Disciplined Agile: Championing Choice, Rejecting Rigidity
PMI India

Early adopters of PMI’s Disciplined Agile (DA) write on how the DA toolkit promotes business agility and empowers teams in today’s changed business environment

Project managers have always followed prescriptive methods to deliver a solution within an agile framework. Those methods have worked in the past. But today, as the world faces extraordinary change, the methods of the past fall short in meeting the demands of the current times.

Project managers are now working in unfamiliar conditions. If they were to choose a framework or method to suit their changed ways of working, there is nothing to guide them on what is right for their unique situation.

PMIís Disciplined Agile (DA) takes a hybrid approach by allowing practitioners to choose from an extensive library of leading agile and lean tools and methods. The DA toolkit allows them to make informed choices about what applies to their own way of working (WoW).

Embrace Change: Evolve WoW, Be Truly Agile

Almost all of a sudden, we find ourselves in a completely new context (Covid-19). What seemed to be our mantra for success may need to be revisited for its effectiveness. The question is how can we stay relevant in the new context that makes our customers remunerate us at a time when they too are facing difficulties? How can we adapt, and adapt quickly?
This question is valid for us as individuals, teams, and organizations – but the depth to which we have to dig within ourselves this time is much more than what we have done in the past.

Nature has taught us that agility brings resilience. If so, how can we be deeply agile and thus build strong resilience to survive and thrive in an ever changing context? To strengthen our agility, we can be guided by a tremendous body of knowledge available today that has been proven successful in organizations across the globe. However, we need to make choices that are relevant for us in our own current context and not limited by methods that we had adopted earlier. In the new normal, we are facing new constraints, for example social distancing, and existing constraints that are further amplified, for example data security. We have to make choices to evolve our ways of working (WoW) to work around such constraints that limit our ability to perform.

The DA toolkit helps us in exploring options to evolve our WoW. For example, with social distancing in place, how do we get teams that are distributed to collaborate to plan and make decisions effectively? Until a few weeks ago, teams were not used to this. Interestingly, ‘coordinating within team’ is a decision point of ‘coordinate activities’, one of the processes within the DA process toolkit. It provides a few options to address this challenge.

In the list of options for coordinating within team.’ would call out ‘look ahead modelling/planning’ and ‘just-in-time planning’. Consider these options for any work item for which you understand what the work entails so you can plan accordingly. Couple this with the ‘visualize work’ technique wherein the team has a collective view of their plan and daily progress improves the team’s ability to coordinate their efforts. When I implemented a solution that combines ‘look ahead modelling/planning’, ‘just-in-time planning’, and ‘visualize work’ techniques, it helped agile teams maintain or enhance the effectiveness of how they collaborated to deliver on iteration goals. It has gone one step further in improving transparency to stakeholders, which has taken additional importance in the new normal of work from home. We only had to provide agile teams choices and the environment to make decisions, guided by expertise.

Many individuals and teams have implemented new or changed techniques and innovative solutions, thus demonstrating resilience in delivering as effectively as before. Each one of us is unique as individuals and teams. We need to make choices that suit our context, look for ways to improve and innovate in a pragmatic manner, and delight our customers as an end result. In this process, we need to be cost-efficient, reduce lead time in value delivery, and become successful as an entity with awesome teams.

To help ingrain all elements of this agile behavior, I have found DA to be extremely relevant. DA is a powerful agnostic hybrid of approaches that leverages strategies from a variety of sources and provides a process decision toolkit that makes process decisions in a context sensitive manner. For some of the challenges you might be facing in your agile journey, DA may have the answer you need.

K. Venkatachaliah Babu coaches programs that engage stakeholders across senior leadership and scrum teams to embrace a lean agile mindset and accelerate time-to-market across multiple releases. He brings together deep knowledge of scaled agile delivery, theory of constraints, lean manufacturing, IT project and program management consulting, facilitation skills to influence cultural shifts and drive change.

No Single Rule: Go by Team Size, Purpose, Culture

Many organizations struggle with agile methods. An organization with a global footprint and with teams of varying sizes that work for different purposes could find it difficult to adopt agile.

Two of the principles of DA – Choice is Good and Context Counts ñ suit diverse and complex organizations that need a heterogenous approach.

Choice empowers teams and enables them to not take quick decisions. Using the goal diagrams in the DA toolkit, an organization can choose what it needs. It also helps them understand what to apply, when to apply, and the associated trade-offs.

Culture, skillsets, and size are some factors that decide how a team works. DA takes the uniqueness of each team into consideration and provides a comprehensive toolkit as a reference point while adopting an approach.

A few years back, an organization that I was coaching felt that the scrum agile method was working well for them at the team level. They wanted to scale it to the enterprise level. They were not keen on following prescriptive methods and wanted a flexible method that suited their ways of working.

They were looking at tactical agility at scale as they had teams that were geographically distributed, of different sizes, partly outsourced, and worked on leading edge technologies. They found the Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) to be useful as the delivery teams worked in different situations and could adapt it to their context.

Based on its agile maturity, the team had the flexibility to choose a suitable lifecycle. They picked the continuous deliveryó agile lifecycle and made two important changes.

One change was to have the team leads play the role of the scrum master since DA offered that flexibility. They were also coached regularly for a couple of months on their new responsibilities. This led to a chain of positive developments.

The team leads felt they were part of the project and the management felt that the team leads were now more actively involved. The project also overcame the common problem of the lack of collaboration between scrum masters and team leads. The team leads were also happy that as scrum masters their responsibilities went beyond people management. Having a team lead who is technically strong, helped the team solve many technical challenges easily. This led to continuous delivery with high quality and at regular intervals to the customer.

The other major change in the process was starting with the inception phase. It is normally believed that agile does not require any upfront work as the team is expected to ëadaptively plan and evolveí during sprints. However, the management realized the value and the need to start with an inception phase to carve out the critical elements of the product being built. These included the architecture, product backlog items, and the minimum viable product (MVP), and aligning them with the key stakeholders before commencing the sprint.

This change resulted in several positive outcomes. The team members now understood the key deliverables, milestones, and dependencies. The customer was confident that the team was clear on the MVP deliverables, and so was the team. There was absolute transparency and visibility of what the team would work on in the release to deliver the MVP.

The management, the teams, and supporting groups realized that the ability to choose based on the context made it easy to adopt and adapt. As DA recognizes that and provides a toolkit accordingly, they were able to choose what is good based on their unique situations.

Sairam C has over 20 years of industry experience, including over 10 years in agile coaching across India, Europe, USA, and Vietnam. He is a DA champion for PMI Pearl City Chapter.

Enterprise Agility: Opt from Process Blades

DA has several benefits for organizations with various teams and business units. The seven principles of DA are the pillars of success for an organization. In every organization, there are teams of various sizes, who pursue different purposes. Moreover, each team faces unique situations and is made up of people from varied cultural backgrounds. The DA principle – Context Counts – refers to this aspect of teams.

The factors that should be considered to understand the context are:

Selecting factors that drive the initial choice based on team’s Ways of Working (WoW) and
Scaling factors that drive detailed decisions around the team’s WoW.

These considerations lead to team organization, team process, and tooling. So ultimately, an organization should realize that “context counts” for every business unit. And this leads to its relevance in selecting a team’s WoW from the DA WoW Book (the DA body of knowledge).

In the current pandemic, a team’s ways of working have changed drastically. For example, in the telecom sector engineers assigned to provide network service are currently working from home and are required to adopt additional security measures and follow a cumbersome approval process. Special measures are being taken to ensure that network services are seamless and do not face any downtime. Operations management has become more challenging and critical.

Earlier, network engineers were allowed to monitor and maintain the servers remotely. But now they have been bestowed with the additional responsibility of ensuring zero downtime. So in the current situation, the entire landscape of WoW for these engineers has changed. This is the right time for teams to look for options of WoW as per guidelines stated in the WoW Book.

In the current situation, organizations are focusing on enterprise agility. Enterprise agility ensures that a system is capable of responding rapidly to certain modifications. Enterprise agility enables an organization to facilitate dynamic decision-making through which it can learn to adapt to any emerging competitive advantage.

The Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE) is a category within the scope of the DA toolkit. DAE is able to sense and respond swiftly to changes in the marketplace through organizational culture and structure. DAE is a storehouse of process blades, or options of processes to choose from and apply in a context sensitive manner.

Organizations with a strategic goal of improving enterprise agility can adapt DAE with a mindset to utilize the appropriate process blades. In the current situation, many organizations have taken an innovative approach to engage engineers remotely for customer delivery. On one hand, this has led to a significant mindset change in organizations, and on the other hand, organizations are taking an additional risk to deliver a product on time, within budget, and according to quality. The major change that organizations have adapted to is to integrate and orchestrate work at an enterprise level and deliver value to the customer.

Organizations must look at DAE as a toolkit and explore the options of process blades for better business agility.

Sumit Sinha is a DA champion from India and is a PMI Leadership Master Class Graduate of 2019. He has played the role of a delivery leader with 25 years of total experience in all phases of the software development lifecycle, including 18 years in leadership roles in software delivery and consulting projects.

Process Blades: Being Adaptive to Change

Businesses today are becoming more dynamic and adaptive to change. Let’s say you call a customer service center of an airline and a chatbot welcomes you. The chatbot addresses you by your name and gives you details of your next flight, rather than asking you about it, and provides other insights based on intelligence gathered from your past purchases and preferences. It earlier took you 15-20 minutes to get your work done, whereas now it takes just 2-3 minutes. The outcome: you are delighted by the service you just received.

Enterprise agility is all about sensing changes in the business environment, quickly responding to it, and learning and adapting to changes. It encompasses all business functions and departments in an organization.

Our organizations are complex and adaptive systems, whereby teams interact with one another across business units, departments, and locations. Work done by one team might significantly impact another team. Each team learns from one anotherís way of working and strives hard toward continuous improvement.

DA has a concept called process blades that refers to a collection of process options, such as practices and strategies, that should be chosen and then applied in a context sensitive manner. There are 21 blades in the DA toolkit.

Let’s take an example of two of DA process blades – finance and procurement. DA defines the responsibility of finance as a function that ensures cash flow, that your money is well spent, taxes are minimized,spending is properly tracked and recorded, and legal reporting is performed properly. Procurement blade is to procure products and services from outside your organization to meet your needs.

As a scrum master in a global software company, I have used prescriptive Scrum and Kanban methodologies for software development and support, irrespective of the size and complexity of the project, team size, or its geographic spread. The finance and procurement teams followed the Waterfall budget method, which meant they budgeted for the whole year and brought various departments under its purview. The main challenge in this approach was that requirements often changed in our projects, and hence funding and procurement could not keep pace with that change.

Our global team had 90 members spread across the globe. The team needed dual monitors and an electronic dashboarding tool for their coding and testing work in May. The yearly budgets were approved and announced based on an annual forecast plan. Though there was a provision for a half-yearly budget review, it often meant a long wait. The exception approval process as a part of the governance process was also a long and tedious process.

The agile coach and I spent time with the procurement and finance heads to explain the way our agile teams worked and the rationale behind the changed requirement. We were successful in getting additional funds from the contingency budget. However, this incident showed the need for procurement and finance to be more creative and adaptive to the changes happening around them. Over time, both the teams changed their approach to “adaptive budgeting and procurement processes.” In this system, they laid out a minimum budget to meet the short-term needs, a monthly review process, and a venture capital style budgeting in which the minimally viable product is launched and future funding depended on product performance.

Process blades in DA works across four layers – enterprise, IT, DevOps, and delivery. A truly agile organization allows the interdependence of teams across various layers, enabling cross-learning among teams, and hence continuously adjusting and adapting to the changes as they occur. Organizations of the future must be prepared for such agility to succeed.

Saurabh Parikh is an industry veteran, trainer, coach, servant leader, and consultant with 26 years in the profession. He has trained over 6,000 project, program, and delivery leaders, and delivered multimillion-dollar programs and projects in senior capacity across various global organizations.

Business Agility: Freedom Matters, Not Frameworks

Many of today’s businesses need to be agile. Business agility is the ability to respond to changes in a cost-effective way without losing quality.

The next question then for businesses is how to become more agile and survive in this ever changing world. I interact with almost 100 project managers on a monthly basis. And I have observed that some follow traditional ways of managing projects and have standardized project management practices. Some manage projects as per their managerís instructions. In some cases, it varies as the team changes. There are project managers who do not see any need to change the way they are working. Each one comes with their own interpretation.

When you do not know what to do, the easiest way is to follow a prescribed method. However, this method of accepting without questioning brings a lot of problems, for example, an overburdened workforce, unevenness in the workload, and team demotivation. It also diminishes an organizationís ability to respond to change.

Following a method or practice may not be feasible in some situations. For example, you are continuously delivering incremental features into production and if you follow the prescribed practice of extensive documentation, it will just reduce the pace of work.

Let me take an example from my experience. We are constantly updating information on our company website. The marketing and technical team coordinate this effort and regularly release features such as a new webpage with our webinar calendar. These features are released on a daily or weekly basis. We had tried to prescribe some practices and methods to these teams but that was not generating the required outcome.

For example, we tried ScrumBan to prioritize tasks and take work as per our capacity. That reduced the pace of work, and the teams felt that the thrust put on them was unnecessary. Last year, we told the team you decide how you want to work together ñ they had no experience in project management patterns or practices. Surprisingly, the team came out with their own way of working and started improving the outcomes. They chose a simple Lean method. The team was accountable for the outcome since they had chosen their working methods. The job of the management was primarily to provide guidance in sorting out issues.

This is what the DA toolkit suggests. Give choice to your teams to choose their Way of Working (WoW), continuously improve their way for a better outcome, and thereby, develop business agility. Had I known about DA and applied the toolkit in the above scenario, we could have succeeded much earlier. Given the context, the toolkit would have applied the Lean option to the project. We could have saved one year trying to figure out the right option for our team. We could also have released the value (output) in the market much earlier, increased team motivation, and delighted our customers.

Freedom to choose your own WoW makes the team accountable and provides outstanding results. Each situation is different, and so is each team. So there cannot be a single prescription as a panacea for all. When a team chooses its own WoW, they become self-organizing and accountable, thus improving their motivation levels. The freedom to choose thus enables teams to work in a more effective manner.

Ashish Sadekar is passionate about project management and loves to write and talk on the subject. He comes with more than 20 years of experience in the profession, and has coached over 10,000 practitioners on agile practices and PMI certification training.