The Transparent Gorilla: If you can see through me, you can see me.

 

In response to Agileexam Gate:
“Hey. Can I ask you about project Pompeii’s status?”
I tensed up , turning slowly to face Molly. She was the program manager on another project, which had some dependencies on my project. Okay, had a lot of dependencies on my project. I plastered a smile on my face. “Sure, Molly, what’s up?”
Looking down at her notes, she said “You’re reporting green on the phase interlock grid?”
I nodded, “Absolutely, PIG is on track.”
Molly scratched her head, “I’m confused, it’s supposed to be fully complete in two weeks. We’ve yet to be able to deploy it without everything melting down. Is there a problem with it?”
“Problem?” Damn, my voice nearly squeaked. Fighting it back under control , I answered, ” Look, it is nothing we can’t resolve. We said it would be ready, it will be ready.”
“I’m just concerned, we only have two weeks of slack, if PIG misses those dates, Prometheus is going to go down in flames,” she said.
My smile slipped away. “You have an issues, take it to the PMO. I said it would be ready and you’re questioning me? We’re on the problem and we’ll have it ready. Now excuse me, some of us have real work to do.”
I spun about and stalked off to my office. The nerve she had! Of course PIG was risky. I mean how often to you integrate a phase oscillating projector into a self healing data grid? We just needed to focus and get the work done. It was on my and my teams shoulders to do. We didn’t need to tell anyone about the process, we just needed to get it done. We all knew it would work, everyone else needed to just back off. I strode into my office and collapsed in my chair. I so needed a nap.
“Transparency… ” Hogarth said from his corner of the office.
I didn’t look at him, making every pretense of counting the holes in the acoustical ceiling tiles. I so didn’t need a gorilla telling me about see through plastics.
Hogarth sighed, and heaved his bulk up. Lumbering over to my desk he leaned in to loom over me. “If you hold up a metal shield to me, all I see is myself. If you hold up a window, I see you. “
Ouch…
Make the insanity stop!
I rarely tackle current event issues. With twenty years of my own mistakes and witnessing a lot of strange things, I’ve got years worth of blogs . But I wouldn’t be true to Hogarth and all I stand for, if I didn’t stand up now.
Note: You have to read the Agile Scout’s blog on his fact check of Agileexams.com for this to make sense. Also you may want to read Jesse Fewell’s blog on the same subject.
Even in it’s current form, Agile Scout’s blog calls into question the business behind the product Agileexams. I don’t think anyone I’ve talked to denies that the product is a good idea and it has value. What Peter Saddington (Scout) is calling into question is the business and marketing practices behind Agileexams.
Point and Counterpoint:
So, first off we have to ask the question, “Could Peter have done more research on his article?” or “Did Peter act too fast to get out his story?” The answer to this is a fully qualified “Maybe.” I don’t know everything Peter did to research the story. What I can say is that the person who’s testimonial he highlighted had one hell of a name. Even having the full name of the person, it took me ten minutes to get the PMI certification registry to cough up his name (It’s not a Google like search at all). I also know that I can’t for the life of me figure out how to not show my certifications and that the default is for your certifications to be shown, you have to opt out. I do know that Peter reached out to me for my experience and reportedly he asked Agileexams’ owner to answer questions, but was declined. So could he have done a better job in the first place? Possibly. But that’s an answer you can probably give to 80% or more of all journalism done.
Now let’s look at the response. Getting bad, questionable press is naturally something that no one wants. What you do about it though tells the world a lot about your character and causes people to form their own opinions. When Toyota had their gas pedal issues, they weren’t raked over the coals for the problem. They were lambasted for how they responded to the problem. When Herman Cain was hit with the sexual misconduct scandal, people were shocked, but the real damage was in how he handled the accusations. No one was happy with the fact BP had their oil platform go boom, but people were furious with how BP responded to the disaster. 
Now let’s urn it around . When the Twin Towers fell the rescue response was immediate and sustained. Resources poured in from all over the country and the response was incredible and public reaction was equally high. More recently, EMC’s RSA division was hacked and that exposed hundreds of companies to security risks. EMC got in front of the issue, admitted the breach, worked with the affected customers and reissued millions of RSA tokens. In their next quarterly report, the RSA division reported great earnings. Their customers were so impressed, they bought more product, they didn’t run away.
When faced with adversity, tackling it head on and with complete openness has proven to be the right way to go time and time again.
Following the Toyota way:
Unfortunately, Agileexams followed in the footsteps of Cain, Toyota and BP.
Before Peter had even published his article, before the content was known at all, Agileexams was threatening Peter with legal action.
After the article was published, Agileexams first responded by urging its customers to respond if they were harmed and to blog in defense of Agileexams. In this email, the company said it was considering legal action.
Then an email thread began, in which myself and several others who’d made comments on Peter’s blog were treated to a front row seat between Agileexams and Peter. Errors in Peter’s story were pointed out and Peter quickly made corrections to his article and apologized to both Agileexams and the individual originally cited in the testimonials section. That didn’t end it. Agileexams demanded a full deletion of the article and a public apology. Using words like Unethical and “Not agile”. In the same emails that were flat out demanding change.
Other questions have remained completely unanswered. More than just Peter have asked about what is the definition of “100 years of combined experience” or how “#1 PMI-ACP Exam Prep Resources” is justified. Is Agileexams just one person, or many?
Does it matter?:
Does it really matter if they have 100 years of combined experience, or if they can’t substantiate being #1. If the company was just one guy, a stack of agile books and a website, would it change?
Yes and No:
No, it wouldn’t change, if Agileexams was up front and open. Instead of spending time and money on a slick marketing campaign just focus on the product and make the product great. Quality is its own magnet of success. I personally recommended the site because of the sample tests, not because of any of the slick marketing.
Yes, it would change. If you fail to be transparent and open, customers lose trust. This is even more so in an agile community. Trust, Transparency, and Collaboration are all hallmarks of agile. You don’t succeed in agile by reaching for a loaded lawyer as your first recourse.
The Gorilla’s Stance:
I find myself in a difficult position. One I would much rather avoid than confront. The problem is, if I did avoid it I would be going against my own ethics, going against just what I was advocating in my blog on having a PMI-ACP credential. I am one of the first 515, I have a responsibility to the community. That doesn’t make it any easier.
I think Agileexams, as a product, is excellent. I had nothing but positive interactions during my time using the product. I think it is a good tool that doesn’t slip to far down the Test Mill “were just here to get you to pass” rat hole. I had even approached Agileexams about writing some questions for them. Let me say this again. It’s is a great product. I really hope it will succeed.
Which is why I’m so saddened by the perception that the business is not on the up and up. Perception- Hogarth and I really have to talk about this one in detail someday. The short form is, Perception is 9/10s of reality. You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to agree. The reality is perception matters. Just look at Bill Clinton. Did he, or didn’t he? It doesn’t matter, perception is he did and it will forever hang over his head. The Perception is Agileexams is not being open. The Perception is Agileexams will reach for legal solutions first and foremost. The Perception is Agileexams is hostile to inquiry. The Perception is Agileexams is not agile.
For me the straw was the closing line in the email thread I’ve been given front row seats to. The line was  in response to Peter’s, both posting of the article and not issuing a public apology. Agileexams wrote- “What you did was not Agile.”
Hello? Let’s take a look at this.
Agile Value 1- Individuals and interactions over process and tools.
Agile Value 3- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
Agile teams don’t reach for a baseball bat when they disagree with a customer. Agileexams threatened legal action before Peter ever posted his blog. Like it or not, Peter is as much their customer as the rest of the internet. Customers want to know what’s going on. They often ask hard and embarrassing questions. Being agile means you respond open and truthfully, not with threats.
Agile Principle 6- The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-face:
Face to face is not possible be, but all of us know that email is the worst medium for communication. Pick up the phone and talk. Whether Agileexams intended to or not, they have been perceived as hiding behind an email address and first name only.
Agile Principle 2- Welcome changing requirements…
Peter reported what he knew. When he learned more, he amended the report. Then he amended it again. All based on one of his customers inputs (In this case Agileexams was his customer). But you don’t throw out the entire project. If you make a mistake, you don’t toss yourself off a cliff, you make it better.
So what does this mean to me? What does it mean to all of you?
Good question. This entire episode is being touted by some agilists who think the PMI-ACP was a bad idea in the first place. They are pointing to this as proof of credentials being evil . It also raises the “Test Mill” specter. Is Agileexams just in the business to get you to pass? Faithful Hogarists know how I feel about Test Mills and the ACP, so that one is doubly concerning to me.
I believe in agile and I believe in the value of a certification (done right).
Given that I can’t in good conscience recommend Agileexams until it modifies its practices to be more transparent.
It’s not about me, it’s not about Agileexams, it’s not about Agile Scout.
It’s about AGILE.
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

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

“YES! I HAVE ARRIVED!”

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 Agileexams.com 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.
Conclusion:
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? mailto:jbancroftconnors@gmail.com
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

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:
Summary: 
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: 
Understanding:
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.
Study:
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

Gorillas can be Agile with any project

Some days I was so thankful for the fact I worked in a three story building. It made the urge to toss myself off it, to end the misery, so much less. Unless If I  was really lucky I’d just end up hurting myself and that would just add to the miserable condition I was in.
Hogarth was right… Oh how I hated to think those three words. It was becoming such a common occurrence that I was considering adding to the law’s of nature. The sun comes up in the east, politicians are lying when their lips are moving and Hogarth is always right. This time it had to do with my implementation of Agile. Agile may be the silver bullet of development but I hadn’t had the first idea how to properly implement it.
So I’d swallowed the pill and went out and figured out just what Agile was. Leaning back in my chair I took in the remains of that discovery. Highsmith was leaning on Adkins and the two were threatening to push Cockburn off the desk. Larsen and Cohn were glaring at me from under the coffee cup perched on them. The books stared back at me mutely, mocking my pain and despair. Tilting my head back to stare at the ceiling I moaned. “Kill me now…”
“What and miss all the fun?”
I kept my eyes closed and used every ounce of my will to imagine away the voice that had spoken.
“Not gonna work,” Hogarth replied. “Your subconscious really likes me, so you’re stuck with me.”
Pulling my gaze from the acoustical tile I fixed Hogarth with a baleful gaze. “Remind me to schedule myself for a lobotomy.”
Hogarth was perched on the large window ledge. His black fur shimmering in the afternoon sunlight and his face was split with a contended grin. “Now why on earth would you want to give up all this?” His huge paw swept in an all encompassing arc that took in my cube and then the rest of the office beyond.
“Because there is no way on earth I’m going to get the company to adopt Scrum for real!” I poked at the stack of books. “It’s a far cry between some structural artifacts and the real meaning of Agile and the company is about as unagile as you can get.”
Hogarth nodded, “Well yeah, I think we covered the whole artifacts part already” He snaked an arm out the open window and broke off a branch from the tree outside. Snacking on the branch he said, “You’ve recognized the real problem so what’s the issue?”
“There is no way on earth I’ll ever get this company to go agile.”
“Agile or Scrum?” Hogarth asked.
“What’s the difference?” I shot back.
“A single sapling a forest does not make…”
Scrum is an Agile Framework – Scrum is not the only way to practice Agile.
When these kind of comments are thrown out, the typical response is something like “Well of course, there’s Kanban, Lean, or XP.”  And those folks are right, these are other frameworks or methodologies  of Agile. And at the same time I think we end up missing the bigger picture. To understand this, we need to look into the roots of Agile.
Agile has two foundational roots. The most obvious is the gathering of software luminaries that created the Agile Manifesto. Agile wasn’t some earth shaking new concept. What it was, was the joint thinking of seventeen software developers who had been practicing various lightweight development methods and how what was the common, foundational values of these methods.  At its heart Agile was a new language to explain long standing best practices, values and principles. If you think about it, in a light weight Agile way, it is the Agile PMBoK. (Remember that the PMBoK is also not a methodology, but a set of standard terminology and guidelines for project management.)
The other foundational root goes back to the precursors of Lean manufacturing, to the Toyota Way. Like the Agile Manifesto, it was not until 2001 that Toyota published the “Way.” But in Toyota’s case it was not for lack of use. Toyota revolutionized automotive manufacturing with their unique style and for decades US companies tried to match it. It’s not as if Toyota was a walled garden. They cheerfully gave tours of their plants to any and all comers. Why? Because they knew the artifacts of their process were not the key. The key was their six underlying principles, such as “Respect for People,” and “Add value to your organization by developing your people and partners.”
So what’s your point?
Ah yes, this is not a history lesson and I am trying  to make a point.
Today I read a great blog that sums up my point nicely. Ben Horowitz wrote about Lead Bullets, on TechCrunch. The kernel of this is to not go looking for the silver bullet solution, instead use the bullets you have and shoot better.
I’ve heard stunning success stories in the use of Agile Methodologies (Scrum, XP, Lean, etc.) In nearly all of these instances, the support and engagement was across the board high. It was the right time, the right people, the right need and so on. The Perfect Project Storm. In these cases the silver bullet was the only bullet and it was a dead shot.
And I’ve seen people try and use the Agile silver bullet and have the organization smother them alive. I like to remind people that silver bullets only work against werewolves. If you are facing a ghost, you’re kind of out of luck. When faced with an organization that is highly resistant, highly process driven, highly dysfunctional, etc. trying to dive into the deep end of the Agile pool tends to only end up in the Agile project and team being drowned.
I’m even more depressed now, wasn’t there a point?
Yes! The point is Agile isn’t just an umbrella over methodologies,  like Scrum and Lean. Agile is a set of guiding principles that can be used ANYWHERE. Where is it wrong to have good teamwork? When is it wrong to make sure the customer is getting what they want? If the process plan says to roll the parts cart around the outside of the building twice, before entering, is it wrong to ask “Why?”
Enter the Agile Manager. You don’t have to be using Scrum to be Agile. You can use the principles of Agile anywhere . You can make any team better, if you try.
In short, don’t let bad methodology get in the way of good management.
Focus on the team and the project will improve. That’s Agile.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Project Manager
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

Gorilla Development Units

The sweat on my brow was threatening to swamp my eyes in their salty haze. Frantically wiping my face, I returned my hands to the keyboard. “Come on, there has to be something… Anything?” The screen updated and the information it offered up gave me no relief. “Ah hell! Come on, it can’t be that hard! There has to be something.”

By now I was getting well and truly desperate. If I didn’t find something soon, my house of cards was going to collapse. And then, like a shining beacon in the night, there was my salvation. I read the details and shuddered. A six hour webinar, starting at 1:00 AM my time. Cringing I signed up. I didn’t really have a choice, did I?
“Eight hours of planning can save eight weeks of work.”
My shoulders sagged and my head fell forward to knock my LCD screen over. (Sometimes I miss the old days of the glass CRT. At least when your head hit one of those, you felt it.) I let the monitor fall. There was no point in recovering it, I knew I wasn’t going to be using it for a while. Instead I let the impending feeling of doom over come me. That voice could only mean my own private gorilla had come to “enlighten” me on the errors of my ways.
“Oh come on,” said Hogarth. “It can’t be as bad as…” A leathery hand reached past me to right the monitor. “The use of fractal equation theory in the application of grid based project mapping scatter status charts.” Hogarth paused, “Presented by Hans Gibberish from his classroom in Belgium.”
Settling down on the floor, Hogarth pulled a branch off my fichus tree. With immaculate, white teeth he began to peal the branch free of its leaves and bark. “So why on earth are you registered for perhaps the most boring webinar in the world, that starts at o-dark thirty in the morning?”
I turned in my seat. Holding my hands defensively in front of me I said, “I don’t have a choice. I’m five and a half PDUs short of sixty and I have to file them by end of business tomorrow or I lose my certification. Last weekend I took a two day course on the history of project management, as interpreted in mime. And I even went to the consultants PM networking event yesterday.”
“You’re not a consultant.” Hogarth observed.
“I know that, but it was worth one and a half PDUs!”
Hogarth nodded. He was silent for a long minute, intent on rendering the last of the fichus branch to wood pulp. Finally he gazed at me with his deep brown eyes. “How long have you had to earn your PDUs?”
“Three years.”
“And how many PDUs did you need?”
“Sixty.”
Hogarth held a massive hand up, fingers working through the math. “So twenty PDUs a year. Just over 1.5 PDUs a month?”
I sighed. “Yes…”
“And in the first two years of your certification, how many PDUs did you earn?”
“None!” I shouted. “That’s why I’m scrambling now. I was to busy to earn them.”
Hogarth sighed, shaking his head. “Well first off, you did earn PDUs. And second off, eight hours of planning saves eight weeks of work.”
“Huh?” I said.
“Google it.” He replied, reaching for another branch.
If you are not a certified project manager, you might be a little lost. Most professional certifications require a certain number of “units” of relevant activity to maintain your certification. For PMI’s PMP certification, that is 60 Professional Development Units every three years. Failure to acquire the required PDUs will result in you being ineligible to renew your certification. If your certification lapses, you have to take the test all over again to recertify. 
About every three months I meet a project manager at some networking function. His eyes are glassy and its clear he’d rather be somewhere else. Only he’s there and eagerly looking for any other networking events. Why? Because he’s about to hit his three year limit and is short of PDUs. So begins the mad dash to get those desperately needed PDUs.
I’ve now been a PMP long enough to have seen this cycle repeat with the same people. When I first became a PMP I met people in the mad dash for their PDUs. Then they disappeared, sunk into the mires of their professional job. Only to resurface three years later, to once again make the mad PDU dash. Not unlike salmon swimming upstream, trying to dodge the bears of “too little time,” “not enough money,” “have to work my day job.”
And every time I meet someone on the mad dash for PDUs, I silently shake my head. It doesn’t have to be that hard.
I’ve got a good friend who absolutely tracks every single PDU he ever earns, even after he hit the sixty PDU limit. I believe he’s currently a full year from needing to recertify and he’s well over 130 PDUs. Me personally I’ve got at least ninety PDUs and a year until I recertify. I know for a fact I’ll make at least another thirty in the next year.
Earning PDUs is easy. And with only a little planning and a little “getting out of the office” you can easily earn 60 PDUs in two years. 
Some tips and advice:
Know the rules: PMI has several useful documents to aid you in understanding PDUs. Start with their “Maintain Your Credential” site for general overview. PMI offers its own suggestions for earning ways to earn PDUs and has printable PDU Reporting Form for offline documentation.
The real gem is easy to miss as it’s billed as comparison of the old and new PDUs (In March of 2011, PMI went from 18 categories to 6). The type of PDUs explained PDF breaks down the six PDU categories (A – F), including maximum PDUs you can earn for certain categories.
Do your job: You can earn 5 PDUs for holding a project management job. One quarter of your PDUs can be earned just by showing up to work each day. PMI is not explicit, but I’m pretty certain a volunteer job will apply as well.  This is Category F in the PDU chart.
Read a book – or listen to a podcast: Another 10 PDUs a year can be garnered in self directed learning. Two of the most popular are books and podcasts. I personally recommend Pam Stanton’s PDU for Lunch and the Cornelius Fichtner PDU podcast. I’m pretty sure Ficthner’s also qualifies in the continuing education category, so you can earn more than 10 a year. This is Category C in the PDU chart (Continuing education is Category B). [EDIT- I've since learned that Pam's webinars are good for Category A (PMI Acredited training) if listened to live and Category B if you catch the recordings and Conelius' are good for Category B. So read books or talk to PMs for your Catagory C and save Pam and Cornelius for A and B]
Talk to other PMs: Another way to earn Category C is to go to formal PM gatherings. But that costs money, right? No, not always. Many PMI chapters offer free networking events. Usually for the price of a cup of coffee or a cheap breakfast, you can spend an hour a month talking with other PMPs. That will get you your 10 PDU a year easy.
That’s forty-five easy PDUs right there. Register for two one-day PM workshops in your three years and you’ve just locked up your next recertification.
So like the gorilla said, “eight hours of planning can save eight weeks of work.” We project managers know this mantra, we preach it to engineers all the time. For us let’s change it just a little.
“Regular planning will prevent a mad dash at the finish line.”
So, do you PDU?
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Project Manager
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…” 

“Iterations.” 

“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?”

 

ARE WE SPEAKING THE SAME LANGUAGE?
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.