Differences Between Certified SAFe® Agilist(SA) vs Certified SAFe® Practitioner(SP)

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Last updated on
07th Jun, 2022
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06th May, 2021
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Differences Between Certified SAFe® Agilist(SA) vs Certified SAFe® Practitioner(SP)

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®. To know more about SAFe agile certification, click here.    

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.

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Certified SAFe® Agilist 

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.

Prerequisites

Leading SAFe® /SAFe® Agilist Certification Course5+ years’ experience in software development, testing, business analysis, product, or project management; experience in Scrum. 

Leading SAFe® is 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

Key areas of competency

  • Apply SAFe® to scale Lean and Agile development in the enterprise 
  • Apply Lean-Agile Mindset and principles 
  • Plan and successfully execute Program Increments 
  • Execute and release value through Agile Release Trains 
  • Build an Agile portfolio with Lean-Agile budgeting 

Exam details 

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 periodThe 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.) 

Sample question  

Several sample questions are provided online by Scaled Agile Framework. This is a typical SA question from their pool:  

What does  SAFe® Principle #3, "Assume variability; preserve options," enable?   

  • Specification traceability 
  • Better economic results 
  • Stronger Definition of Done 
  • Up front design of systems 

The answer is ‘Better economic results.’ 

Exam study materials 

  • Course materials – The course materials are an essential artifact from the course and can be downloaded from the SAFe® Community Platform. 
  • Study guide – This guide details the job role and all resources related to the exam, including a detailed reading list. Access is available through the Learning Plan in the SAFe® Community Platform upon course completion. 
  • Practice test  – The practice test is designed to be predictive of success on the certification exam and it has the same number of questions, level of difficulty, and time duration. It is part of the Learning Plan in the SAFe® Community Platform and can be taken an unlimited number of times at no cost. This is not the actual exam and passing it does not guarantee success on the certification exam. 
  • Sample Questions – A web-enabled, flashcard style version of the sample questions can be found online and in the study guide

What you get 

Certification includes: 

  • Certified SAFe® Agilist PDF certificate. 
  • Certified SAFe® Agilist digital badge to promote your accomplishment online. 
  • One-year membership to the SAFe® Community Platform, which includes access to the SA Community of Practice. 
  • Access to Meetup groups and events that connect you with other SAFe® certified professionals. 
  • A variety of learning resources to support you during your SAFe® journey. 

Certified SAFe® Practitioner (SP)

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. 

Key areas of competency

  • Explain SAFe® Agile Principles 
  • Plan Iterations 
  • Plan Program Increments 
  • Execute Iterations and demonstrate value 
  • Improve Agile Release Train processes 
  • Integrate and work with other teams on the Agile Release Train 
  • Perform as member of an Agile Team on an Agile Release Train 

Prerequisites:

  • SAFE® For Teams two-day course; familiarity with Scrum, Kanban, and XP; familiarity with Agile concepts and principles; working knowledge of software or hardware development processes 

Exam details   

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 periodThe fourth attempt requires a 30-day waiting period. 

Sample question  

Several sample questions are provided online by Scaled Agile Framework. This is a typical Squestion   

In SAFe®, which two items belong in the Team Backlog? (Choose two.)     

  • User Stories 
  • Enabler Features 
  • Epics 
  • Spikes 
  • Tasks 

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  

  • Course materials   – The course materials are an essential artifact from the course and can be downloaded from the SAFe® Community Platform. 
  • Study guide – This guide details the job role and all resources related to the exam, including a detailed reading list. Access is available through the Learning Plan in the SAFe® Community Platform upon course completion. 
  • Practice test – The practice test is designed to be predictive of success on the certification exam and it has the same number of questions, level of difficulty, and time duration. It is part of the Learning Plan in the SAFe® Community Platform and can be taken an unlimited number of times at no cost. This is not the actual exam and passing it does not guarantee success on the certification exam. 
  • Sample Questions  – A web-enabled, flashcard style version of the sample questions can be found online and in the study guide. 
     

What you get   

Becoming a    Certified      SAFe® Practitioner (SP)      is an important step towards becoming part of a     SAFe® team. Certification includes:    
 

  • Certified SAFe® Practitioner PDF certificate 
  • Certified SAFe® Practitioner digital badge to promote your accomplishment online 
  • One-year membership to the SAFe® Community Platform, which includes access to the SP Community of Practice 
  • Access to Meetup groups and events that connect you with other certified SAFe® professionals 
  • A variety of learning resources to support you.

Which certification should I choose?

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 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.  

Maintaining certification

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.  

The three Membership tiers are:  

  • SAFe®  Program Consultant Membership ($895/year) - For members who currently hold SPC or SPCT certifications. Renews all certifications, provides access to all SAFe® content, and enables SPCs/SPCTs to train others to lead a Lean-Agile transformation. 
  • Certified  SAFe®  Membership ($295/year)- For members who currently hold one or more certifications, and who may benefit from a bundled pricing approach. Renews all certifications except SPC and/or SPCT, provides access to basic and some advanced content and continued access to course learnings and assets. 
  • Individual  SAFe® Membership ($195/year) - For those who don’t seek certification but still benefit from the valuable content on the SAFe® Community Platform. No certification renewals included. 

Comparison table  

Particulars
SASP
Learners are in these rolesCEO, Project Manager, Scrum Master, Team Lead, Release Train Engineer, Product OwnerProject Manager, Scrum Master, Team Lead, Release Train Engineer, Product Owner, Consultant, Agile Coach, Business Analyst
Topics covered
  • Thriving in the Digital Age with Business Agility
  • Becoming a Lean-Agile Leader
  • Establishing Team and Technical Agility
  • Building Solutions with Agile Product Delivery
  • Exploring Lean Portfolio Management
  • Leading the Change
  • Introducing the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®)
  • Building an Agile Team
  • Planning the Iteration
  • Executing the Iteration
  • Executing the Program Increment
  • Practicing SAFe®
What attendees get
  • Attendee workbook
  • Preparation and eligibility to take the SAFe® 5 Agilist (SA) exam
  • One-year membership to the SAFe® Community Platform
  • Attendee workbook
  • Preparation and eligibility to take the SAFe® 5 Practitioner (SP) exam
  • One-year membership to the SAFe® Community Platform
Prerequisites
  • Highly recommended: 5+ years’ experience in software development, testing, business analysis, product, or project management
  • Experience in Scrum
  • Highly recommended: Familiarity with Agile concepts and principles
  • Awareness of Scrum, Kanban, and XP
  • Working knowledge of software and hardware development processes
Exam detailsCompletion 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.

Conclusion 

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. 

Profile

Jim Stewart

Blog author

Since 2003, as a principal of JP Stewart Associates, Jim has been engaged in multiple endeavors including consulting, training and mentoring. A PMP since 2001 and Certified Scrum Master since 2013, he provides PMP Prep training both in public and private in-house sessions. In consulting, he frequently contributes by helping organizations increase their project maturity. He recently consulted to a financial services firm to help them set up a project management office. Jim is on the PM advisory board of MindEdge, Inc. and is co-author of the upcoming book, “Facilitating Project Planning Meetings: A Practical Guide to Ensuring Project Success.”