Disciplined Agile And Why It Matters In Business

Disciplined Agile was first developed at IBM in 2009 and then introduced to the mainstream in a 2012 book entitled Disciplined Agile Delivery. Disciplined Agile (DA) is a people-first process decision toolkit with a focus on learning and the streamlining of internal processes.

Understanding Disciplined Agile

Early incarnations of Disciplined Agile had a broad focus on process decisions across an organization. Then, more specific adaptations began to appear including “Disciplined DevOps” and “Disciplined Agile IT.”

Disciplined Agile has now been designed to cover the full end-to-end product lifecycle, from project initiation to final delivery. Fundamentally, DA helps businesses understand how seemingly compartmentalized activities such as security, finance, and product management can work together contextually. 

With a focus on everything from consumable solutions to working software and documentation, Disciplined Agile is unique among scaling methodologies. DA also advocates that the scaling of agile practices be based on decisions that result in the greatest customer value

The four layers of the Disciplined Agile toolkit 

To assist decision-makers in navigating the DA toolkit, information is commonly grouped into four separate layers.

Let’s look at each layer:

  1. Foundation. This layer forms the conceptual underpinning of the entire toolkit. As a result, it contains the principles and guidelines of the DA mindset. It also includes concepts fundamental to agile and lean methodologies and information on roles and responsibilities within a team. Lastly, the foundation layer guides the choice of a way of working (WoW).
  2. Disciplined DevOps. This involves the streaming of software development (dev) and IT operations (ops). Disciplined Agile favors a collaborative approach to release management, data management, support, and operations. The DevOps framework can be adapted to suit depending on the structure and maturity level of the organization concerned. Examples of DA release management strategies may include SAFe release trains and slow or quick cadence release windows.
  3. Value streams. This layer encompasses every set of actions that take place to bring value to the customer, from the initial concept to final delivery and customer support. Here, businesses must concentrate on adding value that can be realized in the marketplace. The DA FLEX mindset ties organizational strategy to effective value streams, ensuring that innovative decisions add value to both the customer and business. 
  4. Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE). This layer can respond with agility to changing market conditions. It does this via the promotion of a flexible and adaptable organizational culture and structure. This agility is reinforced by the business adopting a learning mindset, which helps to drive innovation

Potential strengths and weaknesses of Disciplined Agile


  • Flexibility. Far from being a tool that is used by software development teams exclusively, DA is an approach that is relevant to any customer-facing role or department. Marketing and sales teams, for example, benefit greatly from enhanced collaboration with customers by taking advantage of DA principles and adapting them to suit.
  • Robust decision-making framework. DA does not assume that the project team needs to tailor up or tailor down according to their experience level. Instead, it takes a middle-of-the-road approach and describes all options and the potential trade-offs of each. Options are sourced from a variety of sources including Scrum, XP, Agile Modeling, Kanban, and Outside-In Development. Ultimately, DA utilizes a risk value lifecycle, with a focus giving the teams the freedom to make their own decisions.


  • Does require experience. DA is unsuited to teams that are unfamiliar with agile practices because it does not detail an actionable methodology or set process. In some cases, the business may need to hire external consultants to provide training.
  • Can be cumbersome. Since DA seeks to break down compartmental barriers, the organization-wide rollout of its principles may take longer when compared with similar agile systems. It also requires discipline, direction, and coordination – particularly when teams are largely autonomous.

Key takeaways

  • Disciplined Agile is process decision structure in software development that prioritizes individuals and the connection between individuals.
  • Disciplined Agile comprises four layers: foundation, Disciplined DevOps, value streams, and Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE). Each layer helps project teams make sense of a large amount of information within the DA toolkit.
  • Disciplined Agile is a flexible and robust decision-making framework. But it does assume some experience in agile and can be cumbersome to implement in larger or compartmentalized organizations.

Connected Business Frameworks

Agile started as a lightweight development method compared to heavyweight software development, which is the core paradigm of the previous decades of software development. By 2001 the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was born as a set of principles that defined the new paradigm for software development as a continuous iteration. This would also influence the way of doing business.
The Agile methodology has been primarily thought of for software development (and other business disciplines have also adopted it). Lean thinking is a process improvement technique where teams prioritize the value streams to improve it continuously. Both methodologies look at the customer as the key driver to improvement and waste reduction. Both methodologies look at improvement as something continuous.
The scaled agile framework (SAFe) helps larger organizations manage the challenges they face when practicing agile. The scaled agile framework was first introduced in 2011 by software industry guru Dean Leffingwell in his book Agile Software Requirements. The framework details a set of workflow patterns for implementing agile practices at an enterprise scale. This is achieved by guiding roles and responsibilities, planning and managing work, and establishing certain values that large organizations must uphold.
Scrum is a methodology co-created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland for effective team collaboration on complex products. Scrum was primarily thought for software development projects to deliver new software capability every 2-4 weeks. It is a sub-group of agile also used in project management to improve startups’ productivity.
Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.
DevOps refers to a series of practices performed to perform automated software development processes. It is a conjugation of the term “development” and “operations” to emphasize how functions integrate across IT teams. DevOps strategies promote seamless building, testing, and deployment of products. It aims to bridge a gap between development and operations teams to streamline the development altogether.
Agile project management (APM) is a strategy that breaks large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. In the APM methodology, each project is completed in small sections – often referred to as iterations. Each iteration is completed according to its project life cycle, beginning with the initial design and progressing to testing and then quality assurance.
design sprint is a proven five-day process where critical business questions are answered through speedy design and prototyping, focusing on the end-user. A design sprint starts with a weekly challenge that should finish with a prototype, test at the end, and therefore a lesson learned to be iterated.
Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.

Read Next: Business AnalysisCompetitor Analysis, Continuous InnovationAgile MethodologyLean StartupBusiness Model InnovationProject Management.

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