Certifiably Gorilla- A retrospective of the PMI-ACP

Tap, tap, tap… Click to refresh. Sigh, “nothing.” Tap, tap, tap… Click to refresh. Sigh, “nothing.”
“What’cha doing? ”
Groan, just what I need. “I’m waiting for an email, Hogarth.”
My banana breathed gorilla leaned on the desk, causing it to groan in protest. “You do realize that PMI said it wouldn’t be until January that they said who passed the ACP?”
I threw up my hands in annoyance, “Of course I know that! And it doesn’t make it any easier to wait.”
Hogarth mused thoughtfully while I clicked refresh again on my Gmail account.  “So why you’re waiting to find out the results, isn’t this when agile type folks do a retrospective?”
Sigh… I hate it when he’s right.
PMI ACP Test Retrospective:
I took the test on October 10th, 2011 as part of the initial test pilot. Before reflecting on my own personal experience, I think there is a value in looking at the overall results. Ah, yes, astute observers will note that there are not results. Originally we were all supposed to have been told of our results by the middle of December. Well not only did we not get our results by then, but it would be closer to late December before we got an email saying we wouldn’t get our results until January.
Now January in and of itself is not a big deal. I’m really not all that surprised. What I am surprised in is it wasn’t until the results were late that we test takers were told. In agile communication is paramount and if you are going to fail, own up early and often. Still, even the best make stumbles along the way.
Now one thing that the PMI Agile CoP did do right is being very open about the numbers involved in the test process. Derek Huether is the new co-lead for the ACP support team and in a recent blog he presented the PMI-ACP Numbers. Very interesting to look at. While more than 7600 individuals started the online application, less than 1500 submitted their application and only 557 went the full distance and sat for the test.  I’ve copied Derek’s graph here for easy viewing.
I guess I’d always thought the number of people sitting for the test was much larger. I thought I was one of thousands and not one of hundreds. Certainly puts a lot more perspective on things and tells me that if I pass, I’ve got a lot of responsibility on my shoulders to help represent the new credential well.
So about the test itself:
In a direct comparison to the PMP test, the ACP is equal in complexity and demand on your raw knowledge. At the asame time if you are really Agile, the test is less demanding mentally. With the PMP what matters is the absolute answer, as determined by the PMI folks that crafted the test. If you are faced with a PMP question you have no knowledge on, you stand about 20% chance of getting the question right (the test usually has 4-5 answers). With the ACP, if you understand agile, then your intuition will guide you as much as your raw knowledge.
Studying for the test right now is difficult. Where the PMP has a single body of knowledge book, the ACP references around ten books, including at least one that has only been published this year. As much as I intuitively get agile, the level of detail needed to pass the test was daunting. At the end of the day PMI is giving a multiple choice test and there can only be one, right answer. If you have been doing agile for going on a decade or more then you’re probably have an experience similar to the one the Agile Scout had. If you like me and a project manager who discovered agile in the last few years, then you are going to have to study to know the material. It’s not that you don’t know agile, it’s just that there is a vast body of knowledge that is often very disparate.
I can’t help but wonder at the creation of preparation courses for this test. There is a huge scope of information to cover and it will be a challenge to do it in a way that isn’t a death by PowerPoint memorization class. Finding a prep course that is true to agile and will help you study will be a major challenge. And those of you who follow me regularly know how I feel about “pass the test” prep courses.
The Details: 
Before you ever take up the challenge to get this certification, you really needed to understand a few things.
Agile– Well, yeah! But seriously preparing for and deciding to take the ACP required a solid understanding of the spirit of agile. This goes to my recent blog and speech, which focus on the idea that the concepts of agile can be used anytime, anywhere. If you’re a Scrum purist who doesn’t see the need for Lean or XP and holds to a firm position on how Scrum should be done right, then pursuing a Certified Scrum Practitioner certification is probably a better use of your time. To want to take the ACP and to get value from it, you need to already be looking at agile from the holistic and people view.
The Value of Certification– Many a cynic has asserted that certifications are purely a means for some company or organization to reach deep into your wallet and fleece it. And you’d have to be pure-as-snow innocent to not think those organizations are not thinking about themselves. That does not invalidate the value of a well managed certification. In Potato, Pahtato I delved into one of the key benefits of a common certification, that of a common language. It also creates a common level of expectation or standards. If you hire an MSCE to fix your Windows network, you can have an expectation that he actually knows what he’s doing. Right now there is only the Scrum certifications as any common set of accepted proofs of agile competency.
It can certainly be implemented wrong and even the most altruistic bodies can go astray, one need only look at the Scrum Alliance to see how even the most agile can lose their way from time to time. But if the people who believe and care for that which is being certified, then I think it is their duty to help guide the process, from the inside. If I never became an ACP, I could only comment from the outside and my voice would the weaker for it. 
The Test Format- Going back to the understanding of agile, for a moment, one thing that is very important is the incredible breadth and depth of the concepts, tools and methodologies of Agile. It is all too easy for people to think of agile as just being ten years old, when its roots reach back at least sixty years and one could argue far beyond that.
So with that in mind, it could quickly be daunting to have a concept of just what you are going to need to know to pass the ACP. PMI gave this kind of guidance and it was invaluable in scoping out my study. Their Exam Prep resources give a starting point on not only how to apply but what to study. Knowing that questions about Agile Contracting was considered a Level 3 knowledge area and thus only 5% of the total exam meant I didn’t stress as much about my knowledge here. Brainstorming techniques, empowered teams and the Manifesto were areas I needed much more focus on as they were considered Level 1 knowledge, 33% of the test’s questions.
Let me start with a strong self assessment. As I dove into studying for the ACP  I had my doubts. Yes, I “understood” Agile but I realized my practical hands on experience was mostly limited to team dynamics. Diving into detailed estimating, for example, I had my doubts on if I had any business taking this test. If I hadn’t already had a test date set, I’m not sure my willpower would have pulled me through. Fortunately I did, and my will stayed strong. It’s was an important lesson in focus and belief in myself.
Which brings us to the studying. Eleven books is one hell of big body of knowledge. Even having read a number of these books previously didn’t lessen the massive amount of data to understand. Without the study guide it would be an impossible pile to tackle. Even with the study guide, it becomes a strong test of your knowledge. You can’t come into the ACP without having a very strong agile background or having read at least some of these books. It was one of my largest challenges, as much of my agile knowledge has come from doing and hands-on coaching styles. I had read some of the books already, but as I tackled the rest of the books it was downright intimidating. Just figuring out what book to read first was a major struggle. The Study Guide helped, but it was perfect as not all the books have nice cheat sheets on the cover declaring their focus.
So I reached into my bag of study tricks and pulled something out from my old PMP study. Sample questions. With a brand new test I knew it was a long shot, but Google came through for me. I found a website which had sample exam questions. The answers gave exact source where the answer came from and allowed me to focus on the areas I was weak. (Edit: Jan, 2012- At this time I can no longer recommend the service I had used, Agileexams. I recommend doing a search for PMI-ACP exam questions and finding an alternative service). Now this wasn’t a solution. This was not the way to pass the test, just pile through the test questions and BANG, you’re agile.
The real value of Agileexams  wasn’t the questions. It was the source citing. When you were given the answer to a question, they cited the book and section the answer came from. By taking sample tests I was able to then look at the questions I got wrong or fully didn’t understand and then assemble a reading list. Instead of having to read all the Agile books, I was able to focus on the areas I was weak in.
Other thoughts: ACP is much more than a CSP. The names pretty much cover it. The CSP is strictly Scrum focused. While it recognizes and draws on the core agile values, it does not recognize the other flavors of agile, does not have any focus on the chartering or closing of a project and definitely doesn’t look at hybrid agile models. The ACP is built on a broad level of agile philosophy, with a very strong amount of “do what works.” I imagine Scrum purists will  continue to the be the biggest detractors of the ACP over the long term, as it doesn’t wed itself to any one style.
The Test:
It’s a proctored exam, what more can you say? You show up for the test and the first thing you do is dump the contents of your pockets into a locker (This includes watches, eye glass cases and even the little shami to clean your eye glasses). Then you present your photo ID and they verify you are you. You’d better hope your license matches your application. After that you prove your pockets are empty and then you go to another room where they verify your identity all over again. And then they use a metal detector on you, just to make sure you don’t have a computer in your underwear.
If you pay attention during this part, you notice the bank of computer screens piping in video feed from the exam room. One camera per computer station and then ones that view large parts of the room. Yes, big brother is watching.
An important note is the supplies they provide. It used to be that you were given several sheets of paper and a pencil. These were key tools for me when I took the PMP. I spent the week before my test creating my memory sheet over and over. When I sat down for the test, I dumped it all onto the page. All the formulas, process flows, theories and so on. PMI is now having the exam centers issue you a fine tipped dry erase marker and three sheets of laminated paper. This greatly effects what you can put on a page and is something to keep in mind for what notes you want to put “on paper” at the start of your test. That said, I didn’t find this all that big an issue as there isn’t much in the way of formulas in agile. I did memorize the agile EVM equation, and wrote that down.
The test itself is a standard computer based multiple choice test. There is a wealth of comments on this  style of tests and advice for taking them (Always read the answers from last to first, for example). The questions themselves are in the style that anyone whose taken the PMP are familiar with. They are also very similar to the Agileexams.com questions. The similarity though shows the common roots of the source material. I’d say the Agileexam questions had a more relaxed feel that made them feel more “agile.” The ACP questions were very dry and focused, not having nearly as much team dynamics questions.
Post Test:
So I survived the test, now what? Well Disney Land is not in the budget, so I guess I’ll stick with writing down my thoughts and thinking about how I can help others understand the ACP and the value of agile.
I have to agree with Sally Elatta on the surprises I found in the test. Lean Portfolio Management, Risk Management in Agile and information radiators other than the common burn down and burn up chart were very prevalent. I came away from the test feeling I needed more knowledge on a few key areas. These were how long user stories are valid for, Lean portfolio management, Lean information radiators, Risk Audits in agile and Extreme Personas.
One very positive experience, I had in all this, was my post test interaction with Rory McCorkle, the Product Owner at PMI for the ACP. There was one question in the test that I had a real issue with. I felt the answer was misleading and didn’t hold true to the reasons agile came to be. I contacted Rory and he responded the same day. He thanked me for my input and said it would be added to the questions they would review in the Retrospective planned for December. This small interaction gave me a lot of hope for the people running the ACP at PMI.
Can someone just hit the books and pass this course? Absolutely, but that’s pretty much a given in any kind of certification. There will be people who get the certification just for the certification and won’t have a full understanding of Agile. I think it will be a smaller percentage than we are seeing in PMP tests. And I think it is the responsibility of the first ACP holders to help ensure the certification ends up with all the positive things about the PMP and none of the negative.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Talker
Want me to talk to your gorilla? mailto:jbancroftconnors@gmail.com
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

All the other Gorillas are doing it

Finally! Just the prep class I’d be looking for. It fit everything I needed, namely a one stop shop that would teach me everything I needed to pass the exam and all that in just six days of intensive training. The certification was as much as mine!


 I damn near leapt out of my skin and did leap from my chair. Clutching my chest I whirled about. “Hogarth!” I blurted. I swear, if I ever figure out how an 800 pound gorilla can be so stealthy, I’ll bottle it and make a fortune. “Don’t sneak up on me like that!”


 “Why don’t I want you to scare me?” I asked in shock.

 Hogarth shook his head. Lumbering past me he perched on the corner of my desk and pointed at the screen. “No, why are you taking a workshop to be a…” He leaned forward, squinting to read the screen “An IRATE*?”

 I stood up a little taller, “That’s an International Registered ACME Technology Evangelist.”

 Hogarth looked at me, “And you’re getting one why?”

“The IMP, Institute of Managing Project*s just came out with the certification. It’s bound to be the next must-have certification. Everyone is using their certification based on the MoProK*.”

 Hogarth leaned towards my screen, “and it’s worth…” He blinked, putting on a pair of banana shaped spectacles to see better. “It’s worth four figures, four very large figures, to you? Do you even know anything about ACME?”

 I shook my head, “Not a thing, but the prep class will teach me everything I need to pass the test.”

 “Huh” he said. Levering himself up from my desk, he began to waddle from the room.

 “Hey!” I said. “Aren’t you supposed to be saying something profound that makes me realize how big an idiot I’m being?”

 Hogarth shrugged. “I suppose, but I need to get going if I want to make my Poo flinging certification prep class. I mean all the monkeys in accounting have theirs.”

 “Hogarth, that’s ridiculous. Monkeys throw poo, that doesn’t mean you have to.”

 Hogarth turned and looked at me. He smiled and said, “Something profound.”


Whoever remembers their mother saying, “And if all the other kids jumped off a cliff, would you?” Okay, good, for a minute I thought I might be the only one.

As many of you know, I’m studying for PMI’s Agile Certified Practitioner certification (PMI-ACP). I think there is a value to it, or at the very least a value to having strong proponents of Agile as certified members. I go into my own whys on this in the Potato, Pahtato Gorilla.

So, I recently attended a local project management-related Meetup. The subject of this meeting was the PMI-ACP certification. The speakers were from a local training house that currently offers PMP prep course training.

At the end of the meeting more than one person came to me and asked my opinion. At the time I demurred on any full commentary, simply saying that they had definitely figured out their target market. While I absolutely believe in tackling those unspeakable gorillas in the room, sometimes calling them out is just plain rude. So I withheld my commentary at the time. It is also why I’ll withhold any specifics on the meeting or the speakers.

So what did I think of the presentation?

It was a crass commercial that undermined the value and ideals of Agile and PMI certifications.

It completely missed why so many people believe in Agile and have been promoting the use of Agile values and principles in everyday business. Only five of the twenty four slides in the presentation were devoted to Agile itself, with the rest being either wrapper or a pitch on why you should get the ACP and how their upcoming training could prepare you.

To the company’s credit, the gentleman who gave the mini primer on the value of Agile, spoke with the passion of an Agilist. It was clear he believed in and used Agile because it worked, because it made for a better project and a better team.

I wish I could say the same for the other presenter, who provided the arguments on why one should get the PMI-ACP. Let me quote the very first bullet from the “Why the PMI-ACP is important for Project Managers?” slide.

o    “Be prepared for the next big wave (after PMP)”

Everything was geared around this concept. That you needed to get the PMI-ACP because it was going to be the next big thing, because everyone was going to be doing it. As a certified PMP I cringed at how they stressed the value of PMI creating the certification. Essentially it boiled down to “They are the industry leader, so it will be taken seriously.” I’ll be the first to say PMI isn’t perfect, but to boil it down to “They are the 800 pound gorilla, that’s why you get their certification” leaves a lot of PMI’s value on the table.

I came away from the meeting feeling like this company cared first and foremost about turning out successful test passers and not practicing Agilists. None of the pitch talked about how it would make us better, how it would help the team, how it would help our businesses. It was all about “me.” Any believer in Agile knows that’s the last thing a project manager should be thinking about. Those of you who have a PMP are probably familiar with the opinions of how the PMP has become devalued by people going through almost factory-like prep courses that are designed to get you past the test, even if you really don’t have a lot of practical PM experience.


·         Is PMI the 800 pound gorilla of project management certifications? Yes, yes it is.

·         Is it likely PMI’s ACP certification will become a must have on PM resumes? Strong likelihood.

·         Should every project manager run, not walk, to get certified at their local factory cert shop? Heck no!

·         Are prep classes inherently bad? No, provided they don’t forget the bigger picture.

Agile is a set of values and principles. You can’t just certify yourself on Agile, you have to believe in Agile.  You don’t do Agile because “everyone is doing it.” You do Agile because it works, because it makes for better teams.

If I ever develop a PMI-ACP prep course, it will be a course that teaches the value of Agile, not just how to pass the test.

Be the lemming with the life preserver.

* The IMP, IRATE and MoPRoK are an entirely made up organization, certification and body of knowledge intended to represent any of the hundreds of organizations and certifications in existence. I am not opposed to organizations creating a standard of practice and certifications to go with them. My issues are with those that take advantage of them instead of build on them.

A Project Manager’s Poker hand

Or- Ripped from Today’s headlines; PMP certification and $4 will buy you a cup of coffee!

It was late evening at my office. I was still there to take a conference call with one of our Chinese out source firms. I strode purposefully down the hallway and straight into the conference room.
I stopped short. I backed up and looked at the name of the conference room. Yes, I was in the right place. Stepping back in my mind tried to make sense of the scene before me. Hogarth was sitting at the table, his back to me. He had garters around his forearms and wore a visor. He was rapidly dealing cards around the table to the other occupants of the room.
Two more gorillas, a black swan and a pink elephant.
The sheer absurdity of the scene froze me to inaction for several moments.
“All right, everyone ante up out,” Hogarth called out.
ITIL,” mumbled the larger of the two gorillas.
Six Sigma, Black Belt,” the pink elephant said..
Slapping a chit on the table, the other gorilla declared “Prince2.”
Quietly sliding her chit across the table, the black swan almost whispered “MCSE.l
PMP,” Hogarth said.
Everyone at the table picked up their cards and carefully began arranging them. Moments later Hogarth called out, “Opening bet is to you, Winston.”
“I call two years of team leadership,” the larger gorilla said.
The “betting” went around the table. “Award winning writing”,” Paid to speak in public”, “Risk management expertise…”
“HOGARTH!” My mind finally caught up with the absurdity. “What are you doing?”
My gorilla turned to look at me. “Oh, hi boss. Just playing poker with some of the guys.” He pointed around the table. “I told you ’bout my cousin, Winston. The elephant is Percy, from accounting, that’s Wendy’s Gorilla, Stanley and birdie over there is Wanda from IT.”
“Poker? What on earth are you using for money?” For some reason my mind had no problems with three gorillas, a pink elephant and a black swan playing poker. Instead I was trying to wrap my mind around just what they were playing for.
“Job experience and accomplishments!” He declared.
Hogarth grinned ,”Haven’t you heard the news? A PMP certification and $4 will get you a cup of coffee?”
Certification Poker, just what does a PMP get you?
A while back Simon Cleveland, of the Miami  Project Examiner, posted a blog titled “Why is just having a PMP not enough.” In his blog he reviewed a study published in the Project Management Journal. The study surveyed Senior IT Executives and found that a PMP certification rated at the bottom of the list for considering a candidate for hiring.
The bottom?…
Yes, the bottom. Here is the list from Simon’s blog:
1. Leadership = 94%
2. Ability to communicate at multiple levels = 93%
3. Verbal skills = 87.2%
4. Written skills = 87.1%
5. Attitude = 85%
6. Ability to deal with ambiguity and change = 82%
7. Work history = 68%
8. Experience = 67%
9. Ability to escalate = 66%
10. Cultural fit = 57%
11. Technical expertise = 46%
12. Education = 37%
13. Length of prior engagements = 23%
14. Past team size = 18%
15. PMP certification = 15%
Wow… My first reading of the article had me up in arms. I was ready to storm the walls and take no prisoners. How dare they say my PMP was the bottom of the list! Then I read a LinkedIn discussion on the matter. In that discussion, one person voiced confusion on why the PMP is considered a must have in so many job requisitions and with HR. Another poster wondered how this jived with PMI promoting project management as a “certified” profession, like accounting or lawyers.  I was ready to call the million PM march on Washington (okay maybe the century PM march, do I hear a dozen?).
So I read Simon’s article again. This time I took my time. I paid attention to the listed values and the LinkedIn concerns from my fellow project managers. When I was done, I had learned two valuable things. The first is the old Netiquette adage to never immediately respond to a confrontational email or post. Write your post, then walk away for thirty minutes or more. Come back after you’ve calmed down and see if you still want to send it. You almost never will.
Of course that’s not what this blog is about. The “Aha Moment” for me came when I realized that the study was 100% absolutely right!
“Say that again?
That’s right. I agree that a PMP should be at the bottom of the list for deciding if you want to hire someone. We saw Hogarth use his PMP (well technically mine) to ante up in his job experience poker game. He didn’t use it for an actual bet. The PMP got him in to the game, but it wouldn’t win him his hand.
It’s the same for a hiring decision. A PMP certification is not the most important decision in hiring someone, and it should not be. The same goes for pretty much any other professional certification, Prince2, Scrum Master, PMIs new Agile cert ( You need a Medical Degree to be a doctor, that doesn’t mean you are a good doctor.). A certification helps get you in the door. It’s a must have on your resume and, in theory, is proof that you have the skills that the hiring manager wants. It is your ante to get into the interview game. It gets you to the table. Then you have to prove that your certification was justly earned, by demonstrating your ability in the skills. In the case of the PMP one of those key skills is the ability to communicate.
Three of the top four things on the study’s list are about communication. Eighty percent or more of being a Project Manager is about communication. Then, looking at the top of the list, the number one thing IT Execs look for is leadership. It’s not communication, though a good leader must be a good communicator. That said, I would argue that to be a successful Project Manager you must be a strong leader. If you can successfully lead a project team, without direct report authority, then you are probably a good leader.
Let’s look at two more high ranking traits; handle ambiguity and change 82% and ability to escalate 66%. These are both vital tools in a good project manager’s tool box. A dedicated PMP certified project manager should have these skills and actively cultivates them. I’d also argue that the ability to escalate is just another part of communication.
Conversely, notice where Technical Expertise rates? A whopping 46%. Leadership, communication, and adaptability (ambiguity and change) far outweigh the requirement for technical expertise.
So on reflection I think this article is spot on and fully supports who I am, as a project manager.
My PMP certification gets me to the table. It shows I want to be one of the best. I still have to prove to them that I am.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
Veteran, the project management wars
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

The Potato, Pahtato Gorilla

Or- My personal Aha Moment, on the value of an Agile Certification.

I should have known communication was going to be an issue from the start. When the Director of IT clarified that he was in charge of Interactive Telemarketing and the guy in charge of the actual infrastructure was called the Director of Data Management, it should have been a clue to the coming communication issues.

“So the overall framework will use a standard five phase PLC..” 

“A what?”, the Dir. of DM asked. 

I smiled, chiding myself for not spelling out PLC, there I go again using alphabet soup, “Sorry, a five phase product lifecycle, concept, planning, development, verification, and sustaining.” The Dir. of IT looked confused, so I elaborated. “A structured process from strategic vision through developing and then release.” 

“Oh,” the DM replied. “We call that a phased release tree and we call them Ideation, contract, coding, test and shipped.” 

I nod, “Right, so the overall framework will be follow the PRT.” Drucker says, “Communication is what the listener does,” so I changed my language to fit my listeners. ” Because requirements are still fluid, we will shorten the.. contract phase and use a modified Agile, Scrum process as we move into the…” 

Another question, and another explanation led to my changing my terminology to call this a “Wagile job.” 

I began to have an inkling of a communication gap. 

“Due to the short release schedule I propose we use one week sprints…” 


“The schedule currently has the backlog grooming on…” 

“Story time…” 

Two hours later I left the conference room, completely exhausted. Dropping into the temp cube I was parked in, I rubbed my face. The meeting had gone well over schedule, almost completely a result of the constant running translations that had to happen for any information to pass back and forth. 

And in lumbers my personal gorilla, whistling a merry little tune. He held out a banana to me, “Want a Musa Fruit?” he asked. 

“Hogarth, that’s a banana!” I snapped. 

He nodded, “Yep, it is. Good thing you guys weren’t trying to put out a fire in there. The building would have burnt down before you agreed on what to call that cylinder object to deal with fires.” 

“Fire extinguisher,” I snapped. 

“Nah, I was thinking about the phone handset so you could call the fire department. You really want business directors fighting a fire?”


If you’ve hiding under a rock for the last week or so, you might have missed that the Project Management Institute has announced a new Agile Project Management Certification. For some this announcement is akin to hearing that “Big Brother” has decided he wants to install cameras in your car. To others it’s something too long in coming, after all isn’t PMI the one and true wisdom in projects? For a large, middle of the road, group the announcement has been followed by a “wait and see” attitude.  Announcing something and how it will actually work are very different beasts.  Announcing you’ve found life on Mars and then revealing that it is only a millennium dead microbe are two, very, different things. 

With feet firmly planted in both the PMI and Agile communities, I was prepared to take a wait and see approach. To start, I wasn’t convinced that there should have been a PMI agile certification in the first place. The Program Management cert (PgMP) has been less than a stellar success. Does PMI have the credentials and ability to make such a certification have value? 

But then I don’t make those decisions and another part of my brain came to the realization that much of the value of a PMI Agile cert would be in the hands of the people who pursue that certification. Like any trail blazers, they could give this new certification real purpose or they could turn it into another white albatross on the road to certification alphabet soup (professional web site developer, really?). 

So until yesterday I was still trying to decide if there was an actual value to even creating a body of Agile knowledge and a certification around that. With the power of the internet at my fingers, I can easily read up on any Agile methodology, from Extreme to OpenAgile and back again. Why did we need a certification?  

And then I had my Aha Moment and I realized that yes, this certification could be a very good thing. 

My Aha moment came talking with Ainsley Nies about one of the “use case” studies she brought into her Agile Management class at UC Berkeley Extension. Captain “Dave”, a police officer, came to class and described how he coordinated the police response to the San Bruno Pipeline explosion last year. What he described is something nationally called the Incident Command System (or SEMS in California) and when Ainsley recounted the tale I recalled my own experience with ICS and it all snapped into place. 

ICS started as California’s Standardized Emergency Management System, in the 1970’s to respond to series of catastrophic urban effecting wildfires. When the retrospectives were done, it was found that it was not a lack of resources but a breakdown in communication and management, a failure in common language, that resulted in poor ability to respond to the fires. This is not surprising for a state almost 800 miles long, paramedics from Eureka may have never even been to San Diego, much less worked with their ocean search and rescue. After 9/11, Homeland Security took California’s system and turned it into a national system that all emergency service organizations were required to learn. Today, any US emergency responder can arrive at any US disaster and plug into the existing “project.” 

Why? Some weaknesses in incident management were a result of:

  • Lack of knowledge with common terminology during an incident.
  • Lack of an orderly, systematic planning process.
  • No predefined methods to integrate inter-agency requirements into the management structure and planning process effectively 

Lack of common language. .. 

Lack of a common planning structure… 

Lack of cross organization integration… 

When I studied for the PMP, I didn’t learn great swaths of new knowledge. I’d been doing project management for years, even before I wore the official title of project manager. What I did learn was a common language and a set of common frameworks, in short a tool box and the instruction manual to go with it. How I ended up using those tools was up to me, the PMBOK itself clearly states it is a set of guidelines or common practices. Getting my PMP gave me the ability to converse with other project managers on a common basis. It also gave me a community. 

And an Agile Project Management certification can be of the same value. Like an Incident Command System for using Agile methodology, it could offer a common language, common frameworks and make sure that when we all grab hold of the elephants tail, we all know its an elephant we’re holding onto and not python. It can shorten the time new teams take to come up to speed. It can mean that an Agile PM can join a firm with other Agile PMs and already know they are talking the same language. 

Does my Aha Moment magically make things all rosy and bright. No, but it does tell me that this certification can be a good thing. When we can all agree that the red cylinder is called a fire extinguisher, it will make it a lot easier to put out the project fires.