Friday, January 13, 2012

Power to the Gorilla! - Or, I passed the PMI-ACP now what?


Oh life was good, oh so good. I read the email one more time before leaning back in my seat with a self-satisfied grin. I even went so far as to kick off my shoes and toss my feet up on the desk. In a bygone decade I would have pulled a cigar from my pocket and lit it in a self-congratulatory act of hedonism. Instead I satisfied myself with lacing my hands behind my head and staring at the ceiling with a happy grin. Absolutely nothing could ruin my good mood, nothing!

My door opened, allowing a deep voice to fill the room. "Ding… Third floor, housewares, bedding, inflated egos…"

Okay, almost nothing. "Go away, Hogarth, I'm not letting you spoil my mood."

I could feel Hogarth lumbering into the room but I didn't turn my starry eyed gaze from the ceiling. I herd the snap of Hogarth breaking another branch off my poor fichus and didn't fret over it one bit. I'd just get another plant, it wasn't a big deal. Nothing could ruin my mood.

"Why would I want to spoil your mood?" Hogarth said. "I mean its not every day you earn a coveted inaugural slot in what's likely to become one of the industries influential certifications."

I kicked my feet off the desk and brought my gaze down to my fichus nibbling gorilla. "Really? You're not here to tell me about some monumentally stupid thing I've done? I haven't overlooked some gaping field of land mines, stepped on the toes of someone important?"

Hogarth shook his head, "nope, nothing like that."

I leaned back in my chair with a cheerful grin. "Yeah, it is pretty special to be on of the first hundred GOPHRs. I mean just getting into the Global Operation Project Handler Registered pilot program was an achievement. Passing the test was pure gold and now I have arrived!" I pumped my fists in the air to punctuate my last words.

Hogarth didn't say anything at first. He carefully finished pulling a long strip of bark free from the branch and sucked it in like a piece of spaghetti. Finally he looked up from his branch to look at me, my arms still raised ridiculously in the air. "Okay, you've arrived. Now what?"

"Huh? I've arrived. I did it. This is my ticket."

Hogarth nodded, "I see. But what are you going to do?"

"Do?" I stared at him perplexed.

He nodded again. "The price of greatness, is responsibility."

I threw up my hands again, this time in annoyance. "Hogarth! Don't spout Spider Man at me."

"Not Spider Man, Winston Churchill."

Having isn't Being
On January 10th I was informed that I had passed the PMI-ACP  certification exam and am now a certified PMI-ACP retroactively as of October 10, 2011, the day I took the test. Yes, I've been a PMI-ACP for three months and didn't know it. By the numbers I've heard reversed engineered, there are currently a little more than 500 PMI Agile Certified Practitioners (as of January, 2012). In comparison there were between 300,000 and 400,000 certified PMPs worldwide in 2011.

So what's it like to be one of the first? Well there was no balloon drop. Ed McMahon didn't show up on my doorstep with the Publisher's Clearing House check. In fact it doesn't really feel all that different. Now perhaps having three months pass from test to result lessens the anxiety, but I had none of the elation of seeing "You passed" on the screen when I received my PMP.

One thing did change though. Responsibility…

Now this is not a word I am unfamiliar with. Hogarth and I discussed the responsibility of project managers in a past blog. Still being one of the first to hold the PMI-ACP has caused me nearly as much reflection in a week as I have done in the many months on it since it was first announced.

I first blogged on the PMI-ACP with the "Potato, Pahtato Gorilla" in March 2010, where I talked about why I saw a value in the certification. While not directly discussing the PMI-ACP, when Hogarth played poker I stressed that a certification isn't the silver bullet it is just what shows people you should know what you are talking about. In my Lemming Blog I bemoaned how bad training could be a death knell for the certification. And finally, my last blog was a retrospective on my experience with the certification process. In addition, a good chunk of my blog this last year covered agile topics in large part because of my involvement with the certification process.

And through all these blogs there are some common themes that come back to responsibility.

And now that I have the certification, I know it's my responsibility to live up to both the certification and to Hogarth's maxims of speaking to the unspeakable. As one of the first 500 I have a certain responsibility to project management, agile and of course myself.

So with that, some specific thoughts being a PMI certified agile practitioner:

How do I fit in the overall agile community?
So how will we ACPs fit into the overall agile community?

Great question. Even more so than the PMP, it is no magic bullet. There are agilists that won't have anything to do with me just because I have an ACP. Agilists that think certifications are just proof you are part of all that is wrong with product development.

Then of course there are companies that know very little about agile and my having the ACP isn't going to be some spear and magic helmet. The reputation of PMI will lend it some credence, but at the end of the day what matters is my own work product.

For a large swath of the agile community I think what the ACP is going to do is to raise peoples expectations. If I'm a certified agilist then I better damn well know what I'm doing, right?

In the long run, it will be what certified ACPs do that will determine where we fit in. Which brings us to…

Representing the certification.
Going back to the Winston Churchill quote, there is a lot of responsibility that comes with being a trailblazer. If I'm the guy walking through the minefield, to find the safe path, then I darn well better not miss any mines. If I make it to the other side, but the team gets blown up, then I've failed. Because being and agile project manager isn't about me, it's about the team.

Being one of the first ACPs means I've have to be a lot. I've got to be an agile coach, agile mentor, agile evangelist and most importantly, I've got to be agile.

I guess it's a good thing I already felt I had to anyway. If I had to change to live up to the certification, then I shouldn't have been given it in the first place.

Wow, so all sweetness and light? Sounds like you drank the PMI Kool-Aid.

I don't think I have. If I did, someone slipped it into my coffee. No, I'm won't change who I am for this certification. I think the ACP fits who I am. It's not to say I don't have issues with it and that I won't raise my concerns.

The Name: PMI-ACP
I've not received my super dooper, official certification packet yet, and searching PMI's website is like trying to get a straight answer in a political debate, but as near as I can tell the official way to represent my certification is "PMI-ACP."

Really? Look, guys I've already got enough three letter acronyms behind my name to cause enough issues (PMP, CSM, CSPO, CSP). Giving me a seven letter one? Even the most storied professor of Oxford is going to just have three letters behind his name (PHD). Now I have to use a seven letter TLA? Heck, my TLAs are now longer than my entire name and that's no mean feet with my name.

There's only one other body out there giving out agile related certifications and those all start with CS, so I don't think anyone's going to be confused with plain old ACP. If you're worried that folks won't know where the certification came from, then do more marketing.

Seriously, I'll be referring to it as the ACP. I doubt anyone is going to mistake me as the "American College of Physicians"

Beware Prep Courses :
I've already referred to my Lemming Gorilla blog, but this bears talking (okay maybe it's a rant now) about. So let me climb up on my soap box for a minute.

Virtual doesn't cut it: I know, I know. It's a brand new certification and finding training isn't easy right now. The thing is, one of the key principles of agile is about the value of co-location. Yes, in a lot of real life use cases you'll be dealing with virtual teams, but when you are first learning agile you want to experience it first hand. You want to get into hands on exercises with fellow students. You need to focus when you're learning (We've all read email while watching WebEx training, admit it). Let me ask you this? Do you want your airline pilot to have learned by mail order? You need to learn agile hands on.

PMP Prep Course Shops:  You can't swing a dead tuna without hitting a PMI approved trainer for PMP prep courses. Some of them are very good, some of them are little more than test mills. And with all of them you need to look very closely before taking a ACP prep course from them. The PMP is a long standing certification with a unified body of knowledge. The PMP is also a certification for a multi decade profession. Most of us who study for the PMP already know project management really well. We spend more time learning the "PMIisms" than we do learning new. For the PMP, prep courses that are designed to help you pass the test make some amount of sense. I've still got a lot of issues with the ones that care only about getting you to pass the test, but that's a soap box for another day.

The ACP is new. The ACP is based on a very diverse body of knowledge (Ten years of structured agile, over sixty years of lean, something in between for many concepts we now call agile, and over ten books in the official PMI study guide. ) The concept of "Agile Project Management" is still relatively new, despite agile concepts being really old.

If you haven't been using agile, if you don't understand it and see the value, dare I say if you don't believe in it, then taking a three day prep course that gets you to pass the test is going to be the greatest disservice to you, to PMI and to agile as a whole. With the PMP, you need to learn the PMI way of thinking. With agile, you need to be agile.

So check out the credentials of any training shop you look into. Check their agile credentials. The one I talked about in my past blog had found a CSM willing to help them, but the company itself didn't have any agile background. If their sales pitch has anything to do with "It's the next big thing," or "Get on the bandwagon now," walk, don’t run from the place.

You can do it yourself: If you're an agile veteran, like the Agile Scout you probably don't need to even study. Compared to Peter I'm a rank amateur in agile with barely enough agile project hours to qualify for the exam. Yet I didn't take a prep course. I had a stack of books, Wikipedia, Google and sample questions (Edit: Jan 20, 2012: At this time I cannont recommend the use of the Agileexams service) . I knew agile, I just needed to spend some time getting familiar with the common language that exists out there.

PMI is paying attention: One thing I really give PMI credit for, is being responsive to this. Rory McCorkle is the product owner for the PMI-ACP certification and product manager for the PMP certification. He's been very approachable since the beginning. So I took the issue of Test Mills to him. He told me that PMI is very focused on this and wants to ensure that the ACP doesn't turn into an test mill. He even encouraged me to report a test mill if I thought they were not being ethical about their practices. There's those ethics again.

Full Disclosure: I have talked with someone about building a prep course. If I did, I would build it on the principles of agile and it would be designed to codify agile, not get you to pass the test.

So at the end of the day, does it mean to be a PMI certified agilist?

I don't have super hero cape, I didn't find the secret to untold wealth, It didn't change me into something else.

At the end of the day it’s a validation of who I am and what I've been doing since I added agile to my personal toolbox.

Joel Bancroft-Connors, ACP
The Gorilla Talker
Want me to talk to your gorilla?
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP