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Agile Fluency Project

The Agile Fluency Model

How agile teams typically progress as they develop new capabilities

A successful team begins as a collection of individuals with complementary technical skills.

As the team adopts agile practices, a team culture shift occurs: instead of planning in terms of technical considerations, such as software layers or modules, the team now plans in terms of business, customer, or user benefit, exhibiting Focus on Value fluency.

Mastery of technical practices like test driven development requires greater investment and, usually, more time. Once a team skills shift occurs that eliminates technical limitations to delivering working software, the team exhibits Deliver Value fluency.

Where circumstances require, the team may internalize the capability to understand and address market needs. When an organizational structure shift moves key business capabilities inside the team, the team may exhibit Optimize Value fluency.

The Agile Fluency Model

Achieving Fluency

Skillful practice under pressure

Fluency is routine practice mastery that persists under stress. Anyone can follow a set of practices in a classroom setting. A team’s true fluency level is revealed under pressure and in the face of distraction.

Deliberate, consistent practice

Whether learning to speak a language, play an instrument, or develop software in a new and better way, the pathway to fluency involves deliberate practice. Deliberate practice involves regularly and consistently practicing a skill with increasing levels of challenge and the intention of mastering that skill.

Agile Fluency = Team Fluency

Agile development is fundamentally a team effort and the success of an organization ultimately depends on its teams. The Agile Fluency Model is a model of team fluency. Team fluency depends on more than the capabilities of the individuals on the team. It also depends on management structures, relationships, and organizational culture, as well as the tools, technologies, and practices the teams use.

Progress stalls without focus and support

Sadly, many agile teams have plateaued. While continuous improvement is a critical foundation for agile methods, these teams have stopped making progress and are no longer developing new capabilities to benefit themselves and their organizations.

Such teams lack the right direction, the right focus, or the right conditions for deliberate practice.

While there are many valid destinations on the pathway to Agile Fluency, and progress isn’t always needed, lack of progress is often due to misunderstandings about what capabilities the team needs, what benefits to expect from those capabilities, and the organizational investment necessary to progress.

Agile: essence and fluency

Martin Fowler was an early supporter of James Shore and Diana Larsen’s Agile Fluency Model. In this twenty minute talk, Fowler reviews the history and essence of agile software development and introduces the model.


Understand where your organization needs to be

There is no right destination on the pathway to Agile Fluency. Investment at any point along the pathway to Agile Fluency can yield benefits.

Focus on Value

Some organizations are winning when they realize the collaboration, transparency, and cost savings that will come from focusing on value.

Deliver Value

Other organizations require the minimal defects and high productivity that allows them to ship on cadence and receive the market boost that comes from consistently delivering value when the market demands.

Optimize Value

Yet other organizations need to anticipate the market, dance with change and receive the benefits that come to the disrupters who can smoothly optimize value and apply their market expertise in completely new ways.

Your “Best-Fit” Agile

One-size Agile does not fit all! Once you use the Agile Fluency Model to understand where your organization needs to be, you are ready to start enjoying best-fit Agile.

Identify where you are with the Agile Fluency Diagnostic

The Agile Fluency Diagnostic provides a guided self-assessment that helps teams determine their current position on the path through Agile Fluency. A trained facilitator — usually an agile coach or consultant — conducts the Diagnostic in a group setting. Completing the Diagnostic session requires about two hours. The Agile Fluency Project stores anonymized results in a data bank and the facilitator can provide the team with a customized report as an aid to continuous improvement and a guide to conversations that align the team and its managers around a common set of goals.

Justify investment in the right capabilities

Fluency results from investment in learning. Team fluency also depends on your management structures, relationships, organizational culture, and more. While teams follow the pathway to Agile Fluency, the organization underwrites the trip. Progress falters when leaders are unprepared to make required changes and sustain the necessary investment. You can use the Agile Fluency Model to build a case for investing in the capabilities that will bring about the benefits your business demands.

Select practices that further your journey

You’ve used the Agile Fluency Model to understand where your organization needs to be, and you’ve used the Agile Fluency Diagnostic to understand where your teams are now. Your leaders are prepared to make the investments required to close the gap. Which agile practices will help you develop the right “muscle memory” to move along the pathway?

Are you learning to Focus on Value? Develop your team capabilities for working with user stories, practice team-based planning with iterations, sprints, or Kanban, and work on making progress and solving problems as a team. Get good at retrospectives.

Are you learning to Deliver Value? Continuous integration and delivery, test-driven development, incremental design and architecture, and collective code ownership are some practices that will help develop the skills you need to find your way.

Optimizing Value? Become generalizing specialists. Practice adaptive planning, prioritizing value over estimates, and look into Lean Startup materials. Use agile contracts. Conduct experiments and develop your market expertise.