The Project Management Institute’s Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) credential is intended to certify that someone has agile experience as well as knowledge of agile approaches. As a Certified Scrum Master, Certified Scrum Product Owner, and Project Management Professional, the PMI-ACP was a logical next step for me. My goal in attaining the PMI-ACP was similar to the PMP and numerous technical certifications – use the certification process as a way to gain breadth and depth of knowledge. I was not looking just to pass the test. When I started preparing for the test, I had been a Scrum Master for awhile but I recognized that I had a lot to learn beyond the mechanisms of Scrum. My exam prep process was broken into three stages:
First Stage: Foundation
My initial agile exposure was via Certified Scrum Master and Certified Product training and lots of practical experience as a Scrum Master for a large team. Having some “scars” from a transformation to agile makes subsequent readings much more poignant.
Second Stage: Broadening and Deepening
This is where someone can move beyond the mechanisms of an agile approach and begin to understand the art (“being agile” versus merely “doing agile”). The PMI’s Reference Materials reading list for exam preparation is like a “greatest hits” of agile writings. At a minimum I recommend Mike Cohn’s User Stories Applied and Agile Estimating and Planning books, Lyssa Adkins’ Coaching Agile Teams, and Derby and Larsen’s Agile Retrospectives. Jim Highsmith’s Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products also contains some unique insights. Beyond a certain point the other publications on the list contain redundant information and retaining the information becomes a challenge. The key to this stage is to approach the readings with the goal being to learn the techniques and nuances of agile. After all, the goal is to become a great agile practitioner and not just someone who memorized enough material to pass a test. Oh, and by the way, memorization alone will not allow you to pass this test.
Third Stage: Honing and Exam Prep
At this point you have agile experience and have been applying some of the techniques in the books mentioned above. Because it takes a little while to get through the books, your recollection of some of the material may be getting a little fuzzy, and this is where exam prep materials will help focus you for the test.
A few of the resources that helped me with this stage included:
Mike Griffiths’ PMI-ACP Exam Prep book. This book does a great job of covering Scrum, Kanban, XP, and other lesser-known agile approaches. Value-driven delivery, working with agile teams, and adaptive planning are covered extensively. Continuous improvement is also covered, and as testimony to the breadth of this book, it goes beyond merely discussing retrospectives and covers topics such as Knowledge Sharing, Process Tailoring, Principles of Systems Thinking, and others. The book contains diagrams throughout to help illustrate the topics being covered. Exercices and quizzes and the end of each chapter help to reinforce topics.
The PMI-ACP Exam – How to Pass on Your First Try by Andy Crowe was also useful. This book was a little more difficult to digest than Griffith’s book as it does not provide many illustrations and exercises for the concepts that are covered. Also, it does not provide the same depth of coverage. For example, Griffith’s books contains 50 pages of material covering value-driven delivery topics. Crowe covers that in just a few pages. What does make Crowe’s book valuable is that it covers some of the subtleties of agile. Remember when I mentioned that memorization alone won’t help you pass? This book provides a perspective that will help with some of the questions on the test that require you to exercise judgment rather than regurgitate facts. Again, it is hard to retain all of the information in a book like this in the course of reading it, but the sample exams and the end of the book relate right back into readings from PMI’s Reference Materials. If you are trying to really learn and not just pass the test, this can be very effective.
Exam simulation software such as RMC Project Management’s PM FASTrack PMI-ACP Exam Simulation Software or AgileExams.com. The old days where the questions on an exam simulator would almost exactly match the real test are long gone, and this software is best used as a way of identifying other areas where additional learnings are needed. Going through the test-taking process with a simulator can also be helpful to becoming comfortable answering questions on a screen with a timer counting down.
My philosophy has always been to use an exam as a framework for learning rather than just having a goal of passing a test. Everyone’s approach to preparing for an exam is different, and I hope this information helps. Good luck!
Alec Hardy, PMP, PMI-ACP