The foundation of Disciplined Agile begins with the DA Mindset. Agile coaches must learn and adopt this mindset and let it inform all of their work.
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 behaviors 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 behaviors 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.
This is liberating. It means, for example, that a coach should not be tied to just one flavor of agile. There is a collection of methods to choose from to fit different contexts. Part of the coach’s challenge is to help clients and teams to become pragmatic, to get past the groupthink that freezes them to one approach.
It also means we can be pragmatic even about the DA Mindset. It is good but it is not set in stone. From time to time, we can and should look at our assumptions and perceptions and be open to adopting change when it is helpful. That is how our discipline grows.
Guidelines and Process
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. We believe 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.
One implication for coaching is that looking at process is not about defining a fixed way to do things. Instead, we look at process to facilitate explicit conversations about what each other is doing. Focusing on process facilitates understanding.
This is very different than other approaches who have a bias for one method or another. It is a distinctive trait of the DA coach.
It is one reason we welcome varieties of perspectives into Disciplined Agile: Lean, agile, Theory of Constraints, patterns, hybrid, project management, various frameworks. It makes for a richness that allows us to tackle the complex challenges we face such as those in software development. This work has many facets: human psychology, organizational change, different motivations of the business stakeholders, management and teams, technical issues, regulatory laws, funding, governance, competitive environments, and technical drift. To assume a simple framework will solve a complex problem is naïve.
This is a challenge for everyone. It is what the foundations of Disciplined Agile is trying to address. And it is why the DA coach must learn and learn to work from this mindset. It is the only way to help others navigate this complexity to solve their challenges.
A Lean Mindset
In The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century, Stephen Denning says that if you think of lean mostly as a collection of tools to be employed, then you have missed its point entirely.
The Toyota approach to lean is not simply the elimination of waste in production processes, implemented within the framework of traditional management. It requires an appropriate respect of people. When the focus of management is eliminating waste in production processes without respect for workers, all of the effort for improvement falls on the managers. And they are the last to find out about a problem. By the time they hear about it, the errors are expensive to fix, and there are fewer eyes and minds available to find solutions. In the Toyota approach, respect for people provides the engine for continuous improvement. It results in a fundamental difference in attitude of those doing the work.
Toyota’s success rests on “the values of trust, respect, and continuous improvement that characterize relations within the plant, and the consistency with which these are applied in all the operating systems and management practices. The consistency in alignment is manifested in how people are selected, trained, rewarded, and supervised.
This is one of the greatest contributions lean has made to society, to our work. It demonstrates that the mindset of “respecting people” can work throughout an organization. It creates a new paradigm for management and workers.
It is why in Disciplined Agile, we have always promoted a “people first” philosophy. This shows in the DA principles of be awesome and delight customers, the DA promises to create psychological safety and embrace diversity, and the DA guidelines to create effective environments that foster joy and create semi-autonomous, self-organizing teams.