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:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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