A class for practitioners to learn, not to insta-certify wannabes. If you’re in the target audience, Carl’s the trainer you want.

Many people in our industry are at best cautious – and at worst, outright scathing – about training classes. Since the early days of Scrum, the format was set as a 2 day ‘sit through a lot of PowerPoint, interspersed with a few exercises’ snooze-fest. Which was OK, as in the early days, any certificate you got was primarily based your ability to sit for two days, keep breathing and not disrupt the class too much.

Recruitment in our industry however – with little else to go on – treated those same certificates as an indicator of competence; an entry bar for aspiring Scrum Masters and Product Owners. They were viewed as an equivalent of a driving test: a test that instantly transformed your life status from Pedestrian to Driver.

SAFe’s classes have historically had some elements of these. Certainly for many years, they have been pretty much a Death By PowerPoint, which means that SPCs without all that much competence in either SAFe execution or training could deliver them. And as Deaths by PowerPoint go, the content was fairly OK as an error proofing mechanic, so even in those cases, the transfer of head-knowledge was possible. And at least the post-class exam tended to err on the side of ‘not all that easy’ if you (or your trainer) didn’t have any field experience, and you didn’t do any study for it. In recent years too, before you can license the material for a class, you have to go through some enablement activities, including passing the class’ exam.

I’ve most definitely seen the impact of this though. I’ve seen SPCs with little appreciation for the intent of SAFe and little experience of actual delivery to be able to illustrate with real life examples; I’ve seen the descriptions of SAFe by people who’ve been in classes with some of those SPCs that beggars belief. I spend far too much of my life trying to reset SAFe says… mis-expectations.

In the last few weeks, I’ve taken two of Scaled Agile’s new classes: the DevOps class and the Release Train Engineer one. I’m happy to report that these are showing a big step forward.

To quickly deal with the DevOps class – it is still a bit of a head-knowledge transfer for people leading the work, rather than those in the work. And I’m thus not sure it deserves certifying successful graduates as DevOps Practitioners. But it is founded in Value Stream mapping, and at every step, the student connects what they have just heard with their reality back at work, and is invited to contemplate the impact of each component on their own system.

The other positive step forward: it would be difficult – and obviously so to students who are paying attention – to teach this class without strong previous knowledge of the material. It might be possible for a strong trainer with a really good grasp of The DevOps Handbook (say through having spent lots of time in paying attention to technical coaches) to teach this without having lived through it. But you can’t run it as ‘click through the slides.’

The RTE class takes this a big step further.

It is a class that needs to be super strong on its entry criteria.

Firstly: It assumes you know the structure of SAFe already – this cannot be your first exposure. Leading SAFe fulfils this well.

Secondly: It’s run as a three day class, rather than a three day class stuffed into two days, where you have to be aggressive in either cutting discussion, or cutting material. And discussion is where all the learning is.

Thirdly: It primarily runs as Training from the Back of the Room, drawing from the real life experiences of the students. Students therefore need to be already working as RTEs, ideally for a couple of PIs. Now, if you have a couple of people who have a lot more experience in the class, you can use that experience to counterbalance less experienced students who are looking to pivot from simple one-team Scrum Mastering. Good Agile Coaches working in a SAFe-ish environment who are self-reflective and paying attention to what’s going on around them should be just fine.

Finally: Scaled Agile are being rather more picky about who gets to teach the class. It’s not open to every SPC. Only SPCTs can teach it as a public class, and only ‘approved’ SPCs can teach it as a private one.

SPCT is a high bar, and intentionally so. But even there, there are definitely some folks who are rather more trainers, and some with rather more real life experience. Part of me wants to argue that – with the right experience in the room – this shouldn’t matter so much; the learning approach is more facilitation that pedagogy. But on the other hand, my experience with SAFe classes has been to go to the primary author of the class. My SPC class was given by Dean Leffingwell (twice actually; originally back in 2013, and again when I was in the first public run of the 4.0 class in December 2015). And in this class too, I went to the primary author: Carl Starendal.

In this, I do declare a bit of bias. I’ve known Carl a long time since we were working together in Stockholm. We’ve co-taught, and we paired to launch the first Release Train at LEGO, supporting their first two PI Planning events. Since then, Carl has worked for Scaled Agile as their first employee in Europe, working with many organizations to help them launch and run Release Trains, standing in as RTE (or at least: compete for PI Planning) or supporting the RTE in many places. This experience clearly flows into the class material, and into how he leads the class.

Yes, for sure, Carl facilitates TFTBotR really really well. But he has also the practical experience to be able to handle the practical Yes, but how does it work when life is like this? questions.

That experience – and the effort he’s put in to building the SAFe community in Sweden – means that his class draws students from organizations who are deadly serious about doing SAFe really well. Insurance companies. Banks. Media companies. Sweden’s best known automotive manufacturer. Global leading retailers. Which goes back to re-enforcing the quality of contributions made by students, making it a better class still.

I’m super happy with the experience of this class. While not much of the material is new to me, it did validate many of my assumptions, and did a great job in slaughtering some of the misconceptions I’ve heard from RTEs. As a simple ‘set expectations’ it works very well. And I’m really pleased that I took the time and effort to get over to Sweden to take it with Carl.

In case it’s not clear: If you’re an RTE already, take this class. And if at all possible, take it with Carl.

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Martin Burns

Services Director at CA Inc (formerly Rally)
Previously: Leader of software delivery portfolios in large scale orgs.
Specialism: Transforming complex delivery organisations to be more Lean/Agile.
Mindset: Continuous Improvement Obsessive
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CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 SAFe RTE Class Review by Martin Burns is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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