Leading SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) Exam Notes Leading SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) Exam Notes

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If you are planning or preparing for Leading SAFe 5.1 (Scaled Agile Framework) certification then this article is for you to get started.


  1. Prepare well for the exam. Understand all SAFe concepts and you can crack it like me!
  2. Requires 1 to 3 weeks of preparation depending upon your commitment per day.
  3. You need to solve 45 questions (multiple choice = 1 answer and multiple select = 2-3 answers) in 90 mins from your laptop without any supervision. It is an open book online exam where you can search for the answers.
  4. Passing score is 35/45 (77%) means you should answer at least 35 (out of 45) questions correctly. No negative scoring so answer all the questions!
  5. You get the result (Pass or Fail) once you submit the exam.
  6. First attempt included in the course registration fee if taken within 30 days of course completion. Each retake or attempt past the 30-day window is $50
  7. You can download the Leader SAFe Student Workbook after the course registration from https://community.scaledagile.com/
  8. Learn more from Exam Guide
  9. Learn all about SAFe from https://www.scaledagileframework.com/
Exam Sections and PercentagesReferences
Thriving in the digital age with business agility (13%)Leading SAFe Student Workbook: materials and exercises from Lesson 1 www.scaledagileframework.com/implementation-roadmap/
Becoming a Lean-Agile leader (29%)Leading SAFe Student Workbook: materials and exercises from Lessons 2 and 3
Establishing team and technical agility (9%)Leading SAFe Student Workbook: materials and exercises from Lessons 3 and 4
Building solutions with Agile product delivery (33%)Leading SAFe Student Workbook: materials and exercises from Lessons 4 and 5
Exploring Lean Portfolio Management (11%)Leading SAFe Student Workbook: materials and exercises from Lessons 5
Leading the change (4%)Leading SAFe Student Workbook: materials and exercises from Lessons 2 and 6

Exam Notes

Lesson 1: Thriving in the Digital Age with Business Agility

What are the 12 steps of SAFe Implementation Roadmap?

Roadmap is a script of critical moves, which gives best results when follow in same sequence to implement SAFe:-

  1. Reaching the Tipping Point
  2. Train Lean-Agile Change Agents
  3. Train Executives, Managers, and Leaders
  4. Create a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence
  5. Identify Value Streams and ARTs
  6. Create the Implementation Plan
  7. Prepare for ART Launch
  8. Train Teams and Launch the ART
  9. Coach ART Execution
  10. Launch More ARTs and Value Streams
  11. Extend to the Portfolio
  12. Accelerate
What are different stages of technological revolution?
  1. Installation Period – New technology and financial capital combine to create a ‘Cambrian explosion’ of new market entrants, disrupting entire industries from the previous age
  2. Turning Point – Existing businesses either master the new technology or decline and become relics of the last age
  3. Deployment Period – Production capital of the new technological giants start to take over
What are the dual operating system for Business Agility?
  1. Functional hierarchy for efficiency and stability
  2. Value Stream network for the speed of innovation

SAFe is a second operating system around streams, without disrupting the existing hierarchy.

Why SAFe?
  • 30% Happier, more motivated employees
  • 35% Increase in productivity
  • 50% Faster time-to-market
  • 50% Defect reduction
What are the four SAFe configurations provide the right configuration for each Enterprise?
  1. Essential = Agile Team + Program
  2. Large Solution = Agile Team + Program + Solution
  3. Portfolio = Agile Team + Program + Portfolio
  4. Full = Agile Team + Program + Solution + Portfolio
What are the 7 SAFe core competencies to achieve business agility?
  1. Team and Technical Agility has 3 Components:-
    Agile Teams
    Teams of Agile Teams (ART)
    Built-In Quality
  2. Agile Product Delivery has 3 Dimensions:-
    Customer Centricity and Design Thinking
    Develop on cadence and release on demand
    DevOps and the Continuous Delivery Pipeline
  3. Enterprise Solution Delivery has 3 Dimensions:-
    Lean System and Solution Engineering
    Coordinate ARTs and Suppliers
    Continually Evolve Live Systems
  4. Lean Portfolio Management has 3 Dimensions:-
    Strategy & Investment Funding
    Agile Portfolio Operations
    Lean Governance
  5. Organizational Agility
    Lean-thinking People and Agile Teams
    Lean Business Operations
    Strategy Agility
  6. Continuous Learning Culture
    Learning Organization
    Innovation Culture
    Relentless Improvement - Inspect & Adapt (I&A) - Plan Do Check Adjust
  7. Lean-Agile Leadership has 3 Dimensions:-
    Leading by Example
    Align Mindset & Lean-Agile Principles
    Leading the Change to new ways of Working
How to measure the business agility?
  1. Flow metrics help determine how fast is the value stream at creating and delivering value
  2. Outcome metrics help ensure that what has been delivered, provides benefit to the customer and to the business. Value Stream KPIs are primarily used to measure these outcomes.
  3. Measuring the level of organizational Competency is accomplished via two separate assessment mechanisms also called Measure and Grow:-
    • The SAFe Business Agility Assessment is designed for LPM and portfolio stakeholders to evaluates their portfolio’s progress toward Business Agility and determines their next improvement steps.
    • The SAFe Core Competency Assessments are used to help teams and trains improve on the technical and business practices they need to help the portfolio achieve that larger goal.

Lesson 2: Becoming a Lean-Agile Leader

What are the four SAFe core values?
  1. Alignment
  2. Built-in Quality
  3. Transparency
  4. Program Execution
What are the components of SAFe House of Lean?
  1. Value (The best quality and value to people and society, High morale, safety and Customer delight)
  2. Respect for People and Culture (Generative culture, People do all the work, Your Customer is whoever consumes your work, Build long-term partnerships based on trust, To change the culture, you have to change the organization)
  3. Flow (Optimize sustainable value delivery, Build in quality, Understand, exploit and manage variability, Move from projects to products)
  4. Innovation (Innovative people, Provide time and space for innovation, “Go see”, Experimentation and feedback, Innovation riptides, Pivot without mercy or guilt)
  5. Relentless Improvement (A constant sense of danger, Optimize the whole, Problem-solving culture, Base improvements on facts, Reflect at key Milestones)
  6. Leadership (Lead by example, Adopt a growth mindset, Exemplify the values and principles of Lean-Agile and SAFe, Develop people, Lead the change, Foster psychological safety)
   ║                           Value                                 ║
 ╔═║                                                                 ║═╗
 ╚═══╗  Respect  ╔═══╗        ╔═══╗            ╔═══╗             ╔═════╝
     ║   for     ║   ║        ║   ║            ║   ║ Relentless  ║   
     ║  People   ║   ║  Flow  ║   ║ Innovation ║   ║ Improvement ║   
     ║   and     ║   ║        ║   ║            ║   ║             ║   
╔════╝  Culture  ╚═══╝        ╚═══╝            ╚═══╝             ╚═════╗
║                                                                      ║
║                           Leadership                                 ║
What is Agile Manifesto?

Agile Manifesto uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individual and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan
    That is, while there is a value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more
What are the 12 Agile Manifesto Principles?
  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference for the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
What are the 10 SAFe Lean-Agile Principles?
  1. Take an economic view
    Agile economics: deliver early and often
    Deliver value incrementally,
    Early delivery has higher market value
    Economic Trade-offs parameters: Lead time, Product cost, Value, Development expense, and Risk
  2. Apply systems thinking
    Optimizing a component does not optimize a system
    For the system to behave well as a system, a higher-level understanding of behavior and architecture is required The value of a system passes through its interconnections
    A system can evolve no faster than its slowest integration point
    Focus on the delays and reduce them
  3. Assume variability; preserve options
    Flexible requirements and design, the Cone of uncertainty, set-based over point-based approach
  4. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles
    PDCA = Plan – Do – Check – Adjust, The shorted the cycles, the faster the learning
    Integration points control product development and reduce risk
  5. Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems
    Phase-gate milestones force design decisions too early, false-positive feasibility, they assume a point Solution exists, huge batches and long queues, centralized requirements and design.
    Use Objective milestones instead, PI System Demos, continuous, cost-effective adjustments towards an optimum Solution)
  6. Visualize and limit WIP, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths
    Reduce batch size for higher predictability. Total cost = Holding cost + Transaction cost. Reduce transaction costs increases predictability, accelerates feedback, reduces rework, lowers cost.
    Little’s Law: Wq = Lq / Lambda, Average wait time = Average queue length / Average processing rate
  7. Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning
    Cadence – converts unpredictable events into predictable occurrences and lowers cost, makes waiting times for new work predictable, supports regular planning and cross-functional coordination, limits batch sizes to a single interval, controls injection of new work, provides scheduled integration points;
    Synchronization – causes multiple events to happen simultaneously, facilitates cross-functional trade-offs, provides routine dependency management, supports full system integration and assessment, provides multiple feedback perspectives
  8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers
    Workers are most qualified to make decisions about how to perform their work
    The workers must be heard and respected for management to lead effectively
    Knowledge workers must manage themselves. They need autonomy
    Continuing innovation must be part of the work, the tasks, and the responsibilities of knowledge workers.
    Unlocking intrinsic motivation with autonomy, mastery, and purpose
  9. Decentralize decision-making
    Centralize – Infrequent, Long-lasting, Significant economies of scale
    Decentralize – Frequent, Time critical, Requires local information
  10. Organize around value
    Value doesn’t follow silos
    Organize around Development Value Streams.
Why focus on the SAFe Lean-Agile Principles?
  • A Lean-Agile transformation will deliver substantial benefits
  • However, it is a significant change, and every implementation is different
  • Leaders should understand why the practices work; it’s part of ‘knowing what it is they must do’
  • If a practice needs to change, understanding the principles will assure the change moves the Enterprise in the right direction

Lesson 3: Establishing Team and Technical Agility

What is Agile team?

Agile teams are cross-functional and self-organizing group of 5 to 11 people, that can define, build, test, and where applicable, deploy increments of value in short time boxes of two weeks called Iterations.

Team contains two specialty roles:-

  1. Scrum Master - coaches the team in self-management; helps the team focus on creating increments of value; removes impediments; ensures that all team events take place, are productive and kept within the timebox
  2. Product Owner - contributes to the Vision and Roadmap; acts as the Customer for team questions; creates, clearly communicates and accepts stories;prioritizes the backlog

Team responsibilities are:-

  1. Create and refine Stories and acceptance criteria
  2. Develop and commit to team PI Objectives and Iteration Goals

Team execute Iterations with Scrum. Iteration Events are:-

  • Iteration Planning
  • Daily Standup
  • Iteration Review
  • Iteration Retrospective
  • Backlog Refinement

Team visualize flow with Kanban

What is Agile Release Train (ART)?

ART is a cross functional, virtual organization of 5-12 teams (50-125+ individuals), synchronized on common cadence, a Program Increment (PI), aligned to a common mission via a single program backlog. ART Events are:-

  • Pre and Post PI Planning
  • PI Planning
  • ART Sync (Weekly or more frequently, 30–60 minutes) - consist of Scrum of scrums and PO Sync
  • System Demo (Occurs at the end of each Iteration in PI)
  • Solution Demo (Occurs at the end of each PI) - presents the combined development effort of multiple ARTs and Suppliers
  • Inspect & Adapt (Occurs at the end of each PI)

ART are organized for flow:-

  • Stream-aligned team – organized around the flow of work and has the ability to deliver value directly to the Customer or end user.
  • Complicated subsystem team – organized around specific subsystems that require deep specialty skills and expertise.
  • Platform team – organized around the development and support of platforms that provide services to other teams.
  • Enabling team – organized to assist other teams with specialized capabilities and help them become proficient in new technologies.

Roles on the Agile Release Train:-

  • Release Train Engineer acts as the Chief Scrum Master for the train.
  • Product Management owns, defines, and prioritizes the Program Backlog.
  • System Architect/Engineering provides architectural guidance and technical enablement to the teams on the train.
  • The System Team provides processes and tools to integrate and evaluate assets early and often.
  • Business Owners are key stakeholders on the Agile Release Train.

Lesson 4: Building Solutions with Agile Product Delivery

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a clear and continuous understanding of the target market, Customers, the problems they are facing, and the jobs to be done.

  • Understand the problem - Use Personas and Empathy Maps to understand customers
  • Design the right solution (Desirable, Viable, Feasible, Sustainable) - Use Journey Maps to design end-to-end customer experience and Story Maps to capture workflows
What is Program Backlog?

The Program Backlog is the holding area for upcoming Features that will address user needs and deliver business benefits for a single Agile Release Train (ART).

What is Feature?
  • Features are maintained in Program Backlog
  • Feature are sized to fit in a Program Increment (PI) and delivered by a single Agile Release Train (ART)
  • Features are split into Stories and fits in one Iteration for one team
  • Features includes a definition of Minimum Marketable Feature (MMF), a benefit hypothesis (to justify development cost) and Acceptance criteria (defined during program backlog refinement).
  • Features are prioritized using WSJF and top 10 features are presented to the team during PI planning
  • Typically Product Management creates business features and System Architect creates enabler features
What is Capability?
  • Capabilities are maintained in Solution Backlog
  • Capabilities are sized to fit in a Program Increment (PI) and delivered by multiple Agile Release Trains (ARTs)
  • Capabilities includes a Phrase, a benefit hypothesis and Acceptance criteria
How to prioritize Program Backlog for optimal ROI?

Using Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF)

         Cost of Delay (CoD)
WSJF = ----------------------- 
       Job Duration (Job Size)

CoD  = User-business  +      Time      +  Risk reduction and/or
          value          criticality      opportunity enablement
What is Program Increment (PI) and its Events?

PI is time boxes, typically 5 iteration long. Usually 5th Iteration is in a PI is called Innovation and Planning (IP) Iteration.

Events are:-

  • PI Planning - facilitated by Release Train Engineer (RTE) for 2 days every typical 10 weeks, Product management provides vision and backlog, System architect provides architectural guidance, Teams of agile team plan the work and visualize on Program board. Outcome is Team/Program PI Objectives and Program board. Business Owner assign business value to PI Objectives on a scale of 1 to 10.
  • System Demo - ART demo integrated solution after each Iteration
  • Inspect & Adapt - Retrospect at the end of PI, product management understand customer’s problem and find desirable, viable, feasible, and sustainable solution.
What is PI Uncommitted Objectives?

Uncommitted objectives are used to identify work that can be variable within the scope of a PI. The work is planned, but the outcome is simply not certain. Teams can apply uncommitted objectives whenever there is low confidence in meeting the objective. This can be due to many circumstances:

  • Dependencies with another team or supplier that cannot be guaranteed.
  • The team has little to no experience with functionality of this type. In this case the teams may plan ‘Spikes’ early in the PI to reduce uncertainty.
  • There are a large number of fairly critical objectives that the business is depending on and the team is already loaded close to full capacity.
What is CALMR approach to DevOps?
  • Culture - Establish a culture of shared responsibility for development, deployment, and operations.
  • Automation - Automate the Continuous Delivery Pipeline.
  • Lean flow - Keep batch sizes small, limit WIP, and provide extreme visibility.
  • Measurement - Measure the flow through the pipeline. Implement full-stack telemetry.
  • Recovery - Architect and enable low-risk releases. Establish fast recovery, fast reversion, and fast fix-forward.
How to build Continuous Delivery Pipeline with DevOps?
  • Continuous Exploration - Understand Customer needs - Hypothesize, Collaborate & Research, Architect, Synthesize
  • Continuous Integration – A critical technical practice of the ART - Develop, Build, Test End-to-End, Stage
  • Continuous Deployment – Getting to production early - Deploy, Verify, Monitor, Respond - Deploy to Staging every Iteration, Automate deployment, Automate testing of features and NFRs, Decouple deployment from release
  • Release on Demand - Release, Stabilize, Measure, Learn
What is Architectural Runway?

Architectural Runway is existing code, hardware components, marketing branding guidelines, etc., that enable near-term business Features. Enablers build up the runway to support Features for e.g. A single sign-on mechanism will enable sign-on in multiple applications.

Lesson 5: Exploring Lean Portfolio Management

What is SAFe Portfolio?
  • SAFe Portfolio is a collection of Value Streams for a specific business domain in an Enterprise.
  • An Enterprise may have a single portfolio or multiple portfolios
  • Each value stream can have multiple Solution trains and Agile release trains.
  • The portfolio canvas is a template for identifying a specific SAFe portfolio. One of the primary uses of the canvas is to record the current state of the portfolio
What is Portfolio Epic?

Epics are defined at portfolio level, they are typically cross-cutting and spanning multiple Value Streams and PIs. There are two types:

  1. Business Epics directly deliver business value
  2. Enabler Epics support the Architectural Runway and future business functionality

Epics need a Lean business case, the definition of a minimum viable product (MVP), an Epic Owner, and approval by LPM.

Epics are described in four major fields:

  • Value statement
  • Business outcomes hypothesis
  • Leading indicators
  • Nonfunctional requirements
What are Strategic Themes?

Strategic themes provide a mechanism to align the business objectives of an enterprise to SAFe portfolio. They influence portfolio strategy and provide business context for portfolio decision-making. Strategic themes are direct inputs to the portfolio vision.

Strategic themes can be defined by a phrase or by using the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) template.

What is Lean Budget?

Funding Value Streams, not projects. Expenses across a PI are fixed and easy to forecast

What is Participatory Budgeting?

Participatory Budgeting (PB) is the process that Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) uses to allocate the total portfolio budget to its value streams.

The Enterprise provides a portion of its total budget to each portfolio. In turn, Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) allocates the portfolio Budget to individual Value Streams. The value streams fund the people and resources needed to achieve the current Portfolio Vision and Roadmap. Empowered Agile Release Trains (ART) advance Solutions and implement Epics approved by LPM.

Lesson 6: Leading the Change

What are the characteristics of a Leader?
  • Authenticity
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Lifelong learning
  • Growing others
  • Decentralized decision-making
Steps for Leading successful change?
  • Establish a sense of urgency
  • Create a powerful guiding coalition
  • Develop the vision and strategy
  • Communicate the vision
  • Empower employees for broad-based action
  • Generate short-term wins
  • Consolidate gains and produce more wins
  • Anchor new approaches in the culture


Let’s do some comparisons within SAFe:-

Compare SAFe vs Scrum
Iteration PlanningSprint Planning
Iteration ReviewSprint Review
Iteration RetrospectiveSprint Retrospective
Program Increment (PI)Typically 5 Sprints
Program Increment PlanningPlanning for typically 5 Sprints
Cadence and SynchronizationVelocity
Agile TeamScrum Team
Agile Release Train (ART) - Teams of Agile teamsTeams of Scrum teams
Release Train EngineerChief scrum Master
ART SyncScrum of Scrum
Compare Agile Team vs Program vs Solution vs Portfolio
ComparisonAgile TeamProgramSolutionPortfolio
SAFe ConfigurationEssentialEssentialLarge SolutionPortfolio
CycleIterationProgram Increment &
Agile Release Train
Solution Train
has multiple ARTs and suppliers
Value Stream
has multiple STs and ARTs
Time Boxtypically 2-weeks longtypically 5 iteration longtypically 5 iteration long-
PlanningIteration PlanningPI Planning--
CoordinationDaily StandupART Sync--
RetroIteration RetrospectiveInspect & Adapt--
BacklogTeam BacklogProgram BacklogSolution BacklogPortfolio Backlog
Backlog containsUser StoriesFeaturesCapabilitiesEpics
Backlog provided byProduct OwnerProduct ManagementSolution ManagementEpic Owners
CoordinatorScrum MasterRelease Train EngineerSolution Train Engineer
Architect-System ArchitectSolution ArchitectEnterprise Architect
Other MembersDevelopment &
Testing Team
Business Owners--
Agile MethodologyKanban or Scrum/XPKanbanKanbanKanban
Economic ViewEconomic FrameworkEconomic FrameworkEconomic FrameworkLean Budgets