The Project Management Institute (PMI) recently announced that they purchased Disciplined Agile (DA). Though not shocking, it was a little surprising. I had a chance to talk with Scott Ambler, one of the co-founders of Disciplined Agile to get his take on the PMI acquisition. I’ve also made some predictions about what I think is going to happen next. Let’s explore what this acquisition means for both PMI and Disciplined Agile and how it might impact PMI’s future as well as the market for agile certifications.
As an aside, this is not PMI’s first partnership with an Agile association. In 2016, PMI partnered with the Agile Alliance to produce the Agile Practice Guide. The target audience for the practice guide seems to be the PMI members and in fact, language from the Agile Practice Guide was used to change the PMI-ACP exam. Read more about how that writing project unfolded which provides a glimpse into agility at PMI.
Some Background on Disciplined Agile
Disciplined Agile has been on my radar for a while, though I’ve not actually learned about it or encountered anyone using it. I suspect it is more popular internationally just based on the profiles of people who are certified in it.
I’ve navigated the DA site before in an attempt to learn more (see below). There is a lot there and you’ll need to wrap a rope around your waist to not get lost. Interested in scaling? We’ve got that. Want to blend agile and waterfall? We have that too. Agile Modeling, Scrum and Kanban, yep those are included as well.
The conclusion that I came to was that I needed to purchase one of the 6 books on Disciplined Agile to really get the big-picture view. But then the question was, which one? Choose your WoW, which seems to be targeted to teams? Or do I get the Executives Guide to Disciplined Agile to get the big picture view? I noted the price tag (not cheap), added both books to my reading list and moved on.
And BTW the breadth is what I think was attractive to PMI, which was confirmed by my discussion with Scott Ambler. DA represents a soup to nuts approach to agility and even more, provides everything you need not only for project delivery but for Dev Ops, IT and Scaling. It is the agile equivalent of PMI’s PMBOK Guide. FYI, I am not sure that being compared to the bloated, 700+ page PMBOK guide is a compliment.
Founders of Disciplined Agile
The exact creation date for DA is unclear – the DA website was launched in 2011 and the first book published on it was in 2012. Scott Ambler and Mark Lines are the founders and thought leaders behind Disciplined Agile.
Scott Ambler was an early adopter of object modeling and became an instructor on the Rational Unified Process (RUP). He joined IBM Rational as Chief Methodologist from 2006 to 2012. He is a prolific author having written or co-authored over 20 books on a wide range of topics. (I was able to connect with Scott and get his take on the acquisition – see notes below).
Mark Lines is the co-founder of DA. Like Scott, he was a RUP fan and worked at IBM during the acquisition of RUP. Mark left IBM in 2007 and cofounded UPMentors with two others before joining Scott at Scott Ambler and Associates which became Disciplined Agile.
What Exactly is Disciplined Agile?
To my reading, disciplined Agile seems to be a collection of several things, or more accurately perhaps, an amalgamation of many things. There is Agile Modeling, bits and pieces of Scrum and SAFe, DSDM and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. And while it has drawn generously from other agile approaches, it has frequently and purposefully changed the terminology.
Scott points out that DA is a toolkit comprised of 4 levels (which build on each other): DAD, Disciplined DevOps, Disciplined Agile IT, Disciplined Agile Enterprise. The diagram below shows how these 4 levels fit together.
The DA toolkit enables teams to choose and evolve their way of working (WoW), thereby increasing their effectiveness over time. The DA toolkit is based on seven principles: Delight Customers, Be Awesome, Pragmatism, Context Counts, Choice is Good, Optimize Flow, and Enterprise Awareness.
The summary below is largely me parroting what is publicly available on the DA website and admittedly much of it sounds like marketing-speak. There are mixing and matching of terms and overlap across the DA offerings, which I find confusing. I am not sure how the average person is able to pick this up and use it as a toolkit unless of course they already have experience with these techniques and in that case, they probably don’t need the toolkit.
#1 -Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) – DAD is a people-first, learning-oriented hybrid agile approach to IT solution delivery. It has a risk-value delivery lifecycle, is goal-driven, is enterprise aware, and is scalable. DAD supports 6 lifecycles that a team may choose from: Agile, Lean, Continuous Delivery: Agile, Continuous Delivery: Lean, Exploratory, and Program (team of teams).
#2 – Disciplined DevOps – Disciplined DevOps is the streamlining of IT solution development and IT operations activities, along with supporting enterprise-IT activities such as Security and Data Management, to provide more effective outcomes to an organization.
#3 – Disciplined Agile Information Technology (DAIT) – DAIT extends Disciplined DevOps to show how all of IT works together in a collaborative whole.
#4 – Disciplined Agile Enterprise (DAE) – DAE is able to sense and respond swiftly to changes in the marketplace. It does this through an organizational culture and structure that facilitates change within the context of the situation that it faces.
Is that all clear now? Not for me. I’ve purchased the Kindle version of the WoW book and perhaps once I dive in I can come back and revise these descriptions and provide a better-educated review. Or if you are conversant or certified, I welcome you to comment on how to improve these descriptions.
Disciplined Agile Provides Certifications
The certification market is quite lucrative, as most people know. While Scrum and SAFe certifications are perhaps the most popular agile certifications, DA also provides a variety of certifications for practitioners, coaches, and instructors.
There are few published statistics on the number of people certified in DA. What you can tell from the DA member directory is that at least this many people are certified. That is, there may be other people who are certified but chose to be excluded from the public directory.
Take up of DA in the Market Place
It’s hard to get a solid read on the popularity of DA in the marketplace. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve never met anyone practicing DA or certified in it, nor has anyone asked me for help understanding it. But, I live and work primarily in Chicago so that doesn’t mean it isn’t more popular in say Toledo, Toronto or Turkey.
One view of publicly available information is the Annual State of Agile report from Collabnet/VersionOne. There are two likely places that the VersionOne report could mention DA, one section is “Agile Methods and Practices” and the other is “Scaling Method or Framework Being Used”.
I checked the old reports going back to 2012 since DAD was just formally introduced in 2012. The V1 Annual Reports for 2012 and 2013 both mention agile modeling and agile UP in the first category, but make no mention of DA. In fact, DA is never mentioned in any year in the section on “Agile Methods and Practices”.
DA did begin showing up in the V1 Annual Report in “Scaling Method or Framework” as early as 2014 in the 9th annual state of agile report. That report said 4% of respondents were using Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) as a scaling method. This statistic has bounced around from 1% in 2016 to 7% in the most recent survey (see below). This is about 1/4 of the take up of SAFe which is the most popular scaling approach, and it is barely more than the “Spotify Model”.
My Discussion with Scott Ambler about the PMI Acquisition
I reached out to both Scott and Mark to request an interview about the acquisition, and Scott was gracious enough to agree. We had a pleasant 45-minute chat and I’ve highlighted some of my key takeaways below:
- Scott Just Wants To Help – Scott was keen to help me understand DA and offered to send me a copy of his Ways of Working book at no cost. Having heard him speak once before at Agile Alliance, I think this is his nature – like many coaches he seems anxious to share what he knows and help you to improve.
- The DA Framework is an Agile BOK – I asked if Scott thought that PMI would create an Agile Body of Knowledge or AgileBOK. Scott said that he considers DA an Agile BOK for software development. He views the DAD portion of the “Choose your WoW book” as an Agile BoK. “We provide hundreds of strategies and context for when you would want to apply them. There is not anything like them in the agile space today, and nothing as agnostic. We pull from Scrum, XP, RUP, Kanban, Lean Startup and other. We use non-scrum terminology because in most cases Scrum Terminology is not applicable.”
- Statistics on Framework Adoption – I asked Scott about the adoption statistics for agile methods in the VersionOne Annual Report. I’ve quoted some of those statistics in this article and wanted to get his take. Scott said he thought that Gartner’s paid research reports are more accurate but that the VersionOne statistics are close enough.
- Is There Sibling Rivalry with SAFe? – I asked Scott about whether there was sibling rivalry between SAFe and DA, due to the common origins in RUP. Scott wouldn’t comment on SAFe but Scott says they are different in that DA proudly pulls useful practices from various frameworks – PMI, RUP, Scrum, Kanban, and others. The fundamental philosophy of DA is that there are no best practices, that they are contextual in nature – all practices have strengths and weaknesses and the context to apply them is important.
- DA Has Drawn from Other Frameworks – DA Adopts great ideas from where ever they can be found. DA supports six different lifecycles. Agile, Kanban/Lean, both of which have phases and they have the same phase names as RUP used, but that is the only similarity. There are two continuous delivery lifecycles, one lean startup lifecycle, and one program lifecycle for team of teams. The program lifecycle is very similar to LeSS. Another thing that DA adopted from RUP is its approach to governance, though DA leaned it down a lot. Although teams work differently, and rightfully so, the consistency that the organization requires is provided by common risk-based milestones. Lean governance is baked right into the toolkit.
- Comparison of DA to Rapid Application Development – We discussed the similarity between DA and Steve McConnell’s 1996 book, Rapid Development. Scott thought that was a fair comparison – both are complete references to full lifecycle development. Scott believes that PMI acquired them because of the comprehensiveness of the DA framework. He believes that DA has an advantage over other frameworks or methods because it provides that comprehensive approach.
- Future DA and PMI Certifications – Scott says the levels of certification is higher than what is on the website, though he would not say exactly what they are. (The website shows about 4,000 DA certified members, as noted above). Scott said that the existing DA certificate holders will be grandfathered in, no one will be left to dry. They are working on it now and he believes that there will be something coming out within the next month. In terms of the future, DA has certified practitioners, coaches, and instructors for years and will continue to do that. They are aligned with PMI on the idea of certifications being earned, rather than simply an award at the end of a 2-day training course. DA has required experience for someone to get the DA Coaching certification. CDAP requires 2 years of experience, and the coaches require 5 years of experience.
- Will Scott and Mark Stay with PMI? – Scott said that he and Mark plan to stay with DA and PMI for a long time. He believes that he will do something similar to what he is doing today but have the backing of PMI. Scott is the Chief Scientist of DA and he likes to learn and help people. He sees a huge opportunity to help DA succeed that is hasn’t had before with PMI’s marketing and distribution network. He wants to help PMI energize their community around Agile.
What PMI Gets From the Acquisition of DA
There is a lot that PMI gets from this acquisition including an extensive body of knowledge, a toolkit which they could convert to a methodology and set of additional certifications.
PMI Gets Revenue Streams from Certifications
Certifications and dues represent the lion’s share of PMI revenues, to the tune of over $200M annually. PMI will inherit the 4,000 DA credential holders. If they put them on a renewal path, those 4,000 represent an annuity of about $100 in today’s dollars, or $400,000. That is not much. The greater opportunity is to market those 5 certifications above to PMI members, and to those outside PMI.
PMI has not been wildly successful in their attempts to recreate the PMP which is a huge certification cash cow which is going to fade at some point. They’ve tried by introducing new flavors of PM certification, none of which has really caught on (see chart below). The PMI-ACP has been the fastest-growing certification but it is nowhere near the adoption of the PMP. None of the other PMI certifications are growing at all.
That could change with the new opportunities from the DA acquisition. Agile certifications are hot right now, and big business. Each certification represents a revenue stream worth about $550. So, if PMI gets behind the 5 DA certifications and can get an additional 28,000 like the PMI-ACP, that represents $15M in revenue. The potential upside is much higher than that as well.
PMI Gains Agile Street Creds
PMI will gain some street creds by acquiring DA. To date, PMI hasn’t been credible in the Agile Market. As noted above, the PMI-ACP has grown, but not as fast as other agile certifications. And the vast majority of PMI-ACP certificants were PMI existing members.
PMI has not been able to appeal to those outside their own PMI members. They are not the trusted authority on agility outside PMI, and in fact, many agilists think of PMI as the opposite of agile. PMI is not the go-to organization on agility; the Agile Alliance or one of the many Scrum organizations are likely to be thought of as the experts.
That could change with this purchase. PMI gains both an agile body of knowledge, a set of tools and thought leadership from Scott and Mark. This is a significant “leveling up” for PMI and a shot at establishing themselves as an authority in the agile world. In fact, CEO Sunil Prashara predicted that PMI would “start to develop more and more capabilities” in this area.
PMI Gets a Scaling Methodology That Can Challenge SAFe
Though I use the word methodology with some reluctance, the truth is that DAD is viewed as a scaling method as noted above. And this fits well with other PMI approaches and thinking.
The Scrum Framework works great at the single team level. However, most people don’t believe Scrum scales so they look to the scaling frameworks to help them with more than one team. PMI can position themselves as the solution for Scaling and delivery, providing toolkits and methods for complete lifecycles. Couple that with Portfolio and Program Management and the DevOps tools and PMI can sell themselves as providing end-to-end solutions. Though that presents a challenge if they are the “Project Management” Institute (more about that later).
PMI may be thinking that by partnering with DA, they get a framework that can compete with the Scaled Agile Framework of SAFe. Given that SAFe is the most popular scaling approach, it seems quite likely that PMI is looking to go head to head with the king of the hill.
What DA Gets from the PMI Acquisition
Disciplined Agile gains, though perhaps less so. First of all, they get the exposure and marketing that PMI can bring to bear with the certifications and courses.
They get cash, though how much cash is anyone’s guess. I asked Scott when I talked to him but he didn’t say and then quickly added that he didn’t need the cash.
I think that DA also gets some enhanced Credibility. After all, they must be good if PMI bought them. If PMI packages DA up as an Agile BOK and publishes it like the PMBOK, that will live on forever.
DA will not get an expansion into their consulting business. In a podcast on the topic, Mark Lines said that they are shutting down their consulting business to allow he and Scott to focus on thought leadership.
And perhaps most interesting is the ability for DA, with backing from PMI, to seriously challenge Scaled Agile and SAFe. Up till now, DA has not been a serious contender to SAFe.
What Others Say about this Acquisition
I did an informal poll among some of the agile thought leaders that I know to get their take on what this means.
Tom Cagley – Tom described DAD as a non-Scrum based agile hybrid. He thought the ideas were useful but the approach is “more complex than almost any organization needs”.
Bob Galen – “I never thought of DAD as a scaling framework…I thought DAD brought some unique and valuable ideas around how agile should work in large instances. For example, ideas around enterprise architecture and DevOps. Now I know SAFe has provided guidance in those areas, but I always thought Scott brought some valuable experience for technical agile practices at-scale. I also always looked to DAD as a reference for regulatory guidance. Or how to be agile in contexts where governance was particularly important. In fact, whenever someone approaches me about ‘agile governance’, I point them to DAD.”
Gene Gendel – “We all know what typically drives mergers and acquisitions. In order to understand what has led to this partnership we need to explore the current position of both companies/organizations, their respective growth rate, degree of industry recognition (trends), challenges and obstacles that are being faced today, etc. We should also examine if similar attempts (to acquire or to be acquired) had been made in the past, with other organizations/companies. If there were such instances, why did not things work out back then?”
Another agile coach that would rather go unnamed characterized the PMI acquisition as a “dysfunctional marriage to survive together”. Yikes!
Predicting the Future for PMI and Disciplined Agile
I took some time to look into a crystal ball and try to predict what the future holds. Based on my experience and background, this is what I think the future holds for these two organizations.
Disclaimer: I have no insights into what might happen next, and these are only my opinions.
#1 – PMI Will Publish the Guide to the Agile Body of Knowledge (AgileBOK Guide)
It seems pretty likely that PMI will use their purchase of DA to create their own Agile BOK. DA is a lot like the Agile BOK in that it provides everything that anyone could possibly want within one method or toolkit. Like the PMBOK guide, you are expected to pick and choose what works for you. And with all the publications Ambler and Lines have already made, it would be simple to repackage them into an AgileBOK.
So PMI could be striving to own the agile body of knowledge like they did with the PMBOK. They could establish themselves as the authority. Somehow I don’t feel that is a good thing.
#2 – PMI Will Eliminate the 12 PMI-ACP Reference Books
Once PMI has an AgileBOK, it seems likely they will move away from the 12 separate reference books for the PMI-ACP to one BOK that PMI publishes. After all, why allow those individual authors to get the royalties when PMI could get it? So PMI could eliminate the 13 books and make one book out of the DA framework (available from PMI of course). PMI gets about $17 M annually from books and advertising and this could help.
#3 – PMI Will Introduce New Agile Certifications
In addition to adding the 5 existing DA certifications and PMI-ACP, PMI could launch a whole series of related certifications. Using the Lean Startup approach, they could begin to pepper the market with more agile certifications to highlight some of the components of DA like Agile Modeling, Business Analysis or even Testing.
#4 – PMI Will Incorporate DA into the 7th Edition of the PMBOK Guide, and Call it the Encyclopedia of Everything
Alternatively, PMI could incorporate DA into the upcoming 7th Edition of the PMBOK, which is forecast for 2021. The current printed PMBOK Guide is listed at 762 pages so adding the 400 pages of the DA could push the document over the 1,000-page mark. Wow, then it truly would incorporate everything! It would need to be sold with a dolly to be able to move it from room to room.
And to me, that would be a problem. Yes, we have everything and you can pick and choose, a la carte what you want. Want to use Traditional/waterfall? it is in there. Hybrid approaches? Oh Yeah, you better believe Hybrid is in there.
And that is really one of the problems as I see it. The ability to make it up as you go might result in something good, but it also might result in doing the same things you’ve always done and calling it agile. And that is bad for all of us.
#5 – PMI Will Rebrand as The Methodology Institute
One criticism I’ve had for a long time is that the very nature and world view of PMI is projects, and that in fact, there is more to work than ‘unique initiatives with a start and finish date’.
Maybe with this acquisition, PMI will shake loose from their origins as a project-only org and begin to think as a methodology company.
#6 – Scott Ambler Will Quit PMI
Scott doesn’t seem like one to suffer unnecessarily and I have to imagine that the bureaucracy at PMI will be stifling. I don’t think he will thrive or last longer at PMI than his 6 years at IBM. Scott will leave PMI and either retire completely or more likely, spin up another company, write a few more books and travel around the world telling people how he thinks they should improve.
#7 – DA with backing from PMI will Crush SAFe in the Market
Just kidding, I don’t really think this is going to happen.
Where to Learn More about PMI Acquiring Disciplined Agile
I hope that this article has been helpful in understanding the acquisition of Disciplined Agile. I welcome your comments and corrections below. For some additional information about the purchase, please see the following:
Disciplined Agile Website: Disciplined Agile and PMI FAQ
PMI Press Release: Project Management Institute Announces Acquisition of Disciplined Agile
Podcast with PMI CEO Sunil Prashara, PMI VP Dave Garret, and DA Co-Founder Mark Lines: Quick Podcast on PMI’s Disciplined Agile Acquisition
Disciplined Agile Books: