Hello again, I recently acquired the Agile Foundation certification provided by the BCS (British Computer Society). This post is intended to highlight my experiences, motivation, approach, and value that the certification provides.

Background

The BCS Agile Foundation exam is an entry level exam intended to provide a fundamental understanding of the concepts and values of Agile. Its audience is for all types of stakeholder, not just from a technical perspective (I.e the Team, Product Owner or Agile lead), but also business stakeholders. Its key objective is to provide a deeper understanding of Agile. The exam covers, but is not limited to:

  • The Agile Manifesto – Its principles and values
  • The History of Agile
  • Rationale and benefits of Agile
  • The difference between defined and empirical processes
  • Business culture and Agile
  • The main Agile roles
  • Common Agile Techniques and Practices
  • Agile methods and approaches

Motivation

Unlike a number of the desirable certifications which seem to be expected for Architecture specific roles these days (TOGAF, BCS/ISEB Enterprise and Solution Architecture), my main motivation was to truly understand what is meant to be Agile and what are the barriers you’d typically expect to face in becoming Agile within organisations and more importantly how Agile relates to Architecture;

Why are (IT) we here? What part do we play? Where do we add value?

I’ve seen a number of misgivings within Architecture circles about Agile and the fact that it means very little or no design. Is this due to a lack of understanding? From studying these resources and taking the exam, I believe so. So my main priority was to  truly understand the role Architecture has to play within Agile, and not make assumptions based on misunderstanding of Agile.

In addition to this, I also wanted to plug gaps in my own knowledge, including the day to day activities, ceremonies and techniques within Agile. Fundamentally, I believe I have achieved these objectives.

Approach

In terms of my approach, I self studied for the exam rather than attending a training course. The main resources I used to study for this certification was the Agile Foundations: Principles, Practices and Frameworks book published by the BCS, and the BJSS Enterprise Agile free ebook provided by the BJSS. I read each book, made notes and then transferred these notes to flash cards (utilising a technique I’ve used for previous exams). This time rather than using paper based flash cards, which isn’t the most convenient medium, I used a free iphone application known as Chegg.

CheggAgileCards

In terms of the amount of preparation time I had for the exam, I spent 5 weeks from start to finish, which included reading the materials, making notes and creating flash cards.

Exam

I booked my exam through Pearson, which cost £170 including VAT. The exam is 40 multiple choice answers with a passing score of 60% (26 out of 40). I applied an iterative technique for the exam, which included answering the questions I was sure of, marking the questions I was unsure of and repeating until all questions were answered. I passed the exam with a passing score of 34/40.

BCS Agile Foundation Result

Value

Would I recommend this exam to other people? Yes, I definitely would. I understand Agile at a far more fundamental level than I have before. Its also helped within my day to day role to clear up misunderstanding of Agile and Architecture and the fact that a number of people seem to think the two disciplines are mutually exclusive or at polar opposites. It has also provided a solid foundation to assess the Agile approach that I have seen organisations take in the past and see what worked and what didn’t

The BCS intends to be vendor neutral and does not have any particular bias towards any framework, so this means that all the major Agile frameworks are covered in detail and the idea of the Agile Mindset which is covered allows you to view which Agile framework should be utilised within your organisation and why.

The BCS is an academic institution which means that a lot of the concepts covered are evidenced through Management and Leadership theories and models used outside of IT. For example, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and McGregor’s Theory X and Y. I’m currently studying for a diploma provided by the Chartered Management Institute on Leadership and Management. A lot of the models covered within the materials are used within my study for this diploma, which means that the BCS are thinking beyond our ‘IT centricity’ mindset and looking outside of IT, not treating IT as the core to the whole.

In Summary

Fundamentally, my key take away and what usually happens when I have learned something new is that the material has provided a re-conceptualisation of Agile as a whole and raised the profile of the key fundamental questions every Architect should ask themselves:

Why are (IT) we here? What part do we play? Where do we add value?

IT are here to provide for the business (nothing new here). Architecture and Agile can and should coexist (not that this was ever in any doubt…). If an activity is not value adding for the business, then why are we doing it? Fundamental questions I know… but its always could to check-in on these questions from time to time and make sure we’re grounded…