In this guest blog post Janis Bode shares his learnings about acquiring the PMI-ACP certificate after attending a #PoDojo workshop. Janis is responsible for the Agile Coaches as “Agile Lead” at GameDuell, a Berlin-based Games company from 2012 – 2016. He will move over to McKinsey Digital Labs acting as Agile Advisor in August 2016.

How I went from the #PoDojo to passing the PMI-ACP

This February I attended the #PoDojo in Berlin. My main motivation was to learn about interesting techniques used in product development, so I attended a very inspiring and hand-on workshop.

However, being in Germany we know this still stands true: certifications count. So, to be completely honest, it made the #PoDojo even more appealing: I would be granted a Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) and the workshop would provide me with the opportunity to go for the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) both at the same time.

I was interested in the PMI-ACP for 3 reasons:

  1. Topics and theories around agile that I had learned a long while ago would be repeated and thus could fill any gaps.
  2. I would find out whether the certification is valuable in itself and whether it is sensible for my team members.
  3. Finally, and obviously, certificates count in Germany.

Requirements for PMI-ACP

The requirements to be entitled to the PMI-ACP exam are to have 2,000 hours of general project management experience, 1,500 hours of agile project experience and 21 agile training contact hours. The latter are provided by #PoDojo. Before registering I asked myself how I could prove my project experience. Eventually it is not as complicated, I checked my last years’ project assignments and found a referee that could confirm my work in that project. This was easily done through the online registration form on the PMI webpage.

Last, but certainly not least, taking the exam costs US$ 495, and I hope this article will be able to help judge whether taking it is valuable for you.

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Going from #PoDojo to PMI-ACP working group

On the #PoDojo training, the certifications were not relevant, also the content of the #PoDojo does not directly relate to the ACP exam. However, in the end of the workshop we eventually ended up with a group of 4 people interested in taking the ACP exam. We started organizing ourselves first through the #PoDojo Slack channel which the trainers provided, later by our WhatsApp group we named “Full Stack Agilists”.

On our first group meeting, we decided on

  1. which material to use,
  2. our training schedule,
  3. and when we wanted to take the exam.
  1. Very straightforward we decided to use the book “PMI Exam Prep” by Mike Griffiths. It offers a direct and very condensed path through the whole curriculum necessary to pass the ACP examination and I recommend using it. However, please be aware that it is the single most boring book on agile I have ever read.
  1. The book contains 8 chapters on agile and we decided to each individually read a chapter a week and meet on a Monday night to discuss about the chapter. Adding 2 weeks for repetition and 2 weeks to set up the whole group we came to a schedule of about 3 months with weekly work on the book. Having the meetings on a Monday, it was always possible to go through the book latest on the weekends in about 3-5 hours per chapter depending on their length.

After having chosen the book and scheduled our time, it was an easy extrapolation exercise to come from the workshop at the end of February to the exam date in mid-June.

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Working in the group was very helpful, we all came from different companies, had different levels of experience and roles within our companies – mostly product-related. Now each of us read a chapter every week and on the following Monday we would sit together and discuss questions we have about it and in general about the topics which were covered. Each chapter is ended by a quiz, which we took and talked about our different understanding of certain questions.

The nice part about the book and the exam scope is that it does not just tell you about Scrum, Kanban and XP, but also a lot about other agile techniques, the business side and focusses around values and principles. These can get to very tricky questions and situations – but this is how reality is and making it very valuable.

Final exam time

After we had learned, repeated and discussed many potential and experienced situations, hypothetical and concrete issues, the week before the exam came.

I made a quick run through the book, re-checked all the questions, wrote some very tricky things on index cards and repeated, repeated, repeated.
Finally, exam day came. When entering the exam center I was quite surprised to see the testing site – all my personal belongings I had to lock up, empty my pockets and, before entering the testing room, was checked with a metal detector. All that being quite intimidating, the testing room didn’t really make it any better with little niches where all the subjects sat, being observed by camera and through a window to the testing-site office. However, after 5 minutes all of this was easily forgotten and I was are left with my computer and the test.

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The test itself felt tough, sometimes hairsplitting and sometimes a bit detached from reality. Almost no questions were straight-forward and in many cases I had to take a step back and consider the principles and guidelines of the agile techniques – sometimes even over personal experience. After 3 hours of staring at a blue-white screen and my eyes feeling dazzled I was done and, this was the best part, received my passing result immediately. I went to work afterwards, but in hindsight I would not recommend it. Rather take the day off, it’s a very exhausting procedure.

Looking back I must say while working through the book was exceptionally boring and the test felt pettifogging I must admit it was well done. The contents of the test and the exam prep book which orients along the test are eventually very wide and span a larger scale than any other agile certification I know of. It compresses topics you would usually learn in reading at least 30 books and need experience from several companies. It does not constrain on a certain role like Scrum Master, Product Owner, coach or developer but approaches the topic process- and role-agnostic.

In conclusion

I would really recommend the PMI-ACP, not for the sake of  the certification but for the wide range of knowledge it covers to really create a full stack agilist. Going for the exam one should know about the very theoretical, hardly exciting learning experience and the tedious test. Also one should be aware that, being connected to PMI, there are quite a few tendencies in connection to classical project management. While ACP is fully agile, some of the classical PMBoK-terminology is used and might sound strange or be utterly new to people not exposed to this before. However, this can also make a fit  for someone to make an internal transition to a role where this type of terminology is used.

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Feel free to contact Janis Bode via Xing or LinkedIn