Review of the APMG Agile Project Management Practitioner Training

This article reviews the 4-day Agile Project Management Foundation & Practitioner Level training course certified by APMG International (@APMG_Inter) and based on DSDM Atern (@DSDM). The course I attended was organised by RADTAC (@RADTACLtd) and run by Julia Godwin. Julia is a very experienced trainer (profile) with a superb practical knowledge of DSDM, Agile Methods and Project Management. It is no wonder that she has managed to get a 100% pass record so far despite this being a rather demanding course.

There are some very good reviews covering the background of why this is an important qualification, how it will help deliver in  Agile and PMO environments, what it is based on and many other questions. I’ve listed a few links at the bottom and I encourage you to read them, but only after reading this review first. Please.

Target Audience (some surprising roles included)

Amongst others, this course is a MUST for anyone matching any of the following criteria:

  • Any Project Managers willing to explore or embrace the Agile mindset while retaining the PM role.
  • Any mid-level or senior manager wondering how to embrace Agile while maintaining reasonable business governance. Let me say this: You will find many “Eureka” moments while going through the course materials.
  • Any Agile practitioner wondering why their Agile processes are failing to scale up.
  • Any Technical or Business Architect trying to find out how they can maintain adequate technical or business governance in an Agile environment.

Course Structure

This is a 4 day course, but it includes a good mix of time dedicated to the theory, practical exercises, personal revision and, of course, the two exams. The basic structure of the course was:

  • Day 1: Very intensive day concentrated in understanding the basic theory and concepts behind Agile and Agile Project Management. Good number of breaks to explore some of the concepts in hands-on practical exercises.
  • Day 2: Deep exploration of the Agile PM theory and, in particular, the process, products, people and practices. Again, all the theory is supported with good hands-on exercises.
  • Day 3: The morning is dedicated to complete the remaining theory and, then, the class completes the Foundation exam (see details below). You get the exam results immediately after the exam.
  • Day 4: The morning is left for personal revision time and, then, the afternoon is for the Practitioner exam (see details below).

This is a very intensive course and it requires a lot of effort and attention to go through the course contents in the 2.5 days allocated to study the theory. However, it is also quite achievable and, unlike the PRINCE2 course I attended, there is no expectation/need to spend hours during the evening going through the materials. (sustainable pace, anyone?)

Course Syllabus

Those familiar with the structure of the DSDM Atern courses will be very familiar with the contents of the course and the handbook.

Agile Project Management Fundamentals

  • What is Agile Project Management?
  • Benefits of Agile Project Management
  • When to use Agile Project Management
  • Preparing for a successful Agile project
  • Agile Project Management Principles

The Agile Project Management Process

  • Agile Project Management Framework
  • Configuring the Agile Project Lifecycle
  • Work Products and Deliverables

Management Products and Deliverables

  • Business Work Products and Deliverables
  • Technical Products and Deliverables

Agile Project Teams

  • Agile Project Roles and Responsibilities
  • Agile Project Team Empowerment
  • Agile Project Team Structure

Agile Project Management Practices

  • Facilitated Workshops
  • MoSCoW Prioritisation
  • Modelling
  • Iterative Development
  • Timeboxing

Project Management and Control

  • Agile Planning
  • Agile Risk Management
  • Agile Estimating and Measurement
  • Agile Configuration Management

Other Agile Project Management Concerns

  • Agile Requirements (Functional and Nonfunctional Requirements)
  • Agile Testing
  • Quality Management and Quality Control
  • Ensuring Maintainability and Scalability

The Exams

There are two exams in the course. Foundation and a Practitioner levels that will be very familiar to those that have completed the APMG PRINCE2 qualification recently.

  • The Foundation exam is 1-hour long and there are 60 mutliple-choice questions. There are 4 options per question, only 1 of which is valid. No penalty points for wrong answers, so make sure that you answer every questions.This is fairly straightforward exam focused on the course theory. It was fairly easy to spot two rather obvious wrong answers leaving a straight 50/50 choice in any question you are not sure about.In my class, we all passed with a 70-90% scores. The pass mark is 50%
  • The Practitioner exam is 2-hour long and, once again, there are 60 questions, but in this case, there are complex multiple-choice combinations (eg. Pick 2 of 5, Match column A to column B, A and B true/false logic combinations, etc.). There are no penalty points for wrong answers, so make sure you answer all the questions.This is a far tougher exam to go through, but once again it is achievable provided you apply the theory you have just learned and your practical experience as a PM. Some questions will have fairly obvious wrong answers leaving a couple of options to choose from.There are 4 sections with 15 marks allocated to each (i.e. 60 marks in total). That leaves about 25 minutes per section and 2 minutes per mark. It is important to use your time effectively. There is enough time to go through the exam safely if you follow those timings (I actually didn’t. My first section was horribly tough and I spend 50 minutes in it. This meant I had to recover time in section 2 and did it in 15 minutes). Word of advice, in my class we all left feeling we had no idea if we had passed, but out marks were all above 60% (I managed 87% and I was not so sure of how well I had done)

Very Important Exam Tips

  1. Do the mock exams available. I did the Foundation mock the evening of Day 1 to see how well I did without all the theory. I managed almost 90% and that was rather reassuring for the rest of the course. I did the Practitioner mock exam during the personal study morning of Day 4. Our trainer set a 30 minute exam condition practice which was very useful to get used to the exam format and develop some good practices.
  2. Don’t bother reading the Scenario. A bit risky to some, but I’d suggest you only read the scenario if the questions directly refer to it. For example, one of our sections referred to a table of priorities, but other sections did not use the scenario content at all.
  3. Use the handbook during the Practitioner exam. It’s an open book exam. Use it to your advantage. On average, you can spend 2 minutes per question. A quick reader will benefit greatly from using the handbook effectively.
  4. Use tabbed markers in your handbook. The Practitioner exam is an open book exam. There are group of questions focused on a common topic (eg. Roles) and it was very useful to just quickly open the book on the right section. I checked it regularly (and quickly) and I’d say about 10 questions were answered immediately by just looking at the right paragraph (one answer would have word-for-word the same text as the handbook). Great time saver if you can use it effectively.
  5. Fold the pages with key content. This was a great tip by Julia. There are 3 or 4 pages with key content such as the principles, the alien baby (roles) diagram, the lifecycle, the products, the timebox, etc. that are fundamental to find quickly in the exam. Julia folded the pages vertically in half, so when flicking quickly through the handbook, those 5/6 folded pages opened quite naturally. Great technique and I noticed it helped me find the correct reference areas faster.
  6. When in doubt, use elimination. Some questions were real tough cookies. It helps to simply dismiss the obvious wrong answers and thus eliminate choice. You may still have to do a 50/50 guess, but that better than 1-in-5.

Conclusions

This is a very worthwhile training investment on anyone interested in how to use Agile in a robust and rigorous manner without losing the flair and independence we expect Agile Development teams to show. It is quite possible to have Scrum teams happily coding away while implementing a good Agile Project Management DSDM wrapper above it following the RADTAC model explained by Julia.

I have worked in Agile for a few years, including doing Agile consultancy and coaching using Scrum, DSDM, XP & Kanban *and* I still found the course contents very valuable. It is intensive and thorough. The Practitioner exam is tough, which means that I expect this qualification to be of real use beyond the theoretical value I obtained.

Do it now and be an early adopter. I expect this qualification to become the next cash cow for ATOs competing in the over-saturated PRINCE2 and Scrum training markets and looking for new products. My exam number was just AG-00051*, which I believe *is* an sign that just over 500 people have completed the exam to this date (and how many thousands of people APMG expects to train!)

I have no doubt that the Agile Project Management qualification (and DSDM) is going to be very popular. I attended the Agile Business Conference 2011 in London and it was obvious that there is an appetite and trend to find rigorous Agile methods helping companies that struggle scaling Agile resolve their problems (The Second Chasm of Agile) and trend will be reinforced further as Agile is adopted by the UK Public Sector.

Agile in the UK is leaving its teen years and becoming an adult (but not just yet)

Further Reading

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your views on this article. It will certainly horrify many Agile practitioners that love Scrum and see Agile Project Management as an aberration. But equally, Agile PM looks like is persuading lots of mid and senior level managers to embrace Agile (and they hold the money bags!)

13 Comments

  1. Brian Wernham says:

    Re: <>

    Watch out on this. At practitioner level the questions are set at different ‘learning’ levels: 2, 3, or 4. (Foundation are set at levels 1 & 2). Opening questions in each section of the Practitioner paper are often set at only level 2 which does not refer to the scenario. HOWEVER: the bulk ofthe questions are set at levels 3 & 4 which always require reference to the scenario.

  2. Mike Rouse says:

    I’m attending a course at the end of this month and this post has helped me realise that I need to do the advance reading – and quickly!

  3. Steve Rawlings says:

    Great post, I found it really useful. Your explanation of the question style has been of huge help to me as I didn’t understand how the questions would be posed and started to think it had been changed to a written exam from other information I had read. Just need to find some example/mock papers now.

    I’m planning to sit this at an open exam session later this year (I sat the DSDM Atern Foundation late 2011 at an open session too). As I prepare for these through self-study, would you suggest/recommend any of the Prince2 and DSDM/Agile books to help reinforce the material or support the understanding of the scenarios and questions? (or any other books?) I was thinking of something along the lines of the Agile project management: running PRINCE2 projects with DSDM Atern book (by Keith Richards). I have the Agile Project Management Handbook and am all set to crack on with that but always on the lookout for supporting material.

    Thanks in anticipation for any help/advice that can be offered.

    • Steve,

      The exam is explained here:
      http://www.apmg-international.com/APMG-UK/Agile/AgileHome.aspx

      The exam is based on the text book “Agile Project Management Handbook” (see the bottom of the web page above). The book is based on DSDM, not Scrum or any other method.

      All questions can be answered using the textbook plus the scenario. Level 1 & 2 questions refer only to the textbook. The exam does not assume that you have any external knowledge or experience. The exam scenario may be based on non-IT projects, so no programming background is required.

      Self-study for the exam is not a problem, but be aware that the exam body, APMG, may not supply you with all the available background information when you book.

      Ask APMG to send you the syllabus and all the sample papers.

      AS YOU COMPLETE EACH PART OF YOUR SELF-STUDY, SIT THE RELEVANT QUESTIONS FROM THE SAMPLE PAPERS. MARK YOURSELF WITH THE MARKNG SCHEME PROVIDED. READ THE EXPLANATIONS PROVIDED WITH THE MARKING SCHEME CAREFULLY, AND MAKE SURE THAT YOU UNDERSTAND THE LOGIC BEHIND EACH ANSWER.

      If you want to know more about the practical use of DSDM do buy my new book which has some great real-life case studies!

      Brian

      • Jose Casal says:

        Excellent response, Brian.

        I agree with you that completing the sample exam is a must-do prior to the exam as it shows the mechanics of how each question is built and you will need to be familiar with the format.

        As yes, your book can be good additional reading :-)

    • Jose Casal says:

      Hi Steve,

      I hope your preparation for the AgilePM Practitioner exam is going well. When I did my exam, we only used the official handbook and I would think that this is enough to prepare the exam. If it helps, I lent my handbook to a colleague (who was a PRINCE2 Practitioner) and she passed the AgilePM exam just using the handbook.

      As you know, you can use and refer to the handbook during the exam and this can be very handy on some occasions.

      I had a few postit labels in place that got me straight into a few key areas: Techniques (pp13), Principles (pp21), Lifecycle (pp31), Roles (pp39), Products (pp45), Planning (pp109) and Appendix C (pp145).

      I would advice not wasting enormous time during the exam referring back to the handbook, but a cursory look at some pages did help me score a few (easy) marks as the handbook confirmed the right answer straight away.

      Hope it helps!

      • dave litten says:

        Hi Jose,

        I’m in the Philippines, and want to get a sample foundation and practitioner Agile PM paper. If you want to suggest a price, I’m happy and prepared to pay.

        Dave Litten

  4. Ben says:

    Brian,
    great post tnx.
    Is there any place where I can dowload mock exams /sample papers.

    Thanks in advance,

    Ben from the Netherands

  5. Shahroz.J says:

    Here is a link to the ‘AgilePM Foundation’ online sample paper.
    http://www.apmg-exams.com/index.aspx?subid=87&masterid=26#

  6. Andrew says:

    Hey, take a look on free, interactive learning mind map for AgilePM: http://www.mindmeister.com/287712070/agilepm-agile-project-management-study-guide-mind-map
    Also download free exam question (300+ questions !!!) for Foundation exam, which are free to download on this mind map.

Leave a Reply