Disciplined Agile

Complex Adaptive Systems

Organizations are a dynamic network of interacting teams that self-organize, learn, and evolve.

Organizations are complex adaptive systems (CAS). They are complex because they are dynamic networks of interacting teams where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts (well, this is true of effective organizations). They are adaptive because individual teams self-organize, learn, and evolve. More importantly, changes in a team affect changes in the other teams they interact with. The teams and organization evolve over time in response to changes in their environment.

Figure 1 overviews the Disciplined Agile® (DA) tool kit. Although the focus of the diagram is on process, each hex represents what we call a process blade; it implies a potential organizational structure. A medium-to-large-sized organization will have many teams. They may have a marketing team, vendor management team, IT operations team, data team, architecture team, and so on. Sometimes the relationship between process and organization structure isn’t one to one. For example, in a small organization it’s common to see a single team handling release management, IT operations, and support.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume your organization has multiple teams, at least one for each of the process blades (the hexes) in Figure 1. Your organization is a complex adaptive system in that learnings in one team that motivate changes to their way of working (WoW) will potentially affect other teams. For example, changes in the WoW of a Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) team will potentially affect how that team’s architecture owner interacts with the enterprise architecture team, how their product owner interacts with the product management team, how team members interact with the asset management team, and many other possibilities. These changes in turn may motivate changes in behavior within the enterprise architecture team, product management team, and so on. Similarly, changes within the enterprise architecture team may ripple out to the asset management team, portfolio management team, and so on. To increase the velocity of adaptive learning, the DA tool kit includes the Continuous Improvement process blade to explicitly share learnings across the organization.

March 2022

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