Interview with Mark Lines, Vice-President of PMI and co-creator of Disciplined Agile, conducted by Dominika Kantorowicz

Mark, let’s start from the basics. What is Disciplined Agile? If this is not a framework, nor methodology, how can we name it? Where did it come from?

Disciplined Agile began in around 2009 when the co-creator – Scott Ambler – was the Chief methodologist of Agile and Lean for IBM worldwide. He recognized that we needed something more robust than just Scrum to deliver complex, enterprise initiatives using agile. Scrum is described by a 19-page guide. While Scrum is wonderful, it is just not enough. So Scott asked me for help and together we decided to pull together supplemental practices from all the different methods and frameworks and bring them together into one cohesive library of practices and strategies, as well as fit-for-context advice for which ones make sense in different situations. We need to recognize that there is not just one agile process that suits all situations. If you’re building a simple website, you don’t need to do much in the way of requirements.

You can even simply diagram everything on the whiteboard if you are co-located. But if you’re building software for medical devices that people’s lives depend on, you will have to take a much more formal approach to how you deliver your products using Agile. In the beginning we described DA as a “process decision framework” but people didn’t understand what we meant. What resonates better is describing DA as a “toolkit” of practices and strategies, you can select the techniques that make sense for you. To summarize, using the DA toolkit you can customize an agile way of working for any situation.

Could you briefly introduce us DA principles? Do any of them seem particularly important to you?

Disciplined Agile principles are near to our hearts. You might have heard about the Agile Manifesto that was written in 2001. We need to recognize that this is almost 20 years old now and maybe there’s a better way to frame the Disciplined Agile Manifesto. We describe the DA mindset in terms of principles, promises, and guidelines.

One of my favourite principles is “be awesome”. It means that if you do Agile properly, everybody should be happier because you’re focusing on high-value work and not doing things that don’t add value. This makes us more productive, things get done quicker, and this increases our joy. When properly done, everybody in the organization should be happier using Agile techniques. This joy translates into projects that are delivered on time and within the budget, the risk is lower, customers are delighted and collectively that’s what “being awesome” means.

My other favourite principle is that “context counts”. The way you do Agile will differ in different situations, it varies in small and large teams, and for example, in regulatory environments versus startups. The DA toolkit is what helps you to customize a way of working that makes sense for you.

Another principle is that “choice is good”. We don’t have just one way of doing things, we have many of them. It’s good to have choices. Many methods and frameworks out there are very prescriptive, they say this is the way you have to do things. A wonderful thing about DA is that we believe that choice is good. A related principle of DA is to “be pragmatic”. Pragmatism means that we do the best we can in the situation that we face. In some situations that may mean that we don’t do agile “by the book”. And that’s ok. Be as agile as we can be, but we recognize that in an enterprise we have to do things that aren’t agile in the interest of the larger good. This is part of the “discipline” in DA. So we do what makes sense for us, not blindly following prescriptive guidance of any particular method.

Fot. PMI Mark Lines spoke about Disciplined Agile strategies for optimizing your way of working
at the PMI Global Conference 2019 in Philadelphia, Penn.

What are the primary roles on Disciplined Agile delivery teams?

A key role, very similar to Scrum, is the Team Lead, what Scrum calls Scrum Master. It doesn’t matter what you call it – Scrum Master, Team Lead or Agile Project Manager. It’s just a role, not the job title. We also have a Product Owner, which also comes from Scrum. The Product Owner represents the business and conveys the requirements from the business to the team. He also helps set priorities. In DA we also have a unique role – an Architecture Owner who you can think of as the technical lead of the team.

One of the principles that I didn’t mention is “enterprise awareness”. It means that teams don’t work in isolation, we have to work with other Agile teams and other business units. Therefore it’s good to make sure that everybody works together effectively. An example of applying enterprise awareness is having an Architecture Owner who understands the enterprise technical direction and makes sure that if there are any guidelines, standards that need to be followed, the team follows those standards. We also have the Team Member role. We don’t have business analysts, testers and developers as specific roles because, in the most effective Agile teams, everyone does what needs to get done irrespective of their formal role or job title. However, DA recognizes that you may also need some specialists, like user experience specialist or database specialist particularly in more complex initiatives to assist part or full time. We refer to these as supplemental, optional roles.

What type and size of an organization is the best to implement DA? Does the organization with no prior experience in Agile methods or frameworks can implement DA?

One of the great advantages of DA is its adaptability. It can be used in any size organization, any industry, any size and type of team. Even if you are a start-up with a four-person Scrum team, that team can still benefit from learning about the tools and techniques inside the DA toolkit to help you be more effective with Scrum. At the other end of the spectrum are the very large companies, for example a large UK-based company has over 1200 teams that use techniques from the DA toolkit. They use DA to increase the effectiveness of their teams around the world using methods like SAFe, LeSS, Lean, and Scrum. So, the size of the organization does not matter.

In turn, do you need to have Agile experience? No, you don’t have to. When you take a DA workshop or certification, you can take the one that matches your understanding and knowledge of Agile. Our Disciplined Agile Scrum Master (DASM) certification assumes that you don’t know Agile at all so we cover the basics of Agile, Lean and also basics of the DA toolkit. This certification goes far beyond “basic Scrum” and is a great place to start your agile learning journey.

Fot. Mark Lines private archives Mark Lines spoke at the Dubai International Project Management Forum in December 2019.

What should be the best way to implement DA? Do we have any prescriptive steps that we need to follow?

What we would recommend first and foremost is investing in the right education. Unfortunately, a typical Agile certification is a two-day program that only teaches you about one specific method and it doesn’t teach you how to use it effectively. It just teaches you structurally what it is and that just simply isn’t enough to get the job done. What distinguishes the PMI certifications is that you can learn about all different kinds of Agile techniques and they’re backed by significant bodies of knowledge as well as challenging tests to help you apply the material learned during the trainings. This will help make you more flexible in applying Agile in a way that works best for you. So start with the right kind of education. What we see in many cases is that after somebody takes a course on DA, they may choose to get the assistance of a Discipline Agile partner – a consultant partner – who provides coaching services to help them adopt these ideas. So that’s the pattern we recommend – the education combined with coaching or help from somebody who’s done some kind of Agile but ideally is experienced using Disciplined Agile.

A fundamental philosophy of Agile is that teams should own their own process, or as we say in DA – teams should choose their way of working (WoW). We also say that there are no “best practices”, rather every practice has tradeoffs and works well in some situations and poorly in others. Given all of this, how can a team choose its WoW?

We do say that organizations that are truly successful with Agile aren’t successful due to copying other particular methods or frameworks. What makes them successful is that even though they may start this way, then they learn how to optimize, how to use it based on their unique situation. One of the beautiful things about Agile is that it has process improvement built into it and often teams use a technique called a retrospective where they periodically review where they didn’t meet the customer’s expectations and what they can do to get better to improve it. Another aspect is the idea of failing fast. Feel free to experiment and try things to get better. If you fail, that is ok. The quicker you fail, learn and get better, the quicker you will be a higher-performing team and deliver better results. While the idea of failing fast is a good one, the unfortunate reality though is that teams often don’t understand how to get better. When they fail, they don’t know what solution will make them get better and it’s often because of a lack of education they don’t know what alternatives are available. The answers are in the DA toolkit!

This is the real value proposition of Disciplined Agile. If you have a team that understands the hundreds of different strategies that can improve their way of working, they know what the guidance says in this kind of situation. So they succeed earlier because they can reference the toolkit, accelerating their continuous improvement. In DA we call this Guided Continuous Improvement (GCI). That’s what it means to choose your way of working! We call this “choose your WoW”.

I’ll give you one example. Some people copy the techniques from Spotify – the Swedish music company using Agile. Spotify does a wonderful thing in terms of using Agile, they chose what works for them, they chose their way of working. So the beauty of Spotify is not how they do Agile, the beauty is that they understood the importance of figuring out an agile way of working that makes sense for them. This is what you can do with the DA toolkit. So don’t copy Spotify, be like Spotify and choose your way of working!

Fot. PMI Mark Lines spoke about Disciplined Agile strategies for optimizing your way of working
at the PMI Global Conference 2019 in Philadelphia, Penn.

Does the DA have any tangent points with classic project management?

As I said earlier, one of the principles of DA is “Enterprise Awareness”. Typically an organization has many Agile teams, so we need to be enterprise aware, looking outside of our team, to understand better ways of working with other teams and interacting in a natural manner that supports functional groups of our organization. What I mean by that, is that in any enterprise, we may have a PMO that is responsible for ensuring that the investments, initiatives and risks are well managed. It’s important that the PMO also works in an agile fashion. DA provides guidance for those functional areas like PMO, enterprise architecture, release management, and data groups to help them be agile as well. This is how we achieve true business agility when all parts of the organization are agile. Answering the question about the correlation with project management, we need to understand that we need to have some governance in place. Effective PMOs help us to prioritize our projects, ensure effective return on our investments, and manage the risks of our projects. Disciplined Agile has built governance into DA but it is light-weight, lean governance. This is not bureaucratic governance, rather it shows how you can provide oversight to your project teams in an agile way.

What’s more, DA includes guidance for agile Risk Management – which is a part of traditional project management. Unfortunately, most Agile methodologies don’t even talk about risk management. These are examples of blending DA and classic project management ideas.

Can you tell us how to develop your DA knowledge? What is the certification path?

We are strong believers that everybody on the team should understand the DA toolkit. We can’t depend on just the team lead or the Scrum Master to understand all aspects of Agile. The most effective teams are the ones where everyone invested a little bit in education to understand agile practices.

We are very excited that we have just announced a new Agile certification journey, as part of the integration of DA into the PMI family. PMI has always been known to have world-class project management training, offering certifications for junior and senior project managers, so that you spend your entire career learning and growing within the traditional project management certifications. Now we have provided the equivalent career journey for Agile. We have introductory Agile certifications, as well as intermediate and advanced certification so that you can continue to learn and grow throughout your career.

We have 5 Agile certifications in the journey. The existing PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) Certification is not going away, so if you are working on your ACP please continue and complete it, but the good news is now you can go beyond ACP and take more advanced certifications within the Disciplined Agile certification journey.

Disciplined Agile Scrum Master (DASM) Certification is available now and there are many training workshops that have been scheduled. DASM is perfect for beginners in DA. It is a nine-lesson, instructor-led course that teaches the fundamentals of agile and lean approaches like Scrum, Kanban, SAFe® and more, along with how to implement the Disciplined Agile toolkit to choose your way of working (WoW) based on your individual situation.

We are very excited about our new Disciplined Agile Senior Scrum Master (DASSM) Certification for advanced or experienced Agilists. If you have Agile experience or you’re certified Scrum Master, you can go directly to that certification. One of the great things about this certification path is that you can get credit for your current background and go directly to the certification that makes sense for you.

What makes these certifications particularly valuable is that students learn how to draw on hundreds of practices from all types of methods including lean in order to optimize their way of working.

There are a lot of organizations who are looking for more senior Scrum Masters, people who have done it for many years and so we created the senior Scrum Master certification to fill the market needs. Some people ask us why we call it Scrum Master when DA is agnostic and works with many other kinds of Agile besides Scrum. The reason is that our research with hiring managers shows that employers are looking and hiring for the role of Scrum Masters even though they use other techniques such as Lean. So our courses go far beyond Scrum, covering Lean, the DA toolkit and how to use it for Guidance Con inuous Improvement. DASSM courses will be available in early December 2020.

The last two certifications are Disciplined Agile Coach (DAC) Certification, which will be redesigned and released in early 2021 and Disciplined Agile Value Stream Consultant (DAVSC) Certification, which learn you how to optimize large-scale agile situations and improve your delivery capability using a framework such as SAFe. So that will be available in early 2021 as well.

Fot. PMI PMI Agile Certifications

If you want to learn more about Disciplined Agile, please visit the website: