Looking for information on agile certification from PMI (PMI-ACP)? This post describes what it takes to get the PMI Agile certification. Depending on your starting point, you can probably get your PMI-ACP certification with minimal Agile Training and preparation. This blog provides all the information that you might find helpful in deciding if you should get your PMI-ACP or not.
Last month I wrote the Quick Guide to the Basic Agile Certifications. There was a lot of interest in the two Scrum Certifications, the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and the Professional Scrum Master (PSM).
But I was surprised there was also some interest in the less popular Agile Certified Practitioner agile certification from PMI. And I believe there are many of you out there who can achieve this certification without hardly trying.
Why Should You Pursue the PMI-ACP Certification?
People pursue certifications for different reasons. When it comes up in my training classes, people generally want to know if it will help them get a new job.
For some people, they are trying to move into an Agile role and they lack first-hand experience. In a bit of a catch 22, PMI won’t let you sit for the Agile Certified Practitioner exam unless you have at least 1,500 hours of experience on projects using Agile methods.
However, in a recent LinkedIn discussion, I found the reasons people gave for getting their PMI-ACP certification were more nuanced. For many, it was more about intrinsic motivation and satisfaction rather than market validation or to get a new job. You can check out the discussion here on LinkedIn for more details.
How to Qualify for the PMI-ACP Certification Exam
Not surprisingly, PMI has an exam component for their PMI-ACP agile certification. Qualifying to sit for the exam is often the most difficult part for people. The following table summarizes the requirements for education, experience, and agile training.
As you can see, the PMI-ACP is similar to the PMP in requiring both experience and agile training to qualify to sit for the exam. Applicants will need 2,000 hours of project management experience, an additional 1,500 hours of agile experience, and 21 contact hours of agile training (cannot be self-study) to be eligible for the exam.
If you are a PMP, you don’t need to worry about the PM experience. The agile experience can be more difficult to obtain. You need to show 1,500 hours working on agile project teams. These hours are in addition to the 2,000 hours required in general project management experience and they must be earned within the last 3 years.
The PMI-ACP Exam Content
There is no Agile Certification Body of Knowledge
One thing that is a bit unusual about the PMI-ACP certification exam is that the content is drawn from 12 different Agile books, rather than a single document like the Guide to the Project Management Body of knowledge, also called the PMBOK® Guide. The 12 books are written by a number of well-known authors (for the most part) and each covers a specific topic area.
The books also represent the authors’ viewpoint of what Agile is so that provides some interesting nuances. Also, as I noted in the previous post, the scope of the exam is broader than just Scrum. The exam covers all flavors of Agile including Extreme Programming, Kanban, Lean, and of course Scrum. Each of the author’s perspectives on agility can be slightly different.
Over time I’ve bought all the reference books for the exam. I think they are all pretty good books and I’ve learned something from all of them. Mike Cohn’s books are good, as are the books by Alistair Cockburn and David Anderson.
But I have to say the books that I’ve gifted the most are the Agile Retrospectives book by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen, and the Coaching Agile Teams book by Lyssa Adkins. If you are a Scrum Master or Coach, you should have those books even if you don’t have any plans to take the exam.
Current Book List for the PMI-ACP Agile Certification
- Agile Estimating and Planning, by Mike Cohn
- Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products, Second Edition, by Jim Highsmith
- Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen
- Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game, Second Edition, by Alistair Cockburn
- Coaching Agile Teams, by Lyssa Adkins
- Effective Project Management: Traditional, Agile, Extreme, by Robert K. Wysocki
- Exploring Scrum: The Fundamentals, by Dan Rawsthorne with Doug Shimp
- Kanban In Action, by Marcus Hammarberg and Joakim Sunden
- Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for your Technology Business, by David J. Anderson
- Lean-Agile Software Development: Achieving Enterprise Agility, by Alan Shalloway, Guy Beaver, and James R. Trott
- The Software Project Manager’s Bridge to Agility, by Michele Sliger and Stacia Broderick
- User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development, by Mike Cohn
UPDATE January 2018: PMI has announced that they are revising the PMI-ACP exam to align the terminology with the Agile Practice Guide, effective March 26, 2018. This sounds a little bit like the first step toward the PMI producing an Agile Body of Knowledge. You can read more here about PMI’s decision. Get more details about the PMI Agile Practice Guide here or buy it on Amazon here.
UPDATE September 2019: With PMI’s acquisition of Disciplined Agile (DA), it is very likely that the large volume of reference materials that DA has produced will become the first official Agile Body of Knowledge or AgileBOK.
Consider Purchasing a PMI-ACP Exam Study Guide
For those of you who want to pass the exam but don’t have the shelf space, budget or interest in getting 12 Agile books, you can buy just one book. I’ve purchased several and the best of these is the PMI-ACP Exam Prep Guide from Mike Griffiths.
This book provides great end-to-end coverage of all the exam topics in an easy-to-digest format. It also includes sample exam questions. Be sure to buy the 2nd edition which includes the changes PMI made to the exam content in 2014.
Take an Agile Training Courses for the PMI-ACP Certification Exam
Many people find it helpful to take agile training designed to prepare for the PMI-ACP certification. I took a course when I sat to take the exam back in 2012. You can find Agile Training courses for the PMI-ACP in your area through an internet search. You can also search the PMI site for providers.
Shameless Plug! If you are interested in taking agile training for the PMI-ACP in Chicago, my 3-day Agile for Practitioners course covers all the content of the exam. Even better, the course is highly engaging and includes a lot of real-world examples of the application of the concepts.
My course provides a lot of hands-on exercises that help you to truly internalize the lessons, rather than simply cram for the test. Done well, you could take the course and then schedule to take the exam soon after your training. Please check the Agile for Practitioners Course schedule page to join an upcoming course.
Even with proper agile training, passing the exam is no cakewalk. Depending on your experience with agile and your ability to think like PMI’s evil test creators, you’ll probably have to do some self-study. Still, if you are interested and have some experience, the goal is certainly achievable.
How I Passed the PMI-ACP Exam
I took the exam and passed on my first attempt back in 2012. Hey, if I can do it so can you! Here are the things that I did to prepare and pass the exam:
- Purchased and read about half of the 12 books on the list of reference books
- Took an agile training class from Sally Elatta at AgileTraining.com (who was awesome BTW)
- Practiced with online exam prep assessments to gauge my readiness (see below)
- Joined the LinkedIn Group called “PMI® Agile Certified Practitioner PMI-ACP Exam Prep Study Group” and followed the discussions there about passing the exam
Use an Online Exam Prep Assessment Tool
I highly recommend the use of an online assessment tool to make sure you are prepared to pass, without over-investing. Back in 2012, I used the tool from AgileExams.com to gauge my readiness.
They are not the only provider of these practice exams but I think they were then the current industry leader. The online practice exams were helpful for getting a sense of the breadth of the test and the length of time it would take to complete the exam. I took 3 full tests of 120 questions as well as several shorter practice exams.
I wish I could say that taking the assessments from agileexams.com was helpful in building my confidence – they definitely were not! My scores on the practice exams ranged from 72% to 80% and they considered that failing.
But, I was well prepared and passed the exam on the first shot. So I think you can assume their practice exams are harder than the real thing from PMI.
The Bottom Line
I passed the exam on my first try, and I believe that you can as well. As of August 2019, over 28,000 people have also achieved this certification. It is the fastest-growing PMI certification at this time.
I hope this overview of the PMI-ACP agile certification was helpful. Please add your questions or share your own experience below. And please view our agile training offerings here, or join our monthly newsletter for agile-related tips and articles.