Project Management

Disciplined Agile

by , , , , , , , ,
This blog contains details about various aspects of PMI's Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit, including new and upcoming topics.
#ChooseYourWoW | #ContinuousImprovement | #Kaizen | #ProcessImprovement | Adoption | agile | Agile certification | agile transformation | Analogy | Architecture | architecture | book | Business Agility | Certification | Choose your WoW | CMMI | Coaching | Collaboration | Compliancy | Configuration management | Construction phase | Context | Continuous Improvement | COVID-19 | Culture | culture | DAD | DAD discussions | DAD roles | Data Management | database | DevOps | Discipline | disciplined agile delivery | Documentation | DW/BI | Enterprise Agile | Enterprise Architecture | Enterprise Awareness | Essence | estimation | Evolving DA | Experiment | Financial | GDD | Geographic Distribution | global development | Goal-Driven | goal-driven | goals | Governance | Guideline | Improvement | inception | Inception phase | Large Teams | layer | Lean | Lifecycle | lifecycle | Metrics | mindset | News | News and events | Non-Functional Requirements | non-functional requirements | Operations | Outsourcing | People | Philosophies | Planning | PMI | PMI and DA | Portfolio Management | Practices | Principle | Process | process improvement | Product Management | Product Owners | Program Management | Project Management | Promise | quality | Release Management | Requirements | requirements | Reuse Engineering | Risk management | RUP | Scaling | scaling | scaling agile | Scrum | serial | Support | Surveys | Teams | Technical Debt | Terminology | Testing | testing | Toolkit | Transformation | velocity | Workflow | show all posts

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Scott Ambler
Glen Little
Mark Lines
Valentin Mocanu
Daniel Gagnon
Michael Richardson
Joshua Barnes
Kashmir Birk
Klaus Boedker

Recent Posts

Would you like to get involved with the 20th Anniversary of Agile?

The Four Layers of the Disciplined Agile Tool Kit

The Disciplined Agile Foundation Layer

The Team Lead Role: Different Types of Teams Need Different Types of Leaders

Disciplined Agile is a Hybrid

Terraforming: Evolving Your Agile Workspace


Terraforming is the act of making an environment suitable for human habitation.  Terraforming has been popularized in science fiction as the act of evolving a planetary ecosystem, but in our context terraforming is the act of evolving your team’s physical workspace to make it more habitable for you to work.  Doing so in an important enabler for improving your way of working (WoW).

The Evolve Way of Working (WoW) process goal, the diagram for which is shown in Figure 1, involves several decision points that are pertinent to terraforming. In Disciplined Agile (DA) our philosophy is that teams should choose and evolve their WoW over time as they learn, and an important aspect of doing so is to recognize that you should be able to evolve your physical as well as virtual workspace.

Figure 1. The Evolve Way of Working (WoW) process goal diagram (click to expand).

Evolve WoW process goals

As you’d expect, you have choices available to you.  In Figure 1 there are three decision points relevant to terraforming:

  1. Organize Physical Environment. There are many options for organizing your physical environment.  A key issue is that you want people to be as close to one another as possible – the further away you are from someone the less likely you are to interact with one another, and the harder it becomes to share ideas and information. Ideally you want your team to have its own work room or at least be in a common open area together.  Having said that, it’s still useful to have “caves” or separate collaboration areas where people can escape to as needed to focus their efforts.
  2. Choose Communication Styles. Some people are leery of work rooms or common workspaces because they’re afraid that they won’t be able to concentrate due to the noise.  There has in fact been numerous studies that show that productivity drops when people are forced to work in open work areas or worse yet “hoteling” desks.  Yes, this is definitely a problem.  However, it is vitally important to differentiate between the noise generated by people who aren’t working on your team and the information/discussions generated by those who are. In short, I want to hear what my fellow teammates are saying but not what the stranger beside me is. When your office is organized in an “open” manner we’ve found that you should strive to have everyone on your team is sitting together.  Furthermore, erect sound barriers (such as sound-proof whiteboards or moveable walls) between you and the other teams near by to provide further focus.  And speaking about whiteboards, you can never have too many.
  3. Choose Collaboration Styles. The more flexible your physical workspace the greater your ability to collaborate with one another in an effective manner.

We’ve found that a great strategy for a company is to make physical things such as furniture and whiteboards readily available to teams.  Something as simple as a room full of (currently) unused furniture that a team can simply take from, or contribute things they’re no longer using into, goes a long way to providing flexibility.  And of course allowing teams to buy what they need, when they need it, is also crucial.  Smart organizations realize thatone of the best investments they’ll ever make is to spend a few thousand dollars on furniture and whiteboards to enable a team of people earning five or six figure annual incomes to improve their WoW.

Ideas for this blog was adapted from the book Choose Your WoW! This book is a handbook overviewing hundreds of agnostic techniques and strategies that agile and lean teams may decide to experiment with to see how well they work in the situation that they face.

Posted by Scott Ambler on: March 08, 2019 02:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stable Teams Over Project Teams

One of the interesting trends that we’re seeing within organizations taking a disciplined agile approach to solution delivery is the preference for stable teams. Stable teams, also called stable product teams or simply long-term teams, are exactly as they sound – they remain (reasonably) stable over time, lasting longer than the life of a single project. This blog explores the differences between project teams and stable teams and then overviews the advantages and disadvantages of the stable team approach.  We also explore the issue of how stable teams evolve over time.

Stable Teams

As you can see in the following diagram, with a project team approach we say that we bring the team to the work. What we mean by that is that we first identify the need to run a project, perhaps to build the new release of an existing solution or to build the initial release of a new solution, we build a team to do the work.   Once the work is done, in this case the solution is successfully released into production, the team is disbanded and its team members move on to other things.

Stable teams vs project teams

The stable team approach is a bit different. In this case we first build an effective team then we continuously bring valuable work to the team to accomplish. In this situation the work never really ends, but instead we replenish the team’s work item list (or work item pool depending on the lifecycle being followed) regularly. The team stays together and continues to produce value for your organization over time.

Of course the term “stable team” is a bit of a misnomer as they do evolve over time. For example, many people like to stay on a team for a couple of years and then move on to another team to gain new skills and perspectives. This is good for them and good for your organization as it helps to keep your teams fresh. Sometimes you will want to grow or shrink a team. Sometimes you will discover that two people aren’t working well together and you need to split them up. The point is that there are very good reasons for your stable teams to evolve over time.

We wouldn’t be disciplined if we didn’t explore the trade-offs involved with stable teams.

The Advantages of Stable Teams

There are several advantages to stable teams:

  1. Lower management overhead. There is clearly less “resource management” to be done because you’re not constantly forming and disbanding project teams. In fact, this lower need for resource management activities is one of several factors why agile IT organizations need managers than non-agile IT organizations.
  2. Easier team budgeting. The annual budget for a stable team is incredibly straightforward to calculate: Multiply the number of people on the team by the fully burdened cost of an IT person for your organization. Once again, less management work required for this.
  3. You build better teams. When you build project teams you tend to take the people who are currently available (often referred to as sitting on the bench). With a stable team approach you’re motivated to build your teams with the right people, and very often its best for the team to build itself by inviting others who they believe will fit in well.
  4. There is greater opportunities to build trust within the team.  It takes time to build trust within a team.  Greater trust leads to greater willingness to work together in a more streamlined manner.  As Stephen Covey insightfully points out, trust enables speed.
  5. There’s a greater opportunity for safety.  It takes time to build an environment where people feel safe. In safe environments there is a much greater chance that they will share ideas and be willing to try new things because they don’t fear being thought less of or even punished.
  6. There is less overhead from team formation. You’re forming teams far less often with a stable approach compared to a project team approach, hence there is less overhead in total for your organization.
  7. Better team performance.  Consider the analogy of a train.  Just like it takes time to bring the train up to cruising speed it takes time for the team to jell.  Bringing work to a seasoned team that works together well is like jumping onto a train going at full speed: it’s faster in both cases because you don’t have to get going from a full stop.
  8. You have more efficient utilization of staff. With this approach it is far less likely that someone will be “sitting on the bench” because they will instead be an active member of a team. When someone is hired it is directly into a team. Throughout their career they will move from team to team as appropriate. The only time that they might not be utilized is when their on vacation, sabbatical, or if you purposefully disband a team. The first two reasons are something you still have with the project team approach, and the last reason should happen a lot less often.
  9. Your teams are more likely to improve. When a team knows that they will be working together for a long time, and particularly when they are responsible for the entire delivery lifecycle from beginning to end, they are more likely to streamline their work so as to make things better for themselves.


The Disadvantages of Stable Teams

There are several disadvantages to stable teams:

  1. Teams can become too stable. A real danger of stable teams is the potential for groupthink – everyone on the team starts to think and work in a common way, thereby being in danger to common blindspots. Luckily people still want to move to other teams for career management reasons, offering the opportunity to bring new viewpoints into other teams. In the Disciplined Agile (DA) toolkit we have the continuous improvement process blade which supports sharing of ideas across teams so that can also lessen the chance of groupthink. And, as mentioned earlier, some people may need to be motivated to move on to another team for interpersonal reasons.
  2. You still may need to do projects. Sometimes your business team makes promises to their customers. For example, in a software company a sales person makes a big sale and promises that by a certain date your solution will have additional features that the customer needs (in immature organizations they’ll even make such promises without first negotiating this with the delivery team). Another example would be a financial institution that needs to fulfill new industry regulations that require changes to existing solutions. In both of these cases there is a large amount of work to be done that needs to be delivered before a certain date, and this may motivate you to treat this work as a project. You would still bring this work to the appropriate stable team(s) to accomplish as you normally would. However, you would also track the performance of the work to ensure that it is delivered in its entirety as appropriate. The implication is that projects may not completely go away


Evolving Stable Teams Over Time

Stable doesn’t mean stagnant.  Of course you still have basic people management issues such as people wanting to expand their skill set by working on something new by rotating to another team, people leaving the organization, and new people joining the organization.  So the team itself may go on for many years even though the membership of the team evolves over time.  Ideally these membership changes are not too disruptive: It’s not too bad adding a new person every month or so, or losing people at a similar rate, but gaining or losing several people in a short period of time can be painful.


Our Recommendation

Start experimenting with stable teams if you’re not already doing so. For most organizations the advantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages. In fact, you can see this in the Longevity decision point of the Form Initial Team goal diagram below.

Form Initial Team Process Goal

Posted by Scott Ambler on: November 13, 2016 09:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Agile Teams and The Breakfast Club

Categories: Analogy, Teams

The Breakfast Club

One of the iconic movies of the 1980s was The Breakfast Club, which told the story of five very different teenagers who were forced to come into school one Saturday to serve detention.  Recently I’ve been working at a large insurance company helping them to adopt the Disciplined Agile (DA) toolkit.  One of people whom I’m working with has a Breakfast Club poster on the wall near her work area and it got me thinking about some of the dynamics that I’ve seen watching agile teams form and eventually gel.  Here are my thoughts.

At the start of the movie the kids didn’t really like each other, they were very different from one another, they certainly didn’t want to be there, and they were each coming to the group with their own point of view and background.  Sadly, I’ve seen more than one software project team that was put together like this.  As the movie progressed they began to really talk with one another and their stories started to emerge.  They started to work together, hijinks ensued, and they bonded as a group.  As part of their punishment they were each asked to write an essay describing what they learned from their detention.  Instead they wrote a single letter, which follows, that they submitted as a team.

“Dear Mr. Vernon:

We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain… …and an athlete… …and a basket case… …a princess… …and a criminal.

Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club."

So how does this relate to agile teams?

  1. You often build teams from specialists.  Although we ideally recommend that you build teams from multi-disciplinary, T-skilled generalizing specialists, the reality is that many organizations are staffed with specialized people.  We like to say that you go to war with the army that you’ve got, or in other words you need to make do with what you have.  If all you have are specialized staff then that’s the people you have to form teams.  The good news is that you can help people to evolve from being specialists into generalizing specialists via building a cross-functional whole team, enabling and promote non-solo collaborative work within the team, and by training and coaching people.
  2. It takes time for a team to gel.  In the movie the “team” gelled in a single day, but it’s rarely that fast in practice.  It often takes weeks, and sometimes months, for a team to really get to the point where they’re working together effectively (yet another reason to move towards stable solution delivery teams).
  3. Co-location shortens the time it takes to gel.  When we’re co-located, everyone works together in the same room, it is much easier and much more likely that we will collaborate with one another.  Not only does this increased interaction help us to get the work done it also helps us to gel as a team faster.
  4. We’re not as different from each other as we think.  One of the lessons that the kids learned in the movie is that each one of them had a bit of an athlete, a brain, a criminal, and so on in them.  Similarly, we’re not just programmers, or architects, or analysts but instead we all have some of those skills in us and we can certainly get better at the skills that we are weak on.
  5. We are still different.  Every single person is a unique individual.  This implies that we must be flexible in the way that we collaborate with one another, that people simply aren’t “cogs in the corporate machine.”  We should also respect the fact that we each bring something of value to the team, a revelation that the kids in the movie stumbled upon when they had to work together to not get caught by Mr. Vernon (there were a few hijinks in the movie).
  6. Working together as a team produces better results than a group of individuals.  As Alistair Cockburn likes to say, software development is a team sport.  In the movie the kids all got caught doing something on their own, hence the punishment of a Saturday in detention, yet together they managed to have a fair bit of fun as a team.  Similarly, you may be the best programmer in the world, but it behooves you to work with people who can help you to understand the requirements, design the solution, validate the solution, and so on.
  7. We can all learn from each other.  Everyone has value to bring to the team and everyone has areas where they are weak on that could be improved.  By working closely together we can learn from each other and get better both as individuals and as a team.

The Breakfast Club is a great movie.  If you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it lately, then I highly suggest watching it again.

Posted by Scott Ambler on: October 06, 2016 11:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Agile Enterprise Architecture Team Structures

We learned in a previous blog posting, The Mindset of a Disciplined Agile Enterprise Architect, that disciplined agile enterprise architecture (EA) teams work in a very collaborative manner, evolving their artifacts over time based on their learnings.  But how do you organize an enterprise architecture team so that it can be agile?  Answering this question is the goal of this posting.

As you would expect, the answer is “it depends”.  There is no one right way to organize an enterprise architecture team, your approach must be driven by the context of the situation that you find yourself in.  We start with the strategy that we call the “hands on” approach because members of the EA team are also members of IT delivery teams.  We then describe a small EA team approach, a common strategy when you are first getting your team in place or when the team doesn’t have the funding required for the hands-on approach.  We end with a discussion of how to go about this in very large organizations.

The “Hands On” Team Structure

Every DAD team has someone in the role of architecture owner (AO), sometimes called an agile solution architect or simply agile architect.  This person is responsible for guiding the team through architectural decisions and for mentoring and coaching other team members in architecture and design skills.  An AO should have a solid understanding of your organization’s technical and business roadmaps, if they exist, and be willing to collaborate closely with the enterprise architecture team.  With the “hands on” EA team structure, AOs are members of the enterprise architecture team.  The following diagram shows how an AO is a member of a delivery team and a member of the enterprise architecture team at the same time.

Disciplined Agile Enterprise Architecture Team Structure

A few important observations about the “hands on” team structure depicted above:

  • The team is led by someone in the role of Chief Enterprise Architect (we’ve referred to this as Chief Architecture Owner in the past).  This person may or may be working as a member of an IT team.  They often spend much of their time collaborating with senior stakeholders across your organization.
  • Sometimes a given person performs the role of AO on several teams, often due to lack of staff with agile architecture skills.  Note that this is generally believed to be poor practice as the person will quickly become a bottleneck.
  • There may be enterprise architects who are not currently working with delivery teams.  This occurs in organizations where the architecture work is sufficiently complex to require people focused on that or because there are more architecture-skilled people available than are currently needed by IT delivery teams.
  • Some delivery teams may not have someone in the role of AO, once again due to a shortage of skilled people.

The AO will spend most of their time (90-95%) working with one or more delivery teams and the remainder working performing enterprise architecture activities.  There are several strategies that you can consider for determining who will be on EA team:

  1. Delivery teams nominate their own architecture owners.  This person must then become part of the EA team.  The primary advantage is that this person will already be a respected member of the delivery team.  The potential downside is that they may not yet have the skills required to be an effective enterprise architect.
  2. The enterprise architecture team nominates someone to be an architecture owner. The advantage of this approach is that the person will have enterprise architecture knowledge and experience.  The potential disadvantages are that the person may not fit well on the delivery team, the team may already feel that it has someone in this role, and that the enterprise architect may not yet have the skills required to be a productive member of the delivery team.  This top-down approach only works well with agile teams when the person being added to the team is both known and respected by them.
  3. Each team nominates someone to work with the other team. With a holocracy-based approach, when there is a need for two teams to collaborate with one another over a period of time each team nominates someone to work with that other team.  This helps to ensure that the priorities of both teams are addressed and ensures more effective communication between the teams, although has the drawback of requiring more people split across teams.

The “hands on” team structure is typically used by:

  • Architecture-oriented organizations.  This strategy is common in organizations willing to make a significant investment in enterprise architecture.
  • Large programs.  In this case it ends up being an architecture owner team for the program, or a program architecture team, and not a true enterprise architecture team.

The Small Enterprise Architecture Team Structure

The following diagram depicts what we call the “small EA team structure.”  In this case external teams will submit a request for the EA team to do some work.  These are typically requests to review their work or to provide some guidance on an architectural issue.  The enterprise architect(s) will address the requests in priority order, often working in a Kanban-style manner.

Small Enterprise Architecture Team Structure

This small EA team approach is common when EA teams are starting out or when they aren’t adequately funded to have people on every IT delivery team.  Although it is possible to keep this lightweight, and that is often a necessity due to funding constraints, it can sometimes devolve in to a review-based, documentation heavy approach.  Furthermore, due to understaffing the enterprise architects rarely have the time to coach others in architectural skills.  In extreme situations the EA team becomes a bottleneck for the IT delivery teams waiting for help from them.

The Multi-Level Enterprise Architecture Team Structure

Very large organizations, often those with thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of people in IT, need a more sophisticated approach to organizing their EA team.  In these situations they tend to have a multi-level approach.  For example, we have one customer who is taking a three-level approach to the hands-on team strategy described earlier.  The first level is enterprise architecture for the line of business within a specific geographic region (i.e. retail banking in Europe), the second level for the geographic region, and the third level for the overall company.  With this strategy someone is an AO on a delivery team and a member of the first level EA team.  The chief EA of the first level team is a member of the second level team for their geographic region, and the chief EA of that team is a member of the organization-level EA team.  In short, this multi-level EA team structure reflects the overall organization’s structure.

Context Counts

Each EA team structure described in this blog has advantages and disadvantages. No one approach fits all situations, and as the context of the situation that you face evolves over time so will the structure of your enterprise architecture team.

Related Readings

Posted by Scott Ambler on: June 02, 2015 03:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

DevOps: Strategies for Organizing Release Management

In this blog posting we describe two issues for organizing your release management strategy: How to scope release management and how to organize the team.

There are two fundamental issues to consider when scoping your release management efforts:

  1. Paradigm support. Will your release management process focus on supporting one paradigm, such as agile/lean teams or will it provide a more holistic strategy to also support agile/lean teams, traditional teams, iterative teams, and even ad-hoc teams? Many people who are currently writing about release management tend to focus on a single paradigm, although they may not explicitly state this, but the reality is that most enterprise-class organizations need multi-paradigm support in practice.
  2. Domain support. Will your release management process focus on IT-related issues or will it address the full range of business-related release issues? IT-related release issues include deploying new software and hardware into production. Business release issues may include marketing campaigns, training your sales force, and organizing external support mechanisms for end users to name a few. This is particularly important for commercial solutions being produced for the end customer of your organization.

These two issues lead us to the following quadrant chart depicting the potential scope for release management:

Scoping IT Release Management


From a Disciplined DevOps point of view we of course promote a Holistic Enterprise scoping strategy. Whatever scoping strategy you choose your release management strategy will need to be able to support the scaling situations faced by your delivery teams. This includes teams of various sizes, different levels of geographic distribution, dealing with different levels of domain and technical complexity, teams that are organizationally distributed, and teams in compliance situations.

There are three strategies to consider for organizing your release management team:

  1. Operations led. In many small to medium-sized organizations release management is one of many activities that are performed by the operations team. With this approach a “release team”, in some cases an individual, is put together to release a solution on a project-by-project basis. Although there is often a hand-off point from the development team to the operations team, the operations team may require several members of the development team to be actively involved with the deployment. The advantages of having operations manage releases are that they are very familiar with the current state of your production environment and they know what other releases are happening in parallel (if any) and thereby have an integrated view of the overall situation. The primary disadvantage is that they will not know the intricacies of the new release of the solution, hence the need to include development team members.
  2. Separate release team. Larger organizations will often have an explicit release management team, often a subgroup of their operations department. The advantages of a separate team include the ability to grow expertise in release management, familiarity with your production environment, and the ability to manage releases in an integrated manner. The disadvantages are the lack of familiarity with solution(s) being released and the potential to inject overhead into the overall release process.
  3. Delivery team led. This approach is common in very small organizations that do not have separate operations teams and in organizations delivery teams have adopted at very disciplined approach to DevOps that supports the practice of continuous deployment. The advantages of a delivery team approach are that that team is very familiar with how the solution is built and they are given greater flexibility to deploy as needed into production. The disadvantages are that there is a risk of deployment collisions in multi-team environments and integration problems in production between disparate systems. Luckily these disadvantages can be addressed via a combination of development-oriented DevOps practices and the following release management practices.
Posted by Scott Ambler on: March 07, 2015 07:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

I hate asking for change. They always make a face. It's like asking them to donate a kidney.

- George Costanza