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?
In this article, we will answer the big questions about the PMI-ACP certification:
As always, let’s dive straight in.
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.
Most importantly, PMI designed the PMI-ACP to be highly accessible:
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…
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
For this route, you need all of:
For this route, you need all of:
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:
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:
(9 tasks – 16% of exam)
Agile principles and mindset within the context of the project team and organization.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(6 tasks – 9% of exam)
Continuously improve the quality, effectiveness, and value of the product, the process, and the team.
The ECO ends with the statement that you will need Knowledge of or Skill in the following:
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 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:
The current exam fees are:
The PMI-ACP exam is challenging. You will need to prepare well and you should consider using a range of study methods including:
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 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.
In summary, their Agile Prepcast offers:
PM PrepCast is not an ATP.
In summary, they offer:
GreyCampus is a PMI Premier Authorized Training Provider (ATP).
There are many sources of self-study, but these days, it boils down to two main categories
As well as formal training materials, there is an excellent selection of great Agile learning materials out there from:
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.
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:
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.
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;
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.
In preparing for any exam, a good exam simulator is a hugely valuable resource and ell-worth the investment. They offer so much:
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.
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.
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.
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:
Create your own notes and learning resources as you go. And use these to review and check your knowledge and understanding frequently.
This will help you check on your progress and increase your confidence as you go. You can get sample questions from many places:
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
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
The options are almost endless. We have an article:
In short, you have choices that include:
Take a look at the Agile training courses we recommend.
As always, I am keen to hear your experiences, opinions, and questions. I shall respond to every comment.
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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