10 Takeaways from the Implementing SAFe 4.0 with SPC4 Certification Course

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) has been around since 2011 and I’ve followed its development it over the years, but it wasn’t until this past fall that I really started giving it focused attention.  One of my clients wanted to implement SAFe across their organization so I needed to get super smart on the framework.  In addition to doing my own reading and research, I knew the best way to get up to speed in short order was to take the four-day Implementing SAFe 4.0 with SAFe Program Consultant (SPC4) Certification course.  According to Scaled Agile Inc., the goals of the course are to prepare students to:

  1. Lead an enterprise Agile transformation
  2. Implement the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe)
  3. Train managers and executives in Leading SAFe and act as a SAFe Agilist (SA) certifying agent
  4. Train teams in SAFe for Teams and act as a SAFe Practioner (SP) certifying agent

Sounded awesome…so I signed up.

I took the SPC4 course at Lithespeed in Herndon, which was a familiar venue having been there several times for workshops and events.  The instructors were Inbar Oren, one of the handful of SAFe fellows, and Steve Mayner.  I wanted to take the course either from Dean Leffingwell himself or one of the fellows.  I had heard good things about Inbar from a trusted colleague so I felt comfortable going into the class that it would be worthwhile.

Here is a summary of the takeaways and thoughts that I had during the SPC4 course:

  1. The instructors knew there stuff.  Both Inbar and Steve were well versed in the material and had believable and relevant stories to back it up.  Inbar lives and breathes SAFe and he’s pragmatic.  He’s been an agile practitioner for many years and it showed in the way he answered mine and other student’s questions during class.
  2. The Leading SAFe part of the course (first two days) is really great mix of lean-agile thinking, introduction to the framework, and leadership in lean-agile organizations.  Inbar and Steve did a good job adding in elements and suggestions of how to teach the course (since we as SPCs would be teaching it). I realized on day two the significance of leaders attending the Leading SAFe course prior to implementing. It’s huge and goes along way in setting up the implementation for success.
  3. Scaled Agile Inc. provides a ton of resources for SPCs to help them implement SAFe. This became apparent in the second two days of the SPC course when we talked about best practices for designing the implementation, preparing to launch the first ART, and facilitating the inspect and adapt sessions. And after passing the exam and earning my SPC4 credential, I realized even more the depth of support Scaled Agile Inc. provides.
  4. Scaled Agile Inc. is a business.  I never really thought about it too much, but on day four of the class it hit me. That’s when we learned about licensing courseware, support for SPCs, etc.  The brilliance, logic, and self-supporting nature of their business model and certification structure became apparent.  Train SPCs and provide them the support they need –> have SPCs teach courses that generate revenue for SAI –> students of SPCs get certifications that make them feel good and become more marketable –> SPCs become more marketable and train more people –> more revenue for SAI and more market share. SAI clearly has made an investment in developing not only the framework, but also the training and support structure needed to really make it achievable to implement. It appears to me that compared to the other scaling frameworks out there, namely LeSS, DAD, and Enterprise Scrum, SAFe is way ahead in terms of training and implementation support. It’s an agile company run like a business.
  5. SAFe is different and much more than I thought. The framework is deep…very deep. It’s based on agile practices, lean thinking, and delivering business value. I used to think it wasn’t because I was influenced by the people that bash it.  I don’t think that way anymore.  Is it heavy…yes.  Does it prescribe things…yes.  Is that necessarily bad…not in my opinion.  After all, it’s a framework.  It doesn’t mean you shut off your brain, throw out the agile-lean mindset, or forget all the agile practices that you’ve seen work time and time again over the years.
  6. SAFe prescribes a bit more about Scrum than what is in the Scrum guide.  For example, using story points and velocity are specifically included.  I wasn’t a big fan of this since many teams are getting away from using story points and velocity is such a bastardized metric.  SAFe specifically includes kanban principles throughout the framework, including at the team level.  WIP limits are specifically addressed, which I found awesome.
  7. Cadence is HUGE in SAFe (PIs and iterations).  You can’t do SAFe without cadence.
  8. Synchronization is HUGE in SAFe (PIs and iterations).  You can’t do SAFe without synchronization.
  9. Teams can use kanban instead of Scrum at the team level so long as they comply with the iteration cadence.  Everyone is on cadence. I found this interesting.
  10. The exam was not easy.

What was your experience with the SPC course or SAFe in general?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Filed under: Agile Tagged: SAFe, Scaling

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