I feel similarly about my PMI-ACP certification as I do my college degree.
Some years ago, I decided that I’d pursue some agile-based certifications as a means to challenge myself and expand my skillset.
If some committee has convened and defined a body of knowledge worth learning, that seems like a good enough place to start.
A more difficult decision was which certification to select as my objective. In my estimation, there were four primary certifying bodies. PMI, Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, and IC Agile.
I evaluated the options based on several criteria. Given that one goal of obtaining certification is to secure future employment, I put on my hiring manager hat to consider which certificate might hold more clout than others. I spoke with certified contacts that to gauge how valuable they found the experience. I researched the prerequisites and testing procedures of each certification to determine which ones might seem more stringent.
I was looking for a certification that was exam-based but wouldn’t break the bank.
I managed to narrow it down to the PMI-ACP vs. the Scrum Alliance’s CSM. I opted for PMI-ACP for four reasons:
Job postings in my local area (even for agile positions) primarily require the PMI-PMP. Having the agile alternative to that certification seemed a good compromise. The Project Management Institute is a recognized name, but the material was agile-focused.
The PMI-ACP requires you to have a minimum number of hours working on real-life projects. In this way, the certification would also serve as a verification of my experience, not just the mere fact that I can study and pass an exam.
PMI-ACP covers multiple agile approaches. Alternative certifications focus on just Scrum or just one aspect of the agile mindset.
I felt the formality of the exam itself somehow added clout to the certification. Test takers must show up at a test center and verify their identity before sitting the exam.
I totally over-prepared for this exam. Self-doubt lulled me into studying through most of my eligibility window (which is one year). In retrospect, that was most certainly overkill, but the extra knowledge gained can only help me in my career.
To meet the PDU requirements to sit the exam, I purchase the Agile PrepCast podcast course. I cannot say enough great things about this course. I listened to it while I was running, mowing the yard, and driving to work. I loved Cornelius Fichtner’s voice. He has a slightly cheesy sense of humor, but if you’re reading this blog, you can probably guess that’s right up my alley. If you’re looking to meet the required PDUs and prepare for the exam, I totally recommend you check these guys out.
The majority of my book-based learning focused on the following three books:
I also read or browsed several of the books that were on the PMI-ACP reading list at the time:
The process of being seated for the exam is about what you’d expect if you’ve taken other proctored exams. You have to show some ID, put all of your personal and electronic bits in a locker, and submit to being frisked. The overall process was similar to my experience taking the GRE. They may have been more frisking involved, but additional safeguards are warranted given the leaps and bounds of camera technology.
Shit got real once I was seated in front of the computer and took the first five or so questions. There is a good chance that it was a side effect of my anxiety and fear of failure, but the inquisitors might as well have written the questions in a different language.
Several of my study materials helped set expectations for how the exam would word questions and provided techniques to reason through and identify the correct answer. I’d also taken several practice tests and thought I had a grasp on the convoluted wording. However, as I sat there taking the actual exam, I couldn’t help but feel like a trickster god had written some of these questions.
I obviously can’t share an actual question from the exam with you, so as an example, I’ll use a question based on one of my favorite book series.
Ron Weasley was one of seven children. Two of his siblings were twins. His youngest sibling married Harry Potter. The song singing headgear that directed Ron to Gryffindor was of what hue?
- A.) Blend of blue & orange
- B.) Pink
- C.) Blend of blue and orange with patches
- D.) Horcrux
I’ll share my thought process behind answering this question.
As I first begin to read the question, I assume this must be something about Ron’s other siblings that aren’t named.
The actual question, though, has nothing to do with the whole first part about the siblings. That’s annoying and makes me question my sanity for a few seconds. I have no idea what “song singing headgear” is; I’ll just ignore that tidbit for the time being. Isn’t hue just a fancy word for color?
Perplexed, I read the possible answers to see if they might provide context. Most options do appear to relate to color. It’s a reasonable assumption that the exam is asking the color of some song singing headgear.
Ron was sent to Gryffindor by the sorting hat. Wait. A hat is headgear; the sorting hat did sing songs every year. So, I think the question is asking about the color of the sorting hat. Who in their right mind calls the sorting hat song singing headgear?
I’m relatively sure the hat was just brown. None of the possible answers are brown. It definitely wasn’t blue and orange. It definitely wasn’t pink. That leaves horcrux. Horcrux isn’t a color; it’s an object that stores a piece of a wizard’s soul. Given that a horcrux can be any object, they could be any color and thus aren’t guaranteed to be brown. I don’t see how horcrux can be the answer either.
A and C look very similar. That’s usually an indication that one of them is the correct answer. Oh, wait, a BLEND of blue and orange. If you blend blue and orange paint, I think you actually would get brown. Ah, the answer must be A.
Wait though, the only difference between A and C is the addition of “with patches.” I can’t remember for sure if the sorting hat had patches, but it stands to reason that it would since it’s nearly one thousand years old.
C is the answer.
Now, imagine going through that 120 times!
This example highlights a pet peeve of mine. Is this exam’s purpose testing my critical thinking skills or validating my understanding of the agile body of knowledge? What is the gain in obfuscating the actual question and answers? Perhaps I just don’t understand the science behind crafting questions for a high-quality certification. Maybe there is a reason we need to make the questions so complicated and arduous, but I can’t bring myself to see it.
What would have been wrong with this question:
What color is the sorting hat?
- A.) Black
- B.) Pink
- C.) Brown
- D.) Gray
By the time I was over halfway through, the questions weren’t getting more straightforward, and my anxiety was compounding. I started to seriously doubt I would pass the test. I then began to debate whether I would pay the fee to retake it.
Around question 80, I had no idea if I would fail or pass this test. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d missed them all or gotten them all correct. I had no bearings on how I might be doing.
By the time I got to question 100, I was angry. I decided if I failed this test, it wasn’t worth retaking it.
After I finished all questions, I reviewed some of the ones I’d marked for review. I was exhausted and ready for this dreadful assessment to end. I hit the submit button, crossed my fingers, and tried not to have a heart attack while waiting for the results.
Pass. Above target in all domains.
I can’t say I’m not happy with this result, but the overall exam experience made me question my sanity.
Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome. -Arthur Ashe
I believe the body of knowledge that the PMI-ACP tests for is worth knowing. However, you can learn that without sitting for the exam. In my opinion, the exam is also a bit pricy, considering all you get for your money is a shot to receive a certification. The cost of alternative certifications is readily justifiable, given that you’re paying for the course. In addition to that, I’ve seen very few job postings that show a preference for the PMI-ACP.
I think my advice to most would be to study and practice for the exam, but only get the certification if you’re the type that likes to collect them all or perhaps if you have some training budget that you need to spend.
For me, I’ll think twice before taking a similar exam in the future.
Like my college degree, I’m glad that is over, I appreciate the knowledge gained, but I wouldn’t want to do it again. I can’t recommend it to everyone, but I’m proud I have that little piece of paper.