Skip to content

To Certify or Not to Certify

A new certification has appeared in the agile space: the Project Management Institute’s Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP). I thought it would be both pleasing to my overachiever genes and a bit of research on behalf of the community, to apply for the certification myself. I wrote the exam on Thursday and passed. Here’s my review of both the process and the certification in general.

The application

Let’s start with the application process. As someone who is already a PMP, the application process was fairly straight forward. You can do it all online, even paying and scheduling your exam, and if you already have PMP status you meet half the criteria already. However, something a friend pointed out, is that you are not eligible for the ACP certification if you have not worked on non-agile projects. The requirements are:

  • 2000 General Project Management (on non-agile projects)
  • 1500 hours Agile Project Management Experience (on agile projects)
  • 21 hours Agile Project Management Training

My CSM and CSPO courses counted as Agile Project Management Training, and 1500 hours on agile projects is pretty straight forward for anyone who has been doing agile for a few years. However, as my friend discovered, if you have never been a project manager outside an agile team you do not qualify. According to emails he received from the PMI, they seem to have no interest in certifying ScrumMasters who have never been traditional project managers.

I find this interesting and at the same time a bit short sighted on the part of the PMI. I accept that their organisation is for Project Managers, and that the ACP is a way of Project Managers trying to stay relevant in an agile world where the Project Manager title is disappearing. However, surely if they are embracing agile, they would want to reach out to new members. This limitation certainly indicates to me that the PMI-ACP is not a replacement for the Scrum Alliance’s CSP, which is available to anyone who has been doing Scrum from more that 1 year, and has either a CSM or CSPO.

Personally I hate the term Agile Project Manager, and I think that the PMI’s relevance is limited if they continue to promote the fact that Project Management is something executed by Project Managers rather than a discipline teams apply to manage projects. It’s a bit like saying only testers do testing;) I think Project Management is highly relevant in agile, I think Project Manager as a role is not. I don’t get the impression from the PMI-ACP that the PMI understands that yet.


Anyway onto my preparation. When I wrote my PMP exam I was fully aware of the reputation of it being a tough exam, so I studied for it. I found a ‘How to pass on your first try book’, I did sample exams, I even put myself through reading the actual PMBOK (don’t ever do that if you can help it, unless you have a sleep disorder you need fixing). What was strange about the PMI-ACP is that apart from a list of books it is very hard to figure out what to study. I downloaded the handbook and exam preparation guide – finally, after figuring out the links don’t work on firefox on a mac 😦

It might just be that it is a new exam, but I found the details available about what could be on the test kind of vague. Since it worked so well for the PMP test back in the day, I proceeded to look for a site offering prep questions. I found, I think one of the few available to date. Those of you who follow me on twitter probably remember my tirade about the inane questions, which seemed more about your ability to memorise paragraphs from the books than actual knowledge. In hindsight I take it all back. The questions on the test were not like that at all. That was just the site. Their questions show that either they have no comprehension of agile and simply cut and paste from various books, or haven’t taken the time to actually check the logic of their questions. The more cynical side of me says they do it on purpose to make people think the exam is hard and therefore must study and sign up with their service for longer…..

The first test I took with them I failed, I think I got less than 50% right. I got better, of course, because I have a pretty good memory and they only have 600 questions so the same ones came up again and again and I had of course memorised the ‘correct’ answer. That process didn’t teach me anything about agile. In fact, all it did was make me negative about the PMI-ACP exam. In the end I decided to accept that I might fail and just wrote the test without much prep.

The exam

I arrived at the test center full expecting silly questions I disagreed with in the test exam site. I didn’t get any. In fact I think I flagged a total of 15 questions (out of 120) I wasn’t immediately 100% sure of the answer. In general the questions covered a broad range of agile things: Agile Manifesto, User stories, Scrum and XP, a bit of Lean and Kanban. The questions seemed reasonable, and would require a person to know a burndown from a backlog, and a story point from an ideal day. Does passing mean you are an agile expert? No, but it does mean you are conversant in the language of agile, and more broadly than just Scrum. Does it mean you will be more successful at agile projects? Not at all, but then no certification does that. In the end I finished in 25 minutes of the 3 hours allotted. I may have sped through the questions because I was forced to take the test on a CRT with an appallingly low refresh rate!

The conclusion

More positive than I expected. I think the exam had decent questions that played the middle ground between trying to trick you and been so basics as to not test anything at all. I would however not recommend the prep site. If you want to do any prep then read some of the books on the recommended reading list. I don’t think you need to read them all, I’ve only read 6 of the 11. I’d start with the Project Manager’s bridge to Agility, and Mike Cohn’s User Stories if you haven’t read any of them. If you like certifications behind your name, I think this one says you are conversant in a number of agile frameworks. If, like my friend, you don’t qualify, I wouldn’t worry about it: Get your CSP instead πŸ™‚

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Karen, Thank you for sharing the details. Great to hear that you had a positive experience. To be honest, as a practicing agilist I personally started following you on Twitter. With your experience on agile & background in project mgmt, I believe you could really help the PMI Agile community of Practice.

    If we would have known about you trying agileExams, we would have warned you about some experiences with them. Actually, you could have got feedback on the community discussion forum.

    I would like to extend an invite to you to join the PMI Agile CoP. It will benefit many members trying to learn agile principles.


    Congrats for getting your PMI-ACP.

    February 18, 2012
  2. Good summary, Karen, and a very belated congratulations. (I’m clearly behind in my reading.) I’ll also add my encouragement to join the PMI-Agile Community of Practice. Your point-of-view, feedback and participation would be valuable to our profession and you would widen your circle of influence.

    August 8, 2012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: