A new PMI Agile certification could be a hit with CIOs

A project management expert explains why CIOs should look for managers with a new Agile certification developed by the Project Management Institute.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) has created an Agile certification that should be on the radar of every CIO, human resources (HR) professional and IT manager.

The PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) certification will probably be showing up on résumés very soon -- and with good reason. It's the first Agile credential authorized by PMI, a not-for-profit membership association. PMI's existing credential, the Project Management Professional (PMP), is already the industry's most widely known and well-respected project manager certification.

In 2008, before developing the new PMI-ACP certification, PMI conducted a study of 600 organizations representing 900 project management practitioners. It later compared that study to one it conducted in 2011. Of the 2008 respondents, 15% were using Agile methodologies; of the 2011 respondents, 30% were. This growth prompted PMI to look into whether it made sense to create an Agile certification. In turn, it put together a steering committee of Agile thought leaders, many of whom are not PMI members, to look into what the organization might offer for Agile practitioners. The steering committee included a co-author of the Agile Manifesto, people involved with lean and kanban tools, leaders in the Dynamic Systems Development Method, and other Agile experts.

Through 18 months of research and preparation, the steering committee found the industry did indeed need a certification to fill a specific Agile niche -- the codification of what Agile means -- in order to create a common language across Agile organizations. It also was necessary to show that certification holders were not only aware of Agile, but also trained and experienced in actually executing Agile methodologies: No amount of training or examinations can replace good old-fashioned experience.

High bar for PMI-ACP certification candidates

The PMI-ACP certification takes a broad view of the Agile method, to the extent that it tapseven examples that go beyond software development. CIOs will find that the exam doesn't require a deep understanding of any one specific Agile approach, but looks for a more broad understanding of Agile principles and values, as well as general Agile best practices. This is in contrast to, for example, the Scrum certifications, which delve deep into the Scrum model but don't go beyond Scrum to include other methodologies. Given its broad approach to Agile, the PMI-ACP certification is suitable for anyone working on Agile projects, including developers, testers, project managers, business analysts and product owners.

The strict requirements of PMI-ACP certification provide a high bar to people seeking the credential. To sit for the exam, applicants must show they have:

  • 2,000 hours of project experience within the past five years.
  • 1,500 hours of Agile project experience within the past two years (not overlapping with their 2,000 hours of project experience).
  • 21 hours of formal Agile training.

After students have formally attested and documented that they have met all its prerequisites, they are eligible to sit for the exam. Its questions are developed by the steering committee and vetted further with industry leaders and test-writing experts. The exam consists of 120 questions, of which 100 are scored and 20 are unscored (the latter group includes new questions for future exams). The test is given at an examination facility of Prometric Inc., the Baltimore-based subsidiary of the Educational Testing Service, to ensure quality of scoring and proctoring. Finally the exam has gone through a beta test lasting six months, during which the first several hundred people who met its prerequisites took it. The results of this beta will further refine the questions on the general release in January 2012.

The high standards of qualification and the rigorous development of the exam ensure that the PMI- ACP Agile certification carries the highest possible credibility. Any hiring managing seeing it can be assured the applicant has proven expertise. CIOs, HR professionals and IT manager should be on the lookout for the PMI-ACP certification. It says a lot about the person who is qualified to use those letters.

Joseph Flahiff is president and CEO at Whitewater Projects Inc., a firm that provides Agile project training and consulting services to enterprise organizations. Before establishing Whitewater Projects, Flahiff worked for a multi-state health insurance company, providing Agile project management and training for a three-year $20 million project that coordinated the work of more than 100 team members.

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