Category Archives: PMI-ACP Certification

University Project Management Curriculum With Agile

I had an interesting discussion with a major university about helping them develop an integrated university project management curriculum with Agile that included a master’s degree program in Agile Project Management. They correctly recognized that the world of project management is changing rapidly and they didn’t want to make a major investment in developing a project management curriculum based on an old and outdated notion of what “project management” is. I think they are absolutely correct in that; however, it isn’t totally clear how a master’s program in project management should be structured to reflect the evolution that I believe is going on in the project management profession today.

University Project Management Curriculum with Agile

Similarities Between Project Management and Modern Physics

We can learn a lot from how the science of physics has evolved because I think there are a number of interesting similarities to the evolution that is currently going on in project management. For many years until the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, physics was based on what is called “Classical Physics”.

What is Classical Physics?

“Classical physics is the physics of everyday phenomena of nature, those we can observe with our unaided senses. It deals primarily with mass, force and motion. While its roots go back to the earliest times, to the Ancient Greeks such as Aristotle and Archimedes, it later developed into a cohesive system with the contributions of Galileo, Kepler and Newton. Classical physics achieved phenomental success, as the Calculus of Newton and Leibniz gave it the tools to tackle even even problems not imagined by its pioneers.”

“Around 1900, give or take a decade, surprising new experimental evidence, primarily about atoms and molecules, showed us that these small-scale phenomena behave in ways not anticipated by classical theory. This ushered in a new era called “modern” physics. New laws and methodology were developed to deal with the rapidly expanding experimental evidence. Relativity and quantum mechanics added new tools to the study of nature. These did not make classical physics “wrong”, for the old laws were working just as they always had, within their limited scope—which was the study of large objects (not atomic scale ones) moving relatively slowly (not near the speed of light). “

“So classical physics is still the starting point for learning about physics, and constitutes the bulk of the material in most introductory textbooks. It is the theory underlying the natural processes we observe everyday. It is the key to understanding the motion of pulleys, machines, projectiles and planets. It helps us understand geology, chemistry, astronomy, weather, tides and other natural phenomena”

Simanek, Donald E., What’s Physics All About?, https://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/ideas/allabout.htm

What Happened to Cause People to Rethink Classical Physics?

That notion of physics that was intended to define how the entire universe worked held together for a long time; however, serious weaknesses began to appear around the early 1900’s:

“By the end of the nineteenth century, most physicists were feeling quite smug. They seemed to have theories in place that would explain all physical phenomena. There was clearly a lot of cleaning up to do, but it looked like a fairly mechanical job: turn the crank on the calculator until the results come out. Apart from a few niggling problems like those lines in the light emitted by gas discharges, and the apparent dependence of the mass of high-speed electrons on their velocity”

“Twenty-five years later, this complacency had been completely destroyed by the invention of three entirely new theories: special relativity, general relativity, and quantum mechanics. The outstanding figure of this period was Albert Einstein. His name became a household word for his development, virtually single-handedly, of the theory of relativity, and he made a major contribution to the development of quantum mechanics in his explanation of the photoelectric effect. “

Slavin, Alan J., “A Brief History and Philosophy of Physics”, https://www.trentu.ca/physics/history_895.html

How is This Transformation Related to Project Management?

Classical Physics is analogous to traditional, plan-driven project management. Similar to the laws of classical physics, the traditional, plan-driven project management approach has been widely accepted as the only way to do project management for a long time. And the way traditional, plan-driven project management is done hasn’t changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s. It assumes a very predictable view of the world where it was possible to completely define a project plan with a fairly high level of certainty prior to the start of a project. That is similar to classical physicists who believed for a long time that a model of the universe could be completely predicted based on some relatively simple and well-defined laws of classical physics. In recent years; however, it is apparent that we are in a much more dynamic and more complex universe with much higher levels of uncertainty where that traditional, plan-driven approach to project management no longer works well at all.

PMI is moving slowly towards recognizing the need to take a broader approach to what “project management” is; however, there are many project managers who still believe that traditional, plan-driven project management is the only way to do project management and there are some well-engrained stereotypes of what “project management” is that are also based on that notion. PMI has created the PMI-ACP certification that recognizes the need for project managers to know something about Agile and Lean; however, PMI still treats “Agile” and traditional, plan-driven project management principles and practices as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two. It’s up to the individual project manager to figure out how to put the two together.

What Can We Learn from This Similarity?

Traditional, plan-driven project management (just like Classical Physics) will never be totally obsolete and will continue to be a foundation for many areas of project management:

“…classical physics retains considerable utility as an excellent approximation in most situations of practical interest. Neither relativity nor quantum theory is required to build bridges or design cellphone antennas.”

The never-ending conundrums of classical physics, https://www.trentu.ca/physics/history_895.html

However, it is important to recognize and not ignore the limitations that are inherent in a traditional, plan-driven project management approach. Experienced physicists have learned to recognize the limitations of classical physics that it only works reliably in a certain range of situations as shown in the figure below:

modern-physics

“Classical Physics is usually concerned with everyday conditions: speeds much lower than the speed of light, and sizes much greater than that of atoms. Modern physics is usually concerned with high velocities and small distances.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_physics

Similarly, project managers also need to recognize that a traditional, plan-driven approach to project management only works reliably in a limited set of situations. In the project management world, this can be expressed with the Stacey Complexity Model:

stacey-complexity-model

In this model there are two primary dimensions – one is requirements complexity and the other is technology complexity.

  • Traditional, plan-driven project management still works in areas of low complexity such as some construction projects but even in some of those areas, project managers have recognized a need for a somewhat more adaptive approach
  • As you get further out on either complexity axis, there is typically a need for more of an adaptive Agile approach that is better suited for dealing with uncertainty but this is not a binary and mutually-exclusive proposition. There is a need to blend both approaches in the right proportions to fit the situation

Implications for a University Project Management Curriculum with Agile

Just as “Modern Physics” is the integration of Classical Physics with a more modern approach to physics, I believe that there is a new vision of what “project management” is that integrates an Agile approach in the right proportions with a traditional, plan-driven approach. My view is that there is a “Modern Project Management” concept that is emerging that is analogous to the concept of “Modern Physics” that integrates these different approaches together in one discipline similar to the way that Physics has evolved. If someone were to get a Master’s degree in Physics today, it seems unlikely that the studies would be limited to Classical Physics with no mention of the other areas of Modern Physics. But that is, in fact, the way a number of universities have structured a Master’s Degree in Project Management program today. Universities need to move beyond that notion of project management and develop a much broader and well-integrated curriculum to address this need.

What’s Next After PMI-ACP Certification and What’s the Future Like?

What’s next after PMI-ACP certification? Over the past few years I’ve been progressively developing a new approach for PMI-ACP training that I think goes well beyond other training programs and lays the groundwork for what I see as the future of project management.

What's Next After PMI-ACP Certification?

Training Objectives

When I set out to develop this training, I wanted to try to anticipate the future of the project management profession and take a different approach to Agile Project Management and PMI-ACP Certification training. There were several objectives that were important goals:

  • Not a typical “exam prep” course. There are a lot of courses out there that are based on what I call an “exam cram” approach that is designed to get students through the PMI-ACP exam and not much more than that. It involves a lot of memorization of information which doesn’t generally lead to a deeper and lasting understanding of the material.
  • Go beyond the PMI-ACP exam. Although the PMI-ACP exam is a challenging exam, it doesn’t go far enough in my opinion. It is primarily just a test of general Lean and Agile knowledge and it doesn’t address one of the biggest challenges that a project manager faces of learning how to blend Agile and traditional, plan-driven project management in the right proportions to fit a given situation. PMI still treats Agile and traditional, plan-driven project management as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two. It is left up to the individual project manager to figure out how to put the two together.
  • Design the training around a real-world role. The PMI-ACP certification is not designed around preparing someone for a particular job role. I think it’s important for a project manager to have a clear idea of what role that he/she might play as an Agile Project Manager in order to prepare him/herself for that role. I think that’s particularly important since the role of an Agile Project Manager is not well-defined and it is even somewhat controversial among some people that there is a legitimate role for a project manager to play in an Agile environment.
  • Avoid the limitations of some typical Agile training. A lot of Agile training that is out there (like the typical CSM training) is very superficial in my opinion. The typical Agile training focuses on the “mechanics” of how to do Agile and really doesn’t go into the principles behind it very much at all. Agile is intended to be adaptive but in order to take an adaptive approach, you have to understand the principles behind it in order to know how to adapt it to fit a given situation.  Doing it very mechanically is not very adaptive.

What’s the Future Like?

In order to see why I think this training makes so much sense, we need to make some assumptions about where the future of the project management profession is heading. I believe that many aspects of traditional, plan-driven project management have not changed significantly since the 1950’s and 1960’s and we’re on the verge of a very major change.  What does that change look like? I don’t believe traditional, plan-driven project management will ever become obsolete. It definitely has a well-established role in some industries like construction that lend themselves to a plan-driven approach and require some level of predictability over costs and schedules. However,

  • Even in industries like construction, project managers are starting to learn how to take a more adaptive approach
  • In many other industries and application areas that have a high level of uncertainty that requires a more adaptive approach to project management, a project manager who only knows how to do a traditional, plan-driven project management approach and tries to force-fit all projects to that approach will have some serious limitations

We need to adopt a broader view of what “project management” is – force-fitting all projects to a traditional, plan-driven project management approach is just not very effective any more.

This broader vision of “project management” is not limited to someone who can take a project with well-defined requirements and plan and manage it to meet cost and schedule goals.  This new vision of Agile Project Management includes taking on an effort with some very broadly-defined business objectives in a very dynamic and uncertain environment and developing and defining and leading a project management approach that is designed to maximize the business value of the overall solution.

That means an Agile Project Manager needs to learn how to blend Agile and traditional plan-driven principles and practices in the right proportions to fit the situation.  And, even if a project manager is never involved in a true Agile project, it will make him/her a much stronger project manager by broadening the range of project management capabilities that he/she has to offer.  That’s where I see the future of project management going and that’s exactly how the online Agile Project Management training I’ve developed is designed.

Check out this new training curriculum in The Agile Project Management Academy.

Agile Project Management Academy

I am very pleased to announce the opening of the Agile Project Management Academy! The Agile Project Management Academy is an online school that is dedicated to helping project managers and other students learn how to successfully integrate Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices in the right proportions to fit any situation and to develop a very high impact and adaptive project management approach that provides the best of those two worlds.

You can enroll in the Agile Project Management Academy at no charge by clicking this link. There is no obligation to purchase a course if you enroll in the school and enrolling in the school will keep you informed of new courses and discount offers that become available. You can also enroll in either of these two free courses to try it out with no obligation:

Any of my Udemy students will recognize the courses in the Agile Project Management Academy as courses that have been offered on Udemy that have drawn over 10,000 students and over 300 5-star reviews. I will continue to offer these courses on Udemy; however, offering these courses through the Agile Project Management Academy creates some new opportunities that were not available on the Udemy platform. The new platform provides:

  • A dedicated focus on Agile Project Management that will help students realize the full benefits of these courses in a much more integrated environment
  • More ways for students to take courses including bundled discounts and subscriptions
  • Much more capabilities for direct communication with students to create a more interactive learning experience
  • The ability to integrate courses from other providers with my own courses to provide a more complete learning experience
  • Better and more timely support for students

I hope you enjoy this new capability! I am very excited to make it available! Enrollment in the school is free and anyone who registers in the school will receive email updates of new courses as well as enhancements to existing courses. You can enroll in the school at no charge here:

Agile Project Management Academy

You can find a summary of the courses that are offered as well as some discount coupons for all of the courses here:

Course Summaries and Discount Coupons

Please send me an email if you have any questions or comments on this new capability:

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For any student who has previously purchased one of my courses through Udemy, I will be happy to provide access to the equivalent course in the new Agile Project Management Academy at no charge. If you would like to take advantage of that offer, just send me an email.

What Certification Should I Get?

I’ve gotten lots of questions from students in my Agile Project Management training along the lines of “What certification should I get?”. It’s understandable that there’s a lot of confusion about this because there is so much change going on in this area and it can be somewhat of a moving target to decide where to take your career direction; however, I’m not a big fan of chasing after certifications and I’d like to share some of my thoughts on that subject…

First, a lot of people seem to view a certification as a “ticket to get a new job”…For example, almost anyone can get a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certification if they can pay the money to sit through a 2-day training course. And, various training companies have done their best to promote this idea in order to sell their training courses. There are literally hundreds of what I call “exam-cram” courses out there that are designed to get you through a certification exam and little more than that. I don’t think that’s healthy – it does a disservice to the profession and to the people getting those certifications.

I think a better way to view a certification is evidence that you already have an acceptable level of knowledge, skills, as well as actual experience to perform a given job. Unfortunately, that’s not universally true in the way many certifications are designed and implemented in the real world, but that’s a better way to look at certifications in my opinion.

Here’s the approach I recommend to my students:

  1. Get a good base of knowledge to make a sensible decision of what you think is the best career direction for yourself. This is not an easy thing to do because the whole area associated with Agile and; in particular, Agile Project Management is rapidly evolving and the roles in this area are also changing and evolving. It can be a moving target to try to plan your career direction in this environment.
  2. Once you’ve made a decision on your most logical career direction, work on developing some more knowledge that is specific to that career direction
  3. Acquire some real world job knowledge from working in that role
  4. Decide what certification is most relevant to that role and get a certification to show that you have the appropriate knowledge, skills, and experience to do that job

A lot of people seem to want to short-circuit this process and just go out and get a certification and get a job and I think that could be a big mistake without doing steps 1-3 above first.

All of the Agile Project Management training courses I’ve developed are designed around helping people take a sensible approach to exactly this problem but you have to realize that it’s not just a matter of taking an “exam-prep” course and then going out and taking a certification exam. My courses are not really designed to be “exam prep” courses – they go beyond that and try to focus on the knowledge and skills to do the job in the real world. You can find information plus current discount coupons on all of my courses here:

http://agileprojectmanagementacademy.com/courses

In particular, my “How to Prepare for PMI-ACP Certification” course is a free course and has some very good information to compare various certifications related to Agile and Agile Project Management. If you have any questions about your own career direction, feel free to send me an email and I’ll be glad to help:

Send email to Chuck

Agile Project Management Book of Knowledge

Will there ever be an “Agile Project Management Book of Knowledge”? I’ve written several posts on comparing Agile and PMBOK.  It’s something like comparing apples and oranges:

  • PMBOK is over 500 pages long and attempts to provide a detailed checklist of guidelines for almost any conceivable situation involving project management.
  • Agile takes a totally different approach – defining some basic values and principles and leaving a lot of room for interpreting those values and principles in the context of the situation you’re in (at least that’s the way it is meant to be implemented, in my opinion).

For that reason, I don’t think that there will ever be an Agile version of PMBOK; however, I think there is value in having at least an outline of topic areas that are important for people to know about who are interested in assuming an Agile Project Management role.  Here’s what led me to that conclusion…

I’m developing a complete learning path consisting of about a dozen training courses for PMI-ACP certification.  This is not a typical “exam prep” course – I am totally against many of the “exam cram” courses that are on the market that are just focused on helping students cram some knowledge just to get through passing the PMI-ACP exam and not much more.  My philosophy is that people who are sincerely interested in becoming an excellent Agile Project Manager need to go well beyond passing the PMI-ACP exam and think well beyond simply obtaining PMI-ACP certification for a number of reasons:

  • The PMI-ACP exam is very limited in scope – it doesn’t address some of the things that I think are really important for an Agile Project Manager to know like how to integrate Agile and plan-driven approaches in the right proportions to fit a given situation.
  • The PMI-ACP exam also has a lot of useless and outdated information in it.  For example, how many people use the “Crystal” methodology any more?
  • It also relies heavily on some reference books that are also very outdated – Jim Highsmith’s book on Agile Project Management which was originally published in 2004 and republished in 2009 is one that PMI treats like the “Bible” of Agile Project Management.   I have a lot of respect for Jim Highsmith – he really was a very early pioneer in developing the initial concept of Agile Project Management but the thinking about what “Agile Project Management” is has evolved a lot since that time.
  • PMI also seems to have the delusion that you can just superimpose many traditional plan-driven concepts on top of Agile and I don’t believe that to be the case.  Agile really requires rethinking a lot of things we’ve taken for granted about project management for a long time, it really requires a very different way of thinking, and many well-accepted project management practices just aren’t very appropriate and/or useful in an Agile environment .  Here are a couple of examples of that:
    • The PMI-ACP exam requires you to know a lot about how to do complicated financial return calculations such as NPV, IRR, ROI, etc. – there seems to be an implication that an Agile Project Manager would really use that in the real world and I doubt that to be the case.  You rarely would know enough about a project upfront to do that kind of sophisticated financial analysis on an Agile project.
    • Earned Value Management is another example – how many people have ever used EVM on an Agile project?  The concept isn’t bad, but making it work in actual practice is almost impossible for many of the same reasons as the sophisticated financial analysis tools.  I have used EVM once for a government project because we were required to use it and report progress against earned value metrics but it was a joke…people had to play a lot of games with the numbers to satisfy the government’s requirements for EVM reporting.

All that being said, I think there is some value in PMI-ACP certification and passing the exam because it has gained some recognition and it is certainly a lot better than some of the other alternatives (Don’t get me started on talking about the CSM certification). However, you just need to realize that there’s a lot of useless information that you have to know just to pass the exam and you also need to be realistic enough to recognize that becoming a really effective Agile Project Manager it isn’t just a matter of passing the exam and getting the PMI-ACP certification.

The overall learning path I’m developing is built around those assumptions.  It is designed to give someone the knowledge that they need to pass the PMI-ACP exam (including a lot of information that I think is useless in the real world but you have to know because its on the exam), but the real focus is well beyond that and on giving someone the knowledge that they need to be a really good Agile Project Manager.

Another major problem I’ve had to deal with is that, in my opinion, the current way that the areas covered on the PMI-ACP exam are defined and organized is very disjoint, not well-organized, and incomplete.

  • The “Domains and Tasks” that are covered on the exam don’t exactly map to the other areas of “Knowledge and Skills” and
  • The “Knowledge and Skills” areas don’t map very well to the topics in “Tools and Techniques”.
  • I think PMI will also acknowledge that the topics in all of those areas are not meant to be a complete list – they are only representative examples of potential topics in that area.   PMI points to a number of reference books that are suggested reading and almost anything in any one of those reference books is fair game for being on the exam even though some of those books are fairly old and the list hasn’t been updated in some time.

To deal with that challenge, in planning for developing the overall learning path I’m working on, I needed to create a well-organized outline of topics that I thought needed to be covered.  As I develop the new courses in the current learning path I’m developing, I will be cross-referencing the material in those courses against that topic outline.   This topic outline is a “work in progress” at the moment; I’m sure that it is not anywhere near 100% complete, but I would be willing to share it with anyone who would like to review it and give me your comments and suggestions to help further develop this topic outline.  Here’s the kind of input I’m looking for:

  • Is it complete?  What topics have I left off that are important either for passing the PMI-ACP exam or for a real-world Agile Project Management role?
  • Do you agree with how it is organized?  I’ve tried to develop one overall integrated topic list that is much more consistent and well integrated than the way the various PMI-ACP exam topics are organized.
  • What other suggestions do you have for further developing this topic list?

If you’re interested in reviewing this list and providing feedback, please send me an e-mail and I’ll send you a copy to review.  Please don’t ask for a copy unless you are seriously committed to reviewing this document and providing feedback:

Send email to Chuck