15 August, 2022

What is PMI-ACP? PMI’s Chief Certification for Agile Project Management


PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) is the PMI’s certification for Agile Project Management. PMI’s intention is that it demonstrates a deep knowledge of Agile principles and methods. But it does not require a deep immersion in Agile practice before you take the exam.

With the growth of Agile Project Management, many Project Managers are looking for a broad-based Agile training program and certification, to supplement their existing knowledge and qualifications. Is this the one for you?

What is PMI-ACP? PMI’s Chief Certification for Agile Project Management

In this article, we will answer the big questions about the PMI-ACP certification:

As always, let’s dive straight in.

What is the PMI-ACP?

PMI-ACP stands for Project Management Institute Agile Certified Practitioner. It is the PMI’s principal Agile certification.  The PMI, or Project Management Institute is the largest Project Management professional body. It is based in the United States, but is global in its reach and ambition.

PMI developed the PMI-ACP because it saw agile project management methods being embraced more and more widely. Yet, at the time, its own principal certifications had absolutely nothing to say about Agile. Both the CAPM (for early-stage Project Managers) and the PMP(for experience Project Managers) were, at the time, based entirely upon the principles of predictive (or traditional) Project Management. The CAPM still is. 

Their survey data also told them that there was a demand for certification in agile project management from both recruiters and practitioners. 

They developed the PMI-ACP certification to demonstrate a knowledge of agile principles and practices across agile methodologies, rather than focusing on proficiency in a specific approach. The syllabus includes Scrum, Lean, Kanban, and others. 

Accessibility

Most importantly, PMI designed the PMI-ACP to be highly accessible:

  • To team members in a variety of roles. Any member of an agile team can apply. 
  • It applies to projects in a variety of industries and contexts – not just in software development. 
  • PMI-ACP does not require any other PMI certification as a prerequisite.

The result is that the PMI-ACP certification is a way you can demonstrate to employers that you have a broad knowledge of Agile methods and so are a credible agile professional. Its prerequisites also mean that it attests to a minimum level of real-world experience in working on agile projects.

PMI’s global reach means that PMI-ACP is widely recognized beyond the United States. It is considered one of the major agile certifications, globally, alongside SAFe and Disciplined Agile (which PMI also owns and provides certification for).

Here is a quick summary video…

Who is the PMI-ACP Best Suited to?

There are two main reasons why you might want to gain a PMI-ACP certification. And one or both may apply to you. These are because it will:

  1. Support your career
  2. Provide you with an interesting and valuable learning experience

PMI-ACP to Support Your Career

PMI-ACP is pitched at early-career project professionals. The experience requirements (participating in an agile team for at least 8 months) are deliberately low. This makes it an excellent way to boost you career, especially with employers that recognize and value PMI certifications.

Take a look at the PMI’s Certification framework, for a sense of how they see it fitting in.

If you want to use PMI-ACP to either get a job you may otherwise not get, or to get a salary raise, this is a reasonable expectation. Anecdotally, many people have achieved each of these. However, there are no guarantees. Nothing is a substitute for researching the job market where you are, or plan to work. The:

  • Region or geography
  • Sector or industry
  • Specific employers 

Whether or not you can get a specific material gain, I think it will provide evidence to your employers of a level of knowledge, experience, and commitment that they will value. It will also demonstrate these things to your peer group. Anyone who has taken the exam will also appreciate that it is a challenging qualification to get.

However, it is also true that some organizations and teams will also expect specific methodology-based certifications – or value them more highly than a generalist certification, like PMI-ACP. Again, researching your job market is the only way to assess this.

PMI-ACP for the Learning

There is also a strong case to study for the PMI-ACP regardless of measurable salary expectations. A broad understanding will make you a better project manager. You will have more tools to hand when designing and tailoring the processes for your future projects. And there is nothing like a well-structured learning experience for expanding your mind and your thinking. Without a doubt, the PMI-ACP syllabus is both broad and deep. Studying it to exam standard will surely broaden and deepen your understanding to a considerable degree.

Indeed, it will also give you a strong grounding in a wide range of specific Agile methodologies, like Scrum, Kanban, Lean, and XP.

Requirements for Applying for PMI-ACP

The PMI-ACP is an examined Certification. However, you must also meet PMI’s requirements for education, training, and experience. There are two routes, depending on the highest level of your formal education.

Route 1: High School-level Education (Not Higher Education)

For this route, you need all of:

  • Secondary degree, a high-school diploma, or a local equivalent
  • 21 contact hours of training in agile practices
  • 12 months (approx. 2,000 hours) of general project experience within the last 5 years. A current PMP® or PgMP® will satisfy this requirement but is not required to apply for the PMI-ACP.
  • 8 months (approx. 1,500 hours) of agile project experience within the last 3 years, working on project teams using agile methodologies

Route 2: Higher Education: Full Degree-level

For this route, you need all of:

  • Bachelor’s, master’s, or post-graduate degree
  • 8 months (approx. 1,500 hours) of agile project experience within the last 3 years, working on project teams using agile methodologies
  • 35 contact hours of training in agile practices

These requirements can change from time-to-time, so do check the PMI’s PMI-ACP Handbook.

The exam, however, is the main thing, and you will need to prepare well. Most people find it a tough challenge. In the next two main sections, we’ll look at:

  • What is in the Exam
  • How to Prepare for it

What’s in the Exam and what Topics Will You Need to Learn About?

The PMI-ACP has a very broad Agile syllabus, covering 7 Domains and a large range of Agile tools. I strongly recommend all candidates (and anyone considering taking PMI-ACP) to download and print out the Examination Content Outline (ECO). This sets out the syllabus in detail. It tells you exactly what PMI will test, in the exam.

The link goes to the English language version. You can find links to versions in English, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Spanish, and Portuguese, here.

Here is my summary of what the ECO contains:

Domain I. Agile Principles and Mindset 

(9 tasks – 16% of exam)

Agile principles and mindset within the context of the project team and organization.

Domain II. Value-Driven Delivery 

(4 sub-domains, 14 tasks – 20% of exam)

Deliver valuable results from high-value increments for review, early and often, based on stakeholder priorities. Have the stakeholders provide feedback on these increments, and use feedback to prioritize and improve future increments.

Domain III. Stakeholder Engagement 

(3 sub-domains, 9 tasks – 17% of exam)

Engage interested parties by building a trusting environment that aligns their needs and expectations and balances their requests with an understanding of the cost/effort involved. Promote participation and collaboration throughout the project life cycle and provide the tools for effective and informed decision-making.

Domain IV. Team Performance 

(3 sub-domains, 9 tasks – 16% of exam)

Create an environment of trust, learning, collaboration, and conflict resolution that promotes team self-organization, enhances relationships among team members, and cultivates a culture of high performance.

Domain V. Adaptive Planning 

(3 sub-domains, 10 tasks – 12% of exam)

Produce and maintain an evolving plan, from initiation to closure, based on goals, values, risks, constraints, stakeholder feedback, and review findings.

Domain VI. Problem Detection and Resolution 

(5 tasks – 10% of exam)

Continuously identify problems, impediments, and risks; prioritize and resolve them in a timely manner; monitor and communicate the problem resolution status; and implement process improvements to prevent them from occurring again.

Domain VII. Continuous Improvement (Product, Process, People) 

(6 tasks – 9% of exam)

Continuously improve the quality, effectiveness, and value of the product, the process, and the team.

You will also need knowledge of a range of Agile tools for:

  • Analysis and Design
  • Estimation
  • Communications
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Metrics
  • Planning, Monitoring, and Adapting
  • Process improvement
  • Product quality
  • Risk Management
  • Value-based prioritization

In Summary

The ECO ends with the statement that you will need Knowledge of or Skill in the following:

  • Basics of Agile:
    • values and principles 
    • frameworks and terminology 
    • methods and approaches 
  • Stakeholder Engagement
    • Assessing and incorporating community and stakeholder values 
    • Stakeholder management 
    • Communication management 
  • Developing People and ideas
    • Facilitation methods 
    • Knowledge sharing/written communication 
    • Training, coaching, and mentoring 
    • Developmental mastery models (for example, Tuckman, Dreyfus, Shu Ha Ri) 
    • Self-assessment tools and techniques 
  • Team Leadership and Management 
    • Leadership
    • Building agile teams 
    • Team motivation 
    • Physical and virtual co-location 
    • Global, cultural, and team diversity 
  • Thinking Skills
    • Participatory decision models (for example, convergent, shared collaboration) 
    • Principles of systems thinking (for example, complex adaptive, chaos) 
    • Problem-solving 
    • Prioritization
  • Adaptive Delivery
    • Incremental delivery 
    • Agile discovery 
    • Agile sizing and estimation 
    • Value-based analysis and decomposition 
    • Process analysis 
    • Continuous improvement 
    • Agile hybrid models 
    • Managing with agile KPIs 
    • Agile project chartering
    • Agile contracting 
  • Governance and Probity
    • Regulatory compliance 
    • Agile project accounting principles 
    • PMI’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct 

I have structured this for ease of presentation, so the summary levels are my own, rather than PMI’s descriptions.

The PMI-ACP spans many approaches to agile such as Scrum, Kanban, Lean, extreme programming (XP), and test-driven development (TDD.) 

The PMI-ACP Exam

The certification exam has 120 multiple-choice questions, and you have three hours to complete it. At the time of writing, it is available in six languages:

  • English
  • Arabic
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Portuguese 
  • Spanish

The current exam fees are:

  • For PMI Members: US$435.00 
  • For Non-members: US$495.00

How Should You Prepare for the PMI-ACP Exam?

The PMI-ACP exam is challenging. You will need to prepare well and you should consider using a range of study methods including:

  • Courses
  • Self-study 
  • Study groups
  • Exam simulators

The PMI’s website gives a limited amount of guidance on preparation, but it’s worth checking the Exam Guidance page from time-to-time. They may add new information that can help you. 

PMI-ACP Courses

PMI does not endorse specific courses, resources, references, or other materials for certification preparation. However, they do have an Accredited Training Provider (ATP) scheme that gives you some assurances that the ATP meets their minimum standards. But it is also true that many excellent providers have chosen not to shackle themselves to PMI constraints in how they teach their customers.

We recommend two providers – both of which I have evaluated personally. One is an ATP and the other is not.

Agile PrepCast - PMI-ACP

PM PrepCast offers Online Instructor-led PMP Training

In summary, their Agile Prepcast offers:

  • High-quality on-demand video-based lessons
  • Work when you choose with progress tracking
  • Certificate for 21 Contact Hours
  • With or without PrepCast’s leading 4 exam bundle

PM PrepCast is not an ATP.

Learn More Here


GreyCampus PMI-ACP Certification Training

GreyCampus offers Online Instructor-led PMP Training

In summary, they offer:

  • Options: With or without live Bootcamp (3-day classes)
  • 1-year access to PMI-approved audio-video lectures
  • 2 simulated PMI-ACP exams & 200 practice questions
  • 45 hours of content and 21 contact hour certificate

GreyCampus is a PMI Premier Authorized Training Provider (ATP).

Learn More Here

Self-study for the PMI-ACP

There are many sources of self-study, but these days, it boils down to two main categories

  • The Internet
  • Traditional Printed Media – Books

The Internet

As well as formal training materials, there is an excellent selection of great Agile learning materials out there from:

  • blogs and articles 
  • podcasts
  • videos

There is also plenty of dross. So, keep your critical faculties sharp. And also distinguish between articulations of Agile knowledge and of ideas and opinions. All have value. But some will help you more in your preparation.

Traditional Printed Media – Books

PMI makes it clear that the PMI-ACP exam is not based on a specific text or reference. However, its website does list 12 reference books. These may change from time-to-time, so it is worth checking. But, at time of writing, these are:

  1. Agile Practice Guide, Project Management Institute, Inc.
    Since this is the PMI’s own articulation of the basics of Agile Project Management, I do strongly recommend you buy and read this. It is not an easy read, being more of a manual than a book. But there is a lot of good content.
  2. Agile Estimating and Planning
    Mike Cohn
  3. Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products
    Jim Highsmith
  4. Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great
    Esther Derby, Diana Larsen, Ken Schwaber
  5. Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game
    Alistair Cockburn
  6. Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition
    Lyssa Adkins
  7. Effective Project Management: Traditional, Agile, Extreme
    Robert K. Wysocki
  8. Exploring Scrum: The Fundamentals
    Dan Rawsthorne with Doug Shimp
  9. Kanban In Action
    Marcus Hammarberg, Joakim Sunden
  10. Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for your Technology Business
    David J. Anderson
  11. Lean-Agile Software Development
    Alan Shalloway, Guy Beaver, James R. Trott
  12. User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development
    Mike Cohn

PMI stresses that these don’t necessarily include everything that might arise in the exam. Instead, they see the content of these books as a part of a broader set of knowledge you need. The reference list is an aid to study: not a prescription for what you need to know. 

Additional Recommendations

To this, I would add the 7th Edition of the PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK Guide). This contains fundamental principles that PMI promotes for all project management – including purely agile projects. I think the time spent reading this will be well spent. Like the Agile practice guide, it is not an easy read. Although, I do think it is the better-written of the two.

The most popular PMI-ACP Exam Preparation Books are;

  1. PMI-ACP Exam Prep: A Course in a Book for Passing the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) Exam – This is the one I recommend.
  2. PMI–ACP Project Management Institute Agile Certified Practitioner Exam Study Guide

Study groups

This won’t be right for everyone – nor even possible. But it may be that other colleagues are working towards their PMI-ACP at the same time as you are. And, if not, contact your local PMI Chapter. Even if they don’t facilitate or advertise Study Groups, they may help you get a message out to find like-minded should. Happily, with Zoom and Teams, we can easily collaborate even if we cannot easily get together.

PMI-ACP Exam simulators

In preparing for any exam, a good exam simulator is a hugely valuable resource and ell-worth the investment. They offer so much:

  • Practice at understanding the way questions are set
  • Experience of exam conditions
  • Testing your knowledge and understanding to find areas to concentrate on
  • Helping you know when you are ‘ready’
  • Giving confidence

I strongly recommend the Agile PrepCast exam simulator. You can buy this either in a bundle with the Agile PrepCast training program, or as a stand-alone resource.

A 5-step PMI-ACP Study Program

I recommend you develop your own study program. Developing it (and reviewing and updating it in an adaptive way) is the best way to tailor it to your own learning style and personal circumstances. However, here is a basic framework that may form a helpful starting point.

Step 1: Make a Plan

Preparing for an exam is like a project. So, make a plan! And consider this as an agile project. So, periodically, take a retrospective review of your progress and processes, and update your plan and processes accordingly. 

Step 2: Study your Learning Materials a Topic at a Time

Start with an overview of the PMI’s PMBOK Guide 7th edition and its Agile Practice Guide. Then work through your study materials – whether it’s:

  • A formal training course
  • A self-study program from books and the internet

Create your own notes and learning resources as you go. And use these to review and check your knowledge and understanding frequently.

Step 3: Work through Sample Exam Questions

This will help you check on your progress and increase your confidence as you go. You can get sample questions from many places:

Step 4: Practice Full exams

The full PMI-ACP Exam is 3 hours. You will probably not be used to this – your last formal exams may have been a long time ago. The best way to get used to this – and the best way to know when you are ready for the exam – is to take a full simulated exam, under near-exam conditions.   This is where a full exam simulator, like the Agile PrepCast Exam Simulator, comes into its own. I recommend two or three full exam simulations in the run-up to your actual exam 

Step 5: Taking the Exam

Once you think you’re ready, it’s time to schedule your exam. And, with this done, plan your time in the weeks running up to it. If you can schedule a full day out of work for the exam and, better still, a second full day for the day before.

Prioritize sleep and exercise in the run-up and avoid studying the evening before. Absolutely do not stay up late cramming.

On the day, get up early, follow your morning routine and then either get to the exam center or set up your home office space in plenty of time. If you are taking the exam remotely, I recommend you test the digital platform beforehand. As a project manager, if you can, have a backup computer as a contingency!

Read the questions carefully. You’ll need to answer what they ask, not what you expect them to ask when you scan the question. PMI is looking to see if you:

  1. Understand the situation
  2. Can give the standard answer to the question as posed

If you finish before the end, use the additional time to review as many questions as you can – especially any that you were unsure of.

What Next? What are PMI’s Requirements after You Get your Certification, and What Else can You Study?

Professional development never stops. PMI requires you to keep learning to maintain your PMI-ACP accreditation. And, as a professional, you may want to broaden your Agile knowledge at some time.

Maintaining Your PMI-ACP Certification

To maintain your PMI-ACP, you must earn 30 Professional Development Units (PDUs) in agile topics every three years. We have a full article on PMI PDUs, but essentially, they are are one-hour blocks of time that you spend either:

  • Learning
  • Developing Project Management thinking
  • Teaching others
  • Volunteering

You need to gain and record these over each three-year period to maintain your certification status with PMI. The other article you should look at is the one on PMI’s Talent Triangle

For PMI-ACP, your 30 PDU requirement is made up of:

  • A minimum of 18 Educational PDUs, with minimums of:
    • Ways of Working: 4 PDUs
    • Power Skills: 4 PDUs
    • Business Acumen: 4 PDUs
    • The balance of 6 Educational PDUs from any area
  • The Balance of up to 12 PDUs from Giving Back

What Could You Study Next?

The options are almost endless. We have an article:

In short, you have choices that include:

  • Scrum (Scrum Alliance CSM or Scrum.org PSM)
  • Kanban
  • Lean
  • SAFe
  • Disciplined Agile
  • Even PRINCE2 Agile (although this is a bit of a specialty item!)

Take a look at the Agile training courses we recommend.

Please Tell Us about Your Experience of the PMI-ACP

As always, I am keen to hear your experiences, opinions, and questions. I shall respond to every comment.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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