Disciplined Agile

The Behaviors of a DAE

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.

Complex Adaptive Systems

Figure 1. An organization as a collection of interacting teams. 

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 2 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.

Lalouxs Organizational Model

Figure 2. Laloux’s organization model (click to expand).

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!