“A Disciplined Viewpoint” with Scott Ambler and Mark Lines

IndigoCube’s Business Agility 2018 offered expert insights from two leading Agile thinkers who have practiced their craft for decades with leading companies around the world. Building on their key roles in the Agile movement, they have developed and applied ways to help teams “Be Awesome”, especially in complex transformational journeys. Their Disciplined Agile framework drives value and increases agility in business and IT through improved decision making.

Scott Ambler highlighted increasing complexity and the dominance of “apex predators” in many industries who “can turn on a dime” without losing momentum. These highly agile, constantly learning and evolving enterprises are Complex Adaptive Systems that support self-organising, collaborative teams who network and learn from eachother across silos. Traditional management approaches rely on pre-defined, repeatable processes which can be fragile in unpredictable conditions.

Teams that scale across multiple dimensions often find certain methods are suitable in only one direction; scrum for co-located small teams or SAFE for large teams and geographical distribution. A misapplication of methods destroys value but a decision process framework such as Disciplined Agile helps apply the right techniques to the right situation.

Ambler also pointed out that the Agile community has become really effective at building and optimising software development teams but overall business value requires agility in the teams around them. He cites their excellent analogy of putting a racing car engine in a tractor; we shouldn’t be surprised when it doesn’t win. The Disciplined Enterprise has 7 principles for Formula 1 success: Delight Customers, Be Awesome, Pragmatism, Context Counts, Choice is Good, Optimize Flow, Enterprise Aware.

Mark Lines presented Lean Change journeys, highlighting that “many IT departments are miserable”; so there is a need to optimise the whole, not just the individual or the team. Invest in coaching, at all levels (“success assurance”) and recognise it’s a multi-year process – you can’t rush hearts and minds transformation. Champions and sponsors who support the change must be committed for the long term – they are the “product owners of the transformation.”

Spotify (which recently launched in South Africa), set up “guilds” or virtual communities of practice that span multiple groups, hold “unconferences” and inspire pride in the excellence of their adopted Agile craft. The Spotify journey was unique – its agile patterns are context-sensitive and shouldn’t be copied because they won’t work in different environments and cultures.

Such journeys often fail because they are treated like sequential plans but transformation and complex change requires iteration, constant learning and consensus building. “Minimal Viable Changes” help to start small, scale fast while balancing disruption and organisational value. Other techniques are “Big Visible Charts” which communicate the vision and progress through urgency statements, wins, benefits and monthly MVCs. Make plans visible and stand up regularly as a team to update them; transparency and anti-meeting thinking drives collective progress.

According to Ambler, “If you have no metrics you are flying blind, but if you have too many metrics you are flying blinded”. Keep it simple and optimize flow by clearing any make-work that obscures or delays real progress. Don’t underestimate the importance of workspace design, one organisation they have worked with disassembled manager offices away from the windows and put the team pods there so it improved their happiness and engagement which resulted in better and faster product delivery.

Jaco Viljoen, principal consultant at IndigoCube also spoke about the roadmap to a digital enterprise, these are five levels of capability that help organisations think about their approach to delivering value. He also advocates fit for purpose thinking rather than copying recipes that worked in different contexts; improvements won’t be sustainable on weak foundations.

The Disciplined Agile community in South Africa is the third biggest in the world, this shows the local success of this framework in harnessing and applying Agile. IndigoCube have helped drive this growth locally and today Scott Ambler and Mark Lines demonstrated how this value derives from decades of learning and re-learning their craft.

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