Business Agility can be defined as the ability to compete and thrive in the digital age by quickly responding to market changes and emerging opportunities with innovative, digitally enabled business solutions. As organizations strive to achieve business agility, they find they are quickly outgrowing small-team Agile and need to decide on an approach to scale to the enterprise. Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) for Lean Enterprises is a knowledge base of proven, integrated principles, practices, and competencies for achieving business agility using Lean, Agile, and DevOps. It has several levels to which one can scale from Essential to Full SAFe®.
Due to its scalability and its number of roles and ceremonies, companies are increasingly expecting team members to not only be trained in SAFe® but also become certified. Since SAFe® is the most popular form of Scaled Agile, it is wise to consider becoming certified in this framework.
This article will compare and contrast two certification - Certified SAFe® Agilist (SA) vs Certified SAFe® Practitioner (SP). Please note that you cannot ‘test out’ for either of these certifications but must attend classes.
This is the certification that I acquired when I first started venturing into SAFe®. My certificate says “A Certified SAFe® 5 Agilist (SA) is a SAFe® enterprise leadership professional who is part of a Lean-Agile transformation. Key areas of competency include the application of Lean-Agile principles, execution and release of value through Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and building an Agile portfolio with Lean-Agile budgeting.”
So, while it is a very good entry point and covers SAFe® thoroughly, there is no specific prescribed role other than ‘leadership’ and being part of the team, especially one involved as part of a Lean-Agile transformation.
Leading SAFe® /SAFe® Agilist Certification Course; 5+ years’ experience in software development, testing, business analysis, product, or project management; experience in Scrum.
Leading SAFe® is a two-day course. Prices vary but they tend to be less than $1,000 USD. Attendees discuss how to establish team and technical agility and organize and re-organize around the flow of value. There are also exercises for supporting a key ceremony called PI Planning. Students also begin to understand how to implement a Lean Portfolio Management function in their enterprise
In the author’s experience, the exam is difficult but not as difficult as, for example, the Project Management Professional® exam. Some questions may be situational but overall, they want to ensure that you understand the framework and its underlying principles.
The exam can be taken any time after the class is completed but ideally should be taken within 30 days. It is a non-proctored, closed-book, multiple-choice exam which can be accessed on-line within the SAFe® Community Platform.
Candidates have 90 minutes (1.5 hours) to complete the exam. There are 45 questions and passing score is 77% or 35 correct. Currently the exam is only provided in English. The first exam attempt is included as part of the course registration fee if the exam is taken within 30 days of course completion. Each retake attempt costs $50 USD.
Retake policy – Second attempt on exam (first retake) can be done immediately after the first attempt. The third attempt requires a 10-day waiting period. The fourth attempt requires a 30-day waiting period. (It is not unusual for companies providing such exams to impose longer waiting periods if you fail. They want to give you more time to study.)
Several sample questions are provided online by Scaled Agile Framework. This is a typical SA question from their pool:
The answer is ‘Better economic results.’
Exam study materials
What you get
The SA certificate is not designed for any specific role but is more foundational. The SP certificate provides the skills needed to become a high-performing team member on an Agile Release Train (ART) and collaborate with other teams. As with the SA certification, you must first attend a two-day course. You cannot ‘test out.’ Certification expires one year from the date it is earned.
Attendees also learn how to write user stories, plan and execute Iterations, and experience a PI Planning event. Attendees learn about the Continuous Delivery Pipeline, the importance of a DevOps culture, how to effectively integrate with other teams on the ART, and what it takes to continuously improve.
The exam can be taken any time after the class is completed but ideally should be taken within 30 days. It is a non-proctored, closed-book, multiple-choice exam. It can be accessed on-line within the SAFe® Community Platform.
Candidates have 90 minutes (1.5 hours) to complete the exam. There are 45 questions and passing score is 77% or 35 correct. Currently the exam is only provided in English. The first exam attempt is included as part of the course registration fee if the exam is taken within 30 days of course completion. Each retake attempt costs $50.
Retake policy – The second attempt on exam (first retake) can be done immediately after first attempt. The third attempt requires a 10-day waiting period. The fourth attempt requires a 30-day waiting period.
Several sample questions are provided online by Scaled Agile Framework. This is a typical SA question
The answer is user stories and spikes. A spike’s purpose is to gain the knowledge necessary to reduce the risk of a technical approach, better understand a requirement, or increase the reliability of a story estimate.
Exam study materials
What you get
There is no one ‘right’ answer to this. Not all students are the same. When the time came to learn more about SAFE®, I asked myself the same question. Since I wasn’t seeking a specific role within a SAFe® team but was trying to attain a broader understanding of the framework, the SA certificate was sufficient, at least as an entry point. I found it gave me an excellent overview of the framework and I would feel poised to work in a SAFE® environment.
However, if your goal is to be an active part of a team, it would appear that the SP certification might be the better choice as that is its primary focus.
You can no longer renew your certification on an individual level. As of January 2021, Scaled Agile has moved to a membership model for the SAFe® Community Platform. With this transition you will now be able to renew your membership at one of three tiers, two of which will include a bundle renewal of all your SAFe® certifications. If you don’t need or want to include renewal of your certifications, you have the option to simply renew your membership to continue access to all the assets, tools, and resources to help you grow as a SAFe® professional.
|Learners are in these roles||CEO, Project Manager, Scrum Master, Team Lead, Release Train Engineer, Product Owner||Project Manager, Scrum Master, Team Lead, Release Train Engineer, Product Owner, Consultant, Agile Coach, Business Analyst|
|What attendees get|
|Exam details||Completion of this course gives you access to the exam and all related study materials as part of your Learning Plan in the SAFe® Community Platform.||Completion of this course gives you access to the exam and all related study materials as part of your Learning Plan in the SAFe® Community Platform.|
The Scaled Agile Framework is by far the leading approach towards scaling Agile. There is a variety of roles and certifications available. Both the SA and SP certificates will prepare you to enter the Scaled Agile world. It really depends on what you are looking to accomplish/learn from your course and what perspective you are learning from.
To summarize, SA is a good foundational course if you are an individual new to SAFe® learning. SAFe® for Teams (SP) course is an intermediate level course that helps team members and SAFe® teams better understand how to work together to accomplish work and project goals.
So, if you expect to be a member of a team involved in Release Trains and PI Planning, SP may be the logical starting point on your SAFe® journey.
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