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:
- Information that is generally useful in an actual real-world Agile Project Management role, and
- 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.
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.