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Scott Ambler
Glen Little
Mark Lines
Valentin Mocanu
Daniel Gagnon
Michael Richardson
Joshua Barnes

Recent Posts

Failure Bow: Choosing Between Life Cycles Flowchart Update

Evolving Disciplined Agile: Guidelines of the DA Mindset

Evolving Disciplined Agile: Promises of the DA Mindset

Evolving Disciplined Agile: Principles of the DA Mindset

Evolving Disciplined Agile: The DA Mindset

Why is it so hard to find qualified agile coaches?

Questioning peopleI was hoping to come up with a pithy, short answer to this question but the only thing that I can come up with is “people.”  The not-so-pithy answer is that there is no sort of agreement around what it means to be a “qualified agile coach”, the people hiring coaches aren’t thinking things through in many cases, and the agile community suffers from a myriad of integrity challenges when it comes to professionalism. In this blog I work through the following ideas:

  1. Why is there a dearth of qualified agile coaches?
  2. Sports coaches as an example
  3. What should we expect from agile coaches?
  4. Our solution: Certified Disciplined Agile Coaches (CDACs)
  5. Parting thoughts

Why is There A Dearth of Qualified Agile Coaches?

Let’s answer this in two parts: Why is there a dearth of agile coaches and why are there so many unqualified coaches available?  The first question is very easy to answer.  The demand for agile coaches far outstrips the supply.  The adoption rate for agile has been growing steadily since 2001, hence the growing demand.  As you’ll see later in this blog, it takes years to grow good coaches.  As a result there is little hope for the supply to catch up with demand any time soon.

The second question, why are there so many unqualified coaches available, is easy but uncomfortable to answer.  In general we have systemic challenges in the IT industry and in many ways we’ve managed to exacerbate these problems within the agile community. Some of the challenges within the IT community include:

  • A person is just as likely to be a self taught programmer, and more likely in fact, than they are to have a computer science or engineering degree
  • Although we throw the term “software engineering” around a lot, there is no agreement around what it means or even if it’s an appropriate concept (the IEEE/ACM promotes one, but there are many others)
  • There is no sort of apprenticeship culture in this industry
  • Few people have a personal goal of mastery, and few organizations support the gaining of mastery amongst their staff
  • There is a shortage of talented people, so It is very easy to find and retain employment regardless of your level of talent, and the market for IT people is still growing
  • No country has a licensing body for software professionals that is commonly required by organizations, unlike other professions such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, and many more
  • Many people in the IT community believe this normal for a professional, or if they do perceive a problem they are (rightfully) overwhelmed with the challenge of addressing it
  • Colleges and universities are endemically years behind the quickly changing IT industry (there are a handful of schools that work closely with industry, so it’s getting better)

Then we have the agile community, with its various certification training scams.  You can become a certified master after staying awake during a two-day workshop and passing an online test that almost nobody fails.  To put this into context, a Starbucks barista, the kid who pours your morning coffee, get’s three days of training before being let loose on customers.  Yet it somehow makes sense that someone with 50% less training becomes the lead of a software development team?  Really?  Another example: Someone can become a scaling program consultant after attending a four-day workshop, and worse yet are now “qualified” to teach a two-day workshop to others so as to impart their vast agile scaling knowledge upon them.  Amazingly, because of the demand by companies desperate to hire agile-skilled people, the demand for these “designations” is incredible (shameful would be a more appropriate word).

In practice many agile designations are little more than “participation ribbons”, yet most organizations take them seriously often either because they don’t realize how trivial they are to earn or because they’ve given up expecting any better from agilists.  Is it any surprise that it’s hard to find qualified coaches when we’ve watered things down so much?

Sports Coaches as an Example

CoachCoaching is very common in sports and with the exception of “pick up” games few sports teams are without a coach.  In fact, serious sports teams tend to have several coaches, typically lead by a head coach. In professional sports coaches are paid significant salaries, sometimes millions of dollars a year, as coaching is perceived to be a critical success factor.  It makes sense to look at sports coaching works to see how agile coaching might work.

Most sports coaches are former players.  They’ve typically played for years, and sometimes decades, having been coached themselves all along the way.  They’ll often start off as children, in Canada it’s common for kids to start learning to skate and play hockey at the age of two, being coached and drilled in basic skills and knowledge for years.  They also gain practical experience playing games.  Most kids drop out eventually, although many still play their sport (be it hockey, football, cricket, baseball, …) well into middle age.  And some decide to stay in the sport, but make the shift from being a player into being a coach.

The transition to becoming a sports coach generally isn’t easy.  There are three common strategies for this:

  1. Formal training.  One path is to go to university, get a teaching degree, and become a gym teacher at a middle school or high school and begin coaching children.  These coaches tend to coach a wide range of sports, although in some cases you’ll often see a coach specialize on a single sport, such as high school football or hockey, because that’s what their passion was a child (and often because they hope to move up the ranks at eventually, see point #3 below).
  2. Informal apprenticing.  Another path is to apprentice, asking your existing coach to allow you opportunities to coach others under their guidance.  When I trained in karate this was very common, with senior students helping to teach less senior students.  My daughter is currently learning to skate and they follow a similar pattern with senior skating coaches (adults) being helped by assistants (typically teenagers who have been skating for many years) to coach and teach the younger children.  Helping to teach or coach others is recognized as an important part of your own learning process.
  3. Formal apprenticing.  Because of the money involved professional sports teams tend to take a more formal approach to coaching.  They will often expect coaches either come up through the coaching ranks – start as a high school coach, then become a college-level coach, then finally a professional coach – or to come up through the professional sports ranks – when your star players are past their peak they sometimes move into coaching roles.  Each time you move up to a new level of coaching, say from high school football to college football, you often start as an assistant coach to first prove yourself.  The head coach at each level recognizes that it’s their responsibility to grow more coaches, so they impart their skills and knowledge on to the junior coaches.

So, what are some important observations we can make out of all of this?  First, sports coaches have deep skills and experience at the sports that they are coaching.  Second, we expect this of them.  Would you pay to have your child to be given skating lessons by a “Certified Skating Master” who had two days of training in the “skating mindset” and how to facilitate a handful of skating meetings?  Of course you wouldn’t.  Instead you’d want someone who had been skating for years, and better yet may have even been a competitor at some point in the past.  Third, it takes years of apprenticing or training to become a good sports coach, not just several days in a certification workshop.

What Should We Expect From Agile Coaches?

Here is what we’ve found to be the critical success factors for agile coaches:

  1. They should have years of agile experience, not days of training.  If someone doesn’t have years of experience in something, and more importantly years of varied experience, then why they heck would you hire them as a coach?
  2. They should have coaching skills and experience.  Being experienced in agile isn’t enough.  Apprenticing under another good agile coach is a great way to get coaching skill as is getting training in agile coaching (the Agile Coaching Institute is a start for this although the program at International Coaching Federation (ICF) is far more thorough).  The need for experience is a bit of a catch-22 of course – you need to already be an agile coach to be qualified to be an agile coach.  But, if someone has no previous coaching experience then at best I’d put them into a junior coaching role under the guidance of an experienced coach.  This provides them with the opportunity to gain the requisite experience and to prove themselves in practice.
  3. They should have robust agile skills and knowledge.  Years of agile experience is a good start, but better yet is a range of experience at all aspects of the lifecycle in which they are coaching.  It’s reasonable to expect a delivery team coach to understand all aspects of agile solution delivery so that they can coach the entire team in the skills they need to succeed.  Furthermore, it’s reasonable to expect an Agile IT coach to have experience in the full agile IT lifecycle, including areas such as Enterprise Architecture, Data Management, Portfolio Management, and many others.
  4. They should have experience in a similar context.  Ideally they should have skills in a similar context to what you currently face – someone who only has small team coaching experience will struggle to coach a large programme, someone who only has only coached in startup companies will struggle in a large financial institution, someone who has only coached co-located teams will struggle with globally distributed teams.  Context counts.

Criteria for Effective Agile Coaches
All four of these factors are equally important.  Any “coach” who is deficient in one or more of these areas still has some work to do.  Nobody is perfect of course, given the rates that agile coaches demand it’s reasonable to expect these people to be qualified.

Our Solution: Certified Disciplined Agile Coaches (CDACs)

A fair question to ask is how do we deal with this in the Disciplined Agile (DA) space. We believe that it’s critical to your success to have qualified coaches so we’ve built a principled certification program based on the martial arts philosophy of Shu-Ha-Ri.  Certifications must be earned and that takes time.  The following diagram summarizes our strategy for how practitioners must earn DA certifications.

Agile Practitioner CertificationsTo become a Certified Disciplined Agile Coach (CDAC) you need to have at least five years of experience in agile (which is verified by the Disciplined Agile Consortium (DAC)), plus evidence that you’ve already been sharing your skills and knowledge (we call this give back), plus you must be a Certified Disciplined Agile Practitioner (CDAP).  To become a CDAP you must have at least two years of proven agile experience (validated by DAC), have passed a comprehensive test of your agile knowledge, and already be a Certified Disciplined Agile Practitioner (CDA).  To be a CDA you must have passed a comprehensive test of your knowledge and skills.  So, this process of certification ensures that CDACs have comprehensive skills and knowledge in agile techniques, at least five years experiences in agile, and at least initial experience in coaching/teaching (the giveback component). Note: Not shown in the diagram above is Certified Disciplined Agile Instructor (CDAI), which you must be at least a CDAP and have proven ability to teach DA.

Parting Thoughts

It isn’t easy to find qualified agile coaches, but then again it isn’t impossible either. Our hope is that this blog has provided you with some insight into what you should be looking for in a good agile coach.  Anyone can put a shingle up and say that they’re an “agile coach”, but anyone who wants to say that they are a Certified Disciplined Agile Coach (CDAC) needs to have worked through a rigorous process to earn that qualification.  CDACs have proven knowledge, experience, and give back.  Why settle for less?

Related Reading

Posted by Scott Ambler on: April 30, 2017 11:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Agile Transformation: Why Are We Doing This?

Why?

Previously, in Agile Transformation: Being Agile, Doing Agile, and Supporting Agile and Agile Transformation: Comparing Transformation Strategies I discussed the need for your agile transformation efforts to address three factors: People-oriented issues (being agile), process-oriented issues (doing agile), and tooling issues (supporting agile).  I argued that you must focus to a different extent on each of these factors – 80-85%, 10-15%, and 5-10% respectively – and that you need to address all three at once if you’re to successfully transition to agile.  But what is the impetus for becoming more agile in the first place?

The answer is that you want to help people to become more effective so that they can work together to address the success criteria that their stakeholders have set out for them.  The challenge of course is that success criteria varies by team.  Some teams want better time to market, some want better quality, some want improved staff morale, some want improved stakeholder satisfaction with what gets delivered, and some want improved return on investment (ROI) in IT.  Many of course need to deliver on a combination of several of these criteria.

The point is that every team has their own success criteria that they should fulfill.  To do that effectively, agile coaches need to help these teams to “be agile” so that they have the proper mindset and culture to provide a foundation from which they can “do agile”.  To “do agile” teams need to understand, and have the skills to execute, agile practices in such a way that they perform the right practices at the right time to the right extent.  And to do that they need the appropriate tools to support these practices.

Your stakeholders could care less about whether your agile or even about what agile is.  They do care deeply about whether your team is able to meet, and better yet exceed, the criteria set out for them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Scott Ambler on: March 22, 2016 12:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Why should organizations be interested in Disciplined Agile certification?

Team

Disciplined Agile certification is for agile professionals working in enterprise-class settings such as banks, insurance companies, retailers, and government agencies. You’re not working in ideal situations – you have legacy cultures, legacy systems, and legacy processes to overcome – but that doesn’t mean you can’t make things better. You take pride in your work and you want to create environments where you can be effective, and you can do that by adopting Disciplined Agile strategies.

For organizations the primary value of disciplined agile certifications are that they indicate that people have gained a certain level of knowledge and in some cases expertise in Disciplined Agile methods.  Our principled approach to Disciplined Agile certification results in respected certifications that you can trust.  There are several benefits of Disciplined Agile certification for organizations:

  • It is meaningful. Disciplined Agile certification has to be earned. It is an indication that your people have a comprehensive understanding of enterprise-class development, and not just cargo cult agile.
  • It forms the basis of measurable skills assessment. Because the certifications build upon each other you can use them as a measure of how well agile skills and knowledge are spreading through your organization.
  • It’s trustworthy. Because Disciplined Agile certification is externally managed it is difficult for teams to game the numbers, unlike the self-assessment approach that is becoming all too common.

 

The Disciplined Agile Certification Program

The Disciplined Agile Certification program has three main certifications for practitioners – Certified Disciplined Agilist (CDA)Certified Disciplined Agile Practitioner (CDAP), and Certified Disciplined Agile Coach (CDAC) – that build upon each other. There is an additional designation, Disciplined Agilist (DA) and a fifth designation for trainers, Certified Disciplined Agile Instructor (CDAI).

Certified Disciplined Agilist (CDA): Shu (Beginner)

cdaInfoLarge

This certification indicates that the holder has comprehensive knowledge of how the Disciplined Agile solution delivery process works from beginning to end. To earn this Shu-level certification you need to pass a comprehensive test. It typically takes between 10 and 15 hours of classroom or reading time to prepare for the test. The primary benefits of this certification are that it:

  • Indicates that you have an understanding of how agile solution delivery works in enterprise-class settings;
  • Is a meaningful certification that sets you apart from the multitude of “certified masters”;
  • Shows that you have the desire to go beyond “cargo cult agile”;
  • Directs you down a path that reflects the realities faced by agile teams working in enterprise-class settings, enabling you to recognize and avoid the time consuming pitfalls common to Scrum teams.

Certified Disciplined Agile Practitioner (CDAP): Ha (Intermediate)

Certified Disciplined Agile Practitioner (CDAP)

This certification indicates that the holder has comprehensive knowledge of how the Disciplined Agile solution delivery process works from beginning to end and has experience applying agile strategies in practice. To earn this certification you must have earned the CDA first, have at least two years of agile work experience (you are required to provide references), and you have passed the CDAP test. The primary benefits of this certification are that it shows you’re:

  • Proficient at agile development and on the path towards mastery;
  • Ready to start helping others learn, potentially in a junior coaching role supervised by someone more experienced, such as a CDAC.

Certified Disciplined Agile Coach (CDAC): Ri (Expert)

Certified Disciplined Agile Coach (CDAC)

This certification indicates that the holder has comprehensive knowledge of how the Disciplined Agile solution delivery process works from beginning to end, has experience applying it in practice, and has proven giveback to the community. To earn this certification you must have earned the CDAP first, have at least five years of agile work experience (you are required to provide references), and have gone through a board-level interview. The primary benefit of this certification is that it shows you’re qualified to coach agile delivery teams. Effective coaches must have deep knowledge in what they are coaching people in, and that requires proven experience.

 

Retention

To retain your certification you should be dedicated to continuous learning of agile strategies in general, and in Disciplined Agile (DA) strategies in particular. Once someone is certified there are no direct membership dues. For CDA’s to retain their certification level they must take and pass the CDA test every two years. Having said that, at the two year point a practicing CDA is eligible to apply to become a CDAP anyway. Anyone with a CDAP will need to either pass the CDAP test every two years, or if they are qualified to apply for and become a CDAC. CDACs must provide proof of continuing give back to the DA community.

Further Reading

Posted by Scott Ambler on: February 16, 2016 08:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Why should you become certified in Disciplined Agile?

Certified

Are you tired of being embarrassed when you tell people what agile certifications you have? Are you tired of dancing around what little you had to do to “earn” your certification or what little knowledge about agile that effort actually imparted? Are you tired of explaining that you got certified only because it looks good on your resume, when in fact it only looks good to organizations that really don’t know what they’re asking for?  If you answered yes to any of those questions, it’s time to up your game.

Disciplined Agile certification takes a principled approach that provides real value to practitioners. Disciplined Agile certifications are respected because they are earned. There are several benefits of Disciplined Agile certification for practitioners:

  • Increase your knowledge.  Disciplined Agile certification requires you to have a comprehensive understanding of Disciplined Agile Delivery, which in turn describes how all aspects of agile principles and practices fit together in an enterprise-class environment.
  • Improve your employability.  Disciplined Agile certification indicates to employers that you’re dedicated to improving your knowledge and skills, a clear sign of professionalism.
  • Improve your career options.  Disciplined Agile certification can help you gain that new position or role as the result of your increased knowledge base and desire to improve.

Disciplined Agile Certification is for agile professionals working in enterprise-class settings such as banks, insurance companies, retailers, and government agencies. You’re not working in ideal situations – you have legacy cultures, legacy systems, and legacy processes to overcome – but that doesn’t mean you can’t make things better. You take pride in your work and you want to create environments where you can be effective, and you can do that by adopting Disciplined Agile strategies.

 

The Disciplined Agile Certification Program

The Disciplined Agile Certification program has three main certifications for practitioners – Certified Disciplined Agilist (CDA), Certified Disciplined Agile Practitioner (CDAP), and Certified Disciplined Agile Coach (CDAC) – that build upon each other. There is an additional designation, Disciplined Agilist (DA) and a fifth designation for trainers, Certified Disciplined Agile Instructor (CDAI).

 

Certified Disciplined Agilist (CDA): Shu (Beginner)

cdaInfoLarge

This certification indicates that the holder has comprehensive knowledge of how the Disciplined Agile solution delivery process works from beginning to end. To earn this Shu-level certification you need to pass a comprehensive test. It typically takes between 10 and 15 hours of classroom or reading time to prepare for the test. The primary benefits of this certification are that it:

  • Shows that you have an understanding of how agile solution delivery works in enterprise-class settings;
  • Is a meaningful certification that sets you apart from the multitude of “certified masters”;
  • Indicates that you have the desire to go beyond “cargo cult agile”;
  • Directs you down a path that reflects the realities faced by agile teams working in enterprise-class settings, enabling you to recognize and avoid the time consuming pitfalls common to Scrum teams.

 

Certified Disciplined Agile Practitioner (CDAP): Ha (Intermediate)

Certified Disciplined Agile Practitioner (CDAP)

This certification indicates that the holder has comprehensive knowledge of how the Disciplined Agile solution delivery process works from beginning to end and has experience applying agile strategies in practice. To earn this certification you must have earned the CDA first, have at least two years of agile work experience (you are required to provide references), and you have passed the CDAP test. The primary benefits of this certification are that it shows you’re:

  • Proficient at agile development and on the path towards mastery;
  • Ready to start helping others learn, potentially in a junior coaching role supervised by someone more experienced, such as a CDAC.

 

Certified Disciplined Agile Coach (CDAC): Ri (Expert)

Certified Disciplined Agile Coach (CDAC)

This certification indicates that the holder has comprehensive knowledge of how the Disciplined Agile solution delivery process works from beginning to end, has experience applying it in practice, and has proven giveback to the community. To earn this certification you must have earned the CDAP first, have at least five years of agile work experience (you are required to provide references), and have gone through a board-level interview. The primary benefit of this certification is that it shows you’re qualified to coach agile delivery teams. Effective coaches must have deep knowledge in what they are coaching people in, and that requires proven experience.

 

Retention

To retain your certification you should be dedicated to continuous learning of agile strategies in general, and in Disciplined Agile (DA) strategies in particular. Once someone is certified there are no direct membership dues. For CDA’s to retain their certification level they must take and pass the CDA test every two years. Having said that, at the two year point a practicing CDA is eligible to apply to become a CDAP anyway. Anyone with a CDAP will need to either pass the CDAP test every two years, or if they are qualified to apply for and become a CDAC. CDACs must provide proof of continuing give back to the DA community.

 

Further Reading

 

Posted by Scott Ambler on: February 09, 2016 02:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Disciplined Agile Certification Launches Today

fireworks

The Disciplined Agile Consortium is proud to announce the launch of our certification programme for practitioners of Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD).  DAC is offering three practitioner certifications:

  1. Disciplined Agile Yellow Belt. This beginner certification indicates to colleagues and employers that you are eager to learn Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) strategies that enable you to increase your skills and abilities as a software professional.
  2. Disciplined Agile Green Belt. This intermediate certification indicates that you are experienced at DAD and are on your way to becoming a generalizing specialist. You have the potential to be a “junior coach” under the guidance of a senior coach (someone who is likely a Disciplined Agile Black Belt).
  3. Disciplined Agile Black Belt. This expert certification indicates that you are a trusted expert with significant proficiency at DAD. You can coach other people in disciplined agile strategies and advise organizations in the adoption and tailoring of DAD.

When we developed this certification programme it was driven by six principles:

  1. Certifications must provide value. First and foremost, a certification must provide value to the person being certified. This value comes from learning new and valuable strategies during the process of earning the certification as well as greater employability resulting from the certification. Of course there are always limits to the value of any certification.
  2. Certifications must be earned. The effort required to earn the certification must be commensurate with the value provided. For example, it is easy to earn a Disciplined Agile Yellow Belt because the yellow belt is an indication that someone has basic knowledge of Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) and wishes to learn more. A Disciplined Agile Green Belt is harder to earn because it is an indication of both knowledge and experience. A Disciplined Agile Black Belt is very difficult to earn because it’s an indication of expertise and competence.
  3. Certifications must be respectable. We believe that the Disciplined Agile certifications are respectable for several reasons. First, the fact that you have to do some work to earn them is a welcome difference from other agile certifications. Second, we’re aligning with other respectable certification programmes and are requesting participation in one or more of those programmes as part of Green and Black belt certification.
  4. Certifications must be focused. The focus of this programme is on disciplined agile approaches to IT solution delivery. Disciplined agile certifications are an indication of knowledge and experience in disciplined agile methods.
  5. Certification is part of your learning process. Disciplined professionals view certification as part of their learning process. Certification, and learning in general, is not an event but instead an ongoing effort. The implication is that once you have earned your certification you must continue working to keep your skills up to date.
  6. Certified professionals have a responsibility to share knowledge. Not only have we adopted the concept of earning belts from martial arts we have also adopted the mindset that people have a responsibility to help teach and nurture people with lower belts to learn new skills and knowledge. The act of teaching and sharing information often leads one to a greater understanding and appreciation of the topic, and thus helps the teacher as well as the student to learn.

Differentiate yourself in the marketplace. Certification in Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) means something to clients and employers because it needs to be earned. Certification in DAD tells the marketplace you understand how to deliver an agile solution from end-to-end with experience in enterprise-class development.

Posted by Scott Ambler on: March 08, 2013 07:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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