Interview with Klaus Boedker, Disciplined Agile Coach & Trainer, by Martyna Czajka and Marta Ciak
One can easily get lost in an always growing number of agile methodologies, approaches, tools and techniques. In the last few years, Disciplined Agile is becoming more visible on the agile map as the must-have toolbox for everyday use for agile teams looking to improve. Don’t worry if you missed it before, Klaus will explain its benefits to you.
For you, what are the three characteristics that set Disciplined Agile apart?
For me, the three elements that have always set Disciplined Agile apart from other agile approaches are: pragmatism, context counts, and choice is good. Let me share some examples. First, Disciplined Agile takes a pragmatic approach to agility. That is best summarized by how we think of improvements inside DA: “Start where you are, improve in small steps, and always strive to get better”. Nowhere in that sentence, does it say: “improve by using these specific practices (for example, have a retrospective every two weeks, or write your requirements as user stories)”. Rather, Disciplined Agile trusts that you know your context better than anyone else, and that you can see what is needed to improve your way of working. Secondly, Disciplined Agile puts your context first. What I mean by that is that your specific and unique context will drive how you practice agile and how you pursue agility. Again, no one knows your context better than you, because you live it every day. In turn, you must be pragmatic about how you practice agile to match your context, and not what some far-removed author prescribes in a book who has never experienced your situation. Lastly, Disciplined Agile gives you lots of choices. Probably more than you will ever need. The best place to find your options and learn more about them is in the DA Browser. You can access the free online tool here: https://www.pmi.org/disciplined-agile/da-browser. “Choice is good” is a natural extension of “pragmatism” and “context counts”. As in, how can we be pragmatic if we don’t have options to choose from? And how can we take our context into consideration when designing our way of working, if we don’t have plenty of options to choose from? These are the three elements that summarize Disciplined Agile the best for me.
From what you say, one may get the impression that Disciplined Agile can only be adopted in mature teams, by people with extensive knowledge and experience. Is this the case?
Far from it. You don’t need extensive knowledge and experience to practice Disciplined Agile. DA works for any team at any stage in its life cycle. What you do need is an open mind and a willingness to move beyond prescriptive methods.
When we talk about agile, one of the first thoughts that pops up is Scrum. Hardly surprising, it is a very popular methodology in Poland. In your opinion, what is the biggest difference between Scrum and DA?
The answer to this question lies less in comparing Scrum to Disciplined Agile and more in the realization that Scrum is one of the many building blocks of DA. You can think of Disciplined Agile being built like you would build a brick wall. The individual bricks in the wall are proven methodologies and ways of working. Such as Scrum, SAFe, Kanban, PMBOK, etc. Together, the bricks make up Disciplined Agile. Being comprised of so many different ‘bricks’ is what makes DA so powerful and versatile. It will likely have an answer to the challenge you are facing in your specific environment. For example, if your team is practicing Scrum but the work becomes less and less plannable because you deal more with production issues now, Disciplined Agile offers the option of switching to a more lean and continuous flow way of working.
Sounds great, but can anyone verify if DA is for their teams?
Yes absolutely. No matter your situation, DA is always applicable to your team. Because Disciplined Agile is built up as a brick wall, options will apply to your current situation and future situations when your context evolves. Practicing Disciplined Agile comes down to keeping an open mind and remembering to be pragmatic (not purist and prescriptive), taking your context into consideration (not ignoring it) and looking at all your choices when making decisions.
Since every team can benefit from DA tool kit, let’s imagine a very possible scenario: I work as a Scrum Master in a team and would like to implement some tools from DA. Where should I start?
Start by identifying the “why” of you what you want to solve. What challenges are you facing that your current way of working does not address? Then focus on solving one challenge at a time using the DA tool kit as your guide. What current practice is not solving the challenge, and what can we replace it with from the DA tool kit? For example, let’s say your team is using user stories to capture all requirements today. You begin to notice that the work you deliver does not fully meet the users’ needs. To solve the challenge, you consult the DA tool kit and decide to supplement your user stories with personas to better capture who your users are and what they really want.
Let’s look at a slightly different perspective. How would you explain to a team member what DA is and how it will help them in their work?
From a day-to-day perspective, we don’t want team members to think about our way of working and whether it works for us or not. We want them to do their best work without the process getting in the way. When our process does hit a snag and starts to impede the team’s work, that’s when I would explain to the team members that DA is our best answer to solve this slow-down. Because Disciplined Agile takes our context into consideration, it gives us the choices we need to make a better decision, and it allows us to solve our challenges in a pragmatic (not prescriptive) manner.
Are there situations in which the DA will fail?
Absolutely. There are plenty of situations where DA will and has failed. When we set up to solve challenges, we are making guesses about what works and what doesn’t work. Sometimes the experiment turns out to prove our improvement hypothesis, and sometimes it turns out to disprove what we thought would work. This happens with all process improvements, Disciplined Agile or not.
What sets DA apart is that your process improvement experiment takes your context into consideration, you had plenty of choices to choose from when designing the experiment, and you approached the situation from a pragmatic angle. No other agile methodology gives you all those benefits.
Klaus, thank you very much for the interview. I have a feeling that many people will be inspired to learn more about DA. What sources would you recommend to get started?
As we say in Disciplined Agile, the choice is good. And you have plenty of choices to learn more about DA (www.pmi.org/disciplined-agile/introduction-to-disciplined-agile); watch a webinar or read a blog post on projectmanagement.com (simply search for “Disciplined Agile”); you can also find some of the great content on PMI Poland’s YouTube channel (youtube.com/@PmiOrgPlPoland_Chapter).
About Disciplined Agile Poland Community
In autumn 2020, the PMI Poland Chapter established a dedicated Disciplined Agile team. Volunteers who are passionate about agnostic agile approach aim to spread the knowledge of DA in Poland, so anyone interested is welcome to join Polish community and visit the official LinkedIn profile of the Społeczność Disciplined Agile.
Tenured agile leader, coach, and transformation agent with 15 years of experience improving the value delivery capability of a wide range of companies. Using a tailored blend of agile, lean, and traditional methodologies he builds awesome, self-sufficient teams that deliver innovative solutions to the delight of their customers. Klaus lives in beautiful Vancouver on Canada’s west coast. He is a certified Disciplined Agile coach & trainer.
Consultant at Accenture, with several years of experience in the project management area. Agile practitioner and enthusiast. Trainer of agile, Jira and Confluence. Program and Events Leader in PMI Poland Chapter Wroclaw Branch, member of Disciplined Agile PMI Poland Chapter team. She takes great joy in leading various initiatives and is not afraid of challenges. About Turkey can talk for hours. Martyna loves food and can’t imagine life without potatoes.