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How Long Should I Study for PMI-ACP?

I participated in a discussion on “How long should I study for PMI-ACP?” and here is my initial response:

“It’s very unlikely that you can pass the PMI-ACP exam simply by cramming prior to taking the exam. The best way to prepare for the exam is to combine studying with some good, solid real-world experience. If you do that, the information will be more meaningful and easier to retain. In fact, you can’t even qualify to take the exam unless you have a minimum level of real-world experience.”

How Long Should I Study for PMI-ACP?

One of my students then asked me a question; “Can you suggest a way to combine study with real-world experience? How can I find such an opportunity?” Here is my response to that question:

Important Points and Tips

Here are some important points and tips I recommend to consider:

“Cookbook” Project Management No Longer Works

First, you should realize that “cookbook” project management approaches are generally no longer effective:

  • In the old days, PMI and PMBOK attempted to provide a detailed checklist of what to do in almost any conceivable project management situation. And, many project management certification exams were based heavily on rote memorization of that information.
  • In todays world, there is a much broader range of projects and project management approaches that makes it very difficult to force-fit all projects to a standardized, checklist-style approach. I have often used the analogy of a project manager as a “cook” versus a “chef”.

“Cooks” know how to prepare meals from well-defined recipes; “Chefs” are more highly-skilled and aren’t necessarily limited to preparing standardized recipes. In today’s world we need more “chefs” and fewer “cooks”.

Becoming a “Chef” Versus a “Cook”

To function in this environment as a “chef” rather than a “cook”, requires a different approach to learning:

  • Instead of attempting to learn how to do various project management functions by rote and then passing a certification exam to prove that you have learned that information, you need to understand the principles at a deeper level so that you know how to tailor the project management approach to fit a given situation.
  • It also requires a much broader way of thinking about what “project management” is that embraces Agile as well as traditional plan-driven project management in the right proportions as complementary approaches rather than competitive approaches with an emphasis on maximizing the value that a project produces rather than simply delivering well-defined requirements within an approved schedule and cost budget.
  • Then, you need to combine that understanding of principles and a more enlightened view of what “project management” is with some actual real-world experience in successfully applying those principles in actual practice.

Overall Summary

In summary, this requires a very different approach to training and proficiency:

  • You need to first get a base level of training to provide you with the credibility that you understand the principles at a deeper level and then combine that with some real-world experience of applying those principles in actual practice. To do that, you naturally need to find opportunities in companies that are “enlightened” in their project management approach and are not deeply-engrained in old ways of doing project management.
  • Don’t waste time with the old project management approach of memorizing information by rote to pass a certification exam. Most of today’s certification exams are based on an outdated approach to project management and PMI is working to upgrade them to reflect this new way of thinking but it will take time. Focus on building your own proficiency and don’t worry too much about certification exams to prove that you are proficient.

I hope that helps. I have developed an online curriculum based on a series of seven courses that are designed around exactly this approach. You can check that out here:


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