We trawled through hundreds of forum posts, emails and discussions with successful PMI-ACP certificate holders, as well as digging deep into the Agile Practice Guide and the exam content outline from PMI.
Here are the essential agile topics you must know for the examination.
It’s quite hard to define what it means to have an agile mindset, and you’ll see experts defining it in a variety of different ways. For us, having an agile mindset means being able to advocate for agile principles and values, living those values and practicing servant leadership. It’s about being responsive to change, and taking a creative approach to continuous improvement.
David Dacorro, PMI-ACP, says this topic came up on his test. “The exam tests your knowledge of having an ‘Agile mindset’ which is totally opposite of how a traditional Project Manager conducts business,” he says.
Value-driven delivery is the second domain on the ECO for the PMI agile certification, and you should expect 20% of your questions to come from this domain.
Value-driven delivery is all about defining what ‘value’ means to the customer and then finding ways to deliver that incrementally, prioritizing the work in the most efficient way.
Stas Podoxin, PMI-ACP, who leads the team responsible for the PMI-ACP exam simulator explains what it means like this:
“If we want to develop a new exam that consists of 180 questions, we either write the questions ourselves or hire contractors or both. When a new contractor is hired, instead of asking him/her to develop all 180 questions at once (which may take a few months) and then send them to us for review (which may take a few weeks), we ask the contractor to develop sets of 10 questions at a time. This typically takes just one week. So in a week, we will know if the contractor writes good questions and, if not, adjust as needed or provide our comments for the contractor to fix the current set and apply the same approach to the next sets.”
In our expert roundup of PMI-ACP tips, studying value-driven delivery was one of the top recommendations because it’s the foundation of so many other agile practices.
Team performance is a whole domain by itself, which shows how important it is for candidates to review this agile area.
Team performance covers:
If you regularly work in an agile setting you might find this area is second-nature to you: after all, you build teams and work with others in your job every day. However, there’s more to making sure your team is performing well than simply making sure their training needs are met.
Take an active approach to encouraging a culture where a high-performing team can thrive, such as reducing distractions and understanding what motivates individuals so you can help them work to their strengths.
“My N[eeds] I[mprovement] area was Team Performance, which I was aware was my weak area going into the exam,” says Steve, who passed his PMI-ACP exam on the first attempt. “I could have studied more in that area and risked failing as not many people pass with an NI area on their results, so don't follow me there.”
The role of the team is critical to the success of agile projects, so spend enough time understanding the different roles and how they contribute to the work.
“Most of the questions have to be answered from the viewpoint of Product Owner, Scrum Master and Team Member,” says Liju Thomas, PMI-ACP.
Make sure you understand each of the core roles and what they are responsible for. Expect to get questions that test your ability to see things from the perspective of people in the team.
Value-based prioritization is about making sure the units of work are ordered correctly so that the value of the deliverables is optimized. It’s not a one-off job, so you’ll constantly be evaluating work to ensure that the team is working on the right things.
The most common tools you’ll need to understand for the test are:
Note that it’s unlikely you will need to know the formulas for ROI, NPV and IRR, but you should be able to understand them and interpret the results to choose the best next step if you are presented with the results.
It’s also worth making sure you understand the role of the customer in prioritizing requirements and the importance of compliance requirements as the foundational ‘must do’ layer for any project.
This is such an important area to understand, so take some practice exams and identify whether it’s an area you need to invest more time in studying.
“On the PrepCast exams, my scores were 67.5%, 78.3%, 67.5% & 75%,” says Jarvis Parker, PMI-ACP. “I have to say that these exams really prepared me well for the actual exam. They were challenging, but more importantly, after they were scored, they let you know how you performed in each Domain. This helped me to hone in on my weak areas and to put additional time in to fully understand the topics.
Adaptive planning involves planning at multiple levels and ensuring your plans have the right level of detail.
Study rolling wave planning and progressive elaboration and understand when to use them (clue: it’s all about balancing what you know is coming with the ability to stay flexible in case opportunities arise that the team wants to capitalize on).
If you are struggling with this topic, Ben Altarejos, PMI-ACP, has this tip. “If there are questions or options that totally disarmed you, go back to the Agile Manifesto's four values and 12 principles,” he says. “Read the questions first and focus on what's being asked. There are times wherein the previous sentences are mere noise or will mislead you to the correct answers,” Ben, who passed his test on the first try, adds.
You can practice this at work by planning at multiple levels. Think about the strategic plan, a release plan, the iteration plan and then your daily planning. Each of those adapts to the work at hand and the current priorities.
“So much of project management is stakeholder engagement,” says Elizabeth Harrin, author of Engaging Stakeholders on Projects: How to Harness People Power. “Agile projects rely on a close working relationship between all stakeholders so that decisions can be taken quickly and the team can remove roadblocks. A shared vision for the project and a shared understanding of what success looks like can really help.”
Interpersonal skills feature heavily on the ECO. The tools to focus on include:
Process improvement involves digging into why things work the way they do and how you can make them better. Typically, it is about looking at the working practices of the team to make it easier and faster to work together in a smart way. In other words: tailoring.
Agile teams have huge flexibility to work the way that is most efficient for them, and trial and error plays in part in establishing the cadence of the team.
Some of the key resources you can use for process improvement include:
You’ll also want to make sure you are confident with tailoring models and that you understand when hybrid approaches might be the best choice.
There are many agile activities that might need to be tailored for your team to function effectively, and Ilona Fegan, PMI-ACP, has a tip for you if you are struggling to recall them. “I created study cards that combined the various agile activities, along with their objectives and approaches to accomplish,” she says. “As a longtime PMP, it took a bit of a 'breakthrough' in my thinking to ensure I was successful in absorbing and understanding the Agile mindset.”
Agile analysis and design is a topic where many students get stuck, especially if they haven’t worked in a hands-on agile environment before. A lot of the tools used for analysis and design can feel theoretical if you haven’t used them in practice, so while you are doing your test preparation, think about how you could use these tools (even if you aren’t in a fully agile setting).
Think about how you create an environment where everyone can visualize the work. The product roadmap, user stories, story maps, wireframes and customer personas are tools that are useful to understand for potential questions. Chartering is another topic that falls under agile analysis and design: make sure you understand the value of chartering and how that provides a ‘container’ for the work, as that might come up in a question.
Given that these topics feature heavily in the Agile Practice Guide, you might be wondering whether you have to memorize that book in order to pass.
“Absolutely not,” says Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM. “The exam tests your understanding of agile concepts and principles. Your hands-on experience will help you apply that understanding to practical situations like the ones you will find in the exam questions.”
Cornelius says it is important to read the agile considerations from the Knowledge Area chapters and relevant appendices in the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and the Agile Practice Guide. “I would recommend you read them both at least twice each,” he says. “But there is no need to memorize their contents!"
It’s no surprise to see another ‘team’ topic make the list! The team is crucial to the success of the project, and getting the right people in the team is the focus of team formation. This topic covers working with others to define ground rules and processes for the project (and these could be different for each project). Your role - and the role of each team member - is to foster a sense of coherence and create a culture where everyone is striving for the same goals and outcomes.
The team is formed of people who play various roles on the project, and it’s really important to understand how each individual role contributes. For the test, it’s also important to understand the roles and responsibilities of roles, as you might see the role defined, but with a title you are not used to seeing.
This happened to Nataliia Hubal, PMI-ACP, when she took her exam. “Be careful when understanding [the] meaning of ‘project manager’, ‘team lead’ role in exam questions,” she says. “I was confused to see these terms that often in the exam since during studies you differentiate [between] PO/Customer Proxy/ etc and Coach/Scrum Master.”
The PMI agile examination is tough, and it’s meant to be. It’s a reflection of your knowledge and understanding of the world of agile in all its forms. The themes in our PMI-ACP study guide above are the ones we see come up again and again in questions, but they aren’t the only topics tested.
Take the time to read the Agile Practice Guide, and revise your knowledge with an exam simulator. Look for one that covers the subjects in the right proportions, like the PMI-ACP exam simulator, so you can be sure you are studying in a way that accurately reflects the breadth and range of topics you may get asked on your exam day.
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