SAFe certification: which certification is right for you?

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) is one of the most popular frameworks for scaling agile to the enterprise level. As adoption of the framework is gaining traction amongst businesses worldwide interest in training and certifications is peaking, with more and more agilists considering a formal education on the framework. But what SAFe certification should you take, knowing there’s a whole range of courses and certifying credentials to choose from?

Preparing for SAFe certifications

Taking a course in SAFe is no easy feat – and an investment in more ways than one. Just as many other certification tracks in project management, a SAFe training is often a multi-day event that takes a significant time investment. Besides actually attending the course, a brief preparation can be worthwhile to help you get up to speed quickly with the course material, and will allow you to better define your key expectations from the course – important questions related to your personal working context, gaps in your knowledge on the course material and maybe even some broader questions about the state of agile and how SAFe fits into the bigger picture. For those not yet experienced in agile methodologies or scrum, a brief read-up of the basics of agile concepts and principles can be very much welcome, including first steps towards creating awareness on scrum, Kanban and extreme programming (XP).

Of course, after the training, some time will need to be set aside for reviewing the course material, in preparation of the exam attempt you can take for free within 30 days after completing each course. It’s the cherry on top of a (hopefully) successful immersion in the SAFe material.

Choosing a SAFe certification course

But before we go through all these steps, all of us need to make the most important choice of all: which SAFe course should I take? Whilst the core framework is the same, the SAFe training curriculum contains several certification levels, each tailored to specific audiences and with different learning goals in mind. In this article, we hope to shed some light on the key differences of each certification and help you decide which training course is right for you.

SAFe Scrum Master

Certification: Certified SAFe Scrum Master

What is this course about?

The SAFe Scrum Master (SSM) course starts with an introduction of how scrum fits within the SAFe framework, and continuous with defining the role and responsibilities of the scrum master. You’ll learn how to work within the cadence of programme increments, and how programme increment planning will affect your scrum ceremonies. You’ll learn how you can play a facilitating role during iterations, how you can wrap-up an iteration and how to close the programme increment. Finally, the coaching role of the scrum master within the agile team is discussed.

Who should take this course?

This course is ideal for anyone hoping to take up the role of scrum master within an agile team operating in a SAFe environment. Current scrum masters looking to improve, or team leads looking to transition into the scrum master role or release train engineers willing to enhance their skills in scrum are also suitable candidates for following a SAFe Scrum Master (SSM) training.

SAFe Advanced Scrum Master

Certification: Certified SAFe Advanced Scrum Master

What is this course about?

The SAFe Advanced Scrum Master (SASM) builds upon the regular scrum master certification and explores more advanced topics related to the facilitation of an agile team. You’ll learn how to apply SAFe principles in a practical way as a scrum master, see some common antipatterns you’ll experience from within the team as well as from external stakeholders and will learn how to tackle these with class. Additionally, you’ll learn how you can coach teams for performance, and how to play a role within the programme level – aiding programme execution and improving programme performance.

Who should take this course?

Experienced scrum masters that want to do a deep-dive into some key aspects related to facilitating a performant agile team and graduates of the SAFe Scrum Master (SSM) course are ideal candidates for this course. If you’re already experienced as a scrum master and you or your organization are now transitioning into SAFe, this course can also be of use as it tackles some of the more advanced topics.

Leading SAFe

Certification: Certified SAFe Agilist (SA)

What is this course about?

The Leading SAFe (SA) course is a perfect introductory course for anyone looking to work in an agile organization. Though no previous experience is required it is advised that you at least have 5 years of experience in working with scrum, either within software development, business analysis of project management. Within this course, you’ll get an introduction to the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and discover how you and your company can become a leader in lean and agile ways of working. You will learn how your company can create high performing teams within highly adaptive environments, how to plan and schedule work within programme increments, and how you can create and manage an agile portfolio. Furthermore, you’ll get an introduction to what it takes to lead an agile transformation, and how you can facilitate your company into becoming a performing organization using agile principles.

Who should take this course?

This course is ideal for anyone working in an agile organization transitioning into the SAFe way of working. In this course, you’ll see the main SAFe principles and SAFe’s many aspects. You’ll learn how your role will change within the SAFe context and how to adapt within this framework. This course can be of interest to anyone working in an agile organization, regardless of whether you’re an executive professional, line manager, or a team member.

Implementing SAFe

Certification: Certified SAFe Program Consultant (SPC)

What is this course about?

The Implementing SAFe course is one of the most in-depth courses available for the Scaled Agile Framework. It’s a 4-day training programme in which the first 2 days will be focused on introducing the Scaled Agile Framework, it’s various configurations and components, and of course the SAFe principles. The last 2 days are aimed at learning how you can help organizations in their agile transformation using the Scaled Agile Framework, and you’ll when and how organizations should decide to implement the SAFe framework. After this course, you’ll be able to design a SAFe implementation road map for clients, including the set-up of various agile release trains. Next, you will learn what it takes to keep on building and improving on the SAFe adoption, and how you can properly adopt the role of SAFe Programme Consultant (SPC).

Who should take this course?

The Implementing SAFe course is intended for anyone who is looking to play an active role into helping and facilitating organizations into adopting scaled, agile ways of working. The target audience for this course includes consultants, change managers and anyone looking to play an active and engaging role within a transformational team. Typical attendees of this course include change managers, management consultants, program managers, line managers, executives and  enterprise architects.

SAFe Release Train Engineer

Certification: Certified SAFe Release Train Engineer

What is this course about?

This course is intended as an in-depth look at the agile release train within the Scaled Agile Framework. You will learn the core SAFe principles, what the role of a release train engineer is, what your responsibilities are. In this course, you’ll learn how you can plan a programme increment, how to execute a programme increments and how to work with value streams within your organization. You will learn how to coach the agile release train, and how you can foster a continuous improvement mentality within the scaled agile organization.

Who should take this course?

The release train engineer course is intended to serve a variety of roles in project management. This includes, but is not limited to, existing release train engineers looking to improve and build upon their current skill sets, programme and project managers, scrum masters and current line managers, as well as agile coaches.

SAFe Product Owner / Product Manager

Certification: Certified SAFe Product Owner / Product Manager

What is this course about?

The SAFe product owner and product manager course helps you learn how you can apply SAFe within a lean enterprise. First, you will see what it takes to implement a lean-agile mindset, and get a better grasp of the roles and responsibilities of a project owner and product manager. You will learn how to collaborate with colleagues within an agile portfolio management context and how you can effectively interact with end users and business parties to better manage products throughout value streams and agile release trains. As a product owner or product manager, you will learn what it takes to execute a program increment and what your role as a product owner or product manager is within PI planning.

Who should take this course?

This course is intended for product managers, business managers, business analysts, portfolio managers and program managers within the organization moving towards SAFe. Additionally, enterprise architects can benefit from attending this course as they will either take up product manager roles or will get into contact with product managers during their work within the scaled agile organization.

SAFe DevOps

Certification: Certified SAFe DevOps Practitioner (SDP)

What is this course about?

This course is intended to teach you how to properly apply the principles of DevOps within the broader context of a scaled agile organization. After introducing you to DevOps and giving you a brief introduction on what DevOps can mean for your team and organization, you discover see how you can set up a continuous delivery pipeline and align yourself with the principles of continuous exploration and continuous integration, and how you can manage quality of deliveries throughout your software development lifecycle. Additionally, you will learn how you can reduce your time to market and increase the business value delivered by releasing on demand.

Who should take this course?

This course is specifically intended for individuals working within the context of software development in an agile organization. The target audience includes, but is not limited to, software developers, interface developers, testers, database administrators and infrastructure experts and release train engineers. Some experience applying SAFe within your organization is recommended.

SAFe for Teams (SP)

Certification: Certified SAFe Practitioner

What is this course about?

The SAFe for teams course is intended to learn team members how to build the skills needed to become a performing member of an agile release train. It’s a 2-day course in which a deep understanding of agile release trains will be acquired, and insights gained and how do all team members can effectively adopt their role as a team member, within a broader context of a scaled organization. Attendees will learn how to plan and execute an iteration, and what their role is in executing a programme increment.

Who should take this course?

This course is specifically targeted at team members within an agile team and members of an agile release train.

SAFe for Government

Certification: Certified SAFe Government Practitioner (SGP)

What is this course about?

Aimed specifically at the public sector the SAFe for Government training highlights and embodies the specific challenges encountered by governance agencies in adopting the Scaled Agile Framework. In this course, government officials will learn how to plan and execute the programme increments, set up agile release trains and create performing agile teams within a government agency.

Who should take this course?

This course is targeted towards government officials, leaders and influencers guiding the adoption of SAFe within public sector agencies. The target audience includes project and program managers, executives and directors within government agencies.

SAFe Agile Software Engineering

Certification: Certified SAFe Agile Software Engineer (ASE)

What is this course about?

The Agile Software Engineering course starts with an introduction to agile software development and connects it to the principles of SAFE and related practices for increasing software delivery quality. Next, the course focuses on improving and managing flow within an agile team and continues with the concept of shifting testing to the left in the development process (moving testing related tasks to earlier stages). Attention put towards writing user stories and including the necessary details within these stories, on building software with quality in mind and learning how quality can be managed throughout the entire software engineering process.

Who should take this course?

This situates itself somewhere in between the DevOps and SAFe for Teams courses, in the sense that it is targeted at technical members of an agile team such as software developers and testers. This course intends to give these individuals a more comprehensive background on the benefits of scaled agile and their new role and of course responsibilities of working within a broader agile context. The target audience of this course is developers and development leads, architects and product owners.

In short

In short, we can conclude that each of these courses has a very specific target audience in mind. We can summarize our findings as follows:

As for leadership roles in SAFe, we can conclude that scrum masters can take the SAFe Scrum Master or SAFe Advanced Scrum Master roles – depending on their current level of experience and their ambitions. Release train engineers are prime candidates for the SAFe Release Train Engineer Course, and product owners and product managers can take specific courses in the SAFe Product Owner / Product Manager course as well.

Team members have three courses to choose from, dependent on how technical their working context is: they can opt for either the SAFe for Teams course, for general teams, the SAFe DevOps course for teams actively applying (or looking to apply) DevOps practices, or SAFE Agile Software Engineering course for technical teams that do not wish to emphasize DevOps. All three courses are also suited for team leadership that wants to improve team effectiveness and develop teams within an agile context. For general leadership positions, the Leading SAFE course is also a good option.

For agile leaders in the public sector, a specific course SAFe for Government has been brought to life.

Finally, for consultants and transformational leaders helping to guide enterprises in their adoption of SAFe, the Implementing SAFe course is probably best suited.