Project Management

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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Tatsiana Balshakova
Mark Lines
Mike Griffiths
Scott Ambler
Bjorn Gustafsson
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James Trott

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Michael Richardson
Daniel Gagnon
Valentin Tudor Mocanu
Kashmir Birk
Glen Little
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Requisite Agility applied in Project Management

Disciplined Agile and PMBoK Guide 7th Edition

Embracing Mindset Diversity in Disciplined Agile

Categories: agile, Kanban, lean, Manifesto, mindset, Scrum

Come as you are

One of the mantras of the agile community is that you need to "be agile," that you need to adopt an agile mindset. Agilists will often point to the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, commonly referred to as the Agile Manifesto, as a good starting point to understand this mindset, which it is. Other mantras within the agile community include respecting others and having a safe environment that embraces diversity. All wonderful ideas, but what do you do when they collide with one another? 

 

The Disciplined Agile Mindset

Figure 1 depicts the Disciplined Agile (DA) mindset, which is captured in the form of principles, promises, and guidelines. Disciplined agilists believe in the DA principles, so we promise to adopt these behaviours and follow these guidelines when doing so. Where the Agile Manifesto addressed the environment faced by software developers 20 years ago, the DA mindset addresses the environment faced by organizations today. The DA mindset reflects our learnings over these past 20 years, adopting great ideas from a wide range of sources, in particular ideas around lean and flow, to describe concepts that enable enterprise agility.  

 

Figure 1. The Disciplined Agile mindset.

The Disciplined Agile Mindset

 

Embracing Different Mindsets in the DA Tool Kit

One of the promises of the DA mindset is to create psychological safety and embrace diversity. Interestingly, when you do that you soon realize that people often have very different mindsets and that this is a very desirable thing. Yes,we want people to embrace an agile mindset so that we all share a similar point of view, but that's only one of many points of view. There are still noticeable differences between the way that you approach something and the ways that others do, even when everyone involved has an agile mindset. This happens because we are all unique people with unique experiences and backgrounds, and as a result you have other points of view than just the agile mindset.  

I'm sure that you've noticed that finance people have a different perspective than people from marketing, whose perspective differs from data management professionals, which is different yet again than research and development people, and so on. Each business function tends to attract, and then reinforce, people of a certain mindset.  Some people find legal work incredibly interesting, whereas others find it spectacularly boring.  To each their own.

This is where it gets interesting.  Remember that DA is a tool kit that supports improvement across all aspects of your organization, not just software development.  One aspect of the architecture of the DA tool kit is that we've captured the different business functions within your organization as process blades, which in turn are described in terms of mindset, people, flow, and practices. Process blades include Finance, Strategy, Legal, Marketing, Security, IT Operations, Portfolio Management, and many more. Regarding mindset, for a given process blade, we extend the base DA mindset with philosophies that are applicable to that process blade.  For example, Figure 2 depicts DA's People Management (Human Resources) mindset and Figure 3 DA's Security mindset.

 

Figure 2. Disciplined Agile's People Management Mindset.

Disciplined Agile's People Management Mindset

 

Figure 3. Disciplined Agile's Security Mindset.

Disciplined Agile's Security Mindset

 

There are several important points to this strategy:

  1. DA respects and embraces a diverse range of viewpoints. To truly support business agility, you need an approach that recognizes that different groups within your organization have different ways of thinking, different concerns, and different priorities. The DA tool kit captures that as specific mindsets for each process blade. As always, context counts.
  2. To work effectively with others, you need to understand their point of view. The philosophies captured in the mindsets of each process blade provide insights into how people in those job functions think. This improved understanding will help you to bridge the gap between you when you first begin to communicate and collaborate. For example, it can be particularly frustratingly working with Security people, particularly when they are stopping you from doing something or are forcing you to follow a more security-oriented WoW.  Understanding the philosophies captured in Figure 3 can help you to appreciate what Security professionals are trying to achieve, and why they are doing so.
  3. This supports process improvement across disparate teams. Agile teams are semi-autonomous in that they need to collaborate with others sometimes to get things done. For example, my team needs to interact with Finance to fund a new endeavor.  Although we want to accomplish this in a streamlined and agile manner, the Finance team is currently more traditional in their approach and as a result injects cost and risk into the overall process. By understanding the mindset of Finance, and hopefully Finance investing time to understand the mindset of my team's function, we'll be better able to negotiate a new way of working (WoW) to experiment with.  This sort of skill, facilitating process improvement efforts across disparate teams, is a critical skill that we team in the Disciplined Agile Coach (DAC) certification.

Just like one process does not fit all situations, one mindset doesn't either.  The Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit explicitly embraces mindset diversity.  Do you?

Posted by Scott Ambler on: May 27, 2021 08:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

The Disciplined Agile Foundation Layer

Disciplined Agile Foundation Layer

The Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit is organized into four layers: Foundation, Disciplined DevOps, Value Streams, Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE).  This blog focuses on the Foundation layer, the purpose of which is to provide the underpinnings of the DA tool kit.  The foundation layer itself is organized into four distinct topics:

  1. The DA mindset
  2. Fundamental concepts
  3. People
  4. Choosing your WoW

 

The DA Mindset

The Disciplined Agile (DA) mindset is captured in the form of principles, promises, and guidelines. Disciplined agilists believe in the DA principles, so we promise to adopt these behaviours and follow these guidelines when doing so. There is a purpose for each aspect of the mindset:

  • Principles. The principles provide a philosophical foundation for business agility. They are based on both lean and flow concepts.
  • Promises. The promises are agreements that we make with our fellow teammates, our stakeholders, and other people within our organization whom we interact with. The promises define a collection of disciplined behaviours that enable us to collaborate effectively and professionally.
  • Guidelines. These guidelines help us to be more effective in our way of working (WoW) and in improving our WoW over time.

The Disciplined Agile Mindset

 

Fundamental Concepts

Disciplined Agile (DA) is a hybrid in that it adopts ideas and strategies from a wide range of sources. DA encompasses three categories of fundamental concepts:

  1. Agile. Agile is both a mindset and a skillset. As a mindset Agile is the manner in how you look at your environment; it is the desire to collaborate with and to learn from others; and it is the willingness to share your skills and knowledge with others.  As a skillset Agile varies based on the domain in which you operate.  For example, an agile skillset for a marketing professional may include experimental strategies such as minimum viable products (MVPs) and marketplace sensing strategies, whereas an agile skillset for a software professional may include test-driven development (TDD) and chaos engineering techniques. Agility is the ready ability to move with quick and easy grace to respond to changes in your operating environment.  
  2. Lean.  Lean produces value for customers quickly through a focus on reducing delays and eliminating waste which results in increased quality and lower cost. Lean philosophies and strategies infuse DA, and in fact much of the DA mindset reflects lean thinking. This includes ideas such as optimizing flow, making all work and workflow visible, keeping workloads within capacity, and attending to relationships throughout the value stream to name a few. 
  3. Serial. DA adopts great ideas from serial - often referred to as traditional, waterfall, or even predictive - ways of working (WoW). There are many strategies and concepts from the past which are critical to our success in the future, and DA chooses to leverage them where they make sense. For example, DA's project-oriented lifecycles have explicit, named phases which are clearly serial in nature. DA recognizes that inception efforts, sometimes called  project initiation or simply initiation activities, such as initial planning, initial scoping, and initial design can be critical to your success.  These efforts are very different than the construction/realization efforts that happen after this, and different yet again than the transition/delivery efforts that then follow, and different again than the operational efforts that bring actual realized value to your customers.

 

People

The people portion of the Foundation layer addresses two key aspects of agility:

  1. Roles (and responsibilities). The DA tool kit captures a wide range of roles that people may fill.  This includes common agile roles such as Team Lead/Senior Scrum Master, Product Owner, Architecture Owner, and others.  It also includes function-specific roles such as Program Manager, Financial Specialist, Governor, Security Engineer, Sales Manager, and many others.  All of these roles have associated responsibilities, and of course there are common rights and responsibilities that everyone has.
  2. Teams. Every team is unique and faces a unique situation.  As a result, DA supports several team structures which your teams can adopt and evolve to meet their needs.  There are suggested structures for small, medium, and large (program) teams.  There are team structures that support geographic distribution.  There are team structures that support learning teams such as communities of practice (COPs)/guilds and centres of excellence (CoEs), and structures that support common services teams.

 

Choosing Your WoW

A fundamental philosophy of agile is that teams should own their own process, or as we like to say in Disciplined Agile (DA) teams should choose their way of working (WoW). Of course this is easier said than done in practice. The challenge is that every team is unique and faces a unique situation – in other words, context counts. Furthermore, there are no “best practices,” rather, every practice has tradeoffs and works well in some situations and poorly in others. Worse yet, you really don’t know how well a technique will work for you until you actually try it out in your environment. Given all of this, how can a team choose its WoW?

While working with organizations to help them to learn how to improve their WoW, we’ve developed a technique that we call guided continuous improvement (GCI). GCI extends the kaizen-based continuous improvement approach, where teams improve their WoW via small incremental changes, to use proven guidance to help teams identify techniques that are more likely to work in their context. This increases the percentage of successful experiments and thereby increases your overall rate of process improvement.

Posted by Scott Ambler on: July 29, 2020 12:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Evolving Disciplined Agile: Guidelines of the DA Mindset

The Disciplined Agile Mindset

In the recent release of Choose Your WoW! we have evolved some aspects of the Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit.  One of the things we evolved is how we communicate the DA mindset (pictured above). The guidelines help us to be more effective in our way of working (WoW) and in improving our WoW over time. In this blog posting we explore the eight guidelines:

  1. Validate our learnings. The only way to become awesome is to experiment with, and then adopt where appropriate, a new WoW. In guided continuous improvement (GCI) we experiment with a new way of working and then we assess how well it worked, an approach called validated learning. Being willing and able to experiment is critical to our process-improvement efforts. 
  2. Apply design thinking. Delighting customers requires us to recognize that our aim is to create operational value streams that are designed with our customers in mind. This requires design thinking on our part. Design thinking means to be empathetic to the customer, to first try to understand their environment and their needs before developing a solution. 
  3. Attend to relationships through the value stream. The interactions between the people doing the work are what is key, regardless of whether or not they are part of the team. For example, when a product manager needs to work closely with our organization’s data analytics team to gain a better understanding of what is going on in the marketplace, and with our strategy team to help put those observations into context, then we want to ensure that these interactions are effective. 
  4. Create effective environments that foster joy. Part of being awesome is having fun and being joyful. We want working in our company to be a great experience so we can attract and keep the best people. Done right, work is play. We can make our work more joyful by creating an environment that allows us to work together well. 
  5. Change culture by improving the system. While culture is important, and culture change is a critical component of any organization’s agile transformation, the unfortunate reality is that we can't change it directly. This is because culture is a reflection of the management system in place, so to change our culture we need to evolve our overall system. 
  6. Create semi-autonomous self-organizing teams. Organizations are complex adaptive systems (CASs) made up of a network of teams or, if you will, a team of teams. Although mainstream agile implores us to create “whole teams” that have all of the skills and resources required to achieve the outcomes that they’ve been tasked with, the reality is that no team is an island unto itself. Autonomous teams would be ideal but there are always dependencies on other teams upstream that we are part of, as well as downstream from us. And, of course, there are dependencies between offerings (products or services) that necessitate the teams responsible for them to collaborate.
  7. Adopt measures to improve outcomes. When it comes to measurement, context counts. What are we hoping to improve? Quality? Time to market? Staff morale? Customer satisfaction? Combinations thereof? Every person, team, and organization has their own improvement priorities, and their own ways of working, so they will have their own set of measures that they gather to provide insight into how they’re doing and, more importantly, how to proceed. And these measures evolve over time as their situation and priorities evolve. The implication is that our measurement strategy must be flexible and fit for purpose, and it will vary across teams. 
  8. Leverage and enhance organizational assets. Our organization has many assets—information systems, information sources, tools, templates, procedures, learnings, and other things—that our team could adopt to improve our effectiveness. We may not only choose to adopt these assets, we may also find that we can improve them to make them better for us as well as other teams who also choose to work with these assets. 

These guidelines are described in greater detail in chapter 2 of Choose Your WoW!.  

 

Free Downloads

We have made several Disciplined Agile (DA) posters available to you for free download, including a Disciplined Agile Mindset poster.

Posted by Scott Ambler on: April 30, 2020 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Evolving Disciplined Agile: Promises of the DA Mindset

The Disciplined Agile Mindset

In the recent release of Choose Your WoW! we have evolved some aspects of the Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit.  One of the things we evolved is how we communicate the DA mindset (pictured above). The promises are agreements that we make with our fellow teammates, our stakeholders, and other people within our organization whom we interact with.  The promises define a collection of disciplined behaviours that enable us to collaborate effectively and professionally.  In this blog posting we explore the seven promises:

  1. Create psychological safety and embrace diversity. Psychological safety means being able to show and apply oneself without fear of negative consequences of status, career, or self-worth—we should be comfortable being ourselves in our work setting. Psychological safety goes hand-in-hand with diversity, which is the recognition that everyone is unique and can add value in different ways. The dimensions of personal uniqueness include, but are not limited to, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical abilities, socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, political beliefs, and other ideological beliefs. Diversity is critical to a team’s success because it enables greater innovation. The more diverse our team, the better our ideas will be, the better our work will be, and the more we’ll learn from each other.
  2. Accelerate value realization. In DA we use the term value to refer to both customer and business value. Customer value, something that benefits the end customer who consumes the product/service that our team helps to provide, is what agilists typically focus on. This is clearly important, but in Disciplined Agile we’re very clear that teams have a range of stakeholders, including external end customers. Business value addresses the issue that some things are of benefit to our organization and perhaps only indirectly to our customers. For example, investing in enterprise architecture, in reusable infrastructure, and in sharing innovations across our organization offer the potential to improve consistency, quality, reliability, and reduce cost over the long term.
  3. Collaborate proactively. Disciplined agilists strive to add value to the whole, not just to their individual work or to the team’s work. The implication is that we want to collaborate both within our team and with others outside our team, and we also want to be proactive doing so. Waiting to be asked is passive, observing that someone needs help and then volunteering to do so is proactive. 
  4. Make all work and workflow visible. DA teams will often make their work visible at both the individual level as well as the team level. It is critical to focus on our work in process, which is our work in progress plus any work that is queued up waiting for us to get to it.  Furthermore, DA teams make their workflow visible, and thus have explicit workflow policies, so that everyone knows how everyone else is working. 
  5. Improve predictability. DA teams strive to improve their predictability to enable them to collaborate and self-organize more effectively, and thereby to increase the chance that they will fulfill any commitments that they make to their stakeholders. Many of the earlier promises we have made work toward improving predictability. 
  6. Keep workloads within capacity. Going beyond capacity is problematic from both a personal and a productivity point of view. At the personal level, overloading a person or team will often increase the frustration of the people involved. Although it may motivate some people to work harder in the short term, it will cause burnout in the long term, and it may even motivate people to give up and leave because the situation seems hopeless to them. From a productivity point of view, overloading causes multitasking, which increases overall overhead. 
  7. Improve continuously. The really successful organizations—Apple, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, and more—got that way through continuous improvement. They realized that to remain competitive they needed to constantly look for ways to improve their processes, the outcomes that they were delivering to their customers, and their organizational structures. 

These promises are described in greater detail in chapter 2 of Choose Your WoW!.  In the next blog in this series we will explore the guidelines of the DA mindset.  Stay tuned!

 

Free Downloads

We have made several Disciplined Agile (DA) posters available to you for free download, including a Disciplined Agile Mindset poster.

Posted by Scott Ambler on: April 27, 2020 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Evolving Disciplined Agile: Principles of the DA Mindset

The Disciplined Agile Mindset

In the recent release of Choose Your WoW! we have evolved some aspects of the Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit.  One of the things we evolved is how we communicate the DA mindset (pictured above). The principles provide a philosophical foundation for business agility.  They are based on both lean and flow concepts.  In this blog posting we explore the eight principles.  

  1. Delight customers. We need to go beyond satisfying our customers' needs, beyond meeting their expectations, and strive to delight them.  If we don't then someone else will delight them and steal our customers away from us. This applies to both external customers as well as internal customers.
  2. Be awesome. We should always strive to be the best that we can, and to always get better. Who wouldn't want to work with awesome people, on an awesome team for an awesome organization?
  3. Context counts. Every person, every team, every organization is unique.  We face unique situations that evolve over time.  The implication is that we must choose our way of working (WoW) to reflect the context that we face, and then evolve our WoW as the situation evolves. 
  4. Be pragmatic (reworded from Pragmatism). Our aim isn't to be agile, it's to be as effective as we can be and to improve from there.  To do this we need to be pragmatic and adopt agile, lean, or even traditional strategies when they make the most sense for our context.
  5. Choice is good. To choose our WoW in a context-driven, pragmatic manner we need to select the best-fit technique given our situation.  Having choices, and knowing the trade-offs associated with those choices, is critical to choosing our WoW that is best fit for our context.
  6. Optimize flow. We want to optimize flow across the value stream that we are part of, and better yet across our organization, and not just locally optimize our WoW within our team. Sometimes this will be a bit inconvenient for us, but overall we will be able to more effectively respond to our customers.
  7. Organize around products/services (new).  To delight our customers we need to organize ourselves around producing the offerings, the products and services, that they need. We are in effect organizing around value streams because value streams produce value for customers, both external and internal, in the form of products and services.  We chose to say organize around products/services, rather than offerings or value streams, as we felt this was more explicit.
  8. Enterprise awareness. Disciplined agilists look beyond the needs of their team to take the long-term needs of their organization into account.  They adopt, and sometimes tailor, organizational guidance.  They follow, and provide feedback too, organizational roadmaps.  The leverage, and sometimes enhance, existing organizational assets.  In short, they do what's best for the organization and not just what's convenient for them.

These principles are described in greater detail in chapter 2 of Choose Your WoW!.  In the next blog in this series we will explore the promises of the DA mindset.  Stay tuned!

 

Free Downloads

We have made several Disciplined Agile (DA) posters available to you for free download, including a Disciplined Agile Mindset poster.

Posted by Scott Ambler on: April 24, 2020 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)
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