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. To know more about SAFe agile certification, click here.
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.
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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.
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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 an 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 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
- 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 guide
In addition to the above, you will also receive access to the SAFe program, which includes a variety of features and benefits designed to help you succeed in your career as an agile leader
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.
Agilist Exam 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.
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Attend the course!
The Leading SAFe® course has a duration of two days and is a mixture of lectures 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 is 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, knowledge about 5 whys root cause analysis, 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:
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 allot 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
The second attempt on the exam (first retake) can be done immediately after the first attempt. The third attempt requires a 10-day wait. The 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.