Where is PMI heading with Disciplined Agile? An Interview with Jonathan Lee

Where is PMI heading with Disciplined Agile? An Interview with Jonathan Lee

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with my colleague Jonathan Lee for a virtual interview on PMI and Disciplined Agile. Over the last 8 months, Jonathan has taken a deep dive into Disciplined Agile, even becoming a certified instructor (CDAI). I have known Jonathan for over 20 years and he is not one to be capricious. So I wanted to see what he knew about PMI and Disciplined Agile that I might have overlooked.

Note: The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the participants and do not necessarily reflect those of the Project Management Institute or Disciplined Agile.

Interview Transcript

Anthony: Well I’m really excited this morning to welcome Jonathan Lee for a virtual interview about Disciplined Agile. Let’s jump right in. Jonathan, you’ve been involved with PMI  for a lot of years now, why do you think PMI is making this big push into Disciplined Agile right now? 

Jonathan: I think PMI’s ultimate goal is to provide better guidance to agile practitioners and project management professionals so that these practitioners can do their work more effectively, without having to spend a lot of time trying to figure things out. DA’s philosophy or its agnostic hybrid approach to leveraging good practices from a variety of sources aligns very well with how PMI envisions the skill sets of future project professionals. 

Several years ago, PMI embarked on its transformation and they talked about the skills of project managers in the future. They called it “spectrum of approaches”, or “valued delivery landscape” and it said that project managers – a good project manager that is – needs to have the knowledge and experience and the predictive, incremental, agile, hybrid or next practices. So, when you look at the DA’s approach and the fact that it is agnostic and it promotes the ability to practice various different life cycles, what PMI has envisioned several years ago and what DA brings, they go very well together. 

Anthony: You know the most recent annual state of agile report, lists Disciplined Agile as a scaling approach and I know Disciplined Agile is careful to say they’re not a framework but rather they are a toolkit. What’s the difference and does the language really matter?

Jonathan: Up through December of 2018, DA did in fact call itself as a framework. However, it recognized that it really wasn’t a framework because it was not prescriptive like a typical framework. So DA is a toolkit because DA offers practitioners options to choose how they want to work and provides them with a tradeoff to consider as they select the options that they want to work with. 

So regardless of whether that practice comes from Scrum or SAFe or traditional, XP or Kanban or any other methods or frameworks out there DA is really agnostic, so it’s not a framework. DA is a toolkit. 

Anthony: Looking back, PMI launched the PMI ACP or agile certified practitioner certification back in 2012, and it really never took off like some of the other PMI certifications. What do you think will be different about Disciplined Agile and the set of certifications that go along with it?

Jonathan: I would answer that question in three parts. First approach, the way ACP certification approach vs DA are different. So for PMI ACP, which was introduced in 2012, requirements to obtain the ACP was very significant. It required 2000 hours of project management work prior to getting ACP or a PMP certificate already and, you needed to have 1,500 hours of working on agile projects already, then obviously taking 21 hours of training, up to 3 hours of an exam and you have to pass that. Only then will you be able to obtain the ACP certification versus some of the other certifications that are out there in agile that you can easily obtain. So I think that’s one of the areas of why it lost the market share. 

Now if you look at it from a DA perspective, DA is taking a different approach. It is what I would call the most hybrid approach. When you first take the Disciplined Agile course, then you automatically get the designation of a Disciplined Agilist. Now from there if you pass the exam, then you obtain certified Disciplined Agilist and then from there if you have two or more years of experience then you now obtain, or qualify for, with a reference check, certified Disciplined Agile Practitioners certificate. 

If you are someone who has 2+ years of experience leading an agile team, then you can get the Disciplined Agile Lean Scrum Master certificate and so on. So DA has put together this hybrid model where you offer instant gratification to those who do take the course, they get designation and then you can work your way up. So I think the approach is completely different, and I think it is a very smart one. 

The second one is around the content. So DA is not a framework, it is very complimentary and for those who already have an agile background. So you are not necessarily competing against Scrum or SAFe or any other agile certificate or certification because it is complimentary. For those who already have a certificate they can also take the DA and enhance their skills. And the other thing DA provides is that it provides structure. It shows you a bigger picture of all the agile practices because it harnesses all the good practices and puts it into the toolkit for the practitioner’s benefit that takes the DA course. So from a content perspective, DA certainly again has a more positive outlook. 

Now thirdly from the marketing perspective, I believe that PMI has been doing a pretty good job at building momentum and its generating at a pretty good buzz and recently they also launched a “Basics of DA online” course which is an overview of what Disciplined Agile is and I think that is getting good traction as well so I think overall that everything is that’s been happening these days with the approach, the content and the marketing, I think there is a great future for Disciplined Agile. 

Anthony: Who do you think is the market for Disciplined Agile? Who do you think will benefit the most?

Jonathan: I would say it would be the existing agile practitioners of Scrum, SAFe, XP, LeSS, or any other of the agile frameworks that are out there. DA is for those agile practitioners that want to further improve their way of working. And I believe that these agile practitioners, that when they take the course will see some of the things they were not aware of, some of the good practices of other frameworks that they weren’t aware of, where they should have or could have leveraged in their projects. So I think that’s going to help them a lot, a great deal.

I think the second group would be the project managers that have not embraced agile practices, for whatever the reason you know? As many of you can attest to this, there is the extreme agilist and the extreme project manager and they never really got along. So for project managers to see the way DA practices agile from the DA perspective, I think the project manager will appreciate and be able to embrace those agile practices. So I think those will be the two top target audiences. 

Anthony: Why should people learn about Disciplined Agile? What do they stand to gain?

Jonathan: Well first of all I think they will understand, or know all the options available, that they didn’t know before because you only know what you know and you don’t know what you don’t know, right? And when you take this agile course, you are going to realize things that you have perhaps been doing right or possible ones that you haven’t been doing right and also things you weren’t even aware of. So it is going to open the individual to new ideas, a new way of doing things because the DA toolkit contains vast resources of good practices that one can or the team can leverage. So there is much to gain. 

Anthony: One of the things that I noticed when I went through the Disciplined Agile training, was they kept on referring to themselves as pragmatic and that was a differentiator from other approaches. What do they mean by pragmatic?

Jonathan: Well, I do believe that DA’s approach is very pragmatic or practical. It’s not rigid, like the practice of purism. DA focuses on the decisions that one needs to consider, options available and the trade off of those options. It’s not just saying, “Hey here’s a framework, do it this way”, and be very ridgid about it. Instead, DA is very practical about it. It does not mandate you or your team to follow a specific prescriptive way, just because that is what the framework tells you to do. But rather, it is practical and allows the practitioners to do what makes sense, given the team’s ability or current resources or, I guess the context and so definitely it is pragmatic. 

Anthony: Jonathan, a lot of organizations have implemented SAFe or other scaling approaches. Would they benefit from training in Disciplined Agile? 

Jonathan: Yes of course, the answer is definitely yes, because all of us can still improve. It’s all about continuous improvement, and in Disciplined Agile there is a concept of guided continuous improvement, where it says in agile people often say, “fail fast”, and then learn and then fail fast and try something else. Instead through guided continuous improvement, you can succeed faster. 

Anthony: I know there are a number of different organizations that have challenges with adopting agile because they have governance requirements or other restrictions. Do you think Disciplined Agile can help them? 

Jonathan: Yes absolutely. DA embraces a lean governance. It is risk-based governance so it provides just enough governance needed to conduct checks and balances for an organization and not hold up the team moving from forward with a lot of so called paperwork. So I think definitely organizations that have a level of governance will be able to embrace DA’s approach. 

Anthony: You’ve invested a lot of your time and energy in mastering Disciplined Agile and becoming an instructor. What might you see that others may not see with this particular approach?

Jonathan: I quickly realized that Disciplined Agile really aligns well with my past experiences and beliefs as well as in delivering solutions to customers. I think many of the project manager professionals as well as agile practitioners will appreciate and value Disciplined Agile once they get to know more about it. I always believed in leveraging good practices from various sources whether it is traditional or agile.

I’ve always said that there are good things in traditional as well as good things and practices in agile, why can’t we use both of those? Leverage and harness the practice from multiple sources. That is exactly what Disciplined Agile is doing, it is going out there and looking at all agile and traditional practices and then harnessing the good practices and put it into a DA toolkit for our benefits. 

Anthony: For those of us who have our PMP certification, should we go ahead and get certification in disciplined agile? Will that help us?

Jonathan: The answer is absolutely yes. You should definitely consider DA certification because you are going to learn about how to deliver value to customers faster through agile practices and it’s going to help you minimize waste and you are going to basically learn all the options available in agile practices that will be relevant for your origination or your situation. You are going to learn about principles of DA and its mindset and you will be able to walk away with newly gained knowledge you can apply back at the workplace. As you know, the more knowledge you have, the more skills you build, it is only going to help you advance in your career. 

In this digital transformation/disruption period that we are currently living in you need to know, practice, and be agile because things are changing so quickly and learning the approach of agile would be critical to your success and also to your organization’s success. This is a perfect time to learn because PMI has acquired Disciplined Agile and it is available for you to take advantage of it. 

Anthony: We hear a lot about Scrum certification these days and SAFe. Do you think Disciplined Agile is going to become just as popular over the next couple of years?

Jonathan: Yes, I know what you mean and and I was also in your shoes about eight months ago regarding familiarity in DA. As many of you may know DA was founded by Scott Ambler and Mark Lines. They had a small outfit of I believe around eight people, so they did not have a whole lot of resources to advertise and promote Disciplined Agile. The organization spent most of its time building out the DA toolkit and knowledge base. So now that they have been acquired by PMI, you know who PMI is, everybody knows who PMI is, there is going to be a significant investment in the marketing of DA because PMI knows how great DA’s toolkit is. So there will definitely be a much bigger presence in the industry over the next 1-2 years. Get on board and make things happen. 

Anthony: Well, Jonathan, thank you very much for joining this virtual interview and I hope this helps a lot of people out there. Thank you. 

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