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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
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Michael Richardson
Klaus Boedker
Kashmir Birk
Mike Griffiths

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Disciplined Agile: An Executive's Starting Point

Start

We used to say that software is eating the world, but the fact is today software is the world. Gone are the days where IT could be treated like a utility, one that more often than not was outsourced in the belief that you needed to focus on your core competencies and IT didn’t make it onto that list. These days being competent at IT is mere table stakes at best, you need to excel at IT if you hope to become an industry leader. Today business executives must focus on disruptors, new competitors entering their market space using technologies in new ways. Becoming an agile business – an adaptive, responsive, and learning organization – is the true goal. Business agility requires true agility across all of your organization, not just software development, not just DevOps, and not just IT. There isn’t a single industry now that either isn’t dominated by agile businesses or isn’t under threat of disruption by new agile competitors.   

The Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit was created to apply agile in complex enterprise agile implementations. DA has been well received and implemented in organizations around the world. According to Gartner, Disciplined Agile is also the only available agile process explicitly allowing enterprises to customise agile for their unique enterprise challenges at both the organization and project levels.  In their research report, Adopt Disciplined Agile Delivery for a Comprehensive and Scalable Agile IT Approach, Gartner reported: 

Success with agile development is important, but comes in different forms across enterprises. Technical professionals responsible for application development can use Disciplined Agile Delivery to tune agile processes and practices, including SAFe, to their specific needs."

In this article, we address several common questions executives have about Disciplined Agile (DA):

  1. What is DA?
  2. Why should I consider DA?
  3. Where is DA being used?
  4. Are there any DA success stories?
  5. How can we get started?

 

What is Disciplined Agile (DA)?

The Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit provides straightforward guidance to help organizations streamline their processes in a context-sensitive manner, providing a solid foundation for business agility. The figure below provides a high-level overview of the scope of DA (click on the diagram to zoom in).

The scope of Disciplined Agile

DA provides a foundation for business agility does this by showing how the various activities such as Finance, Portfolio Management, Solution Delivery (software development), IT Operations, Enterprise Architecture, Vendor Management and many others work together. DA also describes what these activities should address, provides a range of options for doing so, and describes the trade-offs associated with each option.

DA also provides a straightforward strategy for implementing value streams, overviewed in the following diagram (click on it to zoom in).

Value stream workflow

You can read more about DA in Introduction to Disciplined Agile.

 

Why should I consider Disciplined Agile (DA)?

There are several reasons why your organization should adopt the Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit:

  1. DA enables you to become a learning organization. Rather than helping you to adopt the “best practices” of a specific agile framework, the DA tool kit instead gives your team the tools they need to learn and to improve their ways of working (WoW). 
  2. DA enables you to increase your rate of process improvement. The DA tool kit provides straightforward guidance for identifying potential improvements that are likely to work in the context that you face, enabling your teams to reduce the number of failed experiments and thereby increase their rate of improvement.
  3. DA supports the entire range of complexities faced by your teams, not just team size. Every person, every team, and every organization is unique. The implication is that you need a tool kit that provides you with choices so that you can tailor, and later evolve, an approach to address the situation that you face in practice. 
  4. DA is agnostic and hybrid. DA adopts pragmatic techniques from a wide range of sources – agile sources, lean sources, and even traditional sources – and does the work of putting them into context so that you don’t have to. 
  5. Support all types of teams, not just software teams. As you saw earlier, there are over twenty process blades/areas within the DA tool kit. Only one of them, Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD), is focused on software development teams.  
  6. Consistent governance across disparate teams. Luckily, it’s not only possible but highly desirable to have a light-weight, lean governance strategy in place. In fact, the DA tool kit builds lean governance strategies into most process blades and has an overarching, enterprise-level process blade called Governance. 
  7. DA is the foundation for business agility. We’ve been talking about teams a lot, but it’s not just about teams. It’s really about how your organization can become more competitive, how it can regularly delight your customers, and how it can continue to evolve and improve over time. It’s really about business agility, and the DA tool kit shows how it all fits together.

You can read more about why you should consider DA at Why Disciplined Agile?

 

Where is Disciplined Agile (DA) being used?

DA is being used in numerous organizations, in a wide range of industries, around the world.  You can see a list of a subset of the organizations using Disciplined Agile.

 

Are there any Disciplined Agile (DA) success stories?

Yes. We have published several Disciplined Agile success stories with more on the way.

 

How can we get started with Disciplined Agile (DA)?

The answer to this question depends on what you're trying to achieve:

 

Getting personally started with Disciplined Agile

There are several ways that you can learn more about DA, and we recommend following the one(s) that seem best for you:

  1. Online reading. If you want to start with some online reading, then our Start Here article is a great option.
  2. Online eLearning. If you prefer eLearning options, our Basics of DA online course is a nice overview to get you going.
  3. Read a book. If you're looking for a quick read, the Introduction to Disciplined Agile Delivery 2nd Edition is it.  If you'd like a more in-depth understanding of the tool kit, then Choose Your WoW! is recommend (and it's free to PMI members). 
  4. Take some training. We have a variety of instructor led training (ILT) as well as online learning options to choose from, which are important parts of an agile certification journey.

 

Getting a team started with Disciplined Agile

There are also several options for getting a team going with Disciplined Agile, we recommend considering all three:

  1. Get a few individuals started with DA.  The easiest strategy would be to point them to the options for individuals above. Your goal is to have several people be sufficiently informed about DA so that you can determine if it's right for you.
  2. Get some training. PMI's agile certification journey includes training options for all team members at all levels of agile expertise. 
  3. Hire one or more Disciplined Agile Coach (DAC) or Disciplined Agile Value Stream Consultant (DAVSC). DACs can help you learn how to apply the DA tool kit with teams and across teams to improve their effectiveness.  DAVSCs help you to streamline your value streams so as to enable you to effectively delight your customers.  You can search for people who have earned their DAC accreditation here.

 

Getting your organization started with Disciplined Agile

Our fundamental advice is to start where you are, do the best that you can given the situation that you face, and always strive to get better.  To succeed, there are three key concepts to understand:

  1. Context counts. Your strategy to get started will vary based on your context - an organization that is new to agile will take a different path than one that has already (mis)adopted an agile framework.  An organization that has successfully adopted agile within their IT department and is now focusing on other parts of their organization will need a different strategy than one that is focusing on the entire organization at once.  As you can see in the following diagram, there are multiple paths that you can take to become a learning organization.
  2. The goal is to become a learning organization. Many organizations hope that adopting an agile framework such as Scrum or SAFe is what they need to do. That may be a good start, but it isn't your real end goal, instead you want to become a learning organization that is capable of evolving and improving beyond the confines of an agile framework/method. When you successfully adopt a framework, you typically find that the framework doesn't address all of the situations that you face. Nor do frameworks offer more than platitudes about how to evolve your WoW beyond what they prescribe, The aim of the DA tool kit is to teach you how to improve effectively, not prescribe one set of "best practices."
  3. There is no quick, easy fix. Improvement is a life-long journey, not a short-term project. To become a learning organization you must adopt a mindset and some tools that enable your people to experiment, learn, and improve.

Although every organization's journey is unique, we have found that at a high-level they all follow a similar 3-step transformation path:

Disciplined Agile Transformation

 

  1. Align. Fundamentally, you always start where you are. Because every organization is different, you must assess your situation, identify your challenges that you need to overcome, and then select an appropriate improvement path and strategy to journey on that path.
  2. Improve. Follow an improvement strategy that is fit-for-purpose, tailored to address the challenges that your organization faces.  This strategy will evolve over time as challenges are overcome and new challenges appear. The DA strategy is to improve in place, addressing your immediate needs while teaching you the skills and providing the tools to help you evolve into a true learning organization.
  3. Thrive. You will thrive when you've become a learning organization, one that is able to learn from and evolve with their changing environment. One that is focused on improving their way of working (WoW) so that they delight their customers.
Posted by Scott Ambler on: March 26, 2021 05:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

The Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE) Layer

A Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE) is able to sense and respond swiftly to changes in the marketplace. It does this through an organizational culture and structure that facilitates change within the context of the situation that it faces. Such organizations require a learning mindset in the mainstream business and underlying lean and agile processes to drive innovation.

The DAE layer is one of the four layers of the Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit, overviewed in Figure 1.  These layers are: FoundationDisciplined DevOps, Value Streams, and Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE).  This blog focuses on the DAE layer.

Figure 1. The layers of the DA tool kit.

Disciplined Agile Layer Overview

The Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE) layer encompasses the capabilities required to guide your organization, to coordinate the teams/groups within your organization, and to support the value streams offered by it.  Figure 2 summarizes the DA tool kit and Figure 3 overviews the process blades that are specific to the DAE layer.  Several process blades of the DAE layer - Research & Development, Business Operations, Strategy, Governance, Marketing, Continuous Improvement, and Sales  - are shared with the value streams layer. The are "shared" in that the scope of these process blades may focus on both the entire organization and specifically on individual value streams.  For example, a financial institution may execute an organization-wide marketing strategy as well as specific strategies for their retail and corporate value streams.

Figure 2. The Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit.

The process blades of Disciplined Agile

Figure 3. The process blades specific to the DAE layer.Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE) process blades

Expanding upon the value streams layer, the DAE layer adds the following blades:

Asset management

The asset management process blade addresses the purposeful creation (or rescue), management, support, and governance of organizational assets.  This includes financial, inventory, contractual, risk management, and strategic decisions of these organizational assets. 

Enterprise architecture

The enterprise architecture (EA) process blade overviews how a Disciplined Agile EA team will work. An agile enterprise architecture is flexible, easily extended, and easily evolved collection of structures and processes upon which your organization is built. The act of agile enterprise architecture is the collaborative and evolutionary exploration and potential capture of an organization’s architectural ecosystem in a context-sensitive manner. The implications are that enterprise architects must be willing to work in a collaborative and flexible manner and that delivery teams must be willing to work closely with enterprise architects.

Finance

The finance process blade addresses a collection of potentially competing goals, such as ensuring cash flow within your organization, ensuring your money is being spent well, taxes are minimized, spending is properly tracked and recorded, and legal financial reporting is being performed properly. All of this will be performed in a manner that is compliant with applicable financial regulations, such as Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) guidelines.

Information technology

The information technology (IT) process blade encapsulates the activities required to provide IT capabilities to the rest of the organization.  This includes managing information technologies, data resources, applications, and IT infrastructure.

Legal

The aim of the Legal process blade is to ensure that your organization works within the parameters of the law of any and all legal territories in which you operate. Your legal team will work closely with your vendor management people on (Agile) contracts; with your people management team to ensure that their strategies reflect the local statutes and to help educate staff in legal concerns; with your marketing team to guide what they’re legally able to promise; with your strategy team to ensure the direction they're taking the organization is legally viable; and with governance to understand the legal implications of applicable regulations.

People management

The aim of the people management process blade is to attract and retain great people who work on awesome teams.  People management goes by many names, including human resource (HR) management, human relations (HR) management, talent management, staff management, people operations, and work force management to name a few. This process blade addresses strategies for forming teams; helping people to manage their careers; training, coaching, and educating people; human resource planning within your organization; managing movement of people within your organization; reward structures; and governing people management efforts.

Transformation

The transformation process blade captures advice for how to redefine, and then reengineer, your organization.  This includes understand the current context, identifying the desired future, identifying how to measure the success of the transformation, identifying a likely strategy for moving towards the desired state, and then executing on that strategy.  Throughout a transformation you will constantly gauge your progress and the desired target state and adjust according.  This process blade leverages the advice of PMI's Brightline Initiative.

Vendor management

The aim of the vendor management process blade, sometimes called supplier management, is to help obtain and then manage offerings (products, services, and intellectual property) from other organizations. To do this your vendor management team will collaborate with other parts of the organization to help them understand their needs (if any), identify potential vendors that can fulfill those needs, work with legal to develop appropriate contracts, address vendor-related risks, help monitor and manage vendors, and eventually close out any contracts. 

Posted by Scott Ambler on: October 12, 2020 06:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

A Disciplined Agile Approach to Business Agility

A Disciplined Agile Approach to Business Agility

Mark Lines and I edited a special issue of the Cutter Business Journal in 2018 entitled A Disciplined Agile Approach to Business Agility which can be downloaded free of charge.  It contains several articles.

Itamae, the Agile Organization, and You by John Hogan

Hogan shares some insights on delighting customers. He argues for a customer-focused organizational structure, with Agile teams supported by Agile leadership. Hogan describes the importance of goal setting to focus on delighting customers, supported by incremental planning and delivery to do so. He works through the implications for:

  1. People who face the customer. These people need to understand what customers need and then fulfill that need.
  2. People who face each other. They need to identify their internal customers, collaborate with them, and bring business value to them at the lowest possible cost.
  3. People who face suppliers. These people are effectively customers to that supplier and must collaborate with them as transparently as possible and should expect to be delighted.
  4. People who are managers and leaders. They must be customer-focused and empower your teams.

The Agile Enterprise and the Division of Labor by Gene Callahan

Gene Callahan has some great advice for building awesome people. Beginning with the idea of the division of labor, Callahan walks us through the history of how traditional organizations find themselves as a collection of specialists who struggle to be responsive to the changing marketplace. He then examines the need for people who are generalizing specialists (people who can collaborate effectively and learn from one another).

The Necessities for Successful Enterprise Agile Transformation by Matthew Ganis and Michael Ackerbauer

This article describes how to build awesome teams. You want to be Agile (of course!) and adopt Agile practices. Awesome teams have the skills and resources to fulfill their mission and include the right mix of personalities. The authors argue that the organization is really a “team of teams” that needs a shared purpose and way of working to make the abstract concrete. According to them, awesome teams build on a common foundation based on the concept of Breakthrough Thinking/diversity of thought.

Business Agility: A Roadmap for the Digital Enterprise by Jaco Viljoen

In his discussion of the five levels of a digital business ecosystem (DBE), Jaco Viljoen explores the idea that“choice is good because context counts.” The five levels, each with its own set of capabilities that build one on top of another, are: waterfall/traditional, hybrid Agile (a combination of waterfall and Agile), regular delivery, continuous delivery, and continuous exploration. The five DBEs provide insight into which process-building blocks to apply. Viljoen also discusses using a frame- work to achieve business agility at scale.

Case Study: Linking Business Workflows and Agile User Stories in an SOA Environment by Gill Kent and Robin Harwood

Gill and Robin provide a case study about linking Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) workflows and user stories. They focus on the importance of initial modeling during what they call the Discovery phase of a digital trans-formation project. In their example, they followed a pragmatic, Agile approach to modeling the business and their host systems to gain important insight into the enterprise transformation scope and a vision of the required system change for their endeavor. This enabled them to establish a business/stakeholder vision that captured a clear scope for the following phases. With an initial technical strategy/architecture identified, the team was able to name a backlog of architecturally relevant stories, mitigating the risk of late identification of system integration requirements and the potential for significant rework. In short, a pragmatic investment in initial modeling and planning paid off in huge divi-dends for their Agile team.

The Wizard of OSS: Follow the Open Space and Sociocracy Road to Enterprise Agile Transformation by Jutta Eckstein and John Buck

The principle of enterprise awareness appears in several of the articles, and Jutta Eckstein and John Buck walk us through an enterprise-aware approach that helps optimize the process flow of value streams. The authors show how to apply “Open Space” and “Sociocracy” to support enterprise Agile transformation. Open Space is a technique where everyone is invited to put forward ideas that they’re passionate about; if there is enough interest in the idea people will get behind it and make it happen. Sociocracy is a form of democracy for use in organizations, building feedback mechanisms into the organizational structure itself that ensure every voice is heard. Both strategies promote enterprise awareness, increasing collaboration between people in what would normally be disparate parts of the organization and helping optimize flow as the situation evolves.

Core Thinking Patterns for Lean/Agile Organizations by Srinivas Garapati

This article explores important philosophies and the mindset behind Agile and Lean. He starts with the thinking patterns required to be successful and then considers the nature of an Agile organization and finishes with strategies for organizational design.

Posted by Scott Ambler on: July 16, 2019 03:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Transform One Engineer at a Time

Scotty

The Institution of Engineering and Technology has recently published a paper entitled An Academic Approach to Transform Organizations One Engineer at a Time by Eduardo Juarez Pineda, Rocio Aldeco-Perez, and Jose Manuel Velazquez.  The DA toolkit features in this paper so I thought you’d be interested.

Paper Abstract:

Every year software development industry requires a higher number of trained software engineers who are not only skilled programmers but also talented software projects managers. To deliver high quality software projects, engineers require of the application of sound engineering competencies along with discipline. Obtaining those practices usually require years of experience. Companies are not prepared to invest this time on engineers resulting in a high percentage of deficient projects. In this paper we present a bachelor level competency-based approach that develops and evaluates such competencies during a challenge-based learning experience. In this way, the rate of successful projects where software engineers are involved will be higher, as they have obtained the appropriate competencies to deliver such projects.

Posted by Scott Ambler on: July 14, 2019 06:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Agile Enterprise Coach

When your organization chooses to transition to more agile and lean ways of working you quickly discover that this effort needs to address all aspects of your organization, not just your solution delivery teams.  Many transformation efforts invest in agile team coaches, which is a very good thing to do, but will often shortchange other areas of coaching in the belief that they’ll figure it out on their own.  It may work out that way, but even when it does this is an expensive, slow, and error-prone approach.  In our experience it’s far better to get help from an experienced Enterprise Coach.

An Enterprise Coach coaches “beyond the team” to help senior managers and leaders to understand and adopt an agile and lean mindset.  As you will soon see, this requires a similar yet different skill set than what is required for team coaching. In this blog we work through three key concepts:

  1. The types of agile coaches
  2. Skills of an Enterprise Coach
  3. Supporting other coaches

Types of Agile Coaches

As you see in the following diagram we like to distinguish between several types of coaches:

  1. Team coach. As the name suggests, a Team Coach coaches solution delivery teams through improvement efforts. The focus is usually on improving the performance of individual teams. This is the most common type of coach, and our guess is that 95% or more of agile coaches fall into this category.
  2. Specialized coach. A “specialized coach” is someone who focuses on non-solution delivery aspects of your organization.  They are typically senior team coaches who have a deep background in one or more process blades.  For example, you may have a specialized coach focused on Enterprise Architecture and Reuse Engineering for example; or one that is focused on Finance, Portfolio Management, and Control; or one that is focused on Enterprise Architecture and Data Management.  The people who are working in non-solution delivery areas need coaching just like people on solution delivery teams do.  More on this in a future blog posting.
  3. Enterprise coach.  Sometimes called Transformation Coaches or Executive Coaches, these coaches work with senior and executive management to help them to understand new ways of working and organizing themselves.  Enterprise coaches will often focus on executive coaching, of which there are three types: IT executive coaching, business executive coaching and manager coaching.  All are equally vital to your agile transformation and continuous improvement efforts.  An area often ignored in coaching is the role of managers as agile leaders and coaches of your agile teams.  Executive Coaches can help guide managers from a style of “managing” to leadership.  Enterprise Coaches often find that they also need to take on the role of a Specialized Coach too. A key responsibility of an Enterprise Coach is to support the other coaches when they need help. The focus of this blog is on Enterprise Coaches.

Agile Communities of Excellence

 

Skills of An Enterprise Coach

The skills of an Enterprise Coach include:

  1. Coaching skills. First and foremost, enterprise coaches are coaches.  They require all the people, collaboration, and mentoring skills of other agile coaches.  They should have many years of hands-on coaching of individual agile and lean teams in many types of situations, from the simple to very complex.
  2. Domain knowledge. An enterprise coach must have knowledge of the domain that they are working in.  There are unique challenges in financial organizations that you don’t see in automotive companies, similarly pharmaceutical companies are different from retailers, and so on.  Yes, it is possible for Enterprise Coaches to quickly learn the fundamentals of a new domain, but you’ll find that in the beginning the executives that the Enterprise Coach is helping to learn agile will have to help them learn how the business runs.
  3. Understanding of how IT works. Enterprise Coaches need to understand how a Disciplined Agile IT (DAIT) department works so that they can coach IT executives effectively.  Enterprise Coaches help IT groups such as Enterprise Architecture or PMOs to understand how they need to adapt to effectively support Agile teams.
  4. Understanding of how to apply agility at the enterprise level.  Similarly, Enterprise Coaches should understand how a Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE) works.  Enterprise Coaches should be experiences with modern agile practices related to non-IT functions such as human resources (also called People Management or People Operations), finance, and control.  Coaches bring expertise on practices in these areas such as modern compensation and reward systems, agile budgeting, rolling wave planning, agile procurement, and agile marketing.
  5. Experience and knowledge of the various IT domains. A broad understanding of IT is critical, and better yet deep knowledge of several of the IT process blades so that someone in the Enterprise Coach role can guide any specialized coaches or step into that role themselves.  This is important because people working in areas such as Data Management, Release Management, or IT Governance often believe that they are “special” and agile can’t possibly apply to them (it’s only for programmers after all).  Without a good understanding of these areas an Enterprise Coach will struggle to help the IT leaders that they are coaching to counteract these arguments.
  6. Transformation and improvement coaching.  Enterprise Coaches should understand, and be experienced at, lean approaches to organizational transformation and improvement, often referred to as Organizational Change Management (OCM).   Traditional approaches to OCM will not work.
  7. Ability to support team and specialized coaches.  See below.

Supporting Other Coaches

Enterprise Coaches support other coaches in several important ways:

  1. Transformation/improvement visioning.  Enterprise Coaches help executives to understand modern agile and lean practices used by successful agile organziations and help to create a roadmap for moving from their current to target state.
  2. Organizational structural change.  Experienced coaches can help organizations to create organizational structure to be conducive to the evolution of high performance teams.  This would include design of cross-functional, stable teams aligned to value streams or lines of business (LOBs).  They can also help design workspaces for effective collaboration between team members, and help reduce the need for separate meeting rooms.
  3. Organizational coordination.  One of the most important things that an Enterprise Coach does is help team coaches to overcome challenges collaborating with other, not-so-agile teams.  The reality is that 96% of agile teams must collaborate with one or more teams or groups within their organization at some point, 96%!  Some of those teams may very well be struggling with working in an agile manner and may even be opposed to it.  These sorts of challenges are often beyond the remit of a team coach to address, so when they occur the team coach will often ask for help from an Enterprise Coach who does have the relationships with the right people to smooth over such problems.  Enterprise Coaches can also provide advice for effective collaboration strategies with vendors and offshore teams.
  4. Resources. Enterprise Coaches will sometimes help other coaches to obtain the resources – typically time and money – required to coach the teams that they’re working with.
  5. Communication.  The Enterprise Coach will actively share the overall vision of your improvement efforts, the current status, and any organizational challenges that you’re running into with the other members of the CoE.  They will of course be actively working with the people responsible for communicating this information to the rest of the organization as well.
  6. Coordination. Enterprise Coaches will often coordinate the efforts of the various team coaches in your organization to ensure that they’re working together effectively.
  7. Mentoring.  Enterprise Coaches, being senior, will often be coaching the team and specialist coaches (all the while learning themselves).

There is of course a lot more to agile coaching that what is covered in this short blog.  Our goal with this writing was to overview the role of Enterprise Coach and show how it fits into the overall scheme of things.

Posted by Scott Ambler on: October 04, 2017 08:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
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