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The Top PMI-ACP Books Every Exam Taker Needs

The PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® exam is based on an integrated set of skills and knowledge drawn from a wide range of best practices and experiences. That means there isn’t one single PMI-ACP book that will give you everything you need to know to pass.

Students who pass the exam use a range of books and resources that cover the topics in the exam outline. Many students get a boost - both in knowledge and confidence - when they read around the subject and refer to textbooks during their studies. Then they test what they have learned using sample questions in a PMI-ACP exam simulator.

PMI does not endorse any specific resources for the purposes of certification, but they do list 12 books on their website that we feel are great reads for anyone preparing for the exam. You’ll find this list below.

How can Books and Reading Materials Help Me Prepare for the Exam?

There are plenty of benefits to be had from reading as exam prep, including:
  • Reading out loud helps recall key facts
  • Reading improves your vocabulary
  • Reading improves confidence
  • Reading keeps your brain active

Reading out loud helps recall key facts

Talking to yourself while reading might not work if you are studying on your commute or in the sitting room while the rest of the family watches TV, but research shows that reading aloud impacts recall.

Your brain finds it easier to remember things that are different, so read aloud key facts or points you are finding difficult to recall. Consider taking your study materials to a quiet place where you can talk to yourself undisturbed!

Reading improves your vocabulary

It’s easier to learn new words in context. The more you see them in writing, the more familiar they become. You’ll pick up new words and feel confident using them when you read. By the time you get to your exam, the new terms will feel familiar and you’ll have no problems understanding them in questions or answers on the test.

Reading improves confidence

The more you read, the more confident you get. It’s to do with exposure: the greater your exposure to ideas and concepts, the more familiar they feel and the easier they are to work with. Using a wide range of texts helps too: if you don’t understand something the way one author explains it, another author may explain it differently and give you that a-ha moment.

Reading keeps your brain active

It’s common knowledge that keeping your brain active helps prevent cognitive decline in old age. What better way to stretch your little grey cells than by studying for a new certification? OK, so this one is more about long-term health benefits of staying ‘agile’ mentally than having a direct impact on your ability to pass the PMI-ACP test, but an alert brain has to be a good thing on exam day, right?

How to Choose the Right PMI-ACP Book and Study Material

There are a lot of PMI-ACP books out there, so it’s important to choose texts that will help you achieve your goal of getting certified. Here are some things to look out for while making your choice.
  • Topics covered
  • Content freshness
  • Author credentials
  • Writing style
  • Price
  • Ease of availability
  • Format

Topics covered

What topics does the book cover? You’ll want to make sure that together, all your PMI-ACP study materials cover the full exam content outline - reading the ECO is the first step on our PMI-ACP exam checklist. Some books will cover similar topics so there is likely to be some overlap. Try to use resources that cover different topics so you get to read about a wide range of agile practices and concepts without too much repetition.

Content freshness

When was the book published or last updated? The PMI-ACP exam has been around for some time, and you may find old books in second-hand marketplaces. It’s important to use the latest, updated textbooks that reflect the content in the current exam.

Author credentials

Who wrote the book? Many agile books are written by practitioners with lots of experience in the field, and it’s always worth checking out the author bio.

Some books will have chapters by different authors, so you can read and learn from a variety of professionals with different backgrounds and experience to share.

Writing style

What’s the style of the book? Some will be easy to read and aimed at people new to agile. Others will be highly academic texts with plenty of references to journals and research studies. Others will fall somewhere in between.

One of our PMI-ACP exam tips is to make your own notes, so go for a book that you’re going to find easy to use to study from. Choose a writing style that suits your level of prior experience and what you enjoy reading. If you find the book hard going and difficult to read, you’re less likely to pick it up and study with it.

Price

Buying books can be expensive, so consider what budget you have for resources to support your PMI-ACP exam prep. Then look at what you can get for that amount. You’ll definitely want to invest in sample questions through an exam simulator. Any other budget can go on books from the list below.

See if you can get pre-loved books on a second-hand basis, as long as they are still the most recent editions. Your local PMI Chapter may have a book exchange, or you could check out your local library for books to borrow if money is tight.

Ease of availability

How easy is it going to be to get hold of the book of your choice? For example, you might have to have the book shipped from abroad and that could incur additional costs and time. Will your books arrive with enough time for you to read them before the exam?

Format

How is the book available? Do you prefer to read a ‘real’ book or an e-book? There is no right or wrong answer; it all comes down to your personal preference.

Many students like to have ‘real’ books so they can make notes in their copy and mark important pages with tabs. Others prefer the flexibility of e-books so they can carry their learning materials around with them for ease.

PMP-ACP Exam Prep Books Recommended by PMI.org

As we said above, PMI stops short of endorsing any particular author, but they do have a list of reference materials on their website. That’s the perfect starting point for any PMI-ACP student looking to broaden their reading and study from a range of texts.

Below you’ll find the list, expanded with our thoughts on each book and where you can find a copy for yourself.

Agile Estimating and Planning

Mike Cohn, 2005

Mike Cohn is one of the founders of the Scrum Alliance and his books have been used by agile practitioners around the world for years. This book is a practical guide to estimating and planning in an agile environment. If you were wondering how to actually plan an agile project, this book has the step-by-step answers and includes case studies.

Agile Practice Guide

PMI, 2017

The Agile Practice Guide is the core text from PMI and a must-read in preparation for your PMI-ACP exam. It was written in collaboration with the Agile Alliance and also covers hybrid approaches. It has been put together with the PMBOK® Guide in mind, so the two books align in terms of terminology and approach.

PMI members can download an electronic copy for free once logged into the PMI website, but if you want a paper version you’ll have to purchase one.

Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products (2nd Ed)

Jim Highsmith, 2009

This book is aimed at leaders at all levels and is an integrated view of how project and product management fit together with software development approaches to deliver results in an agile way. The book is wide-ranging and covers a lot of the topics you’ll see in the PMI-ACP certification exam. It’s business-focused, so the guidance is real-world tested.

Make sure you get the latest version of this book, which has been fully updated with techniques for larger projects.

Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great

Esther Derby, Diana Larsen, Ken Schwaber, 2006

Retrospectives are one of the ceremonies you’ll need to be familiar with if you work in an agile environment. This book is about how to get good at finding and fixing problems as a result of the collaborative retrospective.

There are plenty of tools and recipes to help you dig into what’s not working in the team so you can then work together to improve processes and working practices. Whether it’s the tech, the team or a process that is causing problems, running an effective retrospective is the first step to improving efficiency

Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game (2nd Ed)

Alistair Cockburn, 2006

Alistair Cockburn is known for his expertise in use cases and is one of the original writers of the Agile Manifesto. He definitely has the credentials for creating expert texts and this book is certainly one of our must-reads.

There are new ideas in this book that follow on from the first edition, including how his cooperation and collaboration model works in teams outside of software development. He writes about what causes agile projects to fail. The book is thoughtful and thought-provoking, providing context and clarity around what agile means for your organization.

Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition

Lyssa Adkins, 2010

A core concept of agile working is that the team is coached and supported along the way. Coaching is a particular skill, and this is the book that will help you get better in that role.

Coaching Agile Teams talks about the mindset required to coach from an agile perspective with the aim of helping you understand the key skills required to achieve a positive transformation in your team. As well as the knowledge, the book aims to give you practical tips to create a successful environment for your high-performing team.

Effective Project Management: Traditional, Agile, Extreme (8th Ed)

Robert K. Wysocki, 2019

This book has been on project managers’ shelves for a long time! While it’s pricey, it’s definitely a worthwhile investment. Described as “the standard for both professionals and academics” you know it’s going to become an invaluable desk reference!

The book is enriched with case studies, exercises (and the answers) as well as slide decks covering the information in the graphics and tables. This extra information is available from the book’s website.

It covers a variety of different agile approaches including Kanban, Scrumban, and extreme project management.

Exploring Scrum: The Fundamentals

Dan Rawsthorne with Doug Shimp, 2011

Exploring Scrum is aligned with the Scrum Guide and it presents a view of how the approach is currently used, along with the history of how Scrum evolved.

As you can tell, this is very much a book that focuses on one topic: making Scrum successful in your organization. It’s not an introductory text: instead, it’s a deep dive into the Scrum framework and provides the starting point for you to think about how best to adopt it for your projects. It’s practical, honest, consistent and grounded in the real-life challenges faced by Scrum teams. If you want to know how Scrum really works, this is the guide for you!

Kanban In Action

Marcus Hammarberg, Joakim Sunden, 2014

This book is your introduction to all things Kanban. Written by two Kanban coaches, you’ll learn the principles for this way of managing work as well as the practical details like how to use sticky notes to organize tasks.

It goes beyond the basics, though, covering techniques for planning and forecasting work, measuring progress and understanding throughput. It’s a guide for everyone on the team and even if you’ve never used Kanban before you’ll come away with a solid understanding of how to make it work for you.

Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for your Technology Business

David J. Anderson, 2010

This is the second Kanban-specific book on the list. Written by the founder of the Kanban Method, this is an introductory guide to the approach. It answers the questions you might have about the method, like what it is and why it’s helpful for managing work.

The book is split into sections that explain the benefits, how to implement it and how to use it to make improvements. There’s a lot covered by this book and you’ll come away from it with a good grasp of why Kanban is such a popular choice for agile teams.

Lean-Agile Software Development: Achieving Enterprise Agility

Alan Shalloway, Guy Beaver, James R. Trott, 2009

Agile approaches may seem best suited to small, self-organizing and empowered teams. But you can scale agile to the enterprise and this book shows you how.

Aimed at software development organizations, the authors show you how to combine agile practices with a Lean enterprise way of working to reap the benefits of agile across the business.

There’s plenty of good stuff in here that will help you understand how agile scales up and what it means to have ‘enterprise agility’.

User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development

Mike Cohn, 2004

Another book by Mike Cohn has made the list! It’s no surprise really; this is another excellent and foundational read. It’s full of practical advice about how to get started with user stories. You’ll come away with a blueprint for creating effective user stories and guidance on how to use them in your project.

Good user stories help the team save time and get to the heart of the requirement, so knowing how to get the best out of them throughout the project - from the writing to planning to testing - is important.

Summary

The PMI-ACP exam rightly draws a wide range of source material. Many of these books are also used as references in the PM Exam Simulator too, so you can easily find where to go for more information on a concept covered by a particular question.

However, we should say that it is possible to spend so much time studying and learning from all the available books that you never get round to scheduling your test! Pick your core texts and use them as your main reference materials. Combine that with a training course and an exam simulator to help you learn what’s required for the exam. If you still have the time and inclination, then introduce other books.

Remember, one of the principles of agile is constant improvement and iterations. As a PMI agile certified practitioner, you’ll be improving your practice throughout your career, so the books you choose now will become useful guides you can refer to time after time.

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