Category Archives: Agile and PMI

Understand the relationship of PMI strategy and certifications to Agile and learn now the two areas are related

What Is the Future of Project Management? What is the Impact of Agile?

Background

PMBOK version 6 and the new PMI Agile Practice Guide signal a new direction for the future of project management. For the first time, PMI has started to integrate Agile and traditional plan-driven project management. What does that mean for the future of project management?

Future of Project Management
A bold, red question symbol stands at the center of a light gray maze.

What’s the Impact?

I’ve written a number of articles on the future of project management and I get a lot of questions from project managers. Many are confused about the impact of Agile on project management and ask questions like “What Agile certification should I get?”.

  • Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just going out and getting another certification like PMI-ACP
  • The PMI-ACP certification is a step in the right direction and it’s not an easy certification to get. However, it’s just a test of general Lean and Agile knowledge and is not aligned with a particular role.
  • In fact, the role of an Agile Project Manager Is not well-defined. There is even some controversy about whether there is a role for an Project Manager In an Agile environment.

Confusion Over Project Management Direction

It’s totally understandable why there would be a lot of confusion among project managers about how Agile might impact their career direction.

  • There are some project managers who are in “denial”.
    • They want to assume that traditional, plan-driven project management is the only way to do project management.
    • They assume that it will go on unchanged forever unchanged and Agile isn’t really a valid form of project management at all
  • On the other hand, there are people in the Agile community who believe that there is no need at all for traditional plan-driven project management. They believe that Agile is a solution to almost any problem you might have

An Objective, Pragmatic Viewpoint

I’m not an Agile zealot – I try to take a very objective and pragmatic approach.

  • In one of my courses, I have a slide that says “Saying Agile is better than Waterfall” is like saying “A car is better than a boat”. They both have advantages and disadvantages depending on the environment.
  • You have to be able to fit the approach to the problem rather than force-fitting all problems to one of those extremes.
  • Project managers who only know how to do traditional, plan-driven project management and try to force-fit all projects to that approach will be at a severe disadvantage relative to other project managers who know how to blend Agile and traditional project management in the right proportions to fit the situation.

What’s Wrong with Traditional, Plan-driven Project Management?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the traditional, plan-driven approach to project management; the problem is in how its applied.

  • The primary problem with the traditional, plan-driven approach is that it works for situations where the requirements are well-defined. In that environment, the primary concern is planning and managing a project to meet those well-defined requirements within a given budgeted cost and schedule
  • That approach just doesn’t work well in situations where the requirements are much more uncertain. In an uncertain environment, the primary concern is not just managing costs and schedules but taking an adaptive approach to maximize the business results and value that the project produces. 
  • In today’s rapidly-changing business environment the need for taking that kind of approach is becoming increasingly common.

The Future of Project Management

There’s essentially two sides of this equation: value and cost. In the past,

  • The value side has been assumed to be well-defined by a fixed set of requirements
  • Project managers only needed to worry about the cost side

In this new environment, that is no longer true. Project managers now need to worry about both maximizing value as well as managing costs and schedules.  That’s a fundamental shift in thinking for many project managers – it means:

  • Taking a broader focus on maximizing the business value that a project produces
  • Using whatever methodology (or combination of methodologies) that makes sense to achieve those goals
  • Fitting the project management approach to the nature of the business problem rather than force-fitting all projects to a standard, plan-driven approach.

That raises the bar significantly for many project managers.

What Certification Should I Get?

Some people seem to think that it is only a matter of getting another certification. I’ve participated in several discussions lately where project managers were asking questions like:

  • “What certification should I get in order to get into Agile (CSM/PSM, CSPO, or ACP)?” 
  • The answer to the question of “what certification should I get” depends on what role you want to play. It requires some thought because there is no well-defined role for a project manager in Agile at the team level

There are several possible career directions for project managers with regard to Agile. You may not:

  • Have to completely throw away your project management skills. However, you may ave to rethink them considerably in a very different context
  • Use some traditional project management skills very fully at all depending on the role you choose

Potential Agile Project Management Roles

There are several potential migration paths for project managers who want to develop into an Agile Project Management role:

1. Become a Scrum Master

A Scrum Master:

  • Ensures that the team is fully functional and productive
  • Enables close cooperation across all roles and functions
  • Removes barriers
  • Shields the team from external interferences
  • Ensures that the process is followed, including issuing invitations to daily scrums, sprint reviews, and sprint planning
  • Facilitates the daily scrums

There’s a few project management skills that might be useful (at least indirectly) for that role. However, it doesn’t utilize much of the planning and management skills that a project manager typically has.  For that reason, becoming a ScrumMaster may or may not make sense as a career direction for many project managers.

2. Become a Product Owner

The Scrum Alliance defines the primary responsibilities of a Product Owner as follows:

  • The product owner decides what will be built and in which order
  • Defines the features of the product or desired outcomes of the project
  • Chooses release date and content
  • Ensures profitability (ROI)
  • Prioritizes features/outcomes according to market value
  • Adjusts features/outcomes and priority as needed
  • Accepts or rejects work results
  • Facilitates scrum planning ceremony

The Product Owner role actually includes a lot of project management functions. However, it is actually much more similar to a Product Manager than a Project Manager.  The major differences are that:

  1. The Product Owner is a business decision-maker and requires some business domain knowledge that a project manager may not have.
  2. The Product Owner role doesn’t typically include many team leadership skills. In an Agile environment, team leadership is more a function of the ScrumMaster and the team itself.

3. Hybrid Agile Project Management Role

For a lot of good reasons, many companies will choose to implement a hybrid Agile approach that blends the right level of traditional plan-driven project management with Agile.

  • This is a very challenging role for a project manager to play.
  • It requires a deep understanding of both Agile and traditional plan-driven project management to know how to blend these two seemingly disparate approaches together in the right proportions to fit a given situation.

4. Project/Program Management of Large, Complex Enterprise-level Agile Projects

There is a legitimate role for project managers in managing large, complex enterprise-level projects; however, there are several things to consider about planning your career in that direction:

  • This role is limited to large, complex projects that typically require multiple Agile teams
  • It also may require blending together some level of traditional plan-driven and Agile principles and practices in the right proportions to fit the situation
  • This role doesn’t exist at all on most small, single-team Agile projects

This role requires some very significant skills that can be very difficult to attain. Many people may assume that the PMI-ACP certification qualifies you to perform this role. It is a step in the right direction, but a lot more experience and knowledge is needed to perform this role including:

  • Knowing how to blend traditional, plan-driven principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given project,
  • Adapting an agile approach to fit a business environment, and
  • Scaling Agile to an enterprise level.

You have to be a “rock star” Agile Project Manager to perform this role.

Overall Summary

Agile will have a big impact on the future of the project management profession:

  • In many industries and application areas, the project management role associated with small, single-team projects may be completely eliminated by Agile
  • There may be some project managers who are not significantly impacted by this such as project managers in the construction industry, but even in those industries some knowledge of Agile principles and practices may be essential

This creates difficult choices for a Project Manager to make. Agile may force project managers to make some significant choices about their career direction. It isn’t as simple as just going out and getting another certification (like PMI-ACP).

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

What is the Purpose of the New PMI Agile Practice Guide?

PMI recently published PMBOK version 6 as well as a new document called “The Agile Practice Guide”.   The Agile Practice Guide is a totally new kind of document for PMI and raises some questions about “What is the purpose of the new PMI Agile Practice Guide?”

For a long time, PMI has treated Agile and traditional plan-driven project management as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two.  A major goal of this guide s is to start to develop a more integrated view of these two areas. I think this is a major step forward to begin to close this gap.

A lot of people may have thought that integrating these two areas might be as simple as adding more content about Agile to PMBOK version 6. They might think that PMBOK version 6 would become a universal guide to both of these areas.  I don’t believe that to be a realistic way to accomplish that goal at all. See my article on Does PMBOK Version 6 Go Far Enough to Integrate Agile?

What is the Purpose of the New PMI Agile Practice Guide?

Agile and traditional plan-driven project management are two radically different approaches to project management that each require significant individual focus; however, at the same time, we need to build a much more unified view of these two areas. I think that is exactly the role that the Agile Practice Guide attempts to fill.  Here’s how I see these various documents fitting together:

What is the Purpose of the New PMI Agile Practice Guide?

Here’s how I see this all fitting together:

  • PMBOK has become well-accepted for many years as the “bible” for a traditional plan-driven approach to project management. It is very detailed and somewhat prescriptive. To some extent, some (not all) of the practices in PMBOK provide a foundation for a general project management approach
  • Agile documentation has a very different and less prescriptive format. It is primarily based on some very simple and succinct principles and values in the Agile Manifesto

Those two formats are very incompatible with each other in my opinion. However, there is some commonality and we need to start to develop a more unified view of these two different worlds.  That is the major purpose that the PMI Agile Practice Guide attempts to serve in my opinion.

What Does This Mean for the Future of Project Management?

This strongly reaffirms what I’ve been saying for a long time. The way of the future seems very clear:

  • There is not a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall” as many people have seemed to think. Those two areas are actually complementary to each other rather than competitive.
  • There is a continuous spectrum of different approaches ranging from:
    • Heavily plan-driven (predictive) at one extreme to
    • Heavily adaptive (Agile) at the other extreme

The right approach is to fit the methodology to the nature of the problem rather than just force-fitting a problem to some predefined methodology (whatever it might be).

The project manager of the future needs to be proficient in both of these approaches and also know how to blend the two approaches as necessary to fit a given situation.  In the not-too-distant future, any project manager who only knows how to do traditional plan-driven project management and attempts to force-fit all projects to that approach will be at a serious disadvantage.

Review of the Agile Practice Guide?

Here’s a brief summary of my review of the Agile Practice Guide:

General Comments

  • Overall, I think this document is well-written and really helps to close the gap between Agile and traditional plan-driven project management. However, that is a huge gap and there is still a lot more work to be done to create a truly integrated project management approach.
  • Agile and traditional plan-driven project management are two very different ways of thinking and it will be very difficult to fully integrate the two.  This is a great step in the right direction but it’s not the final step to close that gap.

Specific Comments

Agile PM Role
  • I don’t think this document has gone far enough to address the real “elephant in the room”. That is, “What exactly is the role of a Project Manager in an Agile environment?”.
    • There are many project managers who are in denial about that.
    • They think that their project management role will go on indefinitely unchanged.  
    • There is a need to address this issue more directly so that project managers can plan their future career direction.
  • In the back section of the document, in a number of different places, it says that the role and expectations of a project manager don’t change in an Agile environment.  I don’t agree with that at all. The role of a project manager at the team level (if there is one at all) will likely change radically to more of a coaching and facilitation role than a traditional PM role.
Organizational Perspective
  • The authors of The Agile Practice Guide made a decision to limit the scope of this document to project and team-level work. They excluded discussion of the context of implementing Agile at an enterprise and organizational level. I think that is serious a mistake.
  • This is much too limiting because most Agile implementations cannot be successful without some level of organizational transformation.  Furthermore, the role of a project manager is either non-existent or very limited at the team level. That will force many project managers to move up to more complex enterprise-level projects.
Agile Mindset
  • The section on “Agile Mindset” is really important and probably could be beefed up a lot. There is a big shift in mindset that is needed but it’s not just a matter of a choice between adopting an “Agile Mindset” or a “Traditional Project Management Mindset”.
  • I n many cases, you need to blend the two approaches and take a broader view of what “project management” is.
    • That broader view should fully embrace both of those approaches.
      • Many people would not view “Agile” as “Project Management” because it doesn’t fit the normal stereotype of what “project management” is
      • However Agile is just a different form or “project management”.  That’s a big mindset change that PM’s need to make – we need to rethink what “project management” is in broader terms that include all forms of project management including Agile.
Relationship of Lean and Agile

I don’t agree with the graphic on page 11 showing that Lean totally encompasses Agile.  It does not – there is a lot of overlap between the two; however, taken to an extreme, each would tend to pull you in somewhat different directions.  Both are focused on customer value but:

  • Lean is more heavily focused on efficiency where
  • Agile is more heavily focused on flexibility and adaptivity.
Agile versus Predictive

The document talks about a spectrum of alternatives with predictive at one end point and Agile at the other end point.  The idea of a spectrum of approaches is right on. However, I don’t think that the use of the word “Agile” for an end point is the right choice.  Agile should not be an end point because there is not just one way to do Agile. There are a range of choices for Agile.  This spectrum should reflect different levels of planning and I think the end-points are “adaptive” and “plan-driven” (or “predictive”).

Hybrid Approach

The section on hybrid approaches needs to be improved. This is a critical area for PM’s to understand. As it is currently written, this is too high level and not specific enough to help a PM understand how to really implement a hybrid approach.

Team Roles

I would like to see the discussion of team roles expanded.  One particular subject that is not covered is how many project functions that might normally be performed by a project manager have been assimilated into other roles in an Agile environment.  Agile uses a distributed form of project management.

Overall Summary

If you are a PMI member, you can download a copy of the Agile Practice Guide from the following link:

https://www.pmi.org/pmbok-guide-standards/practice-guides/agile

I am very pleased to see the PMI Agile Practice Guide being published.  It is definitely a step in the right direction and is very consistent with the integrated approach to Agile Project Management that I’ve developed in the Agile Project Management Academy.

PMBOK and Agile – Does PMBOK Version 6 Go Far Enough to Integrate Agile?

One of the biggest changes in PMBOK® version 6 is that it has incorporated more guidance about Agile. Does PMBOK version 6 go far enough to integrate Agile?  

  • I think that the release of PMBOK version 6 and The Agile Practice Guide is a huge step forward. It is a noble attempt to create a more integrated approach for integrating Agile and traditional plan-driven project management;
  • However, the full integration of Agile and traditional project management requires some very major shifts in thinking. It even involves something as fundamental as adopting a much broader definition of what “project management” is.
Does PMBOK version 6 go far enough to integrate Agile?

I don’t think that simply adding some words about Agile to PMBOK is going to be sufficient to bring about the kind of shift in thinking that is needed.

What is “Project Management?

The crux of the problem is that for many years the essence of what “project management” is has been centered on some very well-established stereotypes of what “project management is. Those stereotypes are based on achieving predictability and repeatability as shown below:

Traditional Project Management Emphasis

Traditional Project Management Emphasis

That’s the primary way people have thought about what “project management” is since the 1950’s and 1960’s.  A successful project manager is one who could plan and manage a project to meet budgeted cost and schedule goals. That obviously requires an emphasis on planning and control.

The way to achieve predictability and repeatability has been to have a detailed and well-though-out plan and then control any changes to that plan.

Many people loosely refer to this approach as “Waterfall” because, in many cases, it has been implemented by using a sequential phase-gate process.  However,  I don’t believe that description is entirely accurate:

  • I prefer to refer to it in more general terms as “traditional, plan-driven project management”
  • PMI has started using the term “predictive” to describe this kind of project management approach because the emphasis is on predictability
What’s Wrong With That Definition?

In the 1950’s and 1960’s that approach worked well and it was particularly in high demand for large, complex defense programs that were well-noted for cost and schedule overruns.  At that time, the primary goal was to achieve predictability.  In fact, that approach has been so prevalent that it has essentially defined what “project management” is. Since that time, many project managers don’t see any other way to do project management.

The problem with that approach is it only works well in environments that have a fairly low level of uncertainty where it is possible to develop a fairly detailed plan prior to the start of the project.

Factors Driving Change

In today’s world, there are several major factors driving change:

  1. The environment we live in today has a much higher level of uncertainty associated with it. That makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to develop detailed plans prior to the start of a project
  2. Solutions are more complex and are much more difficult to design and optimize
  3. Competitive pressures demand high levels of creativity and innovation in spite of the level of uncertainty in the environment.  Producing high-value business results is more important than predictability in many cases.

The New Environment

This new environment demands a very different kind of project model that looks more like this:

Think of a typical new product today like the next generation of  the iPhone.  Do you think that a traditional plan-driven approach with an emphasis on predictability, planning, and control would work well to develop that kind of product?

How Are PMBOK and Agile Different?

The differences in how these two approaches have been defined and implemented in actual practice are very significant:

AreaTraditional Plan-driven Approach (PMBOK)Agile
Approach
Process
Control
Model
Based on what is called a “Defined Process Control ModelBased on what is called an “Empirical Process Control Model
PM
Emphasis
The emphasis of is on planning and control to achieve predictability over project costs and schedulesThe emphasis is on using an adaptive approach to maximize business results in an uncertain environment
PM
Role
Project management functions are typically implemented by someone with clearly-defined responsibility for that role called a “Project Manager”The functions that might normally be performed by a “Project Manager” at the team level have typically been distributed among other roles
ImplementationFollowing a well-defined plan and process are typically importantReliant on the judgement, intelligence, and skill of the people doing the project to fit an adaptive approach to the nature of the project

Is the Agile approach shown above in the right-hand column not “project management?  A lot of people would not recognize it as “project management” because it doesn’t fit with many of the well-defined stereotypes of what “project management” is.  I contend that it is just a different kind of “project management” that will cause us to broaden our thinking about what “project management” is.

“Project Management” should not be limited to a particular methodology.  A project manager should be capable of delivering results using whatever methodology is most appropriate to achieve those results.

Is One Approach Better Than the Other?

There are a lot of Agile enthusiasts out there who will advocate that Agile is a better approach for almost any problem you might have.

My opinion is that saying “Agile is better than Waterfall” is like saying “A car is better than a boat” – they both have advantages and disadvantages depending on the environment that you’re in.

  • An Agile approach works best in situations that have a relatively high level of uncertainty. In those situations, creativity and innovation to find an appropriate solution are more important than predictability.   For example, if you were to try to find a cure for cancer, it would be ridiculous to try to develop a detailed plan for that effort.
  • A traditional plan-driven approach works well in situations that have a relatively low level of uncertainty and where predictability, planning, and control is important.  For example, if you were building a bridge across a river, it would be equally ridiculous to say: “We’ll build the first span of the bridge, see how that comes out , and then we’ll decide how to build the remaining spans.”

Are These Two Approaches Mutually-Exclusive?

A lot of people have the mistaken belief that there is a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall”:

  • There has been a lot of polarization between the Agile and project management communities for a long time. Many people in these two communities have seen these two approaches in conflict with each other
  • PMI has treated these two areas as separate and independent domains of knowledge for a long time with little or no integration between the two

It takes a higher level of skill and sophistication to see these two approaches in a fresh new perspective as complementary to each other rather than competitive. It is a challenge to learn how to blend them together in the right proportions to fit any given situation but it definitely can be done.

Does PMBOK version 6 go far enough to integrate Agile?

I have ordered a final copy of PMBOK Version 6 and haven’t actually seen it yet; however, I have seen early preview editions and I think I understand where it is trying to go. I have several concerns:

  1. As I’ve mentioned, I think that there is a huge and fundamental shift in thinking that is needed to rethink what “project management” is.  I’m not sure that simply adding some words about Agile to PMBOK is going to be enough to help people make that shift in thinking. It requires seeing “project management” in a fundamentally and radically different perspective.
  2. The whole concept of PMBOK does not seem to be very consistent with an Agile approach:
    • Agile is based on some very simple and succinct principles and values. It relies very heavily on the training and skill of the people performing the process to interpret those principles and values in the context of a project
    • The latest version of PMBOK is over 700 pages long. It’s supposed to be a “guide” but it seems to try to provide a detailed checklist of things to consider for almost any conceivable project management situation.

Putting those two things together is like trying to mix oil and vinegar. They just don’t blend together very well and attempting to blend the two approaches at that level doesn’t seem to make much sense.

What is the Solution?

This is definitely a challenging problem.  Agile and traditional plan-driven project management are like two different religions – they both have a common goal of delivering business results but the way each approach goes about doing it is very different.

There are two significant components of the solution to this problem:

Developing an Integrated View of Project Management

Somehow, we have to create a much more unified view of what “project management” is. That view should fully embrace Agile as well as traditional plan-driven project management.  However, modifying PMBOK to totally integrate Agile would be very difficult.  Its like setting out to create a unified view of religion.  A better approach might be to cross-reference the two sources to identify areas of similarity and then create an over-arching guide to blend the two approaches together to create a unified view of religion.

I believe that is essentially what PMI has attempted to do with The Agile Practice Guide. I  discussed that in a separate article.  For a long time, PMI has treated Agile and traditional plan-driven project management as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two.  The new Agile Practice Guide attempts to bridge that gap and show a more integrated approach to those two areas.  I think that is the only reasonable strategy that makes sense for now.

Develop a New Breed of Agile Project Managers

This “raises the bar” significantly for the whole project management profession.  In my Agile Project Management books, I have often used the analogy of a project manager as a “cook” versus a project manager as a “chef” that was originally developed by Bob Wysocki:

  • 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

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

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:

  • It 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?

Agile Project Management 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:

  • The course design is focused on passing the PMI-ACP exam and not much more than that
  • It involves a lot of memorization of information. That 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
  • 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
  • The individual project manager needs to figure out how to put the two together

Design the Training Around a Real-world Role

The PMI-ACP certification is a good certification. However, it is not designed around preparing someone for a particular job role:

  • It’s important for a project manager to have a clear idea of what role that he/she might play in order to prepare him/herself for that role.
  • The role of an Agile Project Manager is not well-defined. 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
  • In order to take an adaptive approach, you have to understand the principles behind it 
  • Doing it very mechanically is not very adaptive.

Future of PMI-ACP Certification – What’s the Future Like?

Agile is having a significant and profound effect on the project management profession. We need to make some assumptions and develop a vision of where the future of the project management profession is heading.

  • The new vision of “project management” is not limited to taking a project with well-defined requirements and planning and managing 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
    • Leading a project management approach that is designed to maximize the business value of the overall solution

Overall Summary

PMI-ACP is a step in the right direction but it doesn’t go far enough in my opinion. To some extent, it still treats Agile and traditional plan-driven project management as separate and independent domains of knowledge with little or no integration between the two.

The big challenge for project managers that goes beyond the PMI-ACP certification is learning how to blend Agile and traditional plan-driven principles and practices in the right proportions to fit a given situation

  • The online Agile Project Management training is designed around that objective
  • This training will be of benefit to all project managers even if they are not involved in an Agile project. The training will broaden the range of project management capabilities that he/she has to offer.

Additional Resources

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

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:

  • 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
  • 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:

How to Prepare for PMI-ACP Certification
Beautiful female graduate wearing a graduation gown

An Exam Prep Approach Doesn’t Work

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

PMI-ACP Isn’t a Ticket to Get a Job

Just getting a PMI-ACP certification is not likely to be a “ticket” to get 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

How to Prepare for PMI-ACP Certification -What’s the Right Approach?

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. People have to develop more realistic expectations about it.  I recommend:

1. Understand the Real-world Role of an Agile Project Manager

First, it’s important to 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
  • Understand the overall “road map” for moving into that role
  • Focus your training around that role

2. Understand the Role of PMI-ACP Certification

Next, its imporatnt to 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 Passing the Exam

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

Overall Summary

It’s important to develop a strategy for preparing yourself for PMI-ACP certification.

  • Simply passing the certification exam should not be the primary goal
  • Focus on preparing yourself for a real-world role as a primary goal

My online Agile Project Management curriculum includes a training course for project managers called “What Is the Future of Agile Project Management”. That course is designed 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. 

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

How to PrepaRe for PMI-ACP Certification

Preparing for the PMI-ACP exam can be difficult. However, simply passing the exam should not be an end-in-itself. In my opinion, developing the knowledge and skills to do a real-world job is what’s important. If you do that, you should pass the exam easily.

Prepare for PMI-ACP

Background

I’m very passionate about helping project managers transform themselves into a more Agile Project Management approach. I think that is critical to the future of the project management profession:

  • I was among the earliest group of people to obtain the PMI-ACP® certification 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

Certification and Training Philosophy

First, let me explain my philosophy with regard to certifications and training 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. That should give you 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
  • Using that approach will make the information much more meaningful and easier to retain

I really believe a certification exam should be “evidence that you can do a job” and not “a ticket to get a job”. That is a key reason why PMI requires some level of actual experience in addition to taking a certification exam.

Things to Consider to Prepare for PMI-ACP Certification

There are several important things to consider in preparing for the PMI_ACP exam:

  • One of the problems with the PMI-ACP exam is that it isn’t oriented around a particular job. It’s more of a test of general knowledge associated with Agile and Lean
  • That’s a very important consideration to recognize that getting through PMI-ACP® doesn’t really directly qualify you for a specific job
  • You have to shape your own training and development around a particular role that you want to play; you can’t really rely heavily on PMI-ACP to prepare you for that role

The Future of Project Management

Preparing yourself for a real-world role is a difficult thing to do:

  • The role that an Agile Project Manager plays in the real world is not well-defined
  • It is even somewhat controversial that there is a role for an Agile Project Manager at all in a true Agile project

Agile is going to cause a major transformation of the project management profession over a period of time. I don’t think that anyone (including PMI) has figured out what the full impact of that transformation will be.

  • 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 and Lean knowledge.
  • It 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

Online Curriculum Summary

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 a complete, online training curriculum around helping people prepare for those real-world roles

It’s important to remember that one of the requirements to qualify to take the PMI-ACP® exam is that you have to have:

  • 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

My primary seven courses are designed to help you achieve that goal.

Overall Summary

If you’re thinking about going for PMI-ACP® certification, my recommendation is don’t do it just to “get your ticket punched”:

1. Get Some Real-world Experience in an Agile Environment

First go out and get the knowledge and experience required to fill a real-world Agile Project Management role

  • The seven primary courses I’ve developed are very well-aligned with that strategy which I think is a good strategy to pursue
  • Then get some real-world experience in an Agile environment. And, finally, use the PMI-ACP® exam to validate your proficiency

2. Final Steps to Prepare for the PMI-ACP Exam

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:

  • I have developed a specific course called “How to Prepare for PMI-ACP Certification” to help you prepare. That course cross-references all the material in my seven primary courses to the PMI-ACP certification requirements
  • As a final step, there are a number of exam-prep books and courses that I believe are useful. In particular, I think Mike Griffiths’ book is a good resource.
  • However, please remember that passing the exam and getting the certification shouldn’t be an end-in-itself

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.