PMI California Inland Empire Chapter

PMI-ACP: The certification for complex projects

PMI-ACP: The certification for complex projects

I am one of eight in the PMI-CIE chapter to hold the PMI-ACP certification. That’s eight out of 349 members (2%). Compare that to 205 members holding the PMP (59%).

So what’s going on? Is the PMI-ACP difficult to obtain? Specialized? Unpopular? Undesirable? 


The Agile body of knowledge is unappreciated by the project management community, and this is to its detriment. The Agile framework is brilliant, and is superb for projects where the solution is complex and not perfectly defined. This is why Agile is so prominent in the software development field. With software, you typically know that the application should do this and that, but often the manifestation of the solution morphs as users get their hands on the software and provide feedback. 

Not a substitute for waterfall

Agile is not a substitute for traditional project management. Rather, it is a framework with methodologies that work really well on certain kinds of projects. As mentioned, software development is a perfect candidate for Agile. I build software solutions at my current job, and can attest that trying to apply traditional project management methods to the development process is very difficult and ineffective. I switched to Scrum (the most prevalent methodology under the Agile umbrella) about two years ago and have enjoyed much better results. 

Agile is not just for software, though. I worked on an email marketing improvement project last year. All the team knew was that performance could likely be improved, and there were some good (but unvalidated) ideas on the table for how to obtain those improvements. This element of learning then reacting is where Agile excels. Naturally, startups and product development fit this bill. I’ve also heard of Agile in journalism, teaching and even local government. 

By way of contrast, I recently started working on a project plan for moving my company from Google’s enterprise email platform to Microsoft’s cloud service, Office 365. The solution in this case is crystal clear, and the project team cuts across many different groups in the company. Careful planning and sequencing of events reveals a critical path that I can use to manage the project outcome. Agile would be ill-suited for this project mainly because my project team is not dedicated—rather, the organization is looking to me to coordinate the dispersed team. Agile is reliant on self-organizing teams. 

The sweet spot for an Agile project is complex, unvalidated solutions. And that’s where the PMI-ACP comes in. All test questions are framed as situations in an Agile environment where you, the Agile practitioner, must respond with the right mindset and understanding of Agile principles. This can be a challenge if you’re practiced in the PMP mindset. It’s not that one is better than the other; it’s that one is more appropriate than the other in a certain context. Agile doesn’t work very well when you apply a waterfall mentality, and vice versa.

Iterative vs. incremental

Perhaps the biggest departure from waterfall is the iterative (versus incremental) delivery of project deliverables. Traditionalists stumble over this concept because they are trained in a model that originated in the manufacturing and construction industries—where deliverables are physical and not easily changed. A good agilist doesn’t think incrementally. Instead, he’ll do a crude version of the solution from start to finish. His goal is to get something in the hands of the customer (or an internal proxy of the customer) so he can obtain feedback and learn from doing. That learning then informs the next iteration, which could be as short as two weeks. This iterative process continues until the solution is refined into something ideal, or pretty darn close to it.


I have come to really enjoy the profession of project management because I like being a professional who can deliver results on strategic initiatives. There is an art and science to getting things done, and I love the pursuit of mastering both. The PMI-ACP is validation that I know how to lead an effective process of delivering complex solutions—the kind that are not easily prescribed.

Oh, and one more thing. Agile is fun. It’s fun to create, learn and adapt. As your momentum starts picking up, you start to feel like your team is an oracle of problem solving. Learn more by reading Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff and JJ Sutherland.

About Jeffrey Ober

I joined PM-ICIE in 2013 when I realized that my job was actually a project management job. I was hungry for solutions and gobbled up as much knowledge as I could. In that pursuit I have obtained six project management certifications: PMP, 120PFC, Certified Scrum Master (CSM), Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), Lean Six Sigma Black Belt (LSSBB) and now the PMI-ACP. Check out my LinkedIn profile for more tantalizing information about my professional history.