Disciplined Agile

How DA FLEX is different from other Agile approaches

The best way to learn something new often is to contrast it with something known. This page describes the foundation of DA FLEX by focusing on those concepts and activities that are mostly not in Scrum, SAFe®, and Kanban. While reading, ask yourself if you agree with them.

Table of Contents

Simple, customized start that has built-in extensibility

DA FLEX is based on the principle that no one-size fits all yet people need an explicit, well defined start. DA FLEX provides this by taking a four step approach:

  1. Understand the current state of your organization.
  2. See the challenges to what you are trying to accomplish.
  3. Learn potential solutions to these challenges.
  4. Create a step-by-step road map for solving these challenges.

Gives a prescribed start based on where you are and tailored to what your needs

DA FLEX is based on reality that how to do business development with a software component is reasonably well known now. The challenge is getting people to do what will work. Just saying “do this” doesn’t work. To improve an organization’s methods, one must attend to:

  • Current organizational structure
  • Culture of the company
  • Capacity of the people to absorb change
  • Who is leading the change

DA FLEX also suggests starting across an entire value stream instead of just part of it. While this may seem ambitious, it affords a greater opportunity for alignment and truly solving some of the key issues involved. Starting at the team level can often be unproductive (Successful Pilots Can Sometimes Harm Agile Organizations). If one can’t start at the front of the value stream it is important to keep influence those deciding on what and how much to work on to enable a broader adoption of Lean-Agile methods upstream.

Focuses on manifesting the objectives of business agility and the agreements required to achieve it

DA FLEX is about an organization’s objectives and how their people can work together to achieve them. This requires agreements of behavior. DA FLEX suggests making seven promises, which everyone must agree to:

  1. Create psychological safety
  2. Accelerate value realization
  3. Collaborate proactively
  4. Make all work and workflow visible
  5. Keep workloads within capacity
  6. Increase predictability
  7. Improve continuously

Works to objectives, not focused on specific practices

While DA FLEX provide starting practices, the practices are always placed within the context of the objective. In other words, this practice is being done to meet these larger objectives. So both a bigger picture objective (business agility) and a local objective for each practice, is provided. This enables the substitution of other practices that still meet the objective of the practice being substituted for. This also enables consistency of intention across an organization while allowing people to implement the objective in their own manner.

Takes a phased approach to adoption

Although we start with a fixed approach, as organizations adopt new methods, new challenges will occur. In addition, starting practices may not work as well as hoped and there may be other practices that become better over time. It is therefore important to have a method for adopting different practices when it makes sense to do so.

Built in way to go from beginner to advanced

Shu Ha Ri comes from the martial arts and means to follow, break with and then transcend. The challenge with starting with a prescribed set of practices is that people think they are the right practices. They should just be viewed as the starting, or example practices. The framework must encourage substituting other practices that fit the principle above ‘Work to objectives, not focused on specific practices.’ This is done by presenting the alternatives only after people have tried the practices and met with challenge. This requires that the people adopting the practices have been given the objective of the practice. Something that they should be given in any event. At this point, the simple set of tools we gave people can be revealed to be only the top shelf of a much larger tool box.

When we understand the practice’s objective, we can use the following questions to improve our methods:

  • Are we having challenges with the practice because we’re doing it poorly? If Yes, then inspect and adapt and see if you can do it better. If No, continue
  • Is there something else in the organization that is causing us this problem? If Yes, then see how to fix that or at least influence the fixing of it. If No, then continue.
  • What else can we do that meets the same objective of the practice? If there is something else you can do, then try that. If not stick with the practice until you learn more.


Not a framework but an approach

DA FLEX is an approach which creates a step-wise adoption approach to achieving business agility – the quick realization of business value, predictably, sustainably and with high-quality. DA FLEX is designed and continuously improved totally around this objective. It is a cohesive integration of what works. It is not the spawn of one individual and therefore there is no attachment to existing concepts when better ones come along. It is designed to help its adopters think and solve their problems while providing tangible actions to take throughout the adoption process.

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking means to consider your system as a whole, not a combination of components (see If Russ Ackoff had Given a TED Talk (12 min). Affecting aspect of the system will affect others. In addition, most of the challenges we encounter are due to the system – so our focus needs to be more on the system. Since we respect and trust our people we don’t need to micro-manage them, we just need to create a system within which they can work effectively. Systems thinking also means to consider the entire value stream. If we can’t do the entire value stream recognize then we should attempt to influence that part we cannot directly work upon. Scrum, SAFe and Kanban are partial implementations of systems-thinking.

Uses the Scientific method and double-loop learning

The scientific method and double-loop learning are the basis for improvement. The attitude is “is this working or not?” “If not, how can I improve it?”

From Wikipedia:

The scientific method is an empirical method of acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at least the 17th century. It involves careful observation, applying rigorous skepticism about what is observed, given that cognitive assumptions can distort how one interprets the observation. It involves formulating hypotheses, via induction, based on such observations; experimental and measurement-based testing of deductions drawn from the hypotheses; and refinement (or elimination) of the hypotheses based on the experimental findings.

Science is based on evidence. But it is different from empirical process control which means to take actions based only, or primarily from the data we see. Science attempts to build a model of understanding. We put forth hypotheses about our model and attempt to disprove it. This is captured in a paraphrase of Neil Tyson –the difference between science and religion is religion can’t abide being wrong science seeks to be wrong. By saying DA FLEX is based on the scientific method we mean that includes many hypotheses that it claims are valid. DA FLEX strives to be improved by refining or even negating these hypotheses.

In addition to trying to improve our value realization metrics, DA FLEX provides the value stream impedance scorecard, a way of telling if we’ve improved our system or not. Many improvements require rethinking our assumptions. Double-loop learning has us question the assumptions on which our practices are based. The ubiquitous “inspect and adapt” which is more about seeing how we can do our practices better. On can describe the difference as “inspect and adapt” is how do we get better at what we are doing while double-loop learning has us challenge if what we are trying to do is even correct. impedes double loop learning.

Based on Principles of Flow and Lean

Most all methods now include practices of Flow and Lean in them. But being based on Flow and Lean is considerably different from just incorporating a few key practices from them. Few approaches take a systems thinking approach which requires looking at the system as a whole and doesn’t attempt to simplify things by decomposing its approach into parts of the value stream.

DA FLEX explicitly focuses on removing delays in workflow, feedback, and the time between getting and using information via managing work-in-process and other methods. Visibility of work, workflow, blockages, workload and capacity is another key principle. Building quality in through the use of Acceptance Test-Driven Development, Sustainable Test-Driven Development and automated testing is yet another.

Leadership and management

The Agile community has somewhat ignored and/or vilified management. Management is never directly mentioned in the Agile Manifesto, although presumably it is management that is supposed to “give them [development teams] the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.” But management’s job is not just to be servant leaders to the development teams. They have many other duties in conveying the direction of upper management to those doing the work. This is called Middle-Up-Down Management. It has been ironically ignored since the author, Ikujiro Nonaka, is one of the co-authors of The New New Product Development Game on which Scrum is based.

The role of both leadership and management is critical. Leaders need to set direction and management needs to help create the proper environment and tools that align the entire organization. Of course management is working towards the betterment of the entire organization, but no more or less than everyone else in the organization should also be doing.

Attends to workflow, not process

One of the key tenets of Lean is to make the workflow you follow visible.  This does not mean excessive documentation that people have to refer to.  This means you make what you are working on and how you are doing the work clear. When how you do your work is visible, it becomes a statement of “this is the best way we know how to do this work at the moment, so we’re letting people know.”  This requires making what is tacit be explicit. If you find better ways you just have a new conversation or update your workflow.

This is the opposite of having a process that we try to follow.  Following processes are typically an inefficient method of getting things done and carry the risk of not being followed at all.  Explicit workflow both facilitates collaboration within a team and is especially essential across teams and silos.  It’s actually one of the best ways to break down silos.

Has agreements on how people should work together other than just following a framework

Getting everyone to agree to follow a framework can be counter-productive. Yes, it gets people going. But no framework exactly matches what an organization needs. It also takes people focus off of what they should really be doing – learning to work together effectively.  DA FLEX provides seven promises everyone in the organization needs to make in order to work together effectively:

  • Create psychological safety
  • Accelerate value realization
  • Collaborate proactively
  • Make all work and workflow visible
  • Keep workloads within capacity
  • Increase predictability
  • Improve continuously

See The Guardrails – Promises we make with each other to achieve business agility for more.

Has practices not explicitly used in other frameworks

We have found two practices to be extremely useful in Agile at scale yet missing from most other approaches. These are:

  1. The Minimum Business Increment (MBI). The MBI is the smallest increment of value that can be built, deployed and have value realized for by a client. It’s quite different from an MVP and conflating the two has weakened many Agile approaches.
  2. The Dedicated Product Team is a team or team of teams that is dedicated to building a releasable increment of business value. It is focused on delivery, not creation of features which usually can’t be released on their own.

These two concepts are essential to create the dual-operating system now being espoused by som frameworks.

Has a simple, effective approach to Agile budgeting, portfolio and product management

Most frameworks have complicated budgeting, portfolio and product management. This is somewhat due to the lack of MBIs and Dedicated Product teams. Budgeting, portfolio and product management are greatly simplified when the right Agile artifacts (MBIs) are worked on by the proper allocation of people (Dedicated Product Teams).

What to do if the framework/method you are using doesn’t follow all of these principles

Since DA FLEX is not a framework, but rather an approach, it can be applied to frameworks and methods. DA FLEX has even explicitly created a playbook for SAFe adoptions. See a 45 minute video providing some key concepts that are needed as well as the plays themselves.


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