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Demystifying SAFe Scrum Master Certifications

Em Campbell-Pretty
Jul 12, 2020

In a recent Implementing SAFe class we were asked - “What is a SAFe Advanced Scrum Master and how does this differ from a SAFe Scrum Master? I can’t see the SAFe Advanced Scrum Master role on the big picture.” It took me a moment to join the dots. But then I saw it - SAFe certifications are role based and most of them are on the big picture.  Therefore, it is easy to assume that a SAFe Advanced Scrum Master is a specific SAFe role. In case you are also wondering about this -it is not. SAFe Advanced Scrum Master is an advanced certification for Scrum Masters looking to “level-up”. Anyway, I always figure if one person has the question (and has the courage to ask) there are probably many others that have the same question, so I thought I would try and shed some light on the difference between the classes and the certifications.

What prerequisites apply?

Scaled Agile Inc. (the certifying body for all SAFe certifications) does not require mandatory prerequisites for any of the certified SAFe classes. This means that it is incumbent on the participant to determine if they have the prerequisite skills and knowledge to successfully undertake any given course and the subsequent certification exam. 

In the case of the SAFe Scrum Master it is recommended that participants are familiar with Agile. Even if you are not familiar with Agile when you register for a SAFe Scrum Master class your training provider should provision you access to the Scaled Agile Community portal where you can access a series of introductory videos on Agile and SAFe.

On the other hand the SAFe Advanced Scrum Master class has the SAFe Scrum Master class as a highly recommended prerequisite. Having taught this class a number of times, those who have taken SAFe Scrum Master (or have at least completed a PI or two as a Scrum Master on an Agile Release Train) have a much better learning experience.

How does the course content differ?

The SAFe Scrum Master course covers a range of topics designed to orientate participants to the role of the Scrum Master in SAFe. The course highlights the differences between Scrum and SAFe terminology and deep dives into the servant leadership, facilitation and coaching roles of Scrum Masters. Unlike traditional Scrum Master classes this course covers the role of the Scrum Masters in the seminal SAFe event - PI Planning - through a detailed simulation. Of course, it also covers the Scrum Masters role in basic Scrum events such as Iteration Planning, Daily Stand-ups, Backlog Refinement, Iteration Reviews and Iteration Retrospectives

The SAFe Advanced Scrum Master course covers topics relevant to the Scrum Master role in SAFe but not covered in the SAFe Scrum Master class. It introduces the 7-core competencies of business agility and connects the Scrum Master role to the SAFe Principles. Participants explore Scrum and SAFe anti-patterns and deep dive into how the application of Kanban and Extreme Programming can help uplift team performance. The class also covers the role of the Scrum Master in cross team collaboration and team building models. The class concludes with a detailed simulation of the Problem Solving Workshop from the Inspect & Adapt workshop; one of the hardest SAFe events for any practitioner to master.

When should you take these classes?

SAFe Scrum Master is designed to prepare participants to assume the role of Scrum Master on an Agile Release Train. It is most commonly delivered prior to the Quick-Start as part of an Agile Release Train launch. This enables the Scrum Master to support their team through SAFe for Teams training and their first PI Planning event. Outside this context, the SAFe Scrum Master class is often taken by Scrum Masters joining an Agile Release Train or aspiring to join an organisation using SAFe. 

As mentioned, the SAFe Advanced Scrum Master class is designed as a “level up” class. Personally I like to deliver this class to the Scrum Masters and RTE on an Agile Release Train or Solution Train once they have been operating for about 9 months to a year.  This is often the point in time when the ART begins to plateau. When we launch ARTs, new Scrum Masters often have a steep learning curve, taking both the SAFe Scrum Master and the SAFe for Teams classes over a matter of weeks. Bringing them back together in a classroom environment about year later, allows them to take some time out to reflect on their journey and identify opportunities for growth. I find this class re-energises the Scrum Master and RTE team, which has the added bonus of re-injecting energy into the whole Agile Release Train. Running this training during the Innovation and Planning iteration is often a good choice. 

The SAFe Advanced Scrum Master class is also taken by Scrum Masters working with SAFe looking to improve their personal mastery of the Scrum Master role in SAFe and aspiring Release Train Engineers.

I hope this little guide helps you decide which class is right for your context. 

If you are interested in taking a class with Pretty Agile, check out our upcoming classes by clicking on the course images below.

SAFe Scrum Master training
SAFe Advanced Scrum Master training
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