PMTips: Last month, we interviewed Scott W. Ambler from the Project Management Institute. Among the many things that we discussed, we covered the Disciplined Agile (DA), the world’s only complete agile body of knowledge (BOK) that provides straightforward and practical guidance to help individuals, teams, and enterprises choose their “way of working” in a context-specific way.

It is with great pleasure that we introduce to our audience, Mark Lines, the co-founder of Disciplined Agile (DA) Agile and Vice President, Disciplined Agile at the Project Management Institute. For over twenty-five years Mark has helped organizations around the world transform from traditional to lean and agile enterprises. He is a frequent keynote speaker at industry conferences around the world.

Mark, thank you for taking the time to do this interview

Mark Lines: Thank you, I am very pleased to be here thank you for having me.

PMTips:  Mark, let us start at the very beginning. You have a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science. What motivated you to focus your education in this field? Can you tell us more about your experience as a Computer Science student?

Mark Lines: Sure, I grew up in a small town in Kent in the middle of Canada, and I always dreamt of being a pilot. I did not have very good eyes of wear glasses at the time and then when I found out that it would be difficult for me to become a pilot, having wearing glasses I was very upset.  Because I did not have anything else that I wanted to be.  However, I took a Computer Science course in grade 12 and I never really was top of the class in anything else so since I developed this course I discovered that this is something I was good at. I say the rest is history. I went to Brandon University and got a Computer Science degree and then here we are.

PMTips: Looking back at your professional experience, you first started your career as an Advisory Software designer. What would you say were the primary challenges you encountered when starting with your professional career?

Mark Lines: I did not start as Advisory Software Designer. I became a Lead Software Designer after having been a developer for many years. Therefore, I started as a junior person in a consulting firm and I would say one of the keys to my success was working in consulting firms because it gave me a vast variety of different kinds of situations and different types of business problems. It gives me an insight into many different experiences that served me later on in my career.  It was a progression for me.

I started as a Junior Programmer, then over time an Intermediate Programmer, and then became an Advisory Programmer, which was essentially the Head Developer or Designer for the entire company.

PMTips: You worked in the Software Development Industry for many years. You have been directly involved in developing software, and managing software development processes.  Throughout the years, you have focused your practice on providing agile and lean coaching for individuals and organizations. Can you tell us more about your experience in the software development industry and the moment you decided to focus your attention more on Agile & Lean Coaching?

Mark Lines: So I started as a developer and many years ago, the career path was to become more from being a Software Developer to becoming what was called the Systems Analyst.  You would interview users, find out what the requirements are for applications, and then the next logical place was to move into project management.

I love to be a developer and the further away I got from being a developer it struck me as becoming more and more like management and more bureaucratic. Therefore, I was looking for leaner, more efficient ways of working, that at the time, this is many years ago, are not very popular back when I started.  

We followed the prescribed processes, we used many templates, and we created many documents.  I, like many people, became frustrated that all that other work really was not adding value and was not getting the job done as quickly as it could. So that is where kind of my roots came from. Looking for alternative ways of working, becoming more agile, starting to strip out waste and processes and that led to my interest in agile, lean, and coaching teams to be more efficient with the way that they work.

PMTips: Mark, in 2002 you joined IBM Rational as a Software Engineer Specialist. While at IBM, you provided services related to pre-sales, installation, and support of IBM Rational tools and you taught courses on all aspects of object-oriented software development. From our interview with Scott, we can conclude that your position at IBM influenced the writing of DA. Can you tell us more about this experience?

Mark Lines: Yes. So it is as far as working for IBM, it is important to understand that prior to IBM I worked at a company called Rational Software. Rational Software was known to be the leading company in regards to what we used to call best practices around all things related to software development. That would include writing requirements, how to test, how to design…Doing design was was done using this technique called object-oriented analysis and design as well as agile project management.  So, Rational had courses to teach people how to be most effective in those different types of disciplines and they would also sell tools to help you actually implement those best practices when you're developing software.  So, that I knew a lot about requirements and testing and project management analysis and design at that point in my career already.  Joining Rational Software really took my knowledge to the next level I learned so much at Rational Software about practices about strategies. That time of Rational Software really was formative for me in terms of becoming a process expert.

Then after IBM acquires us, I would be teaching people around the world how to do agile project management, agile requirements, agile testing, agile design, configuration management etc… During that time, I got to know Scott and so we were both kinds of seen as process experts. That is when we started to work together. When Scott was at IBM he was responsible for agile and lean method for IBM around the world he was their Chief Methodologist and it was during that time that he reached out to me for some advice and feedback on what he was creating which was Disciplined Agile Delivery.  Therefore, I provided him some feedback, provided him some advice, and it was during that time I had left IBM by the way and gone back into consulting. While he was at IBM, he asked if I would help and develop this financial and that is when we decided to write our first book in 2010. It took us two years and we published it in 2012, that book was called Disciplined Agile Delivery.        

PMTips: The Disciplined Agile (DA) tool kit provides straightforward guidance to help organizations streamline their processes in a context-sensitive manner, providing a solid foundation for business agility. As one of the co-authors of the DA, we would like to hear your point of view on the creation process of the tool kit.

Mark Lines: Sure. So what you know what we decided to do is to harvest the practices that are described in literally dozens and dozens of books related to. As I mentioned requirements, testing, and project management, etc… harvest them, and then organize them into one catalog of practices. How do you do that, if you have several hundred practices, how do you organize them so that people can easily find what they need to help get the job done.

You see when you take a two-day agile course you cover maybe five percent of the available practices that you could use to help you get the job done. Therefore, what we did is say you need to go beyond that five percent; you need to be able to reference all the other practices that you probably have never heard of. We put those practices into a toolkit. In addition, to make it easier for people to find and use, we came up with this concept called goal diagrams.

Every project has a set of goals regardless of whether you are building something from scratch, whether you are buying and implementing a package or whether you are extending an existing package. Examples of goals would be: “I need to form a team or teams.”

When you do that, you have some decisions to make. How big are the teams? What skill sets do I need on the teams? Are they full-time employees? Are they contractors? Are they 100 dedicated to the project or part-time? Are they co-located in one building or are they distributed around the world?

You get the idea…There are many decisions to be made. The choices you make around those decisions, some are good and some are bad, some are agile and some are not agile. What we do is we provide all the choices so that you do not forget to make these decisions and then we provide answers and say which ones which practices make sense in different situations.  I just talk about one goal, which is forming the team.

Another goal might be to explore the scope agile teaches us one way of exploring scope. They are called user stories but in the DA toolkit, we cover something like 44 different requirements techniques some of them are diagrammatic some of them are textural. This allows you to cherry-pick practices to supplement what you've learned in an agile course so you can really get the job done in the most efficient way.

PMTips: Apart from being the co-creator of the Disciplined Agile toolkit and you have co-authored several books on Disciplined Agile (DA) including Choose your WoW: A Disciplined Agile Delivery Handbook for Optimizing Your Way of Working; An Executive's Guide to Disciplined Agile: Winning the Race to Business Agility; Introduction to Disciplined Agile Delivery and several others. Is there another writing from your end that you plan to publish in the upcoming period?

Mark Lines: A very good question.

In the past, Scott and I, as you may know, co-authored all the books of the four books on disciplined agile. Now that we are part of the PMI family, Scott and I are doing slightly different things. Scott is focused on improving the content of Disciplined Agile, coming up with new workshops and courses around disciplined agile, writing blogs, and yes writing more books. I am more focused on the worldwide enablement of Disciplined Agile to share with the world through our chapters and other external groups. I am spending most of my time these days as an ambassador for Disciplined Agile to spread the understanding of it and less time writing.

However, we do have a few books on the radar.  One of them is to essentially rewrite our executive guide to Disciplined Agile and there is content in it on how to do agile transformations we may take that content and actually turn it into a book itself. Therefore, it would be how to do transformations with disciplined agile and I will probably be a co-author for that book.

PMTips: Currently, you are the Vice President of Disciplined Agile at Project Management Institute, where you lead the overall DA strategy and end-to-end delivery collaborating with sales, product development, communications, and marketing. How challenging is it to be responsible for this position?

Mark Lines: This responsibility has its challenges but it’s also very exciting. Organizations around the world are discovering the DA tool kit now that it is part of PMI, and the interest has been incredible.  People are starting to realize that you can’t buy an “off the shelf” process and expect it to be right for you.  Organizations need to adapt their agile ways of working for their situation and the DA tool kit is ideal for this purpose.  Seeing the difference that this can make in happier teams and greater productivity is very satisfying for me.

PMTips: From developing software to coaching, ketones speaking, and being the Vice President of Disciplined Agile at the PMI, there is no doubt that you have remarkable professional experience. During the course of these years, what would you say was the most exciting project that you have worked on?  Is there any particular experience you would like to share with our listeners?

Mark Lines: The most exciting and challenging project I have ever worked on was at one of Canada’s largest railways, Canadian Pacific.  I was the agile Team Lead for a set of teams of over 100 people.  We built a web portal and applications for companies to order train cars to ship their goods across the country.  At the time, I was also writing our first book on Disciplined Agile Delivery with Scott Ambler.  Some of the pictures in that book are from the project.  It was a very complex project, with high pressure and tight deadlines. Because of the agile practices, I knew from Disciplined Agile, we were able to deliver quickly and delight our stakeholders. As a result, our teams were happy, and it was an experience I will never forget.

PMTips: Mark, to conclude, what is your advice for project managers who are striving to succeed in their professional field? 

Mark Lines: Never stop learning, especially from an agile perspective. Many agile certifications are trivial to obtain and don’t teach us very much about what is truly required to be successful. The new PMI agile certifications such as the DA Scrum Master and DA Senior Scrum Master certifications give you the tools you need to help organizations maximize their agility potential.  These skills will provide you with better job opportunities and should translate into being compensated well for your knowledge and experience.

PMTips: Mark, thank you for your fruitful answers. It was a pleasure interviewing you.