Principle: Context Counts

Context CountsOne of the seven principles behind the Disciplined Agile (DA) framework is Context Counts. Every person is unique, with their own set of skills, preferences for workstyle, career goals, and learning styles. Every team is unique not only because it is composed of unique people but also because it faces a unique situation. Your organization is also unique, even when there are other organizations that operate in the same marketplace that you do. For example, automobile manufacturers such as Ford, Audi, and Tesla all build the same category of product yet it isn’t much of a stretch to claim that they are very different companies. These observations – that people, teams, and organizations are all unique – leads us to a critical idea that your process and organization structure must be tailored for the situation that you currently face. In other words, context counts.

When it comes to understanding the context faced by a team, our experience is that in addition to their personal preferences that their process and organizational decisions will be affected by the six factors depicted in the figure below. For example, a team of eight people working in a common team room on a very complex domain problem in a life-critical regulatory situation will organize themselves differently, and will choose to follow different practices, than a team of fifty people spread out across a corporate campus on a complex problem in a non-regulatory situation. Although these two teams could be working for the same company they could choose to work in very different ways.

Figure. Tactical scaling factors faced by teams.

Software Development Tactical Scaling Factors

There are several interesting implications of the radar chart (also called a spider chart). First, the further out you go on each spoke the greater the risk faced by a team. For example, it’s much riskier to outsource than it is to build your own internal team. A large team is a much riskier proposition than a small team. A life-critical regulatory situation is much riskier than a financial-critical situation, which in turn is riskier than facing no regulations at all. Second, because teams in different situations will need to choose to work in a manner that is appropriate for the situation that they face, to help them tailor their approach effectively you need to give them choices. Third, anyone interacting with multiple teams needs to be flexible enough to work with each of those teams appropriately. For example, you will govern that small, co-located, life-critical team differently than the medium-sized team spread across the campus. Similarly, an Enterprise Architect who is supporting both teams will collaborate appropriately with each.

The leading agile method Scrum provides solid guidance for delivering value in an agile manner but it is officially described by only a sixteen page guide. Disciplined Agile recognizes that enterprise complexities require far more guidance and thus provides a comprehensive reference framework for adapting your agile approach for your unique context in a straightforward manner.  Being able to adapt your approach for your context with a variety of choices (such as those we provide via goal diagrams) rather than standardizing on one method or framework is a very good thing.


This article is excerpted from Chapter 2 of the book An Executive’s Guide to Disciplined Agile: Winning the Race to Business Agility.

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