Testing The Leading SAFe Certification

Several projects I am working on within my organisation are adopting SAFe in order to build software solutions, so I thought I should perform some SAFe testing!

With my Agile background, I am able to provide a lot of value in helping the teams follow an iterative development lifecycle (predominantly Scrum), but I have little experience of processes outside of the development teams themselves.

I also seem to struggle to get my message across to senior stakeholders within my organisation who are new to Agile & SAFe.

My hypothesis is that achieving the Leading SAFe Certification will help me

  1. with the process knowledge gap
  2. improve my communication with senior stakeholders

This post aims to outline what happened in the experiment…


I’ve been reading the different opinions on SAFe & the associated training, so it was great to finally get the opportunity to experience the training & content firsthand.


  • It feels as though the framework taking all the best parts of Agile & Lean under a single umbrella will make the best framework.
  • Subjective (often uncalibrated) opinions/estimations of a development process are used to guide the progress of the programme.
  • The content felt crammed into 2 days considering the “power” the course gives me – leading SAFe implementations
  • Little time to dig too deeply into the content in the 2 days (needs more posts)
  • Broad range of topics has triggered off a raft of further research
  • IMO, solid experience of Scrum as a prerequisite is a must (not a SAFe prerequisite though)
  • Multiple-guess exam was harder than I expected
  • I’m now a certified SAFe® 4 Agilist


On the surface, SAFe is a collection of ideas, methods & processes which provide real value to product development so I can see why the idea of bringing them together under one easily accessible framework is appealing. The problem is, just because you pick all the shiny things, doesn’t mean you’ll get the bestest thing.

The course was also great for introducing me to different solutions to problems I haven’t come across in previous roles, for example, Product Portfolio Management (PPM).

2 Days isn’t long enough

Fortunately, I am familiar with a large bulk of the material that was presented in the 2 days. I was thankful for this as there wasn’t much time to dig into the material in any depth.

Now I’m kind of OK with this on training courses – introduce me to new ideas in the course & I’ll go & explore them more deeply on my own time.

One problem I have with this shallow dive into the new ideas within this leading SAFe course is that apparently after attending the course & passing the exam I am entitled to (amongst other things):

  • Coordinate the development of large solutions
  • Support a Lean-Agile transformation in an enterprise

Woah! Let’s put the brakes on for a minute.

After the course, I feel no way prepared to do either of these. Which makes me think, if I’m not comfortable with some 10 years of Agile & Lean experience, would somebody else with less? The pre-requisites are:

  • 5+ years’ experience in software development, testing, business analysis, product, or project management
  • Experience in Scrum

A curated list of great ideas doesn’t make it the greatest list

The 2nd problem I have is that it feels as though SAFe is striving to be the best framework by pulling all the good stuff from Agile & Lean principles.

The course & it’s content reminded me of this If Russ Ackoff had given a TED talk:

In the talk, Russ describes taking all the best parts of cars from various manufacturers (e.g. engine from Rolls Royce, transmission from Mercedes) until you have all the parts needed for a functioning car.

Now you have a car with all the best parts in the industry, you get the best car on the market, right?

Wrong. You don’t even get a car as the parts. Don’t. Fit. The performance of the system depends on how the parts fit, not how they act independently of each other.

SAFe is essentially a curated list of Agile & Lean ideas combined in a single framework. This doesn’t make it the best & in some cases causes (unnecessary?) tension – for example guesstimates at a team level being used as predictors for progress at a programme level.

Some other Russ Ackoff quotes from the talk that led into the example he gave above help with the context:

The reason for the failures is primarily the fact that they have not been embedded in systems thinking. They have been anti-systemic applications

The system is not the sum of the behaviour of its parts, it’s the product of their interactions

If we have a system of improvement that’s directed at the parts taken separately, you can be absolutely sure that the performance as a whole will not be improved


A good course if you have solid Scrum experience & are willing to continue learning about the course content after you have completed the course.

I am glad to have acquired knowledge & routes to further learning in those areas I am less comfortable with (hypothesis 1).

Some stakeholders do now treat me differently – maybe it’s because of the SAFe 4 Agilist badge in my signature, or maybe I’ve actually changed my message or the way it is delivered (hypothesis 2). The experiment continues…

In my opinion, a 2-day course isn’t long enough to provide confidence for those passing the exam being able to coordinate development across multiple teams & lead a Lean-Agile transformation.

I also disagree that you don’t need to resit the exam to renew – you just need to pay money. I’d assumed that the content may have been updated, or your understanding of the content may need to be retested.  This appears to only be the case if you want certification in a newer version of the framework.



P.S. here’s my badge 🙂

Duncs SAFe 4 Agilist badge