So you're ready to take your agile practice to the next level. You're interested in the Project Management Institute's Agile Certified Practitioner program, but...PMI and agile together?

That's right. In 2011, the Project Management Institute - the worldwide most widely recognized organization in project management expertise and certification programs - launched a new certification which is still raising eyebrows in the agile community. We're talking about the PMI - ACP (Agile Certified Practitioner). The suspicion stems mainly from the fact that PMI, and in fact the whole project management discipline, have a historical association with traditional waterfall plan-driven methodologies - considered bureaucratic, old-fashioned and ineffective by the agile community. Actually, words such as “agile”, “incremental”, “light” or “lean” have historically rarely been mentioned by PMI references.

However, with the PMI-ACP launch, PMI has thrown itself into the center of the agile conversation and has taken a big step towards making itself relevant to the community of developers, PM's, and organizations that have migrated to agile methodologies. Additionally, being a PMI-ACP has become a great differentiator for professionals working with agile methodologies, who eagerly embrace complexity and thrive on rapid response times. Further, there are approximately only 11.800 certified PMI-ACP professionals worldwide, in contrast to approximately 723.000 PMP certifications - which shows how it can be a really special asset for agile adopters` career.

Is the PMI-ACP right for me?

The first question you should ask about the PMI-ACP is: why should I take it instead of PSM I (from Scrum.org), CSM (from Scrum Alliance) or other agile certifications? I can give you two good reasons: first, because these other certifications obviously focus on SCRUM, while the PMI-ACP tests a broader set of methodologies and practices, including XP (Extreme Programming), Kanban, lean, TDD (Test-Driven Development) and others. Second, because PMI is far more widely recognized than other agile organizations, and the PMI-ACP certification process requires not only a complex exam, but also fulfilling a specific set of requirements (I'll touch on these later), which are not required for the other certification - making it a more selective, strict and solid title.

Now that you have the reasons to consider taking PMI-ACP, let's talk about its requirements. Firstly, it's important to know that not everyone is eligible to take the exam. Since its goal is not to introduce agile practice to newcomers, but to recognize someone's existing expertise, these four items are required (besides basic educational background):

  • General project experience: 2000 hours working on project teams, earned in the last five years.
  • Agile project experience: 1500 hours working on project teams using agile methodologies, earned in the last three years (in addition to the 2000 hours of general project experience)
  • Training in agile practices: 21 hours (at least) of formal training in agile practices.

All these requirements are verified through an online application, completed by the candidate via the PMI's website. In order to test the information's veracity, all applications are subject to an audit. But only a percentage are even selected to go on to this next step. If your application is selected, you'll be notified to provide evidential documentation and submit it to PMI. Once eligibility is approved, the candidate pays a fee and has an one-year period to take the exam. It's possible to take the exam up to three times in this period, should your first attempt prove unsuccessful. The exam is electronic and takes place at a PMI testing center. It's important to highlight that it`s not necessary to be a PMP to take the PMI-ACP exam. All details concerning eligibility and the certification process can be found on the PMI website (www.pmi.org).

What is the exam about?

Let's talk about the PMI-ACP exam content. It's composed of 120 multiple choice questions, from which 20 are not scored, because they are considered “pretest” questions for officially integrating the exam later. However, the candidate has no way of knowing which questions these are. Candidates have 3 hours to answer all the questions, which means an average of one and a half minute per question (you don't have to use all the available time, of course). The questions are divided into seven disciplines, randomly distributed throughout the exam. According to PMI, the disciplines and their respective test item percentages are:

  • Agile Principles and Mindset (16%): agile concepts, agile framework, general principles.
  • Value-driven Delivery (20%): delivering valuable results in frequent increments, based on clients' priorities, and receiving constant feedback for continuous improvement.
  • Stakeholder Engagement (17%): promoting participation and collaboration of all involved parties, providing tools for effective decision making, engaging stakeholders to build a trust environment.
  • Team Performance (16%): promoting a culture of high-performance through a self-organized team, improving relationships and trust, providing continuous learning.
  • Adaptive Planning (12%): producing and maintaining an evolving plan, according to priorities, feedbacks and reviews during the project.
  • Problem Detection and Resolution (10%): continuously identifying and treating issues and risks, solving them at their root cause and in a timely manner, clearly communicating issues status and resolution.
  • Continuous Improvement (Product, Process, People) (9%): continuously improving quality, effectiveness and value of product, processes and people.

The questions are selected randomly from a database, which means that each exam is produced by a different composition of them.

What else should I know about PMI-ACP?

It is important to say that some questions are situational - that is, fictional scenarios in which the candidate should choose the best option, not necessarily the only true option. Some questions are more direct and will take you no more than a few seconds, but others require more complex reasoning in order to test the candidate's agile mindset and even interpersonal skills. Another special thing about this certification is that, as a truly agile experience, there’s no such thing as a documented Book of Knowledge, as there is for all other PMI certifications. The candidate study should include, besides the required training, referred articles and books. Finally, to keep your PMI-ACP certification, you must earn 30 PDUs (Professional Development Units) along a three-year cycle. These can be obtained through participation in agile events, trainings, studies, podcasts, working as an agile professional, writing articles, and giving back knowledge to the agile community. The PDUs are reported on the PMI website and are also subject to evidential auditing.

The Takeaway

So, now you know a little bit more about PMI-ACP. If you are interested in managing agile teams and conducting projects using agile approaches, this certification is worth considering as a differentiator. It will help you learn more about agile framework and become a truly outstanding agile leader. Take your career to the next level - it will be worth it!

You can find a lot more information on the PMI website. Good luck on your PMI-ACP path!


Author

Ludmila Roizenbruch Paiva

I'm a passionate Agile project manager, trying to bring together the best of both worlds, trying to apply agility to daily project management because, believe me, it can work great!


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