Interested in taking the Leading SAFe® 6.0 course, or already enrolled to take the exam and become a certified SAFe® Agilist (SA)? Here’s the lowdown on what to expect as well as expert tips on how to prepare for and ace the exam.
According to the 2022 annual State of Agile report, the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) continues to be the framework of choice for scaling agile, with its use growing among respondents from 37 per cent in 2021 to 53 per cent in 2022. It follows that as more organisations are adopting SAFe, they are increasingly seeking candidates with SAFe experience and certifications and/or upskilling their existing staff.
While Scaled Agile offers a number of SAFe certification courses, Leading SAFe is by far the most popular. Typically run across two days, it offers an introduction to the foundations of SAFe and provides the principles and practices to lead a lean-agile enterprise. The course and corresponding resources also prepare you to take the Leading SAFe exam and become a certified SAFe Agilist (SA). If you’re interested in acquiring this sought-after certification, or already prepping for the exam, we cover everything you need to know to improve your chances of success.
Leading SAFe®: an overview
Who should take Leading SAFe® 6.0?
Leading SAFe is specifically aimed at leaders/managers, key influencers and stakeholders in organisations that have already implemented or are considering implementing SAFe. That said, anyone can enrol in the course and as it’s the nearest thing Scaled Agile has to an introductory course, it’s a good choice for anyone new to the SAFe framework.
If you already perform a specialised role, such as Scrum product owner, Scrum master or architect, you may prefer a course specifically geared to your position. These are however more advanced courses and participants will typically get more out of them if they’ve completed Leading SAFe first.
Leading SAFe® topic areas
The two-day Leading SAFe course is broken down into six main topic areas:
- 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.
It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with key terms and topics before attending the course, particularly if you’re new to SAFe. You’ll find comprehensive explainer articles on the Scaled Agile website on all of the following: Business Agility, Lean-Agile Mindset, Team and Technical Agility, Agile Product Delivery, Lean Portfolio Management, Lean-Agile Leadership, as well as the full SAFe 6.0 configuration.
SAFe® Agilist certification exam
Completing the Leading SAFe course is a mandatory requirement to be eligible for the SAFe Agilist (SA) certification exam. If you do intend to take the exam, the following are also highly recommended:
- 5+ years of experience in software development, testing, business analysis, or project management is advised
- Proficiency/or experience in Scrum (those who’ve already undertaken the Scrum Master Certified course (SMC®) will be well placed to understand the concepts).
Key areas of competency
The exam evaluates proficiency in several competencies vital for steering lean-agile enterprise leadership. These competencies include:
- Applying SAFe to scale Lean and Agile development within an enterprise
- Embracing the Lean-Agile Mindset and its principles
- Planning and executing Program Increments successfully
- Executing and releasing value through Agile Release Trains (ATRs)
- Constructing an Agile portfolio using Lean-Agile budgeting.
How does the exam work?
The SAFe Agilist certification exam is a 90-minute web-based assessment taken after course completion. This is a closed book exam which means no outside materials (including the SAFe website or study materials), or assistance can be used during the exam*.
Candidates are asked to attempt 45 multiple-choice questions – the timer is displayed once the questions are presented, and your exam is submitted when the timer ends (regardless of the number of questions answered). The passing score is 80% (or 36 out of 45 correct answers) and any unanswered questions will be marked as incorrect.
The first attempt is typically included in the course price, providing you sit the exam within 30 days of course completion.
*NOTE – this is an honour system as there is currently no proctor.
Outcomes and certification
Attendees who pass the exam will earn the globally recognised Safe Agilist (SA) certification. According to Scaled Agile, a Certified SA is a “Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) enterprise leadership professional who is part of a Lean-Agile transformation.”
As well as physical proof of this credential in the form of a pdf certificate and digital badge (to promote your accreditation online), you will receive:
- One-year membership to the SAFe Community Platform, with access to the SA Community of Practice
- Access to Meetup groups and events that connect you with other SAFe certified professionals, enabling knowledge sharing and interaction within the SAFe community
- A variety of learning resources to support you during your SAFe journey, including case studies and videos.
SAFe® Agilist exam cheat sheet
Exam study materials
The exam format demands a solid understanding of SAFe principles and practices and candidates are granted access to a range of study materials to support them in their preparation. These resources aid in assimilating the necessary knowledge to tackle the exam effectively and include:
Course materials: Participants receive a comprehensive Leading SAFe workbook covering the theory and practical applications of SAFe. This serves as a foundational resource, covering a broad spectrum of SAFe principles.
Study guide: Like the Project Management Institute’s PMP® handbook, the study guide provides a practical overview of exam preparation. It offers a breakdown of study areas from which questions are drawn, helping candidates focus on crucial subject matter.
Practice test: The practice test mirrors the certification exam in terms of the number of questions, difficulty level, and time duration. Passing the practice test does not guarantee you’ll pass the exam, but it is a good predictive tool.
Sample questions: A web-enabled, flashcard-style version of sample questions is available online and within the study guide. These offer insights into the type of exam questions you’ll come across, allowing for targeted preparation.
Essential SAFe terms you need to know
To excel in the SAFe certification exam, you’ll need a thorough understanding of fundamental SAFe terms. Here’s a glossary of some of the core definitions essential for success:
Agile team: a cross-functional group responsible for delivering high-quality products iteratively.
Scrum master: a servant leader and coach who ensures the team adheres to agile principles and practices and supports teams and ARTs in delivering value.
Product owner: the individual accountable for maximising product value and managing the team backlog.
Iteration planning: a planning event where team members lay out the work they will commit to delivering during the upcoming iteration.
Sprint review: a collaborative meeting where the Scrum team demonstrates the product increment and gathers feedback.
Agile Release Train (ART): a collection of agile teams that deliver value in a structured, synchronised manner.
Value stream: a sequence of activities that an organisation uses to build solutions that provide a continuous flow of value to the customer.
Solution train: an organisational construct supporting the development of large and complex solutions that require multiple ARTs and suppliers.
Visit the Scaled Agile website for a full glossary of SAFe ‘Big Picture’ terms.
Tips and tricks for nailing your exam
Preparing for the SAFe Agilist exam requires strategic planning and dedicated study. Here are some valuable tips to aid in your preparation:
Embed learning: Dedicate time immediately post-course completion to review the materials and embed your learning while the information is still fresh (and don’t wait the full 30 days before taking the exam).
Divide your time: Focus on specific chapters and exercises related to each of the six key topic areas. Allocate your study time according to the percentage weighting attributed to each topic. Refer to the table below.
Thriving in the Digital Age with Business Agility
SAFe student workbook lesson 1
Becoming a Lean-Agile Leader
Materials and exercises from lessons 2 and 3
Establishing Team and Technical Agility
Materials and exercises from lessons 3 and 4
Building Solutions with Agile Product Delivery
Materials and exercises from lessons 4 and 5
Exploring Lean Portfolio Management
Materials and exercises from lesson 5
Leading the Change
Materials and exercises from lessons 2 and 6
Real-life application: Try and relate theoretical knowledge to practical scenarios encountered in your professional experience to help reinforce learning.
Test your knowledge: Take advantage of the practice test and sample questions to familiarise yourself with the exam format and target weak areas. Candidates can take the SAFe practice test an unlimited number of times at no cost, providing an excellent opportunity for self-assessment.
Study buddy: If possible, find a work colleague or someone from within a network association to study with. You can share knowledge, ask each other questions and hold one another accountable, which helps to keep you engaged and motivated in your study.
Answer every question: To maximise your chance of success, attempt to answer every question, even if you’re unsure of the answer. You will not be penalised additionally for answering a question incorrectly.
Watch the time: there are 45 questions which allot roughly 2 minutes per question. Some will be quicker to answer but try to take no more than two minutes per question to allow time to attempt each one.
Retake the exam: In case of failure, you can retake the exam immediately. You need to wait a minimum of 10 days to attempt for the third time – use this time to reinforce your weaker areas.
Learn from industry experts: Enrol in preparation courses delivered by qualified, accredited instructors. PM-Partners’ trainers are all certified practitioners with a wealth of hands-on experience, adding context and valuable insights for attendees.
Elevate your career
The Leading SAFe course and resulting qualification provide the opportunity to develop a skillset that is in-demand worldwide and the confidence to lead lean-agile transformations. As a certified SA you can empower your organisation to succeed in a disruptive market and take your career to the next level. By tapping into the right guidance and support and keeping these tips and techniques front of mind as you prepare for your exam, you’ll not only boost your chances of success but ensure you make the most of your learning and development journey.
Interested in becoming a certified SAFe Agilist? PM-Partners provides the necessary tools and expert guidance to set you up for success in the Leading SAFe exam and beyond. Contact our professional development team online or via 1300 70 13 14 to find out more, or book into our next Leading SAFe course.
SAFe and Scaled Agile Framework are registered trademarks of Scaled Agile, Inc.