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® is based on ten immutable, underlying Lean-Agile principles. These tenets and economic concepts inspire and inform the roles and practices of SAFe®.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Here is a sample question:
What is the goal of the SAFe® House of Lean?
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.
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®.
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.
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