Book Reviews

The PMI-ACP Exam: How to Pass On Your First Try

I was looking forward to reading this book. I haven't paid much attention to the PMI-ACP initiative and thought this book would help me see what the test covered. The book is extremely short: there are less than 140 pages between the introduction and the glossary. The entire book is double-spaced so it is a very quick read. After the main book is a glossary and then two practice tests with 100 questions each.

Unfortunately, the book is self-published and is a showcase of all that can go wrong with self-publishing. I can get past the repeated promotional offers in the text, on the back cover and on a business card taped to the inside back. They were a bit annoying but theoretically well intentioned. What I can't get past is the book's need for good technical and copy editing.

The writing is generally crisp and very understandable but the lack of copy editing left me shaking my head at too many places for a $60 book. For example, consider this quote:

"One way this is accomplished in through Cause and Effect diagrams. These are also known as Ishikawa diagrams or fishbone diagrams. These charts are used to illustrate how different factors might relate together and to identify a root problem. Cause and effect diagrams, or Ishikawa Diagrams, are also known as fishbone diagrams. (p. 77)"

OK, maybe I'm just more sensitive to copy editing errors because I'm a writer. And I can get past the galley proofreading problems like paragraphs that truncate randomly like on page 93. But these are examples of the dangers of self-publishing. (And are one reason I'm hesitating about self-publishing my next book, even though I already produce camera-ready pages for my publisher.)

Unfortunately the book is full of a number of technical errors:

  • "Customer" is called a formal role on Scrum teams  (pp. xxii-xxiii)
  • The iteration backlog "shows all the functionality that the team will complete during the current iteration." (p. 106) This means the iteration backlog is the subset of product backlog items selected for the iteration, not the tasks (or "sprint backlog items").
  • Story points are assigned to iteration backlog items. (p. 189 and 230) This stems from the fundamental misunderstanding above.
  • Software cannot be released during an iteration. (page 194 and 233) The book takes the 1995 view of Scrum that software is only releasable at the end of a sprint. Happily, this isn't 1995. (Perhaps I shouldn't be too harsh on the book on this point. Maybe the PMI-ACP tests people on vintage 1995 Scrum. However, if so, the book should certainly point out the fallacy.)

What I found most fascinating is that the author learned about Agile in the late 1990s:
 

My journey with Agile began in the late 1990s when I sat through a presentation on a new methodology known as the Rational Unified Process... During this presentation, the facilitator mentioned that he had been working with teams that worked with no actual project manager. He referred to this as "Agile." I peppered the instructor with questions and left with my head spinning. (p.. x)

Given that the Agile Manifesto was the first documented use of "agile" in relation to software development and was written in 2001, I find it shocking that the author heard another speaker call it Agile in the late 1990s. I was doing Scrum before that but had certainly never heard the term "agile" anywhere near a software conversation before. Perhaps it was this slight, ahem, exaggeration in the first paragraph of the book that poisoned my view of the rest of the book.

So, while I can't recommend this book very highly, I do want to say a few good things about it:

  • The two sample tests at the end seem good. (I assume they accurately reflect what is covered on the test.) I very much liked that the answers were explained rather than just provided as a list of the correct answer for each question.
  • The book is well-written (despite its need for some editors). It was, for the most part, a quick and pleasant read--no excessively long paragraphs, no places where I got lost wondering what the author's point was, etc.
  • The book is short. In an era where too many books exceed my attention span or interest level, it was no problem quickly reading this one. Of course, some topics are covered in exceedingly short sections (Agile Modeling gets four sentences; Minimal Marketable Feature gets one paragraph). But I assume that's all that's necessary to pass the test.

So, the flaws in the book prevent me from going so far as to recommend it. But if you want to get a feel for what's on the PMI-ACP test, or if you have solid agile experience and want a quick book to read in a couple of hours to fill in gaps, or if you're looking for some good sample tests, you'll probably like this book.