The Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE)

A Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE) is able to sense and respond swiftly to changes in the marketplace. It does this through an organizational culture and structure that facilitates change within the context of the situation that it faces. Such organizations require a learning mindset in the mainstream business and underlying lean and agile processes to drive innovation.

Figure 1 depicts the scope of the Disciplined Agile (DA) Toolkit. As you can see, a DAE encompasses Disciplined Agile IT (DAIT), Disciplined DevOps, and Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD). Note how DAE builds upon DAIT, which builds upon Disciplined DevOps, which in turn builds upon DAD. Figure 2 provides an overview of the DA toolkit, showing the process blades/areas of each of the four layers.

Figure 1. The scope of the DA toolkit.

DA Scope - Small 

Figure 2. An overview of the DA toolkit (click to expand).

DAD Poster Horizontal 2-0

This article is organized into the following sections:

  1. Why DAEs?
  2. The Workflow of a DAE
  3. The Behaviors of a DAE

Why DAEs?

There are three fundamental forces in the marketplace today:

  1. Every business is a software business. We used to say that software is eating the world, but the fact is that for business software is the world. Tesla’s competitive value isn’t electric cars, instead it’s Tesla’s ability to upgrade and enhance those cars through software. Starbucks now competes on software – people pay and now even order via their phones, and they’re being motivated to buy more to earn loyalty stars. Gone are the days where IT could be treated like a utility, one that more often than not was outsourced in the belief that you needed to focus on your core competencies and IT didn’t make it onto that list. These days being competent at IT is mere table stakes at best, you need to excel at IT if you hope to become an industry leader.
  2. Every industry is being disrupted. When we start working with a new customer one of the first questions we ask is “What keeps you up at night?” Interestingly, it’s been over two years since anyone told us they were afraid of their traditional competitors. Everyone tells us they’re afraid of disruptors, new competitors entering their market space using technologies in new ways. Financial firms fear disruption by new Fintech competitors. Retailers are being disrupted by online shopping with malls at risk of being shuttered and 65-year old Sears Canada declaring creditor protection in June 2017. Healthcare is being disrupted by artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D printing. It is clear that your organization needs to make a hard decision very soon – Do you want to be the disruptor or the disrupted?
  3. Agile firms dominate. Becoming an agile business – an adaptive, responsive, and learning organization – is your true goal. Business agility requires true agility across all of your organization, not just software development, not just DevOps, and not just IT. There isn’t a single industry now that either isn’t dominated by agile businesses or isn’t under threat of disruption by new agile competitors. Not one.

Business agility – an adaptive, lean, responsive, and learning organization – is the true destination of your improvement efforts. Business agility requires true agility across all of IT, not just software development, and a DAE that is able to leverage that IT capability.

The “Workflow” of a DAE

The following figure overviews the “workflow” of a DAE. The diagram is arguably not a workflow diagram because the focus is on showing the enterprise-level process blades of the DA Toolkit and their high-level outputs. Because your organization is unique and constantly evolving, more on these concepts later, your workflow will vary. Furthermore, because your organization is complex your workflow will be similarly complex and almost fully connected (each process blade will produce something that is consumed by almost every other process blade and will in turn consume outputs from almost every other blade). As a result we’ve taken a simpler approach to depicting the “workflow” and how each blade produces something that is shared with the rest of the organization. The implication is that each blade also consumes what it needs to do so (not shown on the following diagram for the sake of simplicity).

Figure 3. How each DAE process blade influences the others (click to expand).


Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE) Workflow

For detailed discussions of each DAE process blade, please follow these links:

The Behaviors of a DAE

Let’s explore the key aspects of a DAE. DAEs are:

  1. Agile
  2. Complex Adaptive Systems (CASs)
  3. Unique
  4. Learning Organizations
  5. Responsive
  6. Centered around value streams
  7. Rainbows Evolving Towards Green or Teal

DAEs are Agile

Your organization and your people must be agile. Your organizational culture is the most important factor in business agility success. You need people who strive to Be Awesome by collaborating in an Enterprise Aware manner to Delight Customers and continuously improve. Having said that, there is unfortunately little advice out there as to how an agile organization works as a whole, which is why in this book we choose to address that very topic. Coherence of your overall approach is critical – if one group of people is going in a different direction, if they aren’t working in an agile manner, they will drag down your entire organization.

DAEs are Complex Adaptive Systems (CASs)

A DAE is a complex adaptive system (CAS). A CAS is a system in which a perfect understanding of the individual parts does not automatically convey a perfect understanding of the whole system’s behavior. DAEs are complex because they are a dynamic network of interacting teams, see the following diagram, where the overall behavior of the organization is not predicted by the behavior of the individual teams. Having said that, the individual teams are still working towards fulfilling the common goal of the DAE – to delight their customers. When this behavior is positive it’s often referred to as synergy, when this behavior is negative it’s referred to as a failing organization. DAEs are adaptive because individuals and teams self-organize and learn from their experiences, and hopefully from the experiences of others.

Figure 4. An organization as a collection of interacting teams. 

Complex adaptive systems 

This is important because Disciplined Agile thrives when your organization embraces the fact that it is a CAS. Disciplined Agile is about self-organization, improvement, and collaboration amongst other things. Our self-organizing teams will each need to own their process, agile slang for being given process autonomy, and that process will evolve as the team learns from their experiences. Changes in the way that a team works will potentially impact the other teams that it interacts with, those teams will then learn and evolve, which will potentially impact other teams, and so on. The 2016 Agility at Scale study found that 96% of agile teams reported that they needed to collaborate with one or more groups outside of their team in order to do their work successfully, so this is quite common in practice.

DAEs are Unique

Your organization is made up of a collection of interacting teams, each of which follows a process that is unique to them, the team process evolves over time as the team learns, and these teams will have their own specific priorities. Yet, even though your teams are unique they won’t be radically different from each other, they will collaborate with one another, overall they will be working towards your organization’s goal(s), and they will still be governed fairly.

Not only is every organization different they are also evolving over time. Because you must identify an approach that works for you. Prescriptive methods are attractive because they appear to be something you can quickly learn and install. The reality is that you need to choose the strategies that reflect your actual situation to be effective – Choice is Good. And of course Pragmatism should drive your choices, not a desire to “be agile.”

DAEs are Learning Organizations

Everyone is responsible for learning and sharing their skills, regardless of the organizational domain that they’re working in. Because the modern marketplace evolves swiftly in unpredictable ways, you must be willing to experiment and be willing to continually change your strategy so as to Optimize Flow.

DAEs are Responsive

Gone are the days of annual planning and three to five year roadmaps. DAEs follow an adaptive, outcome-driven approach that is based on experimentation and probing (or sensing) of their environment and then responding.

An implication is that you must provide teams with the authority and responsibility to delight their customers. Senior leadership must help teams get the people, funding, help, and other resources that they require to react quickly to a marketplace opportunity. Gone are the days of annual planning and budgeting. Provide boundaries within which to operate and an internal market for operational resources. Your objective is to match resource needs to prevailing customer demand – The implication is that some people may not be fully utilized, but this slack enables strategic work such as learning and improvement.

DAEs are Centered Around Value Streams

Your organization implements one or more value streams to provide value to your customers. A value stream is in effect a thread through your organization (and potentially partner organizations) of people collaborating to earn revenue. The best value streams Delight Customers, and part of doing that is to Optimize the Flow of your work so as to be reactive to customer needs.

DAEs are Rainbows, But Strive to be Green or Teal

Just as your process must be flexible and adaptive, so must your organization. In Reinventing Organizations Frederick Laloux works through the history, and arguably a maturity model, for organizational design. The premise, which is overviewed in Figure 5 below, is that over time we’re seeing organizations evolve from tribal and often violent structures (Red) through more formalized hierarchical structures (Amber/Orange) to agile approaches (Green/Teal). Today the vast majority of organizations, believed to be 80-90%, are somewhere on the Amber through Green scale.

Figure 5. Laloux’s organization model (click to expand).

Teal organizations 

It’s attractive to think that your organizational culture is consistent across the entire enterprise, but it is far more likely that you have teams or divisions with differing color ratings according to Laloux’s model. This is because the culture of a team (or division) is greatly influenced by the leader of that team, and leaders vary in their style. Because teams face unique situations – sometimes a red strategy is the most appropriate given what the team faces. Context counts!