The Disciplined Agile Mindset


By Scott Ambler | Vice President, Chief Scientist of Disciplined Agile at Project Management Institute

 

[This post is a supplement to Scott’s upcoming keynote at IIL’s Agile & Scrum 2020 Online Conference]


The DA tool kit supplies straightforward guidance to help you, your team, and your enterprise increase your effectiveness. The DA tool kit shows you how to apply and evolve your way of working (WoW) in a context-sensitive manner with this people-first, learning-oriented hybrid agile approach.  We describe DA in terms of four views: Mindset, People, Flow, and Practices.  In this blog I describe the mindset behind PMI’s Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit, overviewed in Figure 1.  PMI’s approach to describing the DA Mindset is straightforward: We believe in these principles, so we promise to adopt these behaviours and we follow these guidelines when doing so.


Figure 1: The Disciplined Agile Mindset.

 

The Principles


The principles of the Disciplined Agile mindset provide a philosophical foundation for business agility.  The eight principles are are based on both lean and flow concepts:

 

  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.

 

The Promises


The promises of the Disciplined Agile mindset 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.  The seven promises are:

 

  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, agile, 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.

 

The Guidelines


The guidelines of the Disciplined Agile mindset help us to be more effective in our way of working (WoW), and in improving our WoW over time. The eight guidelines are:

 

  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.

 

Whence the Agile Manifesto?


Until recently, we described the DA mindset as the combination of the DA Principles and the DA Manifesto.  The DA Manifesto in turn was described in terms of five values and 17 principles behind the manifesto.  The DA Manifesto was based on the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, or more colloquially known as the Agile Manifesto.  But, as you can imagine, people were confused by two levels of principles.  We also found the Agile Manifesto to be constraining, mostly due to the cultural baggage that has built up around it for the past two decades.  And most importantly, we realized that we could describe the mindset in a far more robust and understandable manner as you’ve seen in this blog.


The DA Mindset provides conceptual background required for business agility and is an important part of the foundation of the DA tool kit.  I will describe how to apply the DA tool kit in my keynote presentation, Disciplined Agile Strategies for Greater Innovation, at IIL’s Agile and Scrum 2020 Online Conference. I hope you choose to attend this great event.

 

[To learn more on this topic, click here to register for IIL’s Agile & Scrum 2020 Online Conference]

 

References


For further reading about the details behind the Disciplined Agile Mindset, please read Chapter 2 of Choose Your WoW! A Disciplined Agile Delivery Handbook for Choosing Your Way of Working.


About the Author Scott is the Vice President, Chief Scientist of Disciplined Agile at Project Management Institute. Scott leads the evolution of the Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit and is an international keynote speaker. Scott is the (co)-creator of the Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit as well as the Agile Modeling (AM) and Agile Data (AD) methodologies. He is the (co-)author of several books, including Choose Your WoW!, An Executive’s Guide to the Disciplined Agile Framework, Refactoring Databases, Agile Modeling, Agile Database Techniques, and The Object Primer 3rd Edition. Scott blogs regularly at ProjectManagement.com and he can be contacted via pmi.org.

 


Capture More Agility by Tailoring Practices


[This post is a sneak preview of Jesse Fewell’s talk at IIL’s Agile & Scrum 2020 Online Conference, and is based on his upcoming book Untapped Agility]


We’ve been told that to achieve more innovation, more collaboration, or more agility, we need to adopt modern practices. Unfortunately, many of those practices seem fundamentally incompatible a team’s reality on the ground. If the experts say we have to use stable teams, product-based funding, but our current state won’t allow for it, what do we do? Short answer: We adapt. The path forward is to be agile with your agile, to transform your transformation.

Be Agile with your Agile
Transform your Transformation

 

Tailoring is management common sense


Much has been written in the project and product worlds about “tailoring” processes and practices, based on the work being done. Let’s pause for a moment to take a look at some key points. The idea of the PMBOK® Guide – Sixth Edition officially defines tailoring as follows:

 

Determining the appropriate combination of processes, inputs, tools, techniques, outputs, and the life cycle phases to manage a project is referred to as “tailoring” the application of the knowledge [of project management].


That’s a fancy way of saying that each organization should customize its approach to delivering work based on the specific dynamics and demands of the environment.


Moreover, these adjustments are not optional. The guide goes on to say:

 

Tailoring is necessary because each project is unique; not every process, tool, input, or output identified is necessary.


Ironically, if your PMO, Center of Excellence, or other standards group has defined their process playbook by merely copy-pasting a textbook approach from PMI, from Google, or from Spotify… they are violating the ASNI standard for project management.

 

Tailoring was always core to Agility


Now if you think that point is only for traditional project management and has nothing to do with Agility, then you would be mistaken. The original Agile Manifesto closes out its declaration of values and principles with this very topic, saying:

 

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.


That’s the conclusion, the climax, the final word. Kind of important.


So whether you come from a formal standards perspective (project management) or a more informal values-based perspective (Agile Manifesto), the expectation is the same: modify how you do your work, based on the situation at hand.


Put another way, if you believe in continuous improvement, then by definition whatever practices you are using are not optimal. If you are still using that fancy new devops method strictly out of the box, then you are simultaneously neither compliant with international standards nor consistent with the spirit of agility. Not adjusting your practices is a double-fail.

 

Okay, but HOW do we Adjust?


Unfortunately, there is almost zero guidance on how to go about tailoring effectively. Much of the literature in place today strongly advises that you do it but offers no filters, guardrails, or tips for doing so. That’s a problem, because if we don’t make the right adjustments we can get some very unwelcome side effects, such as:

 

  • If we don’t adjust enough, we still struggle unnecessarily.
  • If we adjust it too much, we lose all the benefit we’re trying to get.


How do we customize our practices without diluting their potency or even making things worse? We need to offer people a viable alternative beyond all-or-nothing.

 

The 3P Tailoring Technique


To do that, we can walk through a simple set of questions to figure out some degree of doing things better:

 

  1. Listen to their PAIN. Ask the team what is the specific frustration, difficulty, challenge they would face if we were to use a given technique.
  2. Explain the PURPOSE. Share the underlying principle of why we recommend that technique. What is the in- tended benefit?
  3. Design a PIVOT. Ask the team how might we adjust the technique so that we could get at least some of that benefit.


Here is how the process works in real life.

 

 

Tailoring Example for Documentation


Let’s say Maria the Manager wrestles with the excessive documentation generated in regulated, life-critical environments. Here’s how her team might approach that topic in their transformation.

 

  1. Maria’s Pain. “Experts say documents are wasteful. But we build medical devices. Those documents are how we pass compliance audits, never mind the rigor they foster to prevent tragic mistakes. ”
  2. A colleague explains the Purpose. “Remember, the emphasis of ‘working product over comprehensive documentation’ is to avoid distractions that waste time. I’m sure you can think of how to adjust your documentation practices to save time, without compromising the safety of the work you do.”
  3. Maria’s Pivot. “Well, much of our time is spent using our specifications to convey designs to the builders. But talking is faster than typing. We could accelerate knowledge sharing by including the designers and auditors in our meetings more frequently. Then writing the compliance documents will be more focused on the final product, rather than directing intermediate work. That might improve quality and speed, without losing any of the documentation the government requires. Let’s try this as an experiment for one subset of the overall product.”


That’s how it works. When moving on a journey towards new ways of working, leaders often get confused on how to adopt things like automation, stable teams, or prototyping. By making appropriate adjustments to established practices, you can help your transformation move forward, rather than getting stuck in the false choice of all-or-nothing.

 

[To learn more on this topic, click here to register for IIL’s Agile & Scrum 2020 Online Conference]

Jesse Fewell’s latest book, Untapped Agility, is a balanced guide to agility that gets past the hype and frustration to help frustrated leaders transform their agile transformations. Pre-order Untapped Agility today to join the movement of this groundbreaking book. After preordering, email taylor@jessefewell.com to receive the following benefits:

  • A FREE digital copy of the book
  • Exclusive Q&As with Jesse about the book
  • Autograph bookplate for your physical book copy

About the Author Jesse Fewell is an author, coach, and trainer who helps senior leaders from Boston to Beijing transform their organizations to achieve more innovation, collaboration, and business agility. A management pioneer, he founded and grew the original Agile Community of Practice within the Project Management Institute (PMI), has served on leadership subcommittees for the Scrum Alliance, and written publications reaching over a half-million readers in eleven languages. Jesse has taught, keynoted, or coached thousands of leaders and practitioners across thirteen countries on 5 continents. His industry contributions earned him a 2013 IEEE Computer Society Golden Core Award.

 


Key Themes at IIL’s 2020 Agile & Scrum Online Conference

By Sander Boeije

June 4th, 2020 will mark the opening day of IIL’s 5th annual Agile & Scrum Online Conference. In the past years, this conference has grown into a community of agile enthusiasts, with participants coming from all over the world and all kinds of industries. This year is no different, as #AgileCon2020 promises to be an outstanding learning experience once again. As is to be expected, the current health crisis has influenced many of the presentations this year; however, it’s rarely the main topic of a session because even amid a pandemic, agile is about adapting to change and delivering value.

This article will take you through the key themes that will emerge at Agile & Scrum 2020. Let’s dive right in.

Agile Transformation and Disruption

If there ever was a time for business agility, it is now. Organizations in all industries and across the entire globe have been forced to make radical changes in how they operate. This, of course, is due to the disruption caused by the current ongoing global health crisis which is impacting the way we interact with the world and each other. The ability to pivot and continue to deliver value to your customers has never been so important to the success of your organization. It seems that ‘Being Agile’ has become a must and it is imperative to understand how to make this Agile Transformation happen.

For more on this theme, be sure to watch the keynote presentations by Dean Leffingwell from Scaled Agile Inc., and Darrell Rigby from Bain & Company, as well as the presentations by Avi Schneier, Jesse Fewell, and Dave Sharrock.

Culture and Innovation

A second emergent theme is the need to have a strong Agile and Innovative culture within the heart of your organization. During a time of major disruption, such as we are experiencing today, applying a certain framework, running sprints, doing daily standups, or other agile events might help your team to navigate this crisis (see also the last theme discussed in this article). However, it’s the underlying widespread belief in Trust, Communication, Innovation, and Continuous Improvement that truly moves the organization forward.

Join the keynote sessions by Scott Ambler, Vice President and Chief Scientist of Disciplined Agile at PMI,  and Corgibytes’ Andrea Goulet, as well as the presentations by Shaaron Alvares and Oscar Roche to learn ways in which you can build an innovative agile culture into the core of your team or organization.

Personal Agility

A third theme that is surfacing at this year’s event is Personal Agility. Where the emphasis of Agile is mostly on teams and organizations, the individual can oftentimes be overlooked – strange, since it is these individuals who make up those same teams and organizations! And especially during a time where people might become disconnected from others, a check-in with oneself and one’s agility is incredibly relevant.

This is a central theme in the sessions by Betsy Kauffman and Louria Lindauer, and it is mentioned in several other presentations as well.

Agile Methods & Techniques

The final theme is perhaps more miscellaneous, as it relates to various kinds of agile methods and techniques that help teams to be high-performing, work with stakeholders, and deliver value to the customer. For example, keynote speaker Patricia Kong from Scrum.org will explain how you can measure the value of the outcomes that you deliver using metrics that work for you. Renee Liken, Product Owner at FordLabs of Ford Motor Company, will provide a practical way on how you can get meaningful feedback from your users. Keith Wilson will give you a comprehensive overview of Kanban. Andrea Fryrear and Jamie Champagne provide insight in agile marketing and agile analysis, respectively. And Tom Friend discusses several excellent techniques on how to manage conflict. In each case, you’ll walk away from the session with fresh ideas for yourself, your team, and your organization.

Agile & Scrum 2020 goes live on June 4th, 2020. Full on-demand access to all content will be available through December 31st, 2020. Sign up here today and get 40% off the registration price.

We are grateful to our sponsors for making this event possible. These organizations include AXELOS, Cisco, Sabre, SITA, FordLabs, Scrum Inc., Scaled Agile Inc., APMG, PDUs2Go, Steven’s Institute of Technology, ModernAnalyst, TWI Institute, AgileSherpas, Corgibytes, Champagne Collaborations, Success Agility LLC, and more.