The future of agile: Introducing Disciplined Agile

Disciplined Agile Mark Lines

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Speak to Disciplined Agile co-founder Mark Lines, and you’ll find that the world of agile goes much, much deeper than what it is known to be. With Scott Ambler, Lines has devoted the last decade to compiling a comprehensive extension of agile that the duo refer to as ‘Disciplined Agile’, or DA. 

The philosophy of DA is that choice is good — what PMI’s introduction refers to as “a process-decision tool kit that enables you to easily choose your own WoW that is fit-for-purpose for you.” Disciplined Agile pulls over 1600 agile practices together in the DA toolkit, which Lines calls ‘coach-in-a-box’. DA is more about finding solutions to specific problems than being dogmatic about ways of working. Adhering to one idea of agility is unhelpful, according to Lines, and the beauty of DA is that the vast compilation of ideas always presents the right solution. “A lot of agile folk think ‘this is agile and that’s not,’” says Lines. “We don’t care because choice is good, context counts and we’re pragmatic not purists.”

A people-focused model

People are at the heart of business success. DA prioritises people, personalities and working styles over prescriptive processes. The original Agile Manifesto was written in 2001, and while it has a strong basis, it is still two decades old. With DA, Lines and Ambler bring agile ideas into the people-focused modern workplace. 

“Now we talk about things like the importance of diversity and psychological safety,” says Lines. “We talk about the importance of management creating environments that foster joy. We talk about improving the culture by changing the system, not trying to change the people. This is the new role of management in an agile world.”

The practical outcomes of DA are found in its broad approach — employees are happier with a people-focused solution rather than blindly following processes. In one case study, Lines worked with an American insurance company, its staff drowning in eleven different requirements documents for each project. From the 53 requirements techniques catalogued by DA, Lines suggested a handful of lightweight, agile processes instead. The result was greater value for both the business and its people. “If you help people strip out the waste and pick the real value parts of the process, then we’re all doing stuff that adds value,” says Lines. “We go home and we’re happy and we have good stories around the table, rather than ‘I’m wasting my life writing documents that nobody ever reads.’”

Project Management Institute (PMI) is the world’s leading professional association for a growing global community of millions of project professionals and changemakers worldwide. Visit the website to find out more about how agile methodology can work in your business.

Facilitating collaboration

DA accounts for a modern expectation of collaboration, too. The toolkit details strategies to reach collaboration goals, whether employees are working together in an office, a hybrid of office and remote work, or even across international borders. Business decisions aren’t always made with collaboration in mind, but DA’s toolkit gives options for a huge range of scenarios. An example might be employing an ‘ambassador’ to work between two different locations, or teams only gathering at critical times. It can also be as simple as acknowledging time zones.

“I had a discussion with a team that was getting a developer in Europe,” says Lines, who is based in Canada. “I said, okay, but if you look in the DA toolkit, it’s actually less favourable than having a co-located developer. If you’re going to outsource and it’s going to be distributed development, are you going east-west or are you going north-south? And they looked at me like why are you even asking me that? Time zones. If you want to be collaborative and work together in an agile manner, it’s more useful if they’re both awake during the conversation.” 

Responding to change

DA is context-driven, which means that the strategy a business follows can (and should) change when the context changes, too. While this is great news for pandemic-sized upheavals, it’s really applicable to any change. 

“Agile’s been around for 20-plus years, and we know from history some things are better in some situations than others,” says Lines. “It’s context-specific advice and that’s why I joke about it being a coach-in-the-box, because you’re not stumbling around in the dark, you’re referencing proven techniques in similar situations.”

One of DA’s concepts is called Guided Continuous Improvement (GCI), which stands opposed to the ‘fail fast’ concept often referenced in agile. Fail fast is driven by the idea that improvement will come from trying ideas, failing, reflecting, and trying again. GCI is something of a shortcut. PMI posits the idea that, based on other teams having tried a technique before, GCI helps “teams identify techniques that are likely to work in their context”. “Instead of failing fast for potentially a long period of time, you’re going to succeed earlier because you’re using proven practices, and that’s why we call this Guided Continuous Improvement,” says Lines.


Project Management Institute

Project Management Institute (PMI) is the world's leading professional association for a growing global community of millions of project professionals and changemakers worldwide. Building on a proud legacy dating to 1969, PMI is a “for-purpose” organisation working to advance careers, strengthen organisational success, and enable changemakers with new skills and ways of working to maximise their impact. PMI offerings include globally recognised standards, certifications, online courses, thought leadership, tools, digital publications, and communities.

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