Reflections on studying (and passing) the IIBA®-AAC (Agile Analysis Certificate)

As I’m sure many readers will be aware, the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA®) recently launched the IIBA®-AAC.  AAC stands for “Agile Analysis Certificate” and as you’d expect this is a certification program aimed at BAs working in an agile environment.  I recently sat (and passed!) the exam, and since then a number of people have asked me if I have any tips.  With this in mind, I thought I’d put together a blog post whilst the experience of studying was fresh in my mind. I hope that you find this useful.

What is AAC?

The AAC is an exam aimed at business analysis practitioners who are working in an agile environment.  One thing I particularly liked about it is the fact that it is methodology agnostic. It isn’t restricted to just one particular “flavor” of agile, it focuses on the underlying mindset, horizons and techniques that will be useful whichever agile or adaptive approach has been adopted.  In fact, I would say that many of the principals and techniques would be equally useful in predictive (waterfall) approaches too—albeit the specific way that they would be applied would vary.

The exam is based on the agile extension to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK®).  This can be downloaded from IIBA®’s website and is the core text for the exam.  Unlike some other IIBA® certificates,  there is no lengthy application process, and no formal pre-requisites (you don’t have to prove a certain number of hours of experience), but I would say that having at least a few years’ experience in an agile environment makes this significantly easier.  IIBA®’s official guidance is that candidates should have 2-3 years of experience within an agile context.

Why sit AAC?

There is an ongoing debate within the business change community over the usefulness of certification, so a valid question that you might ask is “why sit the AAC at all?”.  I am CBAP certified already, as well as holding the BCS International Diploma in Business Analysis and the BA Manager Forum “Expert BA award”.

Whether or not to pursue certification is very much a personal decision, but I have always found that having a target to aim for (such as an exam) focuses my mind.  Having a deadline for that exam also tends to enhance that focus even further, and encourages me to really get to know the material.  I’m a firm believer in continually learning, and for me ongoing study and certification is part of this.

I was also keen to consolidate knowledge and experience that I have learned on-the-job.  I suspect we’ve all learned at least some practices and techniques by doing them, and it can be useful to go back and look at the theory that underpins that practice.  I find it useful to ask the question “do I do it that way?” and “if not, why not?”.  Often there is a good reason for varying the way a technique is used, other times there isn’t.  I find studying, and comparing what is on the syllabus with concrete experience, a great way of reflecting.  So I made a decision fairly spontaneously to just go for it.

How?

I decided to self-study for the exam.  This is definitely a viable option, and although it is always dangerous to compare different exam types, I would say it took significantly less time to prepare for than a broader exam such as CBAP.  Once I had decided to go for it, I set up a schedule spanning a few weeks, spending a set amount of each time every day studying.  If you’d prefer to take a class to get additional support, there are a range of training providers out there that have relevant offerings 

I used the agile extension as the focus of my studies, although I did find myself conducting additional research from time to time.  This was probably unnecessary, but there were a couple of techniques I hadn’t used before, and seeing examples (beyond the Agile Extension) really helped.  I made handwritten notes and a set of personal mindmaps to help me embed the knowledge.  The act of making the notes and mindmaps was more important than having them as artefacts; I barely referred to them after I’d made them.  I’d therefore be very wary of borrowing someone else’s revision notes, as the value is in going through the process first hand!

Everyone’s learning style is different, but I am someone who needs to link theory to practice, so one thing I did was think about practical examples at each stage.  I’d think about how a particular principle, idea or technique would apply to a project I’d worked on.  I found myself sketching out ideas on how I’d use techniques in future—although not strictly necessary for the exam, this was a useful addition, and helped me contextualize the knowledge.

I continued my study until I felt ready to take the exam. Or to be more precise,  until I felt nearly ready to take the exam (it’s always possible to “just take another week”, but weeks become months, so I set myself a goal of just getting it done and taking a calculated risk with the exam. If I didn’t pass, I’d learn and nail it next time. If I passed, then I could smile knowing I hadn’t “gold plated” my study planning. Luckily, I passed!).

On reflection, one thing that could have made the experience smoother would have been to form a study group.  I wasn’t aware of anyone else I know studying within the same timeframe as me, but if there had been this would be very helpful.  I find study groups are great as members can “hold each other to account” and help if anyone gets stuck.  If I were part of a study group, I’d also have suggested that each member bring their own examples to each session and write a few “sample test questions”, so that we could learn and test each other.

Exam Day

One advantage to the AAC is that it is an online proctored exam—you can sit it from the comfort of any suitable location of your choice.  However, the keyword is “suitable”—there are fairly stringent requirements that need to be taken into account. Be sure to read the formal list of requirements, alongside these here are some particular things to keep in mind:

  • You’ll be monitored throughout the exam continuously via webcam. You aren’t allowed to take your eyes off the screen (presumably as you could be looking at notes).  If you are someone who looks up when thinking, you might want to practice keeping your eyes focused on a screen before the exam!
  • It isn’t possible to have any paper near you. Your desk must be co completely clear 
  • You’ll be asked to “sweep” the room with your laptop’s camera so they can see everything in it.
  • Any phone or smart watch must be removed.
  • There are specific technical requirements. Read these carefully.
  • You can arrive for the exam a little early. My recommendation is do this—due to some technical issues at the beginning of the exam (which turned out to be due to a browser security setting) it took around 30 minutes to get the initial admin done.  

The exam has 85 questions and you have up to two hours to complete it.  I found that I had plenty of time to finish and unlike some other exams I didn’t feel rushed. The exams are mostly scenario based, so rather than just knowing the information, it’s important to know how it fits together in a real context. It’s necessary to know how the agile principles relate to techniques, the importance of an agile mindset, what a BA typically does at each planning horizon (i.e. the strategy horizon, initiative horizon & delivery horizon) and so on.  

I had to stop myself going back and checking every question—I only went back and checked those I was unsure of.  I think it can be quite dangerous to go back and over-analyse previous answers unnecessarily as it can cause self-doubt!

The pass mark/threshold and pass rate is not published by IIBA®, which makes it hard to know what you’re aiming for. Once I had finished the exam, I held my breath and hit the button to submit my answers.  The result came up on my screen almost instantly, and the certificate from IIBA® followed later.  

After exam day

One thing to keep in mind after exam day is to keep up evidence of ongoing professional development.  I already keep a log of this for my CBAP® recertification, but it is worth keeping this in mind for AAC recertification too.  The details of AAC recertification haven’t yet been announced, so keep an eye on IIBA®’s website for details.


This article is kindly supported by IIBA®. All opinions expressed are my own

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About the author:

Adrian Reed

Adrian Reed is Principal Consultant at Blackmetric Business Solutions, an organisation that offers Business Analysis consulting and training solutions. Adrian is a keen advocate of the analysis profession, and is constantly looking for ways of promoting the value that good analysis can bring.

To find out more about the training and consulting services offered at Blackmetric, please visit www.blackmetric.com

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