How to get the Agile certification in 12 weeks

As an IT professional, I’ve been doing software development for over 25 years. Some 10 years ago I discovered Agile’s benefits and started adopting its principles. But very often, I’ve been asking myself: am I doing it the right way? Is there something I could improve or change? (And is 42 really the answer to everything?) So, I decided to get certified. Then stumbled upon a further question: which Agile certification? There are several of them, but the norm is Project Management Institute’s Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)®. I went for it and got a pretty smooth ride.

Agile certification: The big picture

At first sight, the process appears to be simple:

  1. Preparation
  2. Registration and application
  3. Application assessment
  4. Payment and schedule
  5. Exam
  6. Certification
  7. Maintenance

In theory, this is quite straightforward, right? In practice however, you need to be focused and give it the right amount of time and effort.

Agile Preparation.1

Before registering, you should get yourself prepared. Sure, the registration (see below) gives you one year and three attempts to pass the Agile exam – but that’s not something that I wanted to gamble. When it comes to exam preparation, you can do it by yourself or decide it’s serious enough to get help – so I picked a certified preparation course. PMI provides a list of Registered Education Providers across the globe. I went for PMAccess, based in Romania (my country) and enrolled a three-days intensive course (that costs about € 500). I got access to great content and – more important – to a great trainer who guided and assisted along the way, thus instrumental to my passing the exam. For what it’s worth, and if you have second thoughts, here’s my take from the Agile course:
  • It covers in detail all the Agile principles and values, and all the major Agile approaches (Lean, Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming, Agile Contracting).
  • I got the chance to talk with an Agile expert about real-life, concrete problems and situations that I’ve faced during my career.
  • It clears-up the process of getting the certification, step by step.
  • It provides a personalized exam-preparation schedule, depending on how much of your time you can invest in the process.
Even if I wouldn’t get the certification, I’d still take the course – it was *that* good.

Agile Preparation.2

As a dad of two, there’s not much free time that I can squeeze. I therefore settled for a 12-weeks, 6 hours / week preparation routine, built upon trainer’s plan:
  • Week 1 / Step 1: Revisit the course training material.
  • Week 1 / Step 2: Take the course mini-tests (120 questions in total).
  • Week 2-6 / Step 3: Get Mike Griffith’s book “PMI-ACP Exam Prep”; read it thoroughly; insist on chapters covering the topics where I got low scores on previous tests.
  • Week 7 / Step 4: Take book’s test (120 questions in one session). My score of 70% is a bit discouraging. I do question some of book’s answers, as they don’t fit with my actual work experience. But then the trainer confirms my score is ok and provides extensive explanations on specific topics. So I push on, while I write down results of lower-score chapters.
  • Week 7 / Step 5: Go through the examination content outline on PMI-ACP’s website; clarify still-open questions.
  • Week 8-11 / Step 6: Go through the book again, this time at a faster pace. Ignore chapter order, start with my lower-score ones.
  • Week 11 / Step 7: If you got this far, you can get the application documents ready.
  • Week 12 / Step 8: Take all the previous tests and then some more (from here and here). With scores at 75-80%, I decide I’m as ready as I’ll ever be to take the exam.
  • Week 12 / Step 9: Exam scheduled in two weeks.
That’s pretty much it: average one hour each day, except Sundays. Step-up to three hours when taking a test. Make sure to get the right family-work balance. Register and take the exam when ready.

Registration and application

Getting on board via PMI’s website is easy *once you have everything ready*. Still, that’s not a simple process, as it might take days or even hours. You need relevant experience on both agile and non-agile projects. You need to document it, and that requires some effort. You might want to think of it in advance. Here’s what you will need to include, when documenting your experience:
  • a brief of project’s objectives;
  • your role and responsibility during the project (i.e. project-related tasks, not operational tasks);
  • the agile methodologies and practices that you have applied (if any);
  • project’s outcome in terms of benefits and added value.

Application assessment

A PMI officer will then check your application and, more often than not, will approve it. The assessment usually takes no longer than seven days. Few applicants are selected, on random-sampled basis, for a more rigorous scan. If you’re one of them, you will need to provide extensive proof of experience. It should not be a big deal, if you prepared your application thoroughly.

Certification pre-payment

Once your application is accepted, you will need to pay the certification price in order to start the process. As a PMI non-member, I paid US$ 495. For members, the price goes down to US$ 435. You might want to consider membership, if you think of taking further PMI certificates and / or maintaining your certification for a longer period.

Agile certification exam

When done preparing, schedule the exam. You can pick a convenient date and location, from a list of examination centers around the globe. You get three hours for 120 questions; then pass with at least 75% correct answers. It seems reasonable, but it gets more intense than expected:
  • Before entering the exam room, leave all personal objects behind (both paper and electronics).
  • Sit in front of a computer and use a dedicated test software. Don’t worry about it: it’s definitely not complex, and you’ll have the chance to play with it before the exam starts.
  • My plan was to answer some 21-22 questions every 30 minutes, thus leaving enough time for reviews and corrections. Of course, it didn’t work as planned. I barely had time to cover all questions, and zero time to review.
  • Oh. New questions. None of them are similar to the multiple previous tests that I took.
  • Probably 90% of them are situational questions. A problem is introduced in few phrases, that’s very similar to a real-life case: here’s the product / project, it does this-and-that for a particular client, involving a set of people with different roles. You’re assigned a role, then you’re required to provide a specific answer / action / solution, within the role boundaries, to help things run smoothly.
  • It’s very important to read carefully, detect the essential information and ignore the rest. There are 4-5 possible answers to each problem. You can expect 2-3 of the offered choices to fit as a good answer, so make sure to choose only the best one.
  • I got stuck in several dilemmas that burned more time than expected. But it’s always better to give an answer than none, so I pushed myself along. Got to stay agile, right?
  • Ding! Three hours gone. Get the result: passed, above average. Wait for the certificate to be printed. Then when out, finally feel some relief. And yes, patting yourself is ok.
Update: it is now possible to take an online exam, under strict surveillance via webcam. You can find more information here.

Agile certification

So, what goes into an Agile certificate? I used to do Agile without knowing, and I thought to be lacking theory. Now I have the theoretical knowledge and it helps grasping the bigger picture. But what counts the most is the agile, structured and effective mindset you get. It’s the self-confidence and leverage in convincing clients and colleagues that Agile can help delivering successful projects. Whether you call it Scrum, TDD, Kanban or something else, just apply the agile values and principles and get the work done, quicker and better.

Maintenance

Like any other professional certification, PMI’s Agile Certified Practitioner needs refreshing and maintaining. With PMI, you need to pay US$ 60 and “earn 30 professional development units (PDUs) in agile topics every three years”. You can collect such points either by attending Agile related events, workshop or webinars, either by providing and presenting Agile related content to others. The complete details can be found here.

Conclusion

Can you do it? Of course. Should you do it? It depends. Says PMI: “If you work on agile teams or if your organization is adopting agile practices, the PMI-ACP is a good choice for you. Compared with other agile certifications based solely on training and exams, the PMI-ACP is evidence of your real-world, hands-on experience and skill. […] The PMI-ACP® certification is addressed to all practitioners, not only to Project Managers. All those who have worked with agile methods and who want to learn new approaches that can complete their experience are eligible to apply for certification”. Then again, even if your employer doesn’t explicitly push you into Agile, you might still want to give it a try. If you need to shape-up the way you work and evolve into a more agile mindset, buckle up and go for it. And if you need cheering and support along the way, feel free to hit me with your questions. Good luck!

Useful links

  • What is Agile development? (@Visual Paradigm)
  • How Valuable is PMI-ACP® to your Career? (@edureka)
  • The Handbook of PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) ® (@PMI)
  • PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) ® (@PMI)
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