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Myths and Facts on PMI-ACP Examination (Part 1)
By Satya Narayan Dash

As per PMI, Agile Certified Practitioner Certification (ACP) credential – the new kid on the certification block – is one of the fastest growing certifications, beating even some of the old war horses. That is expected to happen as cycles of development and delivery, especially in software world, continue to get shorter. In early last decade, I have seen development cycles running close to 2 years and delivery happened once in six months. That is history now in most cases. Agile is a sound fit when it comes to short iterative and incremental development with huge churn in requirements. Also PMI, which is an eight hundred pound gorilla in project management and project management certification space, continues to focus on PMI-ACP examination. Over the years, the value of this program is going to increase exponentially.

However, with as the new certification program gains ground, various theories have come up on the PMI-ACP exam. Some of them are just not correct and some of them half truths. That poses some extra challenges for the aspirants for ACP certification. Having tried my hand at PMP some five years before and than certified as a PMI-ACP, I went through my share of confusion on the program. PMI-ACP examination is not similar to PMI-PMP examination – the eligibility criteria, the reference material, pattern of questions in the exam, and above all, the exam mindset – are quite different.

In this article, let us look at some of the myths and facts on PMI-ACP certification exam.

  • Myth-1: There is AgileBOK like PMBOK.

    Fact: No, there is no Agile Body of Knowledge (or AgileBOK) for PMI-ACP like Project Management Body of Knowledge (or PMBOK) for PMI-PMP.

    PMBOK, in its 5th edition talks of 10 knowledge areas, 47 process areas and hundreds of Input, Tools and Techniques and Outputs (ITTO) and they apply for the PMP exam. However, there is no such Body of Knowledge for PMI-ACP.

    Nevertheless, PMI-ACP in its course content outline, has informed on 10 Tools and Techniques (T&T) and 43 Knowledge and Skills (K&S). These are tested in the examination.

  • Myth-2: PMI-ACP Examination is similar to CSM Examination.

    Fact: No, PMI-ACP is much wider and can be considered to be a superset of CSM examination’s coverage.

    Scrum is one of the methodologies defined in Agile Framework. Certified Scrum Master (CSM) program from Scrum Alliance is focused only on Scrum methodology.

    PMI-ACP, on the other hand, covers many methodologies –from lightweight Scrum, XP or Lean to heavyweight/prescriptive methodologies like DSDM, RUP et al. In that context, PMI-ACP’s course coverage is vast and knowledge gained is much higher. Also, the preparation will need more time and it is much tougher to crack the exam as compared to CSM.

  • Myth-3: You have to read all the 11 books as informed on PMI’s website.

    Fact: No – 6 to 7 books will do for the exam. But if you have the time and really can, you may read all of them.

    PMI-ACP course content outline informs on 11 books, written by pioneers in various Agile methodologies and as noted by PMI, it is a reference material list. Out of bound questions may also come. However, if you fundamentals on Agile framework are strong, you should be able to answer those questions.

    I believe no one can read all the 11 books and remember them all to prepare for the exam. I would suggest that, focus on few of the books with priorities and having your concepts on Agile framework clear.

  • Myth-4: The exam is very specific to XP, Lean, and Scrum practices.

    Fact: No, it covers them all – Scrum, XP, Lean, Kanban, DSDM, RUP, Crystal, TDD, ATDD, FDD and so on!

    That is a big list. Is not it? But, do not worry. You need to focus on the four core values and twelve principles of Agile manifesto. Various methodologies have different approach of adaptation to them with variances in roles, ceremonies and certain terminologies. The role of Scrum Master in Scrum is that of a Coach (Programmer Coach or Project Management Coach) in eXtreme Programming (XP) and that role is also typically known as Team Leader in Kanban methodology. The iteration length in Scrum is of two to four weeks where in XP, it will be of one week to three weeks.

    The key is conceptual understanding of the values and principles of Agile manifesto, e.g., the manifesto in one of its principles says –“Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.” In XP or Scrum, the iteration length may vary – but the focus is of two weeks to two months cycle and with a preference for the shorter ones.

    And yes, there will be questions from Kanban, DSDM, TDD et al. I faced at least three to four questions only on Kanban.

  • Myth-5: PMI-ACP Exam is theoretical in nature.

    Fact: Conceptual understanding is of paramount importance.

    Very few questions in the exam are direct, like how many ceremonies are performed in Scrum method. PMI is not known for asking direct questions straight from the books! Rather, questions are situational, tests your understanding on agile methods, values, principles and practices. It is highly likely that you may read 11 referenced books (and may be some more) and still fail in the exam!

    Also, there will be quite a few mathematical questions. You will have to answer questions on velocity, story prioritization, story points, cycle time, risk adjusted story points, risk exposure, process efficiencies and so on.

  • Myth-6: Earned Value Measurement (EVM) can not be applied in Agile, hence no questions from EVM in the exam.

    Fact: This is another myth which is floated around, and simply not true.

    EVM is best applied at Iteration level of planning, though not suitable for Release level or other higher level planning such as Product, Portfolio or Strategy. I faced EVM questions in the exam and would say that you need to have a look on it.

    The calculation for EVM in agile is based primarily on story points planned and delivered. If you come from a PMP background, it will not be difficult as the concepts of PV, EV, AC, SPI, CPI, etc., are quite similar in nature to that of PMBOK/PMP. However, you need to understand how it is used in the context of Agile projects and Agile planning games.

(to be continued)


Satya Narayan Dash is management professional with around 12 years of experience. He has been associated with companies such as Motorola, Subex, Wipro, Zoho in various roles of Program Manager, Project Manager, PMO and Technical Project Leader. He has coached, mentored, and consulted over a thousand of Project Management, Consulting, PMO professionals across the globe. He holds a Bachelor Degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Jalandhar, India and is a certified PMP® from PMI®, an Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP®) from PMI®, a certified MCTS® from Microsoft®, a certified CSM® from Scrum Alliance® and also a certified Java professional. His web presence is at http://managementyogi.blogspot.in/ and can be contacted at managementyogi@gmail.com.

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