Published on 30.3.2017 by Nicolas de Teilmann

An In-depth Exploration of Agile Project Management (PMI-ACP)

I passed my PMI-ACP certification 23rd March 2017 and I want to share the process for anyone else who wants to learn more or pursue this certification.
Besides passing the exam myself, I also led a study group of 3 other PMs who all passed on the first try, so I believe this process will work for anyone else.

Overall I spent about 100+ hours, which includes reading through most of the recommended literature to understand the topics and how relevant each book was for the actual exam.
I did close to 1000 exam questions and ranked each test based on how much the tests looked like the real exam so anyone else who wants to pursue this certification can focus on the best tests and most relevant literature.

This certification and especially the exam is easier than the PMP certification so if you think the PMP certification will be too much effort or just think agile is more relevant, I highly recommend this certification. It should only take you about 55 hours (40 hours for reading and 15 hours for tests) to be able to take and pass the exam. That's only about 4 hours per week for 3 months!

PMI-ACP has a lot of breadth and depth by covering Scrum, Kanban, XP, Lean and other agile approaches, so if you really want to learn how to do Agile, or get recognized for your skills, I think this is the best recognition available.

I am excited to have passed the exam and all the learning I obtained throughout the process and I highly recommend this certification for anyone else 🙂 -Hopefully, this will be of help for others. Good luck!

PMI-ACPWhat does it entail?

The PMI-ACP certification is designed to verify project managers’ mastery of agile principles and skill, validating their existing expertise to companies looking to adopt the agile methodology.

  • Recognition of the practitioners knowledge of agile principles and skills with agile techniques.
  • Evidence of your real-world,
    hands-on experience and skill
  • The fastest growing PMI certification
  • Information on multiple agile approaches
    (Scrum, Kanban, Lean, extreme programming (XP),
    and test-driven development (TDD))

PMI-ACPEligibility Requirements

Prerequisites

  • 2,000 hours of general project experience working on teams (Experience as a team lead also counts)
    Current PMP® or PgMP®-holders automatically fulfill this requirement.
  • 1,500 hours working on agile project teams or with agile methodologies.
    This requirement is in addition to the 2,000 hours of general project experience.
  • 21 contact hours of training in agile practices.

PMI-ACPSteps to exam

1.Join PMI ($129) and you can download the PMBoK as a pdf

2.Submit your PMI-ACP application. After 5 working days, you will receive a mail stating your eligibility to pay for the test

3.Pay exam fee ($435). You now have 1-year to take the take the test. You will be notified of any audit after payment (~5%)

4.Studying is essential. Literature ranked based on exam value (Expect to use min. 40 hours reading)

  1. PMI-ACP Exam Prep: Rapid Learning to pass the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (100%)
  2. Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers (60%)
  3. User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development (40%)
  4. Agile Estimating and Planning (20%)
  5. Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great (10%)

5.Join IBM PMI-ACP study group and enroll in 14-weeks study group (optional)

6.Test, test, and test practice exams (Expect to use min. 15 hours on tests)

7.Take final exam – 3 hours no aids (Pass/Fail based on overall performance)

8.Keep PMI membership and/or PMI-ACP certification current (optional). Requires 30 PDUs every 3-year cycle.

*Notes: 

Literature

The PMI-ACP exam can be passed with only the PMI-ACP Exam Prep book by Mike Griffiths (Book 1). However, I do recommend to obtain Coaching Agile Teams, which, in my opinion, add a lot of nuances and additional background to the topics helping to understand the mindset better, which is crucial for the exam.

Alternatively, read the Exam Prep book several times instead and spend more time on tests and you will be able to pass as well.

Book 3-5 are more situational, I read them and they added to my overall understanding, but they are focused on smaller topics and in terms of the exam they are not required.

PMI-ACP Audit
In case of PMI-ACP Audit: You will be either a category one or two.

Category one: You need to verify your project management experience, training and formal education.

Category two: You need to verify your project management experience and training.

Verification steps:

Project Management Experience

A manager, supervisor, or colleague who has firsthand knowledge of the experience on your application is required to review and then complete the Project Management Experience Audit Report.

Training

Applicants must provide documentation showing successful completion of each course submitted, meeting the requirements of the 35 hours of project management education. You must include a certificate, transcript, or letter of attendance from the company, Registered Education Provider (R.E.P), school, or institute that provided the training

Education

To properly document your attained education you must include a certificate, transcript (official or unofficial), or diploma from the school with which you earned your degree.

2

PMI-ACP Agile Process Overview

Based on book: PMI-ACP Exam Prep (chapter 1) pg. 65

1

PMI-ACPAgile Iteration Overview

Based on book: User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development (Chapter 15)

4

PMI-ACPAgile manifesto

The focus of the Agile Manifesto are the human relationships and business value.
The primary values are valued higher than the secondary values.

1.Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

2.Working software over comprehensive documentation

3.Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

4.Responding to change over following a plan


*Note:
 The Agile Manifesto and the 12 principles are software-centric, but can be used for anything. Just substitute product for software.

PMI-ACPAgile principles

Agile’s 12 Principles

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

*Note: While it’s not necessary to memorize these, there are some questions related to these principles on the exam, so you must be able to recognize and pick real principles from fake.

It is not required that you memorize anything for the exam but you need to understand these principles and be able to recognize them as they can appear as answer keys.

PMI-ACPWhat is agile? (Sprints)

The Sprint Planning

  • Know the work. Understand the scope and size of product backlog items by translating user stories into tasks. Each team member creates tasks for all user stories and put the tasks on the story board. At the end, everyone goes through the tasks and makes sure they understand them and remove duplicates.
  • Chose the backlog items that can fit into the next sprint (Based on velocity: Amount of story points completed in past sprints). The team then commit to completing the product backlog items that are chosen for the sprint. The commitment and focus drives performance.
  • Planning work in order of story priority. Adds transparency and ensures that the team is only working on what has been agreed to.

The Sprint

  • Timeboxed iteration of one month or less for the team to build a potentially releasable product. Each sprint is like a mini-project. During a sprint no changes are made that would affect the sprint goal. Sense of beginning and ending adds time pressure.

The Sprint Review

  • The team show the real products (product increment) yielding real value developed during the sprint. They call out what was and was not accomplished during the sprint and formally ask for acceptance of the work from the product owner. The stakeholders, customers and users of the product gives direct feedback. How useful are the products? Do they serve the intended purpose? What other ideas to they spark?

The Sprint Retrospective

  • The retrospective calls for a stop in action and let the team take a break and get curious about what happened during the sprint and considers things that want to do differently for the next sprint to become even better. This could also be changes to the team rules. Typical 2-hours time box.
  • Meeting for the team to continuously improve. The team should think of themselves as a well-oiled ecosystem that they tune each time.

*Notes: Book: Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers

  • Healthy agile teams experience peer pressure.
  • The goal of sprints is moving from a schedule-driven to business-value-driven thinking by slicing product features into thin slivers of value that can be delivered frequently. Typical Scrum sprint: 4 weeks, XP sprint: 2 weeks.
  • Sprint Reviews should be structured in a value-first order and only if required go into technical details. The connection between the agile team and Business/end-users will help the team feel a stronger connection to the results of their work.
  • New requests/requirements added during Sprint Reviews should be added to the product backlog once the business value is understood and considered in comparison with current backlog.
  • Becoming better can be anything that has meaning to the team: Getting faster, producing higher-quality products, or improving teamwork. Strengthening any of these things helps the team improve their velocity or as important quality.

PMI-ACPWhat is agile? (Teams)

Team Roles

  • Development team: Build the product increments in each sprint. Self-organizing, empowered to manage their own work. Cross-functional, each member can fulfill more than one of the roles needed to complete the work.
  • Product Owner: Driving the product vision. Responsible for maximizing business value by managing and prioritizing product backlog.
  • ScrumMaster: Responsible for methodology is understood and used effectively, could be both on project and within organization. Servant leader to the team and coaching team members.

The team

  • Two pizza rule. Team members must cooperate with another because they share a short list of goals. This forces them to discuss the best ways to meet their shared goals and produce something they are proud of.

The Team Rules

  • A rule could be that no team member should spend more than 30 min struggling with something before asking help from the team. This creates explicit permission to ask for help and gets more work done and improves the collaboration.

*Notes: Book: Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers

Team Rules: A rule could be that no team member should spend more than 30 min struggling with something before asking help from the team. This creates explicit permission to ask for help and gets more work done and improves the collaboration.

Conflicts arise but the agile mindset is to move from conflict to constructive disagreements which enable high performing teams.

Having a shared team vision can help the team de-escalate from any unresolved conflict at a later stage as long as they still believe in the shared vision.

PMI-ACPWhat is agile? (Activities/Artifacts)

The Story/task Board

  • Actively used by team to indicate overall status and convey each person’s current commitment. Also used for task coordination and sequencing.

Product Increment

  • Increment of solution built during each sprint. To increase alignment with Product Owner, agree on definition of ‘done’ before sprint starts, so everyone has a shared understanding of the sprint vision.

Product Backlog

  • Has all known stories at a given time (dynamic) prioritized by the product owner based on business value. Work items are progressively refined as the sprint it will be included in gets closer (just-in-time documentation). The main prioritization driver is delivering value as fast as possible.
  • Single source of all product requirements. May incl. non-functional requirements.

Sprint Backlog/Burn-down chart

  • All work for the sprint is shown. Burn-down chart is updated daily and is used by team to discuss velocity/work done vs plan.

The Stand-Up

  • 15 min. 3 questions, no long conversations, plus any agreed team rules:
  • What did I get done since the last stand-up?
  • What will I do before the next stand-up?
  • Any impediments blocking/slowing me down?
  • This invites each team member to commit to a daily work plan, get help clearing barriers and make a commitment to the team and holds each team member accountable. This also provides the fine-grain coordination required to eliminate any wait time.

*Notes: Book: Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers

The Stand-Up: It’s acceptable to have bandwidth to give! Unexpected capacity is helping the entire team and should be seen as a gift.

PMI-ACPWhat is agile? (Estimating)

Estimating User Stories

  • Using ‘story points’ – one story point is the measure of the amount of work that can be done in one ideal day of work (w/o interruptions)
  • Any estimates need to be owned collectively by the team. This requires a reasonable portion of the team is involved in the estimation.
  • Gather the customer and dev. Distribute blank cards, the customer selects a story at random. Dev. asks as many questions as they need. If the customer doesn’t know the answer he makes an assumption or defers estimation of that story. (incl. everything such as testing, talking to the customer, helping plan tests, and get approvals).
  • When there are no more questions, each dev. writes an estimate on a card. Then each dev. assess how many ideal days the story will take to complete. When everyone is ready, each dev. show their estimates and the highest and lowest explain their estimates.
  • The group discusses for a few minutes and the customer clarifies issues as they come up. Once discussed, take another round of estimation using the cards. In the second turn, the estimates will already start converging, if not repeat the process. The goal is for the estimators to converge to a single estimate.
  • After the first few estimates are made, the rest should be done by triangulating. Estimating a story based on its relationship to one or more already estimated stories (that is all 2-point stories should take about the same time to complete and about half the time as a 4-point story).
  • Triangulation is an effective way and ensures that the value of story points don’t gradually alter.
  • Once a sprint starts, a task estimate is refined and owned by the individual who will perform the task.
  • At the end of an iteration, the team counts the number of story points completed. Then use this number as the forecast to complete in future sprints (velocity).
  • To simplify estimation, the possible values can be constrained similarly to the Fibonacci sequence: ½, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, 80

*Notes: Book: User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development (chapter 8)

PMI-ACP Exam Content Outline

The PMI-ACP® examination consist of 120 multiple-choice questions with the following domain distribution:

Domain Distribution Questions
Agile Principles & Mindset 16% 19
Value-driven Delivery 20% 24
Stakeholder Engagement 17% 21
Team Performance 16% 19
Adaptive Planning 12% 14
Problem Detection and Resolution 10% 12
Continuous Improvement (Product, Process, People) 9% 11

*Notes: For additional information about subdomains and tasks, please check the official PMI-ACP Exam Outline downloadable on: https://ibm.biz/Bdsne8

PMI-ACP What is agile? (Skill Acquisition)

An intuitive model for mastering agile can be taken from martial arts.
Here the students progress through 3 stages of proficiency called Shu Ha Ri.

Shu (Protect & Obey) - Follow the rules. Copying the agile techniques taught to attain basic.

Ha (Detach & Digress) - Break the rules. Reflecting and gaining a deeper understanding. Individuality begins to emerge.

Ri (Leave & Separate) - Transcend the rules. Learning and progressing through self-discovery. The student becomes the master.

To reach a stage for agile teams to become high performing and self-organizing. It’s critical to teach the team members of the agile practices first by teaching them the ground rules of agile.

Later when the team is more experienced it’s acceptable to break or change some of the rules/ways to adapt to the team and/or client to add additional value by customization.

At the final stage, it’s important to give way for the teams and individuals to surpass the master, this is the source of improvement for the art as a whole and will ensure the art to continually improve and flourish.

*Notes: Book: Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers

Expect few questions on this topic directly or indirectly and/or combined with Dreyfus Skill Acquisition theory and

PMI-ACPExam and Tests

The PMI-ACP® examination consists of 120 multiple-choice questions and you have 3 hours to complete it.

Hereby listing the tests I used prior to the exam. I recommend focusing on the high-quality tests as those are closest to what you will see on the real PMI-ACP exam. You can manage using only the chapter review and the free questions.

1.rmcls.com (High-Quality  60Qs - Free if you have bought PMI-ACP Exam Prep book)

2.rmcls.com (High-Quality  20Qs in Demo mode. Full version 500Qs - $199)

3.project-management-prepcast.com (High-Quality  78Qs - Create free user, don’t take questions individually)

4.izenbridge.com (High-Quality  60Qs)

5.leadinganswers.typepad.com Test 1 (High-Quality  20Qs - Printable)

6.leadinganswers.typepad.com Test 2 (High-Quality  20Qs - Printable)

7.project-management-prepcast.com (High-Quality  480Qs - $79)

8.pmtraining.com (Medium Quality  1000+Qs. $59)

9.agileexams.com (Medium Quality 10Qs)

10.pmiacptraining.com (Medium Quality  20Qs)

11.pmiacp4u.blogspot.dk 50Qs (Low / Medium Quality 50Qs - Printable)

12.pmiacp4u.blogspot.dk 120Qs (Low / Medium Quality 120Qs – Printable)

*Notes: 

Exam tips
You are not allowed to bring anything into the exam room; no water, no snacks, calculator or anything. Any breaks you take are in your overall 3 hours’ test time.

On average you should be doing 1 question every 1,5 minute, which is easier than the PMP so time shouldn’t be a problem.

If you are ahead on time I suggest you take a small break every hour: check out, take some water, go to the toilet, check in and continue.

I had completed 50% after the first hour (60Qs) then I took a break and came back and did the second half in another hour.

Reviewed my marked questions and finished the test 1 hour ahead of time.

Questions

Be advised, I found no question database that were similar to the real PMI-ACP exam questions so while you may not be able to get the feel of how the exam will be, the difficulty is similar to the high quality questions.

PMI-ACPAgile Checklist

For the exam it is good to know the following topics. However, it is not required that you memorize anything, you just need to have an understanding of each topic, so none of this should be new to you when you go for the exam:

  • Scrum pillars: Transparency, Inspection, Adaptation.
  • Little’s Law: Limiting Work-in-Progress improves output.
  • Kano Analysis: Prioritization method, classify customer preferences into 4 categories: Delighters, Satisfiers, Dissatisfiers, and Indifferent.
  • Test Driven Development: 4 steps: 1) Write test, 2) Run test, 3) Write code and re-test, 4) Refactor. Also called Red-Green-Refactor, because first test run will fail without code, and second should pass.
  • Feature Driven Development: Prescriptive model where software development is planned, managed and tracked in 5 steps: 1) Development overall model, 2) Create feature list, 3) Plan by feature, 4) Design by feature, 5) Build by feature.
  • Acceptance Test Driven Development: 4 steps / 4 D’s: 1) Discuss user story, 2) Distill test, 3) Develop code, 4) Demonstrate product
  • Active Listening: Level 1: Internal Listening, Level 2: Focused Listening, Level 3: Global Listening.
  • Conflict Resolution: 5 Levels: 1) Healthy constructive disagreements, 2) Disagreements and self-protection, 3) Starts blaming counterparty, 4) Conflict becomes ideological and polarized, 5) verbally combative, us vs. them.

*Notes: Understand that Kano and MoSCoW are prioritization methods, that will help guide you to either rule out wrong answers or direct you to the right answers.

Understand the difference between Test Driven Development, Feature Driven Development and Acceptance Test Driven Development. I had more than 2 questions related to that subject.

PMI-ACPAgile checklist (Cont.)

  • Dreyfus Skill Acquisition: 5 skill levels: 1) Novice, 2) Advanced Beginner, 3) Competent, 4) Proficient, 5) Expert.
  • Tuckman Team Development: 5 stages: 1) Forming, 2) Storming, 3) Norming, 4) Performing, 5) Adjourning
  • Adaptive Leadership: 4 Stages: 1) Directing, 2) Coaching, 3) Supporting, 4) Delegating
  • Decomposing Requirements: Epic > Feature > User Story > Task
  • 3 C’s: User Stories Consists of 3 elements: Card, Conversation, Confirmation.
  • INVEST for effective User Stories: Independent, Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable, Small, Testable.
  • Affinity Estimating: Control consistency of story points for all estimates. Form of triangulation as you take comparative view of all estimates to control stories that are comparable in size have similar estimates.
  • Wideband Delphi: Group-based estimation technique. Panel of experts submits estimates anonymously to reduce cognitive and psychological biases.
  • Iterations: Iteration 0 is used to set up the stage for development efforts or reduce risk (risk-spike). Iteration H/Hardening Sprint, or Release Sprint are wrap up iterations to stabilize code, document product, complete additional testing.
  • Iteration Planning: 1st half: Customer describes backlog items they suggest for sprint. Team members select items and give soft commitment. 2nd half: Team breaks down backlog items into tasks and gives hard commitment.

*Notes: Understand Tuckman’s Team Development theory and the sequencing. I had two questions on that subject.

Understand the role of spikes both risk spikes and architectural spikes. I had about 5 questions related to that subject.

PMI-ACPAgile Checklist (Cont.)

  • Cost of Change: The longer a defect is left unaddressed, the more expensive it will be to fix. As more stakeholders will be impacted by the defect and more work may have been built on top of the error/problem.
  • Lead Time: How long something takes to go through the entire process e.g. from design to shipping or requirement gathering to deployment.
  • Cycle Time: How long something takes to through part of the process e.g. cycle time for a user story is from start of development until it generates business value.
    Cycle time = WIP ⁄ Throughput – If WIP increases cycle time increase and conversely a WIP reduction will lead to reduced cycle time. An increase in throughput will reduce cycle times and conversely reduce cycle time if decreased.
  • Risk-Adjusted Backlog: Risk is perceived as anti-value. Agile seek to balance delivering the highest-value features and mitigating the biggest risks that remain. Items with the greatest value and risk is put at the top of the backlog.
  • Expected Monetary Value (EMV) = Risk Impact ($) × Risk Probability (%)
  • Risk Severity = Risk Probability (1-3) × Risk Impact (1-3) – Low (1), Medium (2), High (3).
  • Kaizen: Translation: Change for Better referring to continuous Improvement, steps: Plan-Develop-Evaluate-Learn
  • Product Owner: Should be CRACK: Committed, Responsible, Authorized, Collaborative, Knowledgeable

*Notes: Understand what the difference is between lead time and cycle time. I had at least one question related to that.

PMI-ACPAgile Checklist (Cont.)

  • Deming’s PDCA Cycle: Plan-Do-Check-Act
  • Value Stream Mapping: 1) Identify product/service, 2) Create value stream of current process, identifying steps, queues, delays, and information flows, 3) Review map to detect delays, waste, and constrains, 4) Create new value map with desired future state, 5) Develop a roadmap for future state, 6) Plan a revisit of process in future.
  • WIDETOM: Potential areas of waste in Lean manufacturing providing opportunities for process improvements: Waiting, Inventory, Defects, Extra Processing, Transportation, Over-production, Motion
  • Process Cycle Efficiency = Value-Added Time ⁄ Total Cycle Time
  • 5Y: 5-Why’s is a technique to uncover the root cause of an issue
  • SMART Goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely
  • ROTI: Return On Time Invested is used to measure the effectiveness of retrospective meetings.
  • CAS: Complex Adaptive System, is a system composed of interacting, adaptive agents or components. Development of a product is adaptive as previous interactions, events, decisions influence future behavior.
  • Agile Triangle Parameters: 1) Value, 2) Quality, 3) Constraints
  • Common Prototype Methods: 1) HTML, 2) Paper, 3) Wireframe

*Notes: Understand 5Y’s is a root cause analysis. I had at least one question on that subject.

PMI-ACPAgile Checklist (Cont.)

  • Highsmith’s Agile Project Management: 5 Phases: 1) Envisioning, 2) Speculating, 3) Exploring, 4) Adapting, 5) Closing.
  • Highsmith Adaptive Leadership: Being Agile and Doing Agile: Being Agile focusing on agile project management, incremental delivery, continuous integration, and adapting to changing requirements. Doing Agile focuses on doing less, speed-to-value, quality, and engage and inspire.
  • Higgs & Dulewicz 7 Components of EQ: 1) Self-Awareness, 2) Emotional Resilience, 3) Motivation, 4) Interpersonal Sensitivity, 5) Influence, 6) Intuitiveness, 7) Conscientiousness
  • Key Soft Skills Qualities: 1) Emotional Intelligence, 2) Collaboration, 3) Adaptive Leadership, 4) Negotiation, 5) Conflict Resolution, 6) Servant Leadership
  • Whitworth Levels of Listening: 3 levels: 1) Internal Listening, 2) Focused Listening, 3) Global Listening.
  • Dynamic Systems Development Model (DSDM): 1) Feasibility Study, 2) Business Study, 3) Functional Model Iteration, 4) Design and Build Iteration, 5) Implementation
  • Crystal Framework: 3 Processes: 1) Chartering, 2) Delivery cycles, 3) Wrap-up. Contains: Exploratory 360

Good luck! 🙂 - And remember to celebrate your success with your team members and clients!

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