional plan-driven project management will be very limited in the not-too-distant future.

  2. Business Managers – Many project managers are a product of the environment that they work in and their organization’s management approach is heavily rooted in a plan-driven approach to project management.
    • The organization expects project managers to take charge of projects and to do whatever is needed to manage and control a project to make it successful. If a project is in trouble or fails, the project manager is the one held responsible. Naturally, that would tend to lead a project manager to take a “command-and-control” approach to managing projects.
    • There is also typically a heavy emphasis on management of project costs and schedules and a project that goes significantly over its schedule and cost goals is likely to be regarded as a failure. That would also naturally tend to favor a “Waterfall” approach where the project locks in the requirements upfront and does not encourage making changes once the project is in progress.

    A project manager who works in that kind of environment will have difficulty developing a more adaptive approach to project management if that isn’t consistent with what the organization expects of him/her. Many of these organizations see it as a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall” and think they have to force-fit their business and projects to one of those extremes and they’re scared to death of adopting an Agile approach for fear of totally dismantling their existing management systems and completely losing control of their business.

    That’s a key reason why I developed the “Making Agile Work for Your Business” course so that project managers who are stuck in that kind of environment can use that training to influence their organization to understand how to fit an Agile Project Management approach to any business environment.

  3. Agile Teams – You might ask, “Why would an Agile team need to know anything about ‘project management’?” The answer to that question may not be obvious but there are several good reasons why Agile teams need to learn how to integrate some level of project management principles and practices into their work.
    • There’s a common misconception that “project management” isn’t required in an Agile project at the team level because you typically won’t find anyone with the title of “Project Manager” at that level. The truth is that there is still a need for “project management”; it’s just a much more adaptive approach to “project management” and the “project management” functions are distributed among the members of the team rather than being performed by one individual with the title of “Project Manager”. Even a developer or a tester on an Agile team has some very basic project management responsibilities for planning and managing their own tasks and collaboratively working with the rest of the team to integrate all of the work of the team around a common goal.
    • Many projects require some level of predictability and control in addition to being Agile. A good example of that is an Agile contracting situation where it is essential to manage a customer’s expectations regarding costs and schedules in addition to being agile.
    • Many people on an Agile team have been thrust into the role that they’re in with little or know training at all. They may know something about the “mechanics” of how to do Agile and Scrum but they typically may have no project management background at all and they may even see “project management” as inconsistent with an Agile development approach. My courses will also help people on Agile teams see this in a broader perspective and learn how to integrate an appropriate level of “project management” focus into their efforts on an Agile team.

What’s Next After PMI-ACP?

I recently participated in a forum on PMI-ACP® when someone asked “What’s Next After PMI-ACP?”. I thought it was an interesting discussion and is worth elaborating on further. I believe that the individual who asked the question was wondering what new certifications PMI is going to come out with for people who have a PMI-ACP certificattion and are interested in continuing to advance their knowledge and career in that direction.

It’s a perfectly understandable question but, unfortunately, the answer may not be what you might want to hear. It raises a much larger question of what’s an “Agile Project Manager”? and what’s the career path for someone who has a project management background and is interested in developing into an Agile Project Management role? Many project managers have been thinking that PMI-ACP® would open up a new career path into Agile and it’s just a matter of getting another certification to move further, but I don’t believe that to be the case for a couple of reasons:

  • The role of an “Agile Project Manager” is not well-defined and is also somewhat controversial at this point in time. it’s very difficult to certify someone to have those skills when they are not well defined and contentious.
  • The PMI-ACP® certification tests general knowledge about Agile and Lean and is not designed around a specific role like the CSM (Certified Scrum Master) certification is.
  • Agile is much more heavily based on “tacit” knowledge versus “explicit” knowledge. It requires a lot more judgment and it’s not something that you can easily codify in a document like PMBOK that you can test and certify people against. For that reason, even if the idea of an “Agile Project Manager” was more well-understood, it still might be very difficult to develop a certification exam to test that someone really has the skills to fill that role.

The PMI-ACP certification is a great step in the right direction by PMI to try to close the gap between traditional plan-driven project management and Agile but it just doesn’t go far enough and it also leaves open some very large questions that any project manager who is interested in Agile would naturally want to have answered about what their career path is. Agile is rapidly changing the whole “ball game” for project managers and it’s very understandable that project managers have questions about what their career direction is.

The truth is that any project manager who has a PMI-ACP® certification who wants to further develop into an Agile Project Management role has to be somewhat of a “pioneer” to lead the way for other project managers at this point in time. It can be a difficult transformation, it’s certainly not a matter of just getting another certification, and the ultimate role you wind up in may be very different from a conventional notion of what “project management” is. You have to be a real self-starter to start out on that journey but I think it’s a survival issue for many people in the project management profession to move in that direction.

I am passionate about helping project managers move in this direction and I’ve developed some training courses to help. Check out this video for a summary of the training courses I’ve developed and how I think they help people make this transformation:

What’s Next Beyond PMI-ACP®?

This is a difficult problem but I believe that this is critical to the future of the project management profession and I’m determined to help project managers make this transformation. You can find more detailed information on any of my training courses here:

Agile Project Management Training Course Details

Levels of Mastery in Agile

I came across the diagram shown below that I think nicely summarizes different levels of mastery in Agile:

Levels of Mastery in Agile

Many people don’t seem to realize that there are these three different levels of mastery and just learning the basic practices is only the beginning.

The three levels of mastery are:

  1. Practices (Doing) – This level is associated with learning the basic practices of Agile at a mechanical level. There are many people who are at this level of learning – they’ve received their CSM certification (or equivalent) and they may have had some practice in the real world and know how to do the basics. The danger is that many people think that this is all they need to know when they have mastered this level of learning. People who get stuck in this level of learning can become fairly ritualistic or dogmatic and insist that there is only one way to do Agile and that is doing it exactly by the book as they have learned to do it.
  2. Principles (Understanding) – People who have gone on to this level of learning have gained a deeper understanding of the principles behind Agile and why it makes sense. This deeper level of understanding gives people a broader perspective – instead of seeing Agile as a mechanical process that must always be done ritualistically “by the book”, people at this level recognize that there may be a need to customize and adapt the processes to fit a given situation. They are also able to see Agile in a much broader context beyond the basic team-level Agile implementation and recognize the need to make Agile work at much higher levels of complexity for large enterprise-level projects.
  3. Values (Being) – This is the highest level of mastery. People at this level of learning not only understand the principles at a deeper level, they also understand the values behind those principles and have internalized those values into the way they work. People at this level are becoming Masters and are at the “top of their game” – they are able to easily go beyond applying Agile to routine Agile project implementations and they are able to apply the principles and practices to much more demanding and difficult situations with much higher levels of consistency and success.

The three levels of mastery shown in this diagram correspond to the “Shu-ha-ri” levels of mastery from martial arts that I have previously discussed:

Agile and Lessons Learned From the Martial Arts

How does this relate to the idea of “Agile Project Management”? People who look at Agile and traditional plan-driven project management practices (what many people tend to call “Waterfall”) at a basic level of practices will typically see them as competitive, mutually-exclusive, binary alternatives that are totally incompatible with each other. This is a basic problem and has led to Agile and traditional plan-driven project management being perceived as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two.

I believe that people who are at a higher level of learning and understand the principles behind these two disciplines will see things in a very different perspective. They will probably see them as much more complementary rather than competitive and recognize the reasons why one set of principles and practices makes sense in one situation and not another. They will probably not see them as totally incompatible and be able to easily blend the two sets of principles and practices together as needed to fit a given situation.

One of my favorite analogies for this that was originally created by Bob Wysocki is the difference between a “cook” and a “chef”:

  • A good “cook” may have the ability to create some very good meals, but those dishes may be limited to a repertoire of standard dishes, and his/her knowledge of how to prepare those meals may be primarily based on following some predefined recipes out of a cookbook.
  • A “chef,” on the other hand, typically has a far greater ability to prepare a much broader range of more sophisticated dishes using much more exotic ingredients in some cases. His/her knowledge of how to prepare those meals is not limited to predefined recipes, and in many cases, a chef will create entirely new and innovative recipes for a given situation. The best chefs are not limited to a single cuisine and are capable of combining dishes from entirely different kinds of cuisine.

This is the challenge that I believe we face in creating a more integrated approach for Agile Project Management. We need to develop more “chefs” who are capable of seeing both Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices in a very different light as complementary rather than competitive alternatives. My passion is in helping project managers achieve that goal and I will be teaching the first graduate-level course on Agile Project Management at Boston University this fall. I am also publishing a new book that will be used as a text book in that course and that text book will be available to other universities and also to individual project managers. If you want any more information on that, let me know.