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Expert Tips to Crack the Safe Agilist Exam in 2021

What is SAFe®? Traditional Agile has always had an assumption of small teams. In recent years, several approaches (Large-scale Scrum (LeSS), Scrum @ Scale and Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) have evolved. The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) is a set of organization and workflow patterns intended to guide enterprises in scaling lean and agile practices.  SAFe® promotes alignment, collaboration, and delivery across large numbers of agile teams. It was developed by and for practitioners, by leveraging three primary bodies of knowledge: agile software development, lean product development, and systems thinking.  According to the 2020 14th Annual State of Agile Report, “SAFe® is again the scaling framework of choice, leading with 35% of the respondents. This is up 5% from last year.” So, it would seem wise for any agilist or project manager to receive SAFe® certification. Scaled Agile, Inc. provides a variety of certifications from the foundational Leading SAFe® to SAFe® Advanced Scrum Master to SAFe® for Government. The full list is here.This article will discuss the specifics around receiving the Certified SAFe® 5 Agilist certification.  SAFe®- Lean-Agile Principles SAFe® is based on ten immutable, underlying Lean-Agile principles. These tenets and economic concepts inspire and inform the roles and practices of SAFe®. Take an economic view Apply systems thinking Assume variability; preserve options Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems Visualize and limit Work in Progress (WIP), reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers Decentralize decision-making Organize around value Key areas of competency As of this writing, the current version of SAFe® is 5.0. It is comprised of seven areas of competency, all under the heading of Business Agility: Enterprise Solution Delivery Agile Product Delivery Team and Technical Agility Lean-Agile Leadership Continuous Learning Culture Organizational Agility Lean Portfolio ManagementExam & Certification Details According to Scaled Agile Inc., a Certified SAFe® Agilist (SA) is a “Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) enterprise leadership professional who is part of a Lean-Agile transformation. 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 prerequisites Take the Leading SAFe® two-day class. Classes are mandatory as the course provides access to all the study materials and the exam.  5+ years’ experience in software development, testing, business analysis, product, or project management Experience in Scrum. the most popular type of Agile.  The Leading SAFe® class, which is two days in duration, is provided by Scaled Agile, Inc. business partners and can be found on their site. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, many are currently being done remotely but there are some in person. Shop wisely as prices can range from $750 - $1195 USD.  The exam format is a web-based, closed book multiple choice timed exam. There are 45 questions on the exam and once the exam is started it must be completed within 90 minutes. The passing score is 77% or 35 correct out of 45 questions. The exam is provided in English.  Candidates cannot reproduce, use, or disclose any exam or test content in any form (digital, print, verbal) to anyone before, during, or after testing. Exam cost – 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. Exam study materials Course materials – You will receive a Leading SAFe® workbook which covers the theory and practice of SAFe®. Study guide – The exam study guide is similar to the Project Management Institute’s PMP® handbook. It does not have tips as such but is an overview of exam preparation and the breakdown of study areas from which questions are derived. Practice test – According to the Scaled Agile, Inc. website, “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 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 guideWhat you get Certified SAFe® Agilist PDF certificate. Certified SAFe® Agilist digital badge to promote your accomplishment online. The digital badge will allow people looking at your LinkedIn profile, for example, to verify your accomplishment.  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 including case studies and videos.   Learning journey: checklist Decide on a learning path whether Scrum Master, Release Train Engineer, DevOps, etc is the right option for you at this point in your learning journey. There is no “best” certification. It is a matter of what gaining understanding and then deciding what role you want to play.  Research and schedule the course related to the exam. Study the course materials. Take (and retake) the practice exam. Sit the actual exam. Note - While there are books on the market about SAFe®, there are no real commercial study guides we are aware of outside what Scaled Agile, Inc. provides.  Attend the course The Leading SAFe® course has a duration of two days and is a mixture of lecture and interactive exercises. It is crucial to learn and understand the Scaled Agile framework, as not only is it key to understanding SAFe®, but it also fundamental to the exam.  In addition to lectures, an exercise you might do in class, for example, is to use your team to simulate Program Increment (PI) Planning. PI Planning is a key element of SAFe® and is a “cadence-based, face-to-face event that serves as the heartbeat of the Agile Release Train, aligning all the teams on the train to a shared mission and vision.” The course will provide Professional Development Units and Scrum Education Units as shown below: PMI CertificationTechnicalLeadershipStrategicTotalPMP®6.006.003.0015.00PgMP®6.006.003.0015.00PMI_RMP®0.006.003.009.00PMI_SP®0.006.003.009.00PMI_ACP®0.006.003.009.00PfMP®0.006.003.009.00PMI_PBA®0.006.003.009.00Study and learn A common mistake many test-takers make is to put the books away after class, reasoning either that they are ready to take the exam or should take some time to relax. That is never a good idea and in fact the best way to approach studying is to see the class as the beginning of your studies. The information you received is fresh in your memory and the longer you wait to start studying, the more you will start forgetting what you learned. Set time aside every day (or at least five days a week if possible) to review the workbook and study for the exam. It’s best to space your studying out evenly and not cram at the last minute.  If possible, find a “study buddy” from work or within a network association. You can challenge and teach each other.Take the exam This exam is accessed and delivered through the web on the SAFe® Community Platform after course completion. This is a “closed book” exam which means no outside materials (including the SAFe® website or training materials) or assistance can be used during the exam. (NOTE – this is an honor system as there is currently no proctor.)  As mentioned previously, once the exam is started it must be completed within 90 minutes. There are 45 questions which allots 2 minutes per question on average. This does not mean that you must take 2 minutes on each question. But since you are being timed it is greatly advantageous to keep track of your time on every question. Never take more than 2 minutes. If you aren’t sure you can come back later or take your best educated guess. The exam does not use negative marking, meaning you are not penalized additionally for answering a question incorrectly. Exam retake policy Second attempt on exam (first retake) can be done immediately after first attempt. Third attempt requires a 10-day wait. Fourth attempt requires a 30-day wait. Generally speaking, it is the rule in standardized testing that the test organization makes you wait increasing amounts of time. This is due to the fact that they feel you are not ready and need more time to prepare.  Continue the learning journey Once you are certified, it is important to keep up with your profession and with the SAFe® community. You can do this by being an active member of both the online community and other communities of practice; by refreshing your knowledge periodically and by getting involved in SAFe® implementations.  Tips to Pass Your SAFe® Exam and Get Certified Treat your preparation for the exam like a project. Determine when you want to take it and then set up a schedule of study that will get you there and then stick to it.  Take the exam as soon as possible after the class. Some may be ready right away, especially if they’ve been working with Scaled Agile, Inc. For most people it will be no sooner than two weeks from the course. For others 30 days is an appropriate amount of time. Scaled Agile, Inc. is sending a clear message by saying that the price of the exam will be included if you take it within 30 days. Clearly, they feel that is the optimal time and are incentivizing that behavior.  Determine when is the best time of day for you to study. Some people are very sharp and very focused early in the morning; others can work just as well later in the day. Play to your strengths. If it’s noisy or distracting where you live and there is an open library where you can safely study, consider doing that. Libraries are very conducive to concentrated study. Consider making flash cards for memorization purposes. You can buy these fairly inexpensively and use them to enhance your knowledge. The very act of writing down information is the beginning of learning. There are also phone apps that have blank index cards.  Once you’ve mastered an area, move on. You want to shore up your weaknesses. If you get a question wrong on practice exams, understand why you got it wrong. After the exam, questions are highlighted to let you know what you’ve gotten correct or wrong.  There is a glossary on the SAFe® site that you are highly encouraged to memorize.  Be sure to take the practice exam that is on the SAFe® site as many times as you need to. You want to be in “test mode” when you sit the exam.  Maintaining your certification To keep a SAFe® certification in good standing, certification holders need to complete a predetermined number of continuing education hours (professional development units [PDUs] each year prior to renewing the certification. Examples of PDUs include attending a course, going to a conference, attending industry meetings (ex., Meetups), reading books, and reading articles. For Certified SAFe® Agilist, the requirement is for 10 continuing education/outreach hours. SAFe® certifications are valid for one year and include membership in the SAFe® Community Platform Renewal costs vary based on certification. Certified SAFe® Agilist costs $100 USD/yr.Upgrade path The author prepared for version 4.6 of this certification by attending a two-day class and then took the 4.6 exam. When version 5.0 was released, Scaled Agile, Inc. provided study tools and videos to prepare for taking that version.  The current version of SAFe® is V 5.0. As of this post, according to the support group at Scaled Agile Inc., “We do not have a timeline currently for when new version of SAFe® will be ready.”  Know your exam As mentioned previously, the exam is multiple choice. While there will typically be one answer, some may ask you to choose two or three. Some of the exam questions will offer scenarios; some will be definitional. While many of the questions will specifically be about SAFe®, some will also be from the generic world of Agile and may ask about items such as epics or the Agile Manifesto.  Know the exam content Here is a sample question: What is the goal of the SAFe® House of Lean? Respect for people and culture Value Lean-Agile leadership Business agility The answer here is Value. “The goal of Lean is to deliver the maximum customer value in the shortest sustainable lead-time while providing the highest possible quality to customers and society as a whole. High morale, safety, and customer delight are additional goals and benefits.” Scaled Agile, Inc. provides a link to a page that has sample questions from all their exams. You can find it in the link below. This is a very good way to get a feel for the type of questions you might be asked. Note – they are not easy questions and will give you some idea of the type of preparation you will require.Difficulty of the exam The author has received both SAFe® and PMP® certifications. In his considered opinion, the PMP® exam is one of the most challenging exams as it is very scenario-based, and the answers can be quite similar to each other. By comparison, while the SAFe® exam is difficult, challenging and requires rigorous study, it is not as scenario-based and feels less subjective. The questions also tend to be quite a bit shorter. But make no mistake – it is very challenging, and you must know the fundamentals of SAFe®. ConclusionAgile is here to stay and is slowly outgrowing its roots in software. In order to meet the needs of the enterprise, Agile must scale and SAFe® is the leading methodology to accomplish that. In order to stay conversant with the industry and also to find the best jobs, it is important to have good, marketable certifications. Scaled Agile, Inc. certifications are an important component of any good agilists’ CV.  

Expert Tips to Crack the Safe Agilist Exam in 2021

6K
  • by Jim Stewart
  • 01st Feb, 2021
  • Last updated on 17th Mar, 2021
  • 12 mins read
Expert Tips to Crack the Safe Agilist Exam in 2021

What is SAFe®? 

Traditional Agile has always had an assumption of small teams. In recent years, several approaches (Large-scale Scrum (LeSS), Scrum @ Scale and Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) have evolved. The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) is a set of organization and workflow patterns intended to guide enterprises in scaling lean and agile practices.  

SAFe® promotes alignment, collaboration, and delivery across large numbers of agile teams. It was developed by and for practitioners, by leveraging three primary bodies of knowledge: agile software development, lean product development, and systems thinking 

According to the 2020 14th Annual State of Agile Report, “SAFe® is again the scaling framework of choice, leading with 35% of the respondents. This is up 5% from last year.” 

So, it would seem wise for any agilist or project manager to receive SAFe® certification. Scaled Agile, Inc. provides a variety of certifications from the foundational Leading SAFe® to SAFe® Advanced Scrum Master to SAFe® for Government. The full list is here.

This article will discuss the specifics around receiving the Certified SAFe® 5 Agilist certification.  Full Scaled Agile Framework

SAFe®- Lean-Agile Principles 

SAFe® is based on ten immutable, underlying Lean-Agile principles. These tenets and economic concepts inspire and inform the roles and practices of SAFe®. 

  1. Take an economic view 
  2. Apply systems thinking 
  3. Assume variability; preserve options 
  4. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles 
  5. Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems 
  6. Visualize and limit Work in Progress (WIP), reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths 
  7. Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning 
  8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers 
  9. Decentralize decision-making 
  10. Organize around value 

Key areas of competency 

As of this writing, the current version of SAFe® is 5.0. It is comprised of seven areas of competency, all under the heading of Business Agility: 

  • Enterprise Solution Delivery 
  • Agile Product Delivery 
  • Team and Technical Agility 
  • Lean-Agile Leadership 
  • Continuous Learning Culture 
  • Organizational Agility 
  • Lean Portfolio Management

Exam & Certification Details 

According to Scaled Agile Inc., a Certified SAFe® Agilist (SA) is a “Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) enterprise leadership professional who is part of a Lean-Agile transformation. 

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 prerequisites 

  • Take the Leading SAFe® two-day classClasses are mandatory as the course provides access to all the study materials and the exam.  
  • 5+ years’ experience in software development, testing, business analysis, product, or project management 
  • Experience in Scrum. the most popular type of Agile.  

The Leading SAFe® class, which is two days in duration, is provided by Scaled Agile, Inc. business partners and can be found on their site. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, many are currently being done remotely but there are some in person. Shop wisely as prices can range from $750 - $1195 USD.  

The exam format is a web-based, closed book multiple choice timed exam. There are 45 questions on the exam and once the exam is started it must be completed within 90 minutes. The passing score is 77% or 35 correct out of 45 questions. The exam is provided in English 

Candidates cannot reproduce, use, or disclose any exam or test content in any form (digital, print, verbal) to anyone before, during, or after testing. 

Exam cost – 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. 

Exam study materials 

  • Course materials  You will receive a Leading SAFe® workbook which covers the theory and practice of SAFe®. 
  • Study guide The exam study guide is similar to the Project Management Institute’s PMP® handbook. It does not have tips as such but is an overview of exam preparation and the breakdown of study areas from which questions are derived. 
  • Practice test – According to the Scaled Agile, Inc. website, “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 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 

  • Certified SAFe® Agilist PDF certificate. 
  • Certified SAFe® Agilist digital badge to promote your accomplishment online. The digital badge will allow people looking at your LinkedIn profile, for example, to verify your accomplishment.  
  • 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 including case studies and videos.   

Learning journey: checklist 

  • Decide on a learning path whether Scrum Master, Release Train Engineer, DevOps, etc is the right option for you at this point in your learning journeyThere is no “best” certification. It is a matter of what gaining understanding and then deciding what role you want to play.  
  • Research and schedule the course related to the exam. 
  • Study the course materials. 
  • Take (and retake) the practice exam. 
  • Sit the actual exam. 

Note - While there are books on the market about SAFe®, there are no real commercial study guides we are aware of outside what Scaled Agile, Inc. provides.  

Attend the course 

The Leading SAFe® course has a duration of two days and is a mixture of lecture and interactive exercises. It is crucial to learn and understand the Scaled Agile framework, as not only is it key to understanding SAFe®, but it also fundamental to the exam.  

In addition to lectures, an exercise you might do in class, for example, is to use your team to simulate Program Increment (PI) Planning. PI Planning is a key element of SAFe® and is a “cadence-based, face-to-face event that serves as the heartbeat of the Agile Release Train, aligning all the teams on the train to a shared mission and vision.” 

The course will provide Professional Development Units and Scrum Education Units as shown below: 

PMI CertificationTechnicalLeadershipStrategicTotal
PMP®6.006.003.0015.00
PgMP®6.006.003.0015.00
PMI_RMP®0.006.003.009.00
PMI_SP®0.006.003.009.00
PMI_ACP®0.006.003.009.00
PfMP®0.006.003.009.00
PMI_PBA®0.006.003.009.00

Study and learn 

A common mistake many test-takers make is to put the books away after class, reasoning either that they are ready to take the exam or should take some time to relax. That is never a good idea and in fact the best way to approach studying is to see the class as the beginning of your studies. The information you received is fresh in your memory and the longer you wait to start studying, the more you will start forgetting what you learned. 

Set time aside every day (or at least five days a week if possible) to review the workbook and study for the exam. It’s best to space your studying out evenly and not cram at the last minute.  

If possible, find a “study buddy” from work or within a network association. You can challenge and teach each other.

Take the exam 

This exam is accessed and delivered through the web on the SAFe® Community Platform after 

course completion. This is a “closed book” exam which means no outside materials (including the SAFe® website or training materials) or assistance can be used during the exam. (NOTE – this is an honor system as there is currently no proctor.)  

As mentioned previously, once the exam is started it must be completed within 90 minutes. There are 45 questions which allots 2 minutes per question on average. This does not mean that you must take 2 minutes on each question. But since you are being timed it is greatly advantageous to keep track of your time on every question. Never take more than 2 minutes. If you aren’t sure you can come back later or take your best educated guess. The exam does not use negative marking, meaning you are not penalized additionally for answering a question incorrectly. 

Exam retake policy 

Second attempt on exam (first retake) can be done immediately after first attempt. Third attempt requires a 10-day wait. Fourth attempt requires a 30-day wait. 

Generally speaking, it is the rule in standardized testing that the test organization makes you wait increasing amounts of time. This is due to the fact that they feel you are not ready and need more time to prepare.  

Continue the learning journey 

Once you are certified, it is important to keep up with your profession and with the SAFe® community. You can do this by being an active member of both the online community and other communities of practice; by refreshing your knowledge periodically and by getting involved in SAFe® implementations.  

Tips to Pass Your SAFe® Exam and Get Certified 

  • Treat your preparation for the exam like a project. Determine when you want to take it and then set up a schedule of study that will get you there and then stick to it.  
  • Take the exam as soon as possible after the class. Some may be ready right away, especially if they’ve been working with Scaled Agile, IncFor most people it will be no sooner than two weeks from the course. For others 30 days is an appropriate amount of time. Scaled Agile, Inc. is sending a clear message by saying that the price of the exam will be included if you take it within 30 days. Clearly, they feel that is the optimal time and are incentivizing that behavior.  
  • Determine when is the best time of day for you to study. Some people are very sharp and very focused early in the morning; others can work just as well later in the day. Play to your strengths. 
  • If it’s noisy or distracting where you live and there is an open library where you can safely study, consider doing that. Libraries are very conducive to concentrated study. 
  • Consider making flash cards for memorization purposes. You can buy these fairly inexpensively and use them to enhance your knowledge. The very act of writing down information is the beginning of learning. There are also phone apps that have blank index cards.  
  • Once you’ve mastered an area, move on. You want to shore up your weaknesses. If you get a question wrong on practice exams, understand why you got it wrong. After the exam, questions are highlighted to let you know what you’ve gotten correct or wrong.  
  • There is a glossary on the SAFe® site that you are highly encouraged to memorize.  
  • Be sure to take the practice exam that is on the SAFe® site as many times as you need to. You want to be in “test mode” when you sit the exam.  

Maintaining your certification 

To keep a SAFe® certification in good standing, certification holders need to complete a predetermined number of continuing education hours (professional development units [PDUs] each year prior to renewing the certification. Examples of PDUs include attending a course, going to a conference, attending industry meetings (ex., Meetups), reading books, and reading articles. 

For Certified SAFe® Agilist, the requirement is for 10 continuing education/outreach hours. SAFe® certifications are valid for one year and include membership in the SAFe® Community Platform Renewal costs vary based on certification. Certified SAFe® Agilist costs $100 USD/yr.

Upgrade path 

The author prepared for version 4.6 of this certification by attending a two-day class and then took the 4.6 exam. When version 5.0 was released, Scaled Agile, Inc. provided study tools and videos to prepare for taking that version.  

The current version of SAFe® is V 5.0. As of this post, according to the support group at Scaled Agile Inc., “We do not have a timeline currently for when new version of SAFe® will be ready.”  

Know your exam 

As mentioned previously, the exam is multiple choice. While there will typically be one answer, some may ask you to choose two or three. Some of the exam questions will offer scenarios; some will be definitional. While many of the questions will specifically be about SAFe®, some will also be from the generic world of Agile and may ask about items such as epics or the Agile Manifesto.  

Know the exam content 

Here is a sample question: 

What is the goal of the SAFe® House of Lean? 

  • Respect for people and culture 
  • Value 
  • Lean-Agile leadership 
  • Business agility 

The answer here is Value. “The goal of Lean is to deliver the maximum customer value in the shortest sustainable lead-time while providing the highest possible quality to customers and society as a whole. High morale, safety, and customer delight are additional goals and benefits. 

Scaled Agile, Inc. provides a link to a page that has sample questions from all their exams. You can find it in the link below. This is a very good way to get a feel for the type of questions you might be asked. Note – they are not easy questions and will give you some idea of the type of preparation you will require.

Difficulty of the exam 

The author has received both SAFe® and PMP® certifications. In his considered opinion, the PMP® exam is one of the most challenging exams as it is very scenario-based, and the answers can be quite similar to each other. 

By comparison, while the SAFe® exam is difficult, challenging and requires rigorous study, it is not as scenario-based and feels less subjective. The questions also tend to be quite a bit shorter. But make no mistake – it is very challenging, and you must know the fundamentals of SAFe®. 

Conclusion

Agile is here to stay and is slowly outgrowing its roots in software. In order to meet the needs of the enterprise, Agile must scale and SAFe® is the leading methodology to accomplish that. In order to stay conversant with the industry and also to find the best jobs, it is important to have good, marketable certifications. Scaled Agile, Inc. certifications are an important component of any good agilists’ CV.  

Jim

Jim Stewart

Author

Jim has been a project manager for twenty-five years and since 2003 has been independently providing consulting, training and mentoring. A PMP since 2001 and Certified Scrum Master since 2013, he contributes by helping organizations increase their project maturity and best practices. He is also a partner in The Agile Collaborative which provides agile consulting and is a certified Agile coach and SAFe agilist.  

Jim has established Project Management Offices and led projects for financial and pharmaceutical companies and provided best practices for many organizations. He recently established a PMO for a Middle Eastern telecommunications company and in helping a San Francisco-based company with various HR-based IT projects.  

Jim is co-author of the book, “Facilitating Project Planning Meetings: A Practical Guide to Ensuring Project Success.”  

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In this blog we attempt to decipher this statement and understand how Scrum Masters can help make Scrum projects or implementations successful.Where to start?So, what makes Scrum so popular? That it is better suited to the changing market conditions of the present times is well known, but how is it able to do it?  Scrum is an adaptable, iterative framework that helps Scrum teams break down large projects into small chunks called epics and sprints. Goals are defined and timeboxed. Teams are small, self-organized and with a high degree of cross-function. A goal or functionality has to be delivered at the end of each sprint. This helps for quick feedback and gives teams the ability to adapt to changing requirements—a must in times when products have to adapt quickly to please changing user preferences.  The advantages of Scrum include:  More satisfied customers Better managed processes and happier teams Better visibility into projects Better quality products  Projects completed withing time and budget constraints Better adaptability  Motivated teams Lightweight Management ProcessScrum is a lightweight framework because it provides adaptable solutions to complex problems and helps teams and organizations generate value.Why Scrum is considered to be lightweight, easy to understand but difficult to master?Lightweight: Scrum, based on Agile values, has few elements and maximizes responsiveness to customer needs. This makes it lightweight and apt for software development in the modern world.  Easy to Understand: With just three roles, three artifacts, four ceremonies and 12 Agile values, Scrum is pretty easy to understand. Scrum is a collection of practices and concepts that teams use to build processes around. The Scrum Guide which is the Scrum bible is also easy to read and understand. The three scrum roles are: Team, Scrum Master, Product Owner The ceremonies are:  Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Retrospective and Sprint Review The three artifacts are: Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, Burndown chart  Difficult to Master: So, if Scrum is so easy to learn about and understand then why is that it’s difficult to actually implement and master? Let us look at this from the perspective of a Scrum Master. A Scrum Master is a critical part of the Scrum team and is in effect a microcosm of Scrum upholding the Agile values and focusing on creating a self-organizing, highly motivated and collaborative team. Scrum is a not a one-size-fits- all framework. Perhaps that is what makes it difficult to master. It has to be tailored to suit the needs of each project, team and organization. There are several factors that need to be considered before adopting Scrum. The Scrum Master’s role, similarly, needs to be learnt and there are several skills a professional must have or needs to cultivate in order to be a successful Scrum Master. The Scrum Master’s Role in a Successful Scrum Adoption:There are many Scrum teams that have started out in the right way, but soon fall by the wayside as they do not follow Scrum in principle. This is where the Scrum Master plays a very critical role in the success of the team. Despite Scrum being ‘simple to understand and difficult to master’ the Scrum Master is considered to be the expert on all things Scrum.As a coach, guide and mentor, the Scrum Master should facilitate the successful adoption of Scrum, and help others to gain mastery over Scrum principles and values.A Scrum Master must mandatorily follow certain core values and inspire the team to follow them as well. These core values that include openness, commitment, focus, courage and respect bring the team together and promote better work ethics and practices.Besides inculcating Scrum principles and values and guiding a successful adoption, a Scrum Master should also have these attributes:  An Unbiased and Open Mind:  An unbiased and open mind is key to being a good Scrum Master. As part of their portfolio, Scrum Masters have to work with different teams and team members having different personalities. Having an open mind will help the Scrum Master to not look at every team with the same lens and treat each team differently. Solutions that work for one team may not work for other teams or situations. Having an open mind will help you realise this and tweak your decisions based on teams and situations.   Transparency:  Transparency and open communication are the pillars of Scrum. As a Scrum Master your intentions should be open and transparent to everyone including your team and the product owner. The team must at all times know your reasons for doing certain things or taking certain decisions. Being upfront with the team members will help in trust building and lead to better work ethics.   Metrics to Map Progress:There are several tools available to track a team’s progress and the Scrum Master must ensure that these metrics showing the team’s progress be made available to the entire team. This will help the team better plan sprints, work collaboratively and improve working practices in order to ensure better output and value.   Motivation for Team Members: Keeping your team members happy and motivated is a Scrum Master’s main job. This includes removing obstacles that may impede the team from performing and helping them work according to Scrum values and techniques. The development team develops the product, and a happy team means a well-built product and satisfied customers. Assistance to the Product Owner:  As a Scrum Master, aiding the Product Owner is a major part of your responsibility. The Product Owner is a major stakeholder in the Scrum team and the Scrum Master aids the product owner in backlog management and by facilitating Scrum events, product planning and by helping the team to identify backlog items. Aiding the Product Owner in issues that they may face with regards to the project, stakeholders or the team will create a positive environment and will make things between the team and the product owner smoother.   Focus on the Challenges: Every Scrum project comes with its set of issues. But an effective Scrum Master will be aware of every challenge or impediment that comes in the way of the development team and takes these problems head on. Focusing on these challenges early on and resolving them is paramount to the success and progress of the team and the project. Appreciation for Achievements:  The focus of daily sprints and retrospectives is often to celebrate achievements and give the development team proper appreciation. A Scrum Master encourages and motivates and this they also do by respective current achievements. While giving advise on how things should be done is necessary, appreciating the team on its achievements is equally important.   Respect for Others: Your team members all have different personalities and each brings their own uniqueness and expertise to the team. No one team member is less or more important than the other. An effective and efficient Scrum Master will recognise this early on and treat every team member with the same amount of respect.  Understanding of Situations in the Right Context:  Not all things are as what they appear. The sooner a scrum master understands this, the better. Situations in context to teams, individuals and even the organization are not always black and white and the Scrum Master must consider the baggage of organizational culture, current systems, internal politics, etc before coming to a conclusion about a team or a team members. Instead, one must attempt to form close relationships with the team and understand the workings of the team and the organizations before passing judgement. Ability to Have Tough Conversations :  You as a Scrum Master are often seen as a problem solver, friend and mentor. But don’t let this image of yours come in the way of making tough decisions or having tough conversations. As a Scrum Master you must have the courage to do the right thing and if this means having difficult but necessary conversations with either the team members, the product owner or the stakeholders, then you must do it.    Courage to Protect the Team:  More often than not, there are unreasonable demands made on the development team. The Scrum Master should have the courage to protect the team and say an emphatic ‘no’ to the Product Owner or the stakeholders.  Accountability: You are accountable for your team’s success as you are for its failures. If as a Scrum Master you want your team to be accountable then the best way to get them to do that is to be accountable yourself. You can do this by being more invested in the day-to-day activities of the team and considering yourself to be a part of the team as well.  Support for Team Members: As a Scrum Master you are not just invested in the project but also in the growth of individual team members. You should motivate, encourage and support your team members to grow and reach heights in their careers.   Deep Commitment: If the team feels that the Scrum Master is committed to the project, committed to the team and committed to the team members, then they are more likely to be open and transparent with the Scrum Master. This trust with the team has to be built so that team members can be open about the challenges they face. The Scrum Master is the voice of the team and must support them at all stages.   Focus on Improvement:  Scrum is all about continuous improvement and the success of the Scrum Master is also tied to the continuous improvement of the Scrum team. If your team is getting better with time then you are doing well as a Scrum Master. From daily sprints to retrospectives, the Scrum Master provides avenues for the team to improve itself, identify problems and suggest solutions to work better.  Conclusion Scrum is the most used Agile framework, yet there are several lessons that organizations need to learn about Scrum before they embark on a transformation journey. This lightweight and easy to use framework can turn around the fortunes of companies if implemented in the right way. It’s important for an organization’s culture to be ready to accept and implement Scrum for project and organizational success.  
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Why Scrum Is Lightweight; Simple To Understand; Di...

85 percent of respondents say Scrum continues to... Read More

Scrum Master – The Scrum Team’s Servant-Leader!

The term servant leader is synonymous with a Scrum Master. But what does it mean? The Scrum Master is a servant leader in Agile projects, but servant leadership goes far beyond Agile, and Scrum Masters serve more than just the team.In this blog we attempt to look at the Scrum Master’s role as a servant leader, what the role entails and the responsibilities of the Scrum Master beyond the team, in context to the organization. What is servant-leadership?The term servant leadership was first coined by Robert Greenleaf in his article “The Servant as Leader”, in which he defined a servant leader as: The Servant-Leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That leader significantly differs from one who is leader first, may be due to the need to acquire power, material belonging, control and authority within the organization. Servant leadership is something very different from traditional leadership, which places the leader at the top of the hierarchy and the employees in the lower rung. Servant leadership, in a sense, is the opposite of traditional leadership, as it places the leader at the bottom of the hierarchy while employees are on the higher rungs. The leaders, in this case, are serving the people above them. Servant leadership refers to leaders who believe in serving people and the community that they are a part of, rather than accumulating power for themselves. This style of leadership emphasizes on helping subordinates better themselves, empowering employees and helping others perform to the best of their abilities.Servant leadership does not prescribe telling employees what to do, instead it helps the workforce find their sense of ownership and unlock their potential to reach their goals. Servant leadership is all about empowering others, which when consistently done can raise morale, enhance productivity and reduce employee attrition.Servant Leadership and ScrumScrum, in a way, is the very essence of servant leadership. Unlike traditional project management methodologies, it does not follow a top-down, hierarchical approach. Instead, decisions are lateral and happen with the involvement of the whole team. Scrum is the perfect approach in which to practice the concept of servant leadership. The 5 Scrum values of Openness, Respect, Commitment, Courage, and Focus, adhere to the philosophy of Servant Leadership. The Scrum Master plays a key role in the development of the product, the team and the organization. The Scrum Guide defines the servant leadership a Scrum Master’s role has to perform in context to the roles mentioned above. The Scrum Values that a Scrum Master practices have a ripple effect throughout the organization. The Scrum Master is seen as an evangelist for practicing and promoting Scrum in the enterprise.The Agile Manifesto and servant-leadershipThe Agile Manifesto states that one must value: Individuals and interactions over Process and tools Working software over Comprehensive documentation Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation Responding to change over Following a plan These again align with the values of servant leadership, which is all about putting people or employees first. The Agile Manifesto describes focusing on building projects around motivated individuals and giving them an environment of support, trust and collaboration—all characteristics of servant leadership.Who Are These Servant Leaders?The Scrum Guide defines the service provided by the Scrum Master as servant leadership. The Scrum Master selflessly provides servant leadership to the development team, product owner and the whole organization. By serving these entities, the Scrum Master can create a high performing team, a valuable product and an efficient organization that is able to meet business objectives and keep customers happy.  Though the term Scrum Master may be deceptive, the Scrum Master is not a master of the team but in fact serves the team in order to ensure smooth functioning and productivity.Servant Leadership and Scrum Master Roles of Servant LeadershipServant leadership:The day-to-day activity of a Scrum Master involves servant leadership. Servant leadership in a scrum team involves performance planning, coaching, helping the team self- organize, resolving conflicts through conflict management, removing obstacles that hinder progress and serving the team. The Scrum Master, while practicing servant leadership, helps the team grow and mature and become independent enough to make their own decisions. Servant leadership in Scrum is all about making the team self-reliant, so they can cope with the pressures of the role. As a servant leader the Scrum Master creates a high performing team, helps them become collaborative and high performing in order to achieve goals and meet the requirements of the customer.  Service to the Scrum Team: As a servant leader, the primary responsibility of the Scrum Master is to help the development team perform. They help the team perform to the best of their abilities by giving them an environment that is conducive to work in, encouraging them, guiding them and removing obstacles that may hinder progress. As a coach, the Scrum Master will guide the team on scrum processes and help them adhere to Agile values during the development of the product. The Scrum Master is responsible for the scrum team’s effectiveness, and they work tirelessly to ensure that the team is motivated, encouraged, creative and innovative. The Scrum Master through servant leadership helps the team improve Scrum practices which helps them become more productive and generate value. The Scrum Team’s role in motivating and helping the team comes through in the daily stand-up meetings that are arranged as part of the sprint. The Scrum Master encourages team members to share their grievances and progress made through the sprint. Team members can talk about obstacles that may be hindering their work and due cognizance will be taken up by the Scrum master to ensure that these obstacles are removed.  According to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master helps the Development Team by: Coaching the team in becoming self-organized and cross-functional Helping the Scrum Team focus on creating high-value increments by removing impediments Helping the team deliver within the timeframe of the sprint Service to the Product Owner: The Scrum Master is a servant leader not just for the development team but also the Product Owner. While the Product Owner is primarily responsible for the product backlog, they cannot do this alone. The Scrum Master aids the development team and the Product Owner with effective product backlog management.The Scrum Master is involved at every stage of the product backlog grooming, helping the product owner with Scrum events, product planning and to identify backlog items along with the development team. The Scrum Master helps the Product Owner define the product vision to the team.   According to the Scrum Guide, the Scrum Master helps the Product Owner by: Helping in Product Goal definition and Product Backlog management Helping the Scrum Team understand manage the Product Backlog items Setting up empirical product planning in complex environments and, Managing and facilitating stakeholder collaboration.Service to the Organization: The Scrum Master is a coach and motivator not just for the development team but goes beyond the team to spread the awareness of Scrum in the entire organization. Scrum Masters coach and help teams and departments understand Scrum and develop an Agile mind-set. Besides servant leadership to the team a Scrum Master is also involved in promoting the ideas and values of Scrum. An organization can get an agile mind-set only if the entire organization adopts Scrum and not just a few teams. This is where the Scrum Master comes in, helping other teams not involved with Scum to gain the Agile mind-set, through training and coaching. The Scrum Master is an Agile evangelist and promotes Scrum enterprise-wide.According to Scrum.org the Scrum Master serves the organization by: Leading, training, and coaching the organization in adopting Scrum Planning and advising Scrum implementations within the organization Coaching employees and stakeholders in the way Scrum works Helping stakeholders work with Scrum TeamsSome Servant-Leader Behaviours for every Scrum MasterBeing empathetic: This is the foremost personality trait required for anyone wanting to become a Scrum Master. Your empathy will shine through in your interactions with the team members and your dealings with the stakeholders. You should be able to see problems from the point of view of each party and work towards solving these problems. Caring: As a caring and empathetic Scrum Master, your team will feel free to approach you and share their concerns. Providing a listening ear will make you more approachable. You will be able to more clearly understand the impediments that are stopping project progress and work towards providing a solution.  Managing Conflicts: Not all team members will get along with each other and this can cause disruptions and problems within the team, lowering their productivity. As a Scrum Master you need to be great at conflict management, help others solve their problems, work with each other and create a high performing and harmonious team. Building relationships: You need to build a rapport with your team, the product owner and the stakeholders. This will help you communicate freely and help others approach you with their problems and issues. You need to build that relationship of trust and take everyone along on the journey of success.  Being ethical: Ethics play an important role in software development, especially since software now controls every aspect of our lives. The product created should be free of malice and fraud. The Scrum Master should guide the team in delivering the product at a value and standard that is expected and agreed upon with the stakeholder. There should not be any shortcuts or concessions made on the quality of the product delivered as this will affect not just the Scrum Master and the team’s reputation but will cause a dent in the reputation of the organization.   Conclusion  Servant leadership and the Scrum Master’s role is the backbone of Scrum. The Scrum Master as a servant leader re-emphasizes the values of Scrum and helps to enhance teamwork, collaboration, motivation and value. Under the able servant leadership of the Scrum Master, individual members and the team will grow, become more confident and help in delivering value.  
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Scrum Master – The Scrum Team’s Servan...

The term servant leader is synonymous with a Scrum... Read More

A Guide to Scaling Scrum

Scrum has been proven to work well for small teams. But the true benefits of Agile can only be reaped if Agile and Scrum are scaled at the enterprise level. However, this is easier said than done. According to statistics, 47% of Agile transformations are not successful. While this is a worrying trend, there are still hundreds of organizations who have got it right and are able to survive the competition by innovating faster, delivering value and adapting to changing markets. How are they doing it? By using scaled Scrum.There are several tools and frameworks available for scaling Scrum at the enterprise level. In this blog, we attempt to look at a few of these.  Scaling Scrum with NexusNexus is among the most popular frameworks for scaling Scrum. According to the Nexus Guide, “Nexus is a framework for developing and sustaining scaled product delivery initiatives. It builds upon Scrum, extending it only where absolutely necessary to minimize and manage dependencies between multiple Scrum Teams while promoting empiricism and the Scrum Values.” How is Nexus different from Scrum? Scrum defines three primary roles: The Product Owner, the Scrum Master and the development team. These three roles work together in one team.The Nexus framework consists of several Scrum teams that work together toward a common product goal and defines the Nexus Integration Team as an additional accountability.  Nexus helps to build on the values of Scrum and also solves the collaboration and dependency challenges that tend to occur between teams in Scrum.Benefits of using Nexus Nexus extends Scrum in the following ways:  Accountabilities: Nexus introduces the Nexus Integration Team, which consists of the Scrum Master, Product Owner, and members. This team is accountable for delivering a workable product at the end of each sprint.  Events: Nexus events aim to add to or supplement Scrum events and serve not just individual teams but also the Nexus Integration Team. The objective of a sprint is to achieve the Nexus sprint goal. Artifacts: Although the teams are different, within the Nexus framework they all work towards a single goal and follow a single product backlog. There’s a high amount of transparency and work is allocated to each team. The Nexus Integration TeamAccording to the Nexus Guide, “the Nexus Integration Team exists to coordinate, coach, and supervise the application of Nexus and the operation of Scrum so the best outcomes are derived.” The Nexus Integration Team or NIT comprises of the Scrum Master, the Product Owner and Nexus integration team members. There are generally three to nine Scrum teams working together in Nexus. All of them follow a single product backlog and work towards delivering a single product. The Nexus Integration Team forms an essential role within Nexus and is tasked with providing transparent accountability among the teams in Nexus.Product OwnerThe Product Owner is accountable for maximizing the product value and the work carried out in Nexus. Their primary task is to order and refine the product backlog. Being a member of the Nexus Integration Team, the product owner will work with all the Scrum teams in the Nexus Integration team. The product owner and the teams work towards better defining and refining the product backlog.Scrum MasterJust like in regular Scrum, the Scrum Master in the Nexus Integration Team is also responsible for ensuring that the Nexus framework is understood by everyone on the team as prescribed by the Nexus Guide.   MembersThe members of the Nexus Integration Team are the Scrum team members who aid the Scrum teams in adoption of tools and practices that will help the team and members deliver value at the end of each sprint that meets the definition of done. Nexus Integration Team membership should be considered more important than the individual Scrum Team membership and members should work towards first fulfilling their Nexus team responsibilities.What are the Events in Nexus?Nexus adds or augments the events as defined by Scrum. The Nexus event durations are like Scrum event durations and are guided by the Scrum Guide.  Nexus events consist of: Sprint- A Nexus sprint is the same as in Scrum, at the end of which a single increment is delivered.  Cross team refinement- The aim of Nexus is to enhance collaboration and reduce cross team dependencies. Cross team refinement helps to make dependencies and responsibilities more transparent. This makes it easier for Scrum teams within the Nexus to clearly identify and deliver their allocated tasks.  Nexus Sprint Planning- Nexus sprint planning will involve the participation of the Product Owner and concerned teams' members from each team. The purpose of the Nexus Sprint Planning is to assign and co-ordinate activities for a single sprint.  Nexus Daily Scrum- This is like the daily stand up in Scrum. Nexus daily scrum is used to identify any issues and track progress. Any issues are immediately prioritized and solved so that they do not hinder the work of the developers.  Nexus Sprint Review- This event is held at the end of sprints to provide feedback on the increment that has been built and on any future updates that have to be made. Nexus Sprint Retrospective- Like in Scrum, Nexus retrospectives are an important part of the project and are used to reflect on how quality and consistency can be improved.  Some Nexus ArtifactsNexus artifacts are the same as Scrum artifacts and when implemented correctly ensure transparency and value maximization. Every artifact is designed to give a commitment. For example, the product backlog is the artifact and its commitment is the product goal. Other artifacts and their commitments include: Nexus Sprint Backlog-Nexus Sprint Goal Integrated Increment-Definition of Done Along with Nexus, LeSS is another popular framework for scaling agile.  Scaling Scrum with LeSS The Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) framework is an offering from Atlassian and is a framework for scaling Scrum to multiple teams that are working on the same product. The idea behind LeSS is to start with a single Scrum team as defined in the Scrum Guide and then replicate it to multiple teams who are working on a single product. LeSS has earned the label of being “barely sufficient” as it is a simple framework to apply and uses the basic concepts of Scrum to scale.  How do Sprint Planning meetings in LeSS work?  LeSS generally carries out sprint planning in two stages. Sprint Planning One focuses on selecting items that are of topmost priority, solving unanswered issues and defining the sprint goal. The Sprint Planning Two is like the sprint plan of regular Scrum and focuses on creating a plan of action for getting things done.  Daily meeting  The daily Scrum meeting in LeSS is similar to how it is done in normal single Scrum teams and involves team members discussing the work accomplished and the work to be done during the day. It is a time-boxed meeting and helps teams address any issues that may be hindering work.   Sprint Delivery Meeting (Review) The sprint review meeting is an essential part of LeSS and helps teams and stakeholders review the product built during the sprint and suggest changes and new ideas.   Retrospective The retrospective for LeSS is similar to one team Scrum. These retrospectives held at the end of the sprint will help teams to reflect on the progress of tasks, and identify the obstacles that may hinder or impede the overall project.  Let’s take a look at some of the other frameworks that are used for scaling agile. Scaling Scrum with SAFe®The Scaled Agile Framework, SAFe in short, follows the principles of lean and agile and helps in scaling Scrum to the enterprise. It helps to manage alignment, collaboration, and delivery from multiple agile teams to ensure enterprise success. It systematically focuses on applying Scrum at each level of the enterprise, to maximize value and ensure a successful agile transformation.A successful SAFe adoption ensures end-to-end business agility with significant improvements in strategy, delivery, execution and business competencies. It helps organizations overcome competition and ensure innovative business solutions to gain customer trust and partnership. The SAFe framework is continuously improvised in order to help organizations cope with the digital age and ensure that business outcomes are delivered.Scaling Scrum with the Scrum@Scale frameworkAnother framework that allows organizations to implement Scrum at scale is the Scrum@Scale framework. This framework expands on the core principles of Scrum and helps to scale Scrum over a wide range of industries and sectors, ensuring customer satisfaction and creation of successful products. It promotes communication across all teams and departments, and optimizes resources, removes roadblocks and ensures creation of innovative products.A Final Word By driving Agile at the organizational level, companies can gain all the benefits of team-level Scrum at scale. More often than not the principles of team level Scrum are not sustainable at the enterprise level and the transformation fails. Tested and proven Agile scaling frameworks are now able to turn this around, and help organizations scale up the principles and practices of Scrum to become more adaptable, flexible and responsive. Professionals can master these frameworks and help their organization adopt the culture, mind-set and principles of Scrum and agile.  
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A Guide to Scaling Scrum

Scrum has been proven to work well for small tea... Read More