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Disciplined Agile

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This blog contains details about various aspects of PMI's Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit, including new and upcoming topics.

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Scott Ambler
Glen Little
Mark Lines
Valentin Mocanu
Daniel Gagnon
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Kashmir Birk
Klaus Boedker
Mike Griffiths

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Examining the differences between DA and existing PMI materials

Examining

Since Disciplined Agile (DA) joined the PMI family in August 2019 we've gotten a collection of questions from people along the lines of "Why is there a difference between the advice in DA and PMI's advice?"  So I thought I would write a few blogs examining why that is.  This is the first.

There are several reasons why there are differences between existing DA and existing (non-DA) PMI materials:

  1. They were created by different groups of people.  It's natural to get different takes on a topic from different groups of people.   
  2. DA took on a broader scope than PMI traditionally has (until now). PMI has focused on project management and critical topics surrounding it such as program management, portfolio management, and governance (amongst others).  That is the scope that PMI chose to focus on and has frankly done a very good job at doing so.  The scope of DA, on the other hand, has been to address how to take an agile/lean approach to all aspects of an organization, including but not limited to management.  This is a much broader scope than what PMI has taken on, until now. As a result DA addresses marketing, finance, enterprise architecture, operations, governance, software development, and many other process areas that are important to modern organizations.  Why is this broader scope important to PMI?  Because all of these areas need to be managed/led and governed.  I believe there's an interesting implication there. ;-)
  3. PMI has traditionally gone very deep into management and the governance of management activities.  I'll let the great material in our standards and practice guides speak for itself. As Stan Lee was prone to say, 'Nuff said.
  4. DA has traditionally taken a more holistic view.  DA includes both what is being managed as well as the management/leadership of it.  For example, consider The Standard for Program Management Fourth Edition.  Where the existing PMI standard does a fantastic job of addressing the management aspects of a traditional program it doesn't go into critical "doing aspects" of programs such as how to address architecture, requirements, and quality activities (it does address planning and management though) for example.  This isn't meant to be a criticism of the standard but merely an observation - When we (PMI) developed the standard our focus, and once again rightfully so, was on management and governance.  It was not on the overall, holistic view of what occurs with a program.  With DA we choose to take a more holistic view, as do agile frameworks such as SAFeR and LeSS amongst others, and go beyond management and governance.  

My point is that there are very good reasons for the differences between what is in DA and what PMI has traditionally focused on.  These differences are an important aspect of the value proposition of DA for PMI, and more importantly for our membership, because we can learn from these differences and then improve and grow based on those learnings.  We're currently evolving DA based on the great material encompassed by the existing PMI standards and practice guides and our hope is that the existing PMI offerings will evolve to reflect Disciplined Agile ways of working (WoW) too.  

In the next blog in this series I will do a deep dive into the differences between DA's take on Program Management and the PMI Program Management Standard.  I suspect this will help to make some of the ideas in this blog more concrete and it will certainly make the opportunity before us a bit more explicit.

Posted by Scott Ambler on: March 08, 2020 08:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

How Large Are Agile Teams in Practice?

Categories: large teams, scaling

The contrite answer is that they’re as large as they need to be, and the contrite agile answer is that they’re as small as they can be.  Now that we’ve gotten the contrite answers out of the way, how large are agile teams in practice?

In November of 2016 we ran the 2016 Agility at Scale survey.  It was targeted at people who were currently working on agile teams, or who had recently worked on agile teams, and we asked them straightforward questions around the size of the team, how distributed it was, what complexities they faced, an so on.  The following graph summarizes the responses around team size.

Agile team size

This year’s survey found that roughly half (48%) of agile teams are more than 10 people in size and one-quarter are more than 20 people in size.  These findings are similar to what we’ve found in the past with both the 2012 Agility at Scale survey and the 2009 Agility at Scale survey.

In short, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do agile with a large team because others are clearly doing so in practice.  Yes, large team agile is different than small team agile, which is one of the reasons why you need to take a pragmatic, context-sensitive approach to agile solution delivery.  The Disciplined Agile (DA) toolkit provides the foundation from which to scale your approach to solution delivery to address a range of scaling factors, including team size.  In fact, you may find our article around large agile teams to be of interest.

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Posted by Scott Ambler on: January 31, 2017 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Disciplined Agile Program Management: Internal Workflow

In this blog posting, the latest in our ongoing disciplined agile program management series, overviews the workflow internal to program management.

Workflow Within a Program

The workflow within a disciplined agile program is depicted in the following diagram.

Disciplined Agile Program Management - Internal workflow

As you can see in the workflow diagram, someone in the role of Program Manager coordinates the three leadership teams (described in greater detail in Large Agile Teams):

  1. Product Delivery Team.  This team is responsible for dealing with cross-team “management issues” such as moving people between teams, resolving disputes that cross team boundaries, and any coordination issue that doesn’t fall under the purview of the other two leadership teams.  The Program Manager often leads the Product Delivery team, which is made up of the Team Leads from the delivery sub-teams, and may even be a Team Lead of one of the delivery teams as well.
  2. Product Owner Team.  This team is responsible for requirements management, prioritizing the work, and assigning work items to the various sub-teams. This team is led by a Chief Product Owner (CPO), not shown, who is often a Product Owner for one more more sub-teams.
  3. Architecture Owner Team. The AO team is responsible for facilitating the overall architectural direction of the program, for evolving that vision over time, and for negotiating technical dependencies within the architecture.  This team is led by a Chief Architecture Owner (CAO), also not shown, who is often an Architecture Owner on one or more delivery sub-teams.

 

The Program Lifecycle

DAD includes a Program lifecycle for a team of teams.  The diagram for this lifecycle is shown below. An important difference between the Disciplined Agile approach and SAFe or LeSS is that the delivery sub-teams may be following different lifecycles.

Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) supports several delivery lifecycles, including the Scrum-based agile/basic lifecycle, the Kanban-based lean lifecycle, a continuous delivery lifecycle, and the Lean Startup-based exploratory lifecycle.  Even when the sub teams are following the same lifecycle they may be working to different cadences (or not) – in the Program Management goal diagram we explicitly show that there are several strategies for sub team cadences.

Both diagrams show that some programs may include a parallel independent testing effort in addition to the whole team testing efforts of the sub-teams.  The delivery sub-teams will make their working builds available to the testers on a regular basis, who will integrate all of the builds into their testing environment.  This independent testing effort often addresses end-to-end system integration testing as well as other forms of testing that make better economic sense when done in a centralized manner.  Independent testing is common for large programs that are tackling complex domains or complex technologies or that find themselves in a regulatory environment that requires independent testing.  The SAFe equivalent to a parallel independent test team would be called a system team, in this case one doing system integration plus independent testing.  Same basic concept, slightly different wording.

 

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Posted by Scott Ambler on: July 15, 2015 11:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Why Do We Need Agile Programs?

Why?

An IT program is a large IT delivery team composed of two or more sub-teams.  The purpose of program management is to coordinate the efforts of the sub-teams to ensure they work together effectively towards the common goal of producing a consumable solution for their stakeholders.  In this blog posting we examine some of the reasons why large IT delivery teams are formed and strategies to reduce or even eliminate the need for such teams.

There are several reasons why large IT delivery teams exist in the first place:

  1. Some endeavours are inherently big. Sometimes an organization will decide to take on a complex effort, such as developing an operating system, an air traffic control system, a financial transaction process system at a bank, and many other examples.
  2. Overly-specialized staff promote larger teams.  When IT staff are narrowly focused it requires many people to work, at least part time, on a team so that the team has sufficient skills to get the job done.  When people are generalizing specialists your teams become much smaller and collaborative.
  3. Overly bureaucratic processes promote larger teams.  Sometimes the systemic bureacracy in the organization requires large numbers of people to address that bureaucracy.  I once assessed a eighty-person project team who were doing work that only required between ten and fifteen people to do the “real work” and everyone else to conform to the overhead of their traditional CMMI-compliant process.  Sadly they didn’t rework the team and failed to produce anything after three years and many millions of dollars of investment.  As an aside, it is possible to effectively combine CMMI and disciplined agile approaches, but you need to overcome the cultural dissonance of the two paradigms.
  4. Working on large teams can lead to greater rewards.  Similarly, someone is “empire building” and purposefully creates a large team so that they will be rewarded for doing so.  We have worked in two organizations where before their agile transformation the pay grade of a manager was determined by the number of people the person managed.  Worse yet, in one organization the people on the larger teams tended to get better bonuses, and quicker promotions, than people on smaller teams regardless of the actual ability of the team to deliver value to the organization.

In our opinion only the first reason is a valid one for building a large agile team.  The other reasons reflect aspects of organizational cultures that need to be fixed in time.  Luckily, there are several strategies that you can employ to reduce the size of a team:

  1. Reorganize the problem into a collection of smaller problems.  Disaggregation of a large problem is performed through a combination of agile envisioning and agile business analysis. This is a key responsibility of your product management efforts: to feed reasonably-sized portions of work to IT delivery teams.
  2. Reduce the problem.  Sometimes a large problem can be shrunk down through pruning features out of the vision, or at least by deferring them until later.
  3. Address your organization’s culture. As we discussed earlier, most of the reasons that organizations build large IT delivery teams are the result of cultural challenges.  Fix the real problem by adopting agile and lean ways of thinking and working.
  4. Organize the large team into a collection of smaller teams.  In other words, create a program.

When you find yourself in a situation where you need a large IT delivery team, and those situations do exist in many organizations, and you can’t find a way to reduce the size of the team, then you will need to adopt strategies to coordinate that team.  The disciplined agile project management blade describes such strategies.

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Posted by Scott Ambler on: July 10, 2015 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Disciplined Agile Program Management: External Workflow

In this blog posting, the latest in our ongoing disciplined agile program management series,  we overview the external workflows that a large delivery team is likely to be involved with.

Workflow With Other IT Teams

The following diagram overviews the major workflows that a disciplined agile program is associated with.  Note that feedback is implied in the diagram.  For example, where you see the Technology Roadmap and Guidance flow from Enterprise Architecture to Program Management there is an implied feedback loop from the program to the enterprise architects.  Also note that the workflows do not necessarily imply that artifacts exist.  For example, the data guidance workflow from Data Management could be a conversation with a data management person, it could be a concise description of data standards, or it could be detailed meta data – or combinations thereof.  A second example would be a program providing their development intelligence to the IT governance team through automated rollup of metric data via your organizations dashboard technology.

Disciplined Agile Program Management

The following table summarizes the workflows depicted in the diagram.

Process Blade Process Blade Overview Workflow with Program Management
Continuous Improvement Addresses how to support process and organizational structure improvement across teams in a lightweight, collaborative manner; how to support improvement experiments within teams; and how to govern process improvement with your IT department. Your continuous improvement efforts should result in improvement suggestions gleaned from other teams that the program can learn from.
Data Management Addresses how to improve data quality, evolve data assets such as master data and test data, and govern data activities within your organization. The data management group will provide data guidance, such as naming conventions and meta data regarding legacy data sources, to all delivery teams.
Enterprise architecture Addresses strategies for collaborative and evolutionary exploration, potential modelling, and support of an organization’s architectural ecosystem in a context-sensitive manner. The enterprise architects will produce a technology roadmap that delivery teams should follow and be a good source of development guidance (such as programming guidelines, user interface conventions, security guidelines, and so on).  Delivery teams will provide development intelligence (metrics) and feedback pertaining to the usage of key architectural components and frameworks to help inform the decisions of the enterprise architects.
IT Delivery Addresses how to develop solutions in a disciplined agile manner.  This includes the four lifecycles – basis/agile, advanced/lean, continuous delivery, and exploratory – supported but DAD plus the program management blade (effectively a large team following one or more of the lifecycles). There will be dependencies,both technical and functional, with other delivery teams (not shown in the diagram).  These dependencies between teams must be negotiated and managed appropriately.
IT Governance Addresses strategies for consolidating various governance views, defining metrics, taking measurements, monitoring and reporting on measurements, developing and capturing guidance, defining roles and responsibilities, sharing knowledge within your organization, managing IT risk, and coordinating the various governance efforts (including EA governance). The IT governance team will provide guidance to all IT teams, including large delivery teams.  This guidance typically focused on financial and quality goals as well as any regulatory constraints where appropriate.  Delivery teams will provide development intelligence to the IT governance team to enable them to monitor your team and provide informed guidance to it.
Operations Addresses how to run systems, evolve the IT infrastructure, manage change within the operational ecosystem, mitigate disasters, and govern IT operations. Your operations group will provide operations intelligence (metrics) to IT delivery teams, in particular around the usage of systems and features that a team is responsible for.  This enables the IT delivery teams to make informed decisions regarding the value of delivered features.
Portfolio Management Addresses how to identify potential business value that could be supported by IT endeavors, explore those potential endeavors to understand them in greater detail, prioritize those potential endeavours, initiate the endeavours, manage vendors, and govern the IT  portfolio. Your organization’s portfolio management activities will provide the initial vision and funding required to initiate a program, as well as ongoing funding for the program.  It will also provide guidance, often around management and governance conventions, to the team.  IT delivery teams will make their development intelligence (metrics) available to the portfolio management team to help inform their decisions.
Product Management Addresses strategies for managing a product, including allocating features to a product, evolving the business vision for a product, managing functional dependencies, and marketing the product line. The Product Management team will provide a business roadmap and stakeholder priorities to all IT delivery teams, including programs.
Release Management Addresses strategies for planning the IT release schedule, coordinating releases of solutions, managing the release infrastructure, supporting delivery teams, and governing the release management efforts. Your program will release solutions into production via your organization’s release management strategy.
Reuse Engineering Addresses how to identify and obtain reusable assets, publish the assets so that they are available to be reused, support delivery teams in reusing the assets, evolving those assets over time, and governing the reuse efforts. All IT delivery teams should reuse existing assets – such as services, frameworks, and legacy data sources – whenever appropriate.
Support Addresses how to adopt an IT support strategy, to escalate incidents, to effectively address the incidents, and govern the IT support effort. Your support/help-desk team will provide change requests, including defect reports, identified by end users to all delivery teams.  These change requests are in effect new requirements.

The activities associated with these process blades are often very highly related. For example, in some organizations the activities associated with enterprise architecture and reuse management are fulfilled by a single group.  In other organizations some product management activities are performed by the portfolio management team and some by the enterprise architecture team.  Some organizations may choose to have a separate group for each process blade.  And of course the organizational structure will evolve over time as your various teams learn how to work with one another.  Every organization is different.

Program Management and DevOps

A common question that we’ve gotten is how program management is affected by DevOps. For example, you see in the diagram that Operations, Support, and Release Management (amongst others) are shown as things that are external to Program Management.  Remember that the focus here is on process, not on team organization.  For example, in organizations with a disciplined DevOps strategy in place it is very common to see program teams taking on the responsibilities of operating and supporting their own systems in production, and of doing the work to release their solutions into production.  In organizations without a strong DevOps mindset (yet), you are likely to find that operations, support, and release management are done by separate groups outside of your program team.  Context counts, and it’s good to have a process framework that is flexible enough to support the situation that you find yourself in.

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Posted by Scott Ambler on: July 07, 2015 02:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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