PMI-ACP certification is the best way to turn your budding interest in agile project management into a professional identity. Lucky for you, there are many great PMI-ACP courses to help you brush up on agile tools and techniques, learn PMI-ACP exam material, and earn your certification on the first attempt.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at this exciting career opportunity from all angles, review the top agile methodologies, and recommend trusted courses and resources that you can consult on your way to learning PMI-ACP and acing the certification exam.
What Is PMI-ACP?
PMI-ACP stands for Project Management Institute Agile Certified Practitioner. It is one of five agile certifications that PMI makes available to the public, whether you are a PMI member or wish to remain unaffiliated. To become a PMI-ACP, you must cross a series of project experience and agile training checkpoints, and then pass the PMI-ACP exam.
But what differentiates agile practices from other project methods? The term agile has acquired a specific set of meanings in the business world, distinct from its usage in casual conversation. Flexibility and freedom of movement are part of it, but that’s just the beginning.
Whereas traditional project management relies on set plans, fixed deadlines, and sporadic progress, the agile philosophy embraces a willingness to change, daily accountability, and people over process.
Proponents of agile swear by its ability to foster greater productivity, a more positive work environment, better outcomes, and improved customer satisfaction.
As an agile certified practitioner, you will bring a battle-tested set of tools and techniques to your next project or enterprise. You will also have a better chance of earning a higher salary with the certification than without. It’s hard to argue with that kind of success.
What Is PMI-ACP Used For?
Agile practices have been reshaping businesses everywhere since the turn of the century, but the knowledge didn’t congeal into a certifiable set of skills overnight. When PMI finally introduced the ACP certification in 2011, it was suddenly possible for professionals to learn from other agile practitioners and spread the knowledge and skills more efficiently.
PMI-ACP training is useful wherever collaborative projects make up a significant share of a company’s business. It has had an especially profound impact on these four lines of work.
- Software Development. Agile got off the ground in 2001 when a group of software developers wrote the agile manifesto to articulate the secrets behind their effective collaboration. It remains influential in software circles to this day.
- Marketing and Advertising. Because advertising and marketing teams are always interfacing with clients and collecting data about what works and what doesn’t, an agile approach facilitates the flow of information and the evolution of best practices.
- Finance. By adopting agile methods from IT departments, CFOs have found more success in planning company budgets and making more accurate predictions about the effects of big decisions involving company assets.
- Construction. All construction jobs require complex coordination among a variety of actors. Agile construction helps crews manage risk, adapt to changing conditions and client demands, and implement more efficient processes.
Types of PMI-ACP: A Rundown of Agile Methodologies
The agile revolution has inspired many formal applications of the philosophy. Most of these agile systems have sprouted up in the same place where agile started, in the world of software development.
One of the great things about PMI-ACP is that it doesn’t discriminate. You don’t have to be a devotee of a particular agile methodology to get certified.
You do, however, need to know something about all of them to pass the exam. With that in mind, let’s run down four of the most common frameworks for applying agile principles.
The most popular of the four, Scrum has become so ubiquitous that many folks think Scrum and agile are the same thing. But its reputation as the definitive agile framework can overshadow what is truly unique about it.
Basically, Scrum moves a project forward through a series of scrums and sprints. The team meets regularly for check-ins (scrum), which lend focus and clarity to the work of a given period of two to four weeks (sprint). Each sprint takes on a small chunk of the overall project, and each scrum holds everyone accountable to each other and the sprint.
The centerpiece of Kanban is a board with cards representing the resources available for a given project. These cards clearly illustrate to the team what needs to be done and give team leaders an easy means of assigning tasks according to each team member’s capacity.
Both Scrum and Kanban are widely used in software engineering, and keeping Scrum and Kanban similarities and differences straight will help you ace the PMI-ACP exam.
Lean is the spiritual successor of Kanban. Like its precursor, Lean seeks to minimize waste and maximize the value delivered to the customer. But Lean builds on Kanban’s customer value model by introducing the concept of the Minimal Viable Product, which developers use to become more responsive to consumer needs.
Extreme Programming (XP)
The most concrete framework, XP is a specific set of programming practices designed to get the most out of each software developer’s skill set. As the name suggests, it takes agile principles to the extreme. It does this by repeating successful methods on a loop until the project is complete. In extreme programming, developers often work in pairs.
Since the Project Management Institute created PMI-ACP, all roads for earning the certification run through them. The path is fairly straightforward, and pretty clearly outlined on the PMI website.
But don’t expect any loopholes or shortcuts. Straightforward is not the same as easy, and not just anybody is allowed to take the exam.
So what exactly do you need to do? Let’s take it one step at a time.
How Long Does It Take to Earn PMI-ACP Certification?
If you’ve just landed your first job as a project manager, you may still be two years away from being able to take the exam. And once you’ve passed, you also have to meet certain project requirements to hold onto it.
This is because certification is not just a matter of passing the exam. But in addition to spending a few weeks studying, you also need to log a certain number of hours of general project experience, agile project experience, and agile training.
Simply put, PMI-ACP is more than just a line on your résumé. Once you decide you want to earn this certification, you’re making a lifelong commitment.
How to Learn PMI-ACP: Step-by-Step Guide to Certification
Let’s slow down and look more closely at each of the requirements.
- Satisfy the general project experience requirement. In the last five years, you need to have accumulated at least 2,000 hours of any kind of project experience, which works out to about twelve months. If you’re already in a collaborative work environment, this shouldn’t be an issue.
- Satisfy the agile project experience requirement. In the last three years, you need to have accumulated at least eight months of experience incorporating agile methods into your project work. In practice, this means that you have logged 1,500 hours collaborating with a team that has made a good-faith effort to follow agile principles.
- Secure 21 contact hours of agile training. Think of this as formal study time. The reason most PMI-ACP exam prep courses include 21 hours of content is that they want you to be able to check off this requirement when you enroll in them.
- Pass the PMI-ACP Exam. Administered with computer-based testing technology, the exam consists of 120 questions, lasts for three hours, and covers the full range of agile tools and techniques. The testing fee is $435 for PMI members, $495 for non-members.
- Keep your PMI-ACP certification up to date. To maintain your certification, you must collect 30 professional development units (PDUs) every three years. One PDU is equivalent to one hour of educational enrichment or professional service. For ideas about how to earn PDUs, check out the PMI website.
The Best PMI-ACP Courses and Training
As one of the Project Management Institute’s newest certifications, PMI-ACP is quickly becoming a hot commodity for agile practitioners everywhere. The more people who sign up to take the test, the more competition there is to provide high-quality PMI-ACP exam prep.
Better yet, most courses kill two birds with one stone by not only covering the content of the exam but also giving you precious contact hours that count towards the PDUs needed or exam eligibility.
PMI-ACP courses exist for every learning style. Whether you prefer in-person bootcamps, live instruction in a virtual classroom, or self-paced online study, you should be able to find a mode and a method that will help you efficiently digest the material.
Best In-Person PMI-ACP Classes
Due to higher costs and greater inconvenience, the popularity of onsite classes has dwindled in recent years. And to be blunt, the COVID-19 pandemic is only hastening the transition to distance learning.
But when it comes to preparing for an exam, there’s nothing like a live, bootcamp-style environment to engage your focus and drill information into you. Below are a couple of places you could go for such an experience right now, even before the COVID-19 vaccines are ready.
Project Management Academy
- Course: PMI-ACP Certification Training
- Locations: Boston, MA; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; Schaumburg, IL; Denver, CO; Washington, DC
- Time: 2 days
- Prerequisites: None
- Cost: $1,195
Also available in virtual and on-demand formats, Project Management Academy’s PMI-ACP exam prep course doubles as a comprehensive overview of all the agile methodologies, including Scrum, Lean, and Extreme Programming.
The cost of the course includes access to all course material for six months and comes with a money-back guarantee. That is to say, if you take advantage of everything the course has to offer but still fail your first three exam attempts, you get a full refund.
Learning Tree International
- Course: PMI-Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) Training
- Locations: Herndon, VA; Alexandria, VA; New York, NY
- Time: 3 days
- Prerequisites: General project experience and agile project experience
- Cost: $1,795
No shortcuts here. The Learning Tree International PMI-ACP training course is designed for agile project managers who have already met the required general project experience and agile project experience milestones.
The training reviews agile tools and techniques, best practices, and PMI reference material, culminating in a full practice test. What sets Learning Tree apart from competitors is that after the class is over they provide you with one-on-one access to a personal coach, with whom you can continue to consult until your exam date.
Best Online PMI-ACP Courses
The courses that deliver their content exclusively online usually come with a smaller price tag, though sometimes at the cost of less rigor and fewer practice tests. When shopping for online courses, make sure to stick with trusted vendors, read a few reviews, and ask friends and colleagues for advice. Doing due diligence will protect you from getting hustled.
Below are a couple of online options that pass the smell test, providing many of the same benefits as their more expensive counterparts for a fraction of the cost.
- Course: The Agile Certified Practitioner Training Program (PMI-ACP)
- Time: 21 contact hours
- Prerequisites: None
- Cost: $129.99
For $130, you get an experienced instructor, 21 hours of video lectures, and an assortment of quizzes and exercises to test your knowledge. Some reviewers find the lectures a bit repetitive, but you get 40 PDUs toward PMI-ACP certification out of the deal.
The course content is divided into eight sections, with the earlier modules addressing big-picture concepts and the later ones focusing on more detailed aspects of agile projects, such as scrums and sprints, stakeholder engagement, and risk management.
- Course: PMI-ACP Certification Training Bootcamp
- Time: 3 days
- Prerequisites: None
- Cost: $800
GreyCampus offers the course materials by themselves for $270, but the addition of the three-day virtual bootcamp constitutes a nearly threefold increase in value. The immersive instruction method, the 45 hours of training, the 200 practice questions, and the money-back guarantee are designed to help to pass on your very first attempt.
- Course: The Agile Prepcast Elite
- Time: 21 contact hours
- Prerequisites: None
- Cost: $279
You’ve got to like your chances when you team up with a training company that stakes its entire reputation on being able to guide students through the thicket of agile philosophy. The Prepcast instructors practice what they preach in this course, which they designed using agile methodologies. The lessons are distilled from the 12 books recommended by PMI.
They also give you a whopping 480 sample questions, so you can practice until the cows come home.
Best Free PMI-ACP Exam Prep
Agile project managers believe in their craft so much that they want to make it easy for others to join their ranks. So while most courses cost a pretty penny, you can also study for the exam without spending a dime. Below are a couple of ways you can do just that.
Master of Project Academy
- Resource Name: Free PMI-ACP Training
- Time: 30 minutes
- Prerequisites: None
- Cost: FREE
Not all companies are motivated by philanthropy. Some of them, like Master of Project Academy, make a selection of their course content available for free as a way of enticing students to pay for the full course. But hey, thirty minutes is thirty minutes.
These seven lectures, accompanying handouts, and exam questions cover the basics of agile project management and relay advice from recent exam takers. If you like how things are going, you can upgrade to the full course with a $77/month subscription.
- Resource Name: Free PMI-ACP Exam Resources
- Time: On-demand
- Prerequisites: none
- Cost: FREE
Less of a course than a repository of free study aids, this page includes two sets of sample questions, a cheat sheet full of mnemonics, PMI-ACP articles explaining key concepts, and a side-by-side comparison of agile methodologies.
By all means, if you’re going to spend the money to take the PMI-ACP exam, you should buy an exam prep book. The standard is the one by Mike Griffiths, which covers everything you’ll learn in a PMI-ACP exam prep course.
But endless exam preparation can be mind-numbing, more of an exercise in memorization than immersion. To gain fresh insight into the value of agile principles and practices, sometimes you need to see it from a new angle.
The authors in this list have all lived and breathed agile, and it shows in their writing. Their concrete stories and clear takeaways may just inspire your next agile project.
Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos, Darrell Rigby, Sarah Elk, and Steve Berez (2020)
As with most good things, agile project management has been misconstrued or outright abused by people looking for a quick fix to wicked problems. Reminding readers that agile is not a silver bullet, Rigby, Elk, and Berez take a step back and decouple the mythology that surrounds agile from its real potential to spark innovation.
Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland (2014)
In this book, the creators of the Scrum methodology take readers behind the scenes of its origins, explaining how the idea first arose and evaluating to what extent it is already revolutionizing human productivity. The authors make their case by sharing success stories from a wide range of agile teams, from journalists to federal investigators.
Best Online PMI-ACP Resources
A community as large as agile is bound to support both current and future members, not only through formal PMI-ACP exam prep channels but also in more informal ways.
Organizations that espouse agile methodologies are keepers of the knowledge that agile certified practitioners get tested on. Two of the best places where you can go to peel back the curtain are Agile Alliance and the Project Management Institute.
Agile Alliance Content Library
The Agile Alliance is generous with the knowledge it gains, and its members are eager to pass it along to you. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and treat yourself to agile content of all kinds disseminated in various formats, including podcasts, blog posts, videos, and research papers.
Project Management Institute Website
At the risk of stating the obvious, the PMI website is the north star for project managers. Read up on any changes to the PMI-ACP curriculum and learn about other certifications you can get, such as project management professional (PMP) and professional in business analysis (PMI-PBA).
Also keep yourself informed about upcoming conferences, unique training opportunities, and ways to get involved.
Should You Study for the PMI-ACP Exam?
Agile project managers are some of the chief drivers of productivity and innovation in the 21st century. Across all sectors, they lead the charge in improving all aspects of product development, from conception to production to consumer satisfaction.
Because of this, agile certified practitioners are in high demand. Employers are increasingly asking potential hires about their experience with agile principles and practices, and you need to be ready for Agile interview questions.
The modern workplace craves agility. If you have the time and money to get your PMI-ACP certification, it may be just the thing you need to give yourself a more agile career.
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