Project Management

Disciplined Agile Applied

This blog explores pragmatic agile and lean strategies for enterprise-class contexts.

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Recent Posts

Choice is Good: Isn't Having Choices More Complex?

What Project Types Exist?

Disciplined Agile and PMI-ACP?

Getting Started With Disciplined Agile (DA)

How to Improve When You Can't Adopt New Technologies Easily

Choice is Good: Isn't Having Choices More Complex?

Morning coffee

Image source: Getty

Quick answer:

On the surface yes, but in practice no.

Detailed answer:

Here are some observations that I suggest you consider:

1. Choices exist, like it or not. In about 99.9% of situations, there are multiple ways to do things.  Consider ways that you can go about making coffee. You could add instant coffee crystals to hot water, you could percolate your coffee, you could do a pour over using a mug filter, you could use a french press, you could use a Keurig machine, or many other options.  But I bet that you have one or two ways of making coffee in your household at most, likely to keep things simple. Fair enough. Now step back and observe how you've gotten to this point.  At some point in the past you narrowed down the myriad of choices to the one(s) that work well for you given your situation.  Perhaps you simply do what you were taught by your parents, perhaps a friend introduced you to a new technique which you then experimented with and eventually adopted, or perhaps you investigated your options and choose what made the most sense to you.  My point is that options always exist, whether you're aware of them or not, and that in some manner you will make the best choice that you can.

2. Disciplined Agile (DA) makes the choices explicit. This can be confusing at first, particularly if you still believe in the idea of best practices that describe the one "right way" to perform an activity.  But the "right way" depends on your situation.  Once again, consider making coffee.  Some people will tell you the best way is to use an expensive espresso machine that are used in cafes. Although I've had baristas make me incredible coffees with such machines it's not the best way for me because I don't have that level of skill (right now, maybe one day though).  But I can make a pretty mean coffee with a French press, so that's my preferred approach.  But the fact is that most days I use a simple one-cup coffee machine because that's easier.  Different situations motivate me to follow different strategies, but I can only choose the current "right way" if I know what options I have available to me and the skills and tools to adopt those strategies. Because I find myself in different situations, some mornings I have a lot of time so a French press strategy is viable, some mornings the power is out so I have to use a percolator pot on my gas range, sometimes I use my one-cup machine, and maybe one day I'll learn to use the fancy machine that we have sitting in the closet right now.  My point is that one approach isn't going to fit all situations, that to be effective you're going to want to choose the most appropriate strategy for your current context.  Concepts such as the goal diagram below, which captures many of the planning options available to you, can be daunting at first.  We get that.  But as I said earlier, these options exist whether you like it or not, and if something straightforward such as making a cup of coffee requires you to make choices then certainly you will also need to choose wisely in your work setting.

Figure 1. The Plan the Release process goal.

Plan the Release process goal

3. DA suggests potential starting points to potentially simplify your decision process.  When you're new to making coffee, you don't want to be presented with twenty different options to do so.  Instead you want to be shown one way of making coffee, likely a simple one at first that reflects your current level of skill. You need a starting point from which to get going.  So we do that in DA.  As you can see in Figure 1, some of the options are highlighted.  That's an indication that those techniques are a good starting point for any team that is reasonably small and in a reasonably straightforward situation.  These highlighted choices are based on what we've seen agile project teams do in practice over the years, once they've struggled through making a method like Scrum actually work for them. By starting with the highlighted options, rather than going through the harder work of figuring things out on their own, teams starting with DA are much further ahead of the game because DA covers the full range of challenges faced by agile teams.  In my experience is a much simpler approach.  But of course, if your team isn't in a relatively straightforward situation then you'll need to apply the tool kit to choose your own way of working (WoW).

4. Choosing a fit-for-purpose approach is simpler. I fully understand why people like defined frameworks - when you're new to something, such as learning how to work in a more agile manner, it's comforting to be told what to do.  But what if the framework, or the highlighted strategies I described above, really isn't that good a fit for you?  What if someone else in your organization decides to inflict their "best practices" on your team, such as your finance department insisting that you provide a detailed up-front estimate before they'll fund your project, which really doesn't mess well with an agile WoW? When you adopt a WoW, or have one forced on you, that isn't appropriate for your situation that's a lot of unnecessary work and frustration that you just don't need.  It might be a simple decision for you to make, but it's not a simple way for you to execute. 

5. What works today might not work tomorrow. Even when a framework is a good fit, or the highlighted DA options are, your situation will eventually change and there will no longer be a good fit.  For example, I currently have room on my kitchen counter for a coffee maker.  But what if we buy a new kitchen gadget that requires counter space, which we don't have any to spare. The coffee machine might need to go, which means I need to resort to my French press (granted, not such a hardship) or instant coffee (that's not going to happen).  Changes in my context require changes to my morning coffee process.  Similarly, your agile teams were forced to change their WoW in early 2020 when COVID-19 forced people to work from home.  Many teams had to scramble to figure things out, DA teams could look over the options for coordinating between locations called out by the coordinate activities process goal.

6. You can do this, it really isn't that hard.  It clearly takes a bit more skill and knowledge to choose your own way of working (WoW) compared with just following a defined framework. Luckily, you can easily gain these skills by earning PMI's Disciplined Agile Scrum Master (DASM) and Disciplined Agile Senior Scrum Master (DASSM) certifications. After a bit of learning you can easily apply these skills to improve your WoW for many years to come.  You've got this.   



Posted on: October 23, 2020 10:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

What Project Types Exist?

Categories: Project Management


Earlier today I was on a call where we discussed the results of a research study.  I brought up the issue that it would be really interesting to parse that data by project type so as to determine whether there are different behaviours associated with each type.  Unfortunately the researchers hadn't asked about project type, but perhaps next time they could do so.  

This then led to the issue of what types of projects occur that they should ask about, and I then volunteered to put together a list.  My original thought was that surely there was a common taxonomy out there somewhere, but I couldn't find a solid one.  There are several opinions about the subject, as far as I could tell, but nothing that's generally accepted within the community.  

So I started putting something together based on the various articles and papers that I did find.  Here are my questions to you:

  1. Do you know of an accepted project type taxonomy that I missed that is at least as comprehensive as what I have below?
  2. What do you think of the list that I've developed?  Imagine for a minute that this list was presented to you as options in a survey question.  Can you identify the type of project that you're currently involved with?
  3. Would you want to be able to select more than one option to describe the primary project you're currently involved with, or is single selection sufficient? 

Potential project types:

  • Business implementation
  • Foundational (business improvement)
  • IT infrastructure improvement
  • Product development (IT)
  • Product development (non-IT)
  • Physical engineering/construction
  • Physical infrastructure improvement
  • Procurement
  • Regulatory/compliance
  • Research and Development (R&D)
  • Service development
  • Transformation/reengineering
  • Other

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter!

Posted on: September 10, 2020 01:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Disciplined Agile and PMI-ACP?

Categories: ACP, Certification

Friendship forever

We are often asked how Disciplined Agile (DA) and PMI-ACP fit together and whether DA is meant to replace PMI-ACP.  Fair enough.  So I thought I would write this short blog to help clear the air.  Here are the key points:

  1. PMI-ACP isn't going away.  The PMI-ACP program has been very successful, so of course we're keeping it.
  2. DA and PMI-ACP fit well together. We will release an updated agile certification roadmap towards the end of August that makes this very clear.  We're currently finalizing our testing of the strategy out in the marketplace and will publicly release it very soon. Stay tuned here for a detailed announcement.
  3. The PMI-ACP certification will evolve over time. At some point it would be reasonable to see the ACP certification explicitly include the advanced agile and lean concepts that DA encompasses.  Don't worry, we'll let you know about any changes to the PMI-ACP certification long before they happen, just as we do with other certifications.
  4. PMI-ACP and DA are running in parallel right now. The two programs each have their own schedules. When and if we decide to merge them in some way we will make that clear to everyone.  
  5. We're working together.  The DA team is working with many teams within PMI to bring you world-class offerings, including the ACP team.

In summary, you don't have anything to worry about and it's only getting better. 

Update: We now have an Agile Certifications landing page that explains the program.

Posted on: July 27, 2020 04:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (32)

Getting Started With Disciplined Agile (DA)

You'll wish you started today - Getty Images

I'm often asked how can someone learn about the Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit.  There are several ways that you can do so:

  1. Watch a 2 minute video. We recently released a short video that summarizes key aspects of DA.    
  2. Read a 5 minute article. The article Introduction to Disciplined Agile is a short overview of the four layers of DA.
  3. Attend a Disciplined Agile (DA) presentation hosted by your chapter.  Many PMI Chapters now have DA Champions who can either give a DA presentation themselves or invite a DA partner to give a great presentation.
  4. Take a 8 module online workshop. Our self-paced, online workshop the Basics of Disciplined Agile takes a scenario-based approach to teaching you fundamental DA concepts and how to apply them.  Better yet, you'll earn 10 technical PDUs doing so.
  5. Attend certification training. Training partners around the world are now offering 2, 3, and 4-day workshops to prepare people to certify in Disciplined Agile.  You can find training here.
  6. Read a book.  The book Choose Your WoW! provides a comprehensive overview of the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) portion of the DA toolkit, the DA mindset, and Guided Continuous Improvement (GCI). At 400 pages this book is a key reference for any agile software development team.




Posted on: June 17, 2020 07:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

How to Improve When You Can't Adopt New Technologies Easily


I was recently part of a business agility webinar for PMI's MENA (Middle East and North Africa) chapters.  At the very end of the webinar we were asked a question that was along the lines of "How can you apply DA when you're unable to adopt new technologies?" which I answered quickly as we were out of time.  My answer was a bit harsh at the time, which I share below, and in hindsight I wish I'd had time to answer more thoroughly.  Hence this blog posting which presents a more thorough answer.

First, improvement doesn't always require new technology. Many of the techniques referenced by the Disciplined Agile (DA) toolkit are technology independent. For example, consider the Coordinate Activities process goal diagram of Figure 1. Many of the techniques are manual in nature, such as Agile Modeling sessions (OK, you require the "technologies" of whiteboards, markers, and sticky notes), architecture owner teams (a cross-team group of people), and release windows (scheduled times when it's possible to release/deploy something to your customers). On the other hand, some improvements may require new technologies. For example, the strategy of adopt collaborative tools to coordinate between locations explicitly requires the adoption of agile management tools such as Atlassian's Jira or Zoho's Sprints. The point is that your organization's potential inability to adopt new technologies doesn't completely prevent you from making improvements to your way of working (WoW). As always, it depends.

Figure 1. The Coordinate Activities process goal.

Disciplined Agile Process Goal: Coordinate Activities

Second, it's not that you can't adopt new strategies, it's that organizationally you choose not to. Stop looking for excuses to not improve, to not do what needs to be done for your organization to survive in the new competitive landscape that you face. Really. You need to stop making excuses. Your competitors are finding ways to adopt new technologies and so can you. You need to start making some hard choices now. My recommendation is that choose to succeed, and then choose to do the hard work required to do so.

Third, if you can't respond and improve quickly in the age of COVID-19 you're not likely to survive. This was pretty much my answer in the webinar. If there are groups in your organization preventing you from making the improvements that you need to compete and better serve your customers then you need to remove those blockers now.  This may mean that you educate those people as to why you need to improve, help them find budget to support the changes, or even ask them to get out of your way. Yes, that final strategy may require leadership within your organization to rethink whether those people should still be employed by your organization - even if that includes some of them.

Fourth, helping your organization improve sounds like a great opportunity for your project management office (PMO).  Earlier in the webinar PMI's Srini Srinivasan had addressed the issue of what role PMOs have in an agile organization.  He understandably indicated that PMOs must offer real value and be seen doing so. If your organization is struggling to make the changes it needs to improve, that sounds like a pretty good opportunity for a PMO to add tangible value.

I can't tell you exactly what the "new normal," or perhaps more accurately the "new abnormal," will be in the COVID-19 and post COVID-19 environments. But I know that it will be much more competitive than what you've been used to up until now.  I also know that it will require you to be able to better sense and respond to the changes in your environment. The Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit can help you to do exactly this.


Posted on: May 27, 2020 03:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Love can sweep you off your feet and carry you along in a way you've never known before. But the ride always ends, and you end up feeling lonely and bitter. Wait. It's not love I'm describing. I'm thinking of a monorail.

- Jack Handey



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