Disciplined Agile


A People-First Tool Kit

The way you collaborate and how you are organized in your team or enterprises impacts success. Understanding the right motivating factors, from the ground up, can help improve individual empowerment and create a purpose-driven culture that is motivated for continuous improvement.

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    During the past few years, the work of Dan Pink has been broadly adopted as a foundation for success when building agile teams. His work shows that intrinsic motivators are far more important that extrinsic (money, nice offices) motivators. These intrinsic motivators are:

    1. Mastery: People want to get better, to develop their skills so that they may be effective at what they do. In Disciplined Agile this is supported by a learning-oriented approach where teams regularly reflect on how well they are working, where teams explore new ideas and technologies through spikes, where people are responsible to share their skills and knowledge with others, and where teams purposely explore both the problem and solution domains in an evolutionary manner. Additionally, the Disciplined Agile® (DA™) tool kit promotes the strategy of people being “T-skilled” generalizing specialists who have one or more specialties but also a broad knowledge of software engineering and the domain that they are working in.
    2. Autonomy: People want to be able to direct their own lives. In agile this is best represented by the principles that teams should be self-organizing and they should own their own process. Disciplined Agile enhances these principles by pointing out that self organization must be tempered with appropriate governance and that to effectively own your own process teams need light-weight guidance (via DA’s goal-driven approach).
    3. Purpose: People are motivated by goals that are bigger than themselves. On Disciplined Agile Delivery teams the first milestone is to come to a common vision with your stakeholders, a vision that guides the team throughout construction, a concept that is captured in DA’s Fulfill the Team Mission process goal. Furthermore, DA’s enterprise awareness philosophy promotes the idea that teams should look beyond themselves to understand and then do what is best for the organization that they work for, instead of what is convenient for them.


    Just as there are factors that help to motivate individuals, there are dynamics that help to motivate effective performance on teams. The most succinct description that we’ve found come from the results of a study within Google describing what they believe to be the five key dynamics of successful teams:

    • Psychological Safety: Team members need to feel free to take risks and to share ideas without fear of recrimination. Disciplined Agile team members have the responsibility to respect one another, to have humility when they are interacting with others, to run experiments, to work collaboratively, to share their skills and knowledge with others, and to be receptive to learning new ideas and skills from others as well.
    • Dependability: Team members need to be able to count on one another. Everyone must work in a trustworthy, open, and honest manner. Disciplined Agile team members have the responsibility to work in a trustworthy manner, to fulfill their commitments, and to provide information in a timely manner even if the work is incomplete.
    • Structure & Clarity: The vision of the team, the roles and responsibilities of the people on the team, and the plans for how the team will work together must be clear. Disciplined Agile teams are self organizing, albeit with appropriate governance to guide and enhance their efforts, an implication of which is that they are responsible for their own structure and bringing clarity to their own domain.
    • Meaning of Work: The team should be working on something that provides meaning to them. A solution delivery team will work on developing or configuring a solution that adds real value to their stakeholders; an enterprise architecture team will develop, support and evolve a vision for your organization; and a data management team will support and evolve the information assets within your organization. Different teams with different goals will find different meanings – IT isn’t just about creating potentially shippable software.
    • Impact of Work: The work that a team does needs to matter, or as Dan Pink would say the work has purpose.


    Organizations are complex adaptive systems (CASs). They are complex because they are a dynamic network of interacting teams whose 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 given team affect changes in other teams that they interact with. The teams and the organization as a whole 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 potential organizational structure. A medium-to-large sized organization will have many teams, they may have a marketing team, a vendor management team, an IT operations team, a data team, an 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.  

    Onion diagram of the Disciplined Agile tool kit

    Figure 1. The process blades of the Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit (click to enlarge).

    For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that 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, the Product Management team, and so on. Similarly, changes within the Enterprise Architecture team may ripple out to the Asset Management team, the Portfolio Management team, and so on. To increase the velocity of adaptive learning the Disciplined Agile tool kit includes the Continuous Improvement process blade to explicitly share learnings across the organization.