A fundamental philosophy of agile is that teams should be allowed to own their process, to choose their way of working (WoW). In Disciplined Agile (DA) we take it one step further with the idea that teams should not only be allowed to choose their WoW, they should be supported and enabled in doing so. In other words, let’s help teams to be awesome.
Figure 1 depicts the workflow for how a team can choose and then evolve their WoW. The workflow shows four key activities that a team will iteratively work through as they need. In this blog we focus on initially choosing your team’s WoW.
Figure 1. The workflow for choosing and evolving your WoW (click to enlarge).
When adopting your initial WoW, the first thing to do is to identify whether you team is allowed to choose its WoW or whether one has been chosen for them. Let’s start by exploring how you would proceed if you’re allowed to choose your own WoW.
Tailoring Your Initial WoW
When a team is allowed to choose its own WoW the first step is to select the appropriate lifecycle given the situation faced by the team. Lifecycles, in some ways, are “methods” in that they show the high-level workflow for a team. They are the glue that combines detailed techniques/practices into a coherent whole (more on this below). Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) supports several lifecycles:
- Agile. A Scrum-based project lifecycle.
- Lean. A Kanban-based project lifecycle.
- Continuous Delivery: Agile. A Scrum-based lifecycle for long-standing product teams.
- Continuous Delivery: Lean. A Kanban-based lifecycle for long-standing product teams.
- Exploratory. An experimentation-based lifecycle, based on Lean Startup, for exploring marketplace needs.
- Program. A lifecycle for a large “team of teams.”
Although the focus of DA is on agile and lean ways of working, DA recognizes that in some cases you may still decide to adopt a waterfall/serial lifecycle. DA doesn’t explicitly support waterfall, but as you can see in Figure 2 we do recognize that in very low-risk situations a traditional approach makes sense.
Figure 2. A flowchart summarizing how to choose a lifecycle (click to enlarge).
Your lifecycle will of course evolve, either incrementally via normal evolution of your WoW or because your team explicitly decides to adopt a different one (once they’ve learned more about themselves as a team).
Once your team has chosen an initial lifecycle, the next is to select the detailed techniques that you’re going to follow as a team. This is typically done as a series of process tailoring workshops where the team works through the appropriate goal diagrams to identify how they want to work together. Figure 3 depicts the goal diagram for Secure Funding, you can see how it walks you through the decision points that you need to consider and potential techniques for addressing those decision points. Don’t worry, if you’re not familiar with all of the options they are described in the book Choose Your WoW!, with a description and the trade-offs associated with each technique summarized in tables. Knowing your options, and the trade-offs associated with them, enables your team to make better process decisions (which in turn leads to better process outcomes). This is something we call guided continuous improvement.
Figure 3. The Secure Funding process goal (click to enlarge).
In theory it’s possible to do a single “big bang” process tailoring workshop when a team is in initially formed, but we’ve found that leads to process bloat because the team has to guess at too many things all at once. Unless you’re in a regulatory environment requiring defined process descriptions up front, it’s usually better to tailor your WoW in stages on an as-needed basis.
Adopt Existing Method or Framework
In some organizations teams are still not allowed to choose their WoW. This may happen for several reasons:
- The organization is new to agile.
- Your organizational leadership wants every team to follow the same process (this is a spectacularly bad idea because context counts). This is often because they don’t understand that you can have a consistent governance process without inflicting the same process on all the teams.
- You’ve hired coaches that only know one method or framework.
- Leadership still has a command-and-control culture or they don’t trust your team to do this (either because you don’t have the experience required on your team or because you’re not using something like the DA toolkit yet).
- You’re in a regulatory environment (e.g. medical device development) and don’t realize that you can choose and evolve your WoW in any way that you like, as long as you remain compliant and document what you do (yes, that’s annoying).
The problem with forcing a team to follow an existing method or framework, no matter how popular it is, is that it rarely fits the situation faced by the team. It might be a great method, but it’s the wrong one for the team – context counts, every team is unique and faces a unique situation, so should be allowed to choose and evolve their own WoW to enable them to be as effective as they can be. Think of it like this: If a team is competent enough to build a solution for their stakeholders, surely they must also be competent enough (perhaps given a bit of help) to choose their own WoW?
Regardless of whether you were allowed to choose your initial WoW or had one forced upon your team, this is only a start. Your team will still want to evolve your WoW as you learn and as your situation evolves. More on this in our next blog.
For more information about how your agile team can choose and evolve its way of work, we recommend our book Choose Your WoW! A Disciplined Agile Delivery Handbook for Optimizing Your Way of Working. If you want to succeed at enterprise agile you need choices, not prescriptions.