I never really cared for certifications. You pay a bunch of money to take a test and then you get a piece of paper or a PDF file. I already have pieces of paper, much more expensive pieces of paper. I came to the conclusion though, that much like my more expensive bachelor and master degrees, that I have to compete with other people. Those other people have those extra pieces of paper.
And that is how I found myself taking 5 certification tests within a 3 month period of time earlier this year. One of those 5 was the PMI-Agile Certified Practitioner.
Now, most people will probably tell you to take your time and focus on one test at a time. I am going to argue the opposite. Studying for those other certification tests helped me pass the PMI-ACP at above target on all 7 domains. That leads me to my first tip.
1. Study Specific Agile Approaches
The PMI-ACP isn’t about one specific Agile approach, it covers several Agile approaches. It is more about the underlying theme of Agile than about any single approach, but you will get some specific questions. It makes sense to learn about those individual approaches, even if you have never worked with them.
Approaches I Studied:
- Dynamic Systems Development Methodology
- Extreme Programming
- Disciplined Agile
- Nexus, Scaled Scrum
- Scaled Agile Framework
It is a good thing we had a long winter when I was doing this because my non-working hours were very much occupied with the pursuit. We had snow into May this year, and my March to May free time was spent consumed with this.
I also studied Lean Six Sigma, earning a Green Belt certification. I would recommend that you study it as well. In fact, from my experience with the test, I would focus on the following areas to study:
- Kanban (Educational Resources Here)
- Lean Six Sigma (Educational Resources Here)
- Scrum (Educational Resources Here)
- Dynamic Systems Development Methodology (Educational Resources Here)
- Extreme Programming (Educational Resources Here)
2. Gain Meaningful and Accurate Experience
You have to have some experience with Agile teams to even sit the test, but it also comes in handy to pass the test. There are scenario-based questions on the PMI-ACP exam where your prior experience along with a knowledge of Agile could be the defining factor in whether you answer the question correctly.
The exam doesn’t come out and ask you “What are the roles on an XP team?” It goes from the perspective that it assumes you already know that, and may ask you things like what an XP coach or Scrum Master may do when a certain conflict arises. Your experience with a well-functioning Agile team becomes crucial.
But here is the kicker, the experience should be with a well-functioning team and Agile accurate. I have seen some poor performing Agile teams before; I have also seen some very good ones. If you have spent your working years only involved with the bad teams, you may never realize it. You might think it is normal and that it is just how Agile is.
One of my first experiences with Agile, they called it Scrum, was such an organizational nightmare that I hated it – it caused me to hate Scrum. I thought Scrum was a horrible way to go about completing projects. It seemed like things were all over the place, nothing was timeboxed – not even the daily standup, lead (not facilitated) by the project manager.
In addition to your experience, talk to other Agile practitioners about their experience. Ask them questions, even if you think you know the answer, ask. Try to relate your experience and their experience to what you are learning in your educational pursuits. Rote memorization is the worst way to pass a test, if you can even manage to pass.
I suppose I have my contracting positions, various projects under different project managers, temporary positions, and a layoff to thank for giving me a wider view of Agile and some of its many uses. It may look horrible on my resume, but it gave me some good experience. Had I only worked with one job and/or project, and it had consisted of a poorly implemented Agile approach, I would have had a harder time with the test.
3. Become a PMI Member
I think I waited too long to purchase the membership, but I am glad I did before I took the PMI-ACP exam.
For one, there is an interesting community around PMI and you can learn a lot from them. I believe this part may be free and it is available at projectmanagement.com; but I am not sure on that, I didn’t join projectmanagement.com until after I became a paying PMI member. There is value there for more than just project managers.
By joining, you gain access to members only material, a lot of it on Agile. You can get discounts on Agile related books that may help you study beyond what I discuss here. I also liked, and probably would not have bought on my own, the book “Agile Practice Guide” available for free download to paying PMI members.
I read the “Agile Practice Guide” cover to cover and a lot of the other available material. I also now enjoy some free PDU opportunities, which makes the cost of membership worth it from a purely monetary perspective as well as an educational one.
4. Study PMI-ACP Specific Material
Who better to help you pass than other people who have taken the test, passed it, then tell you what is on it? Phrasing it that way sounds like cheating, but I assure you it is a legitimate method of studying. I took two courses specifically dedicated to the contents of the PMI-ACP exam.
I like to use two courses from two different instructors to cover material because sometimes some instructors may miss things or not fully explain things in a way that you fully understand.
The two courses I took are:
- Master of Project Academy: PMI ACP Certification Training
- Joseph Phillips Udemy Course: PMI-ACP Exam Prep for PMBOK 6 – 21 PDUs from a PMI REP
I personally am not a fan of boot camp style learning. I don’t retain the information. More on-demand type learning, like the above, makes the learning work around my schedule, not the other way around.
Those are the things I did to pass the exam. An interesting little story, I took the exam on the 11th anniversary of my wedding. I had to take my wife out to dinner after the exam. She thought we were celebrating our anniversary, I was celebrating having passed the PMI-ACP exam.
Rather strangely, I went from hating certifications to rather enjoying the success when passing them. I started with the intent to compete with others and ended up pursuing them because I liked the pursuit and success. Now I am considering adding to it with the CDA, PMI-PBA, PSPO, PSK, SPS, and several others; but the almost $2,000 I spent on education and certifications this year (along with my wife who spent an additional $1,000 for extra education and certifications) has convinced me to wait for a while.
Proof of the effort below: