Discipline vs. Process

In many organization when they decide to do an agile transformation it is typically to do either a process swap or ‘agile’ or scrum for waterfall.  Usually this is done with the noble goal of producing ‘business agility’.  The transformation should not be about the business, it should be about the people.

This misrepresentation is part of the common fallacy that causes many organizations to fail in their efforts or to get outcomes that do not measure up to their original business objectives.  This false objective causes organizations to focus their efforts on the wrong things.  The transformation should not be about the business, it should be about the people.  In the end, businesses are not agile, they can only employ people that embrace and exhibit agility.  These false objectives stem from some common misconception that process and discipline are the same thing and that discipline and agility are at odds with each other.

Webster’s dictionary defines these notions as follows:


  1. Control gained by enforcing obedience or order
  2. Orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior; self-control
  3. Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
  4. A rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity


    1. A natural phenomenon marked by gradual changes that lead toward a result: process of growth
    2. A continuing natural or biological activity or function such life processes as breathing
    3. A series of actions or operations conducing to an end; especially : a continuous operation or treatment especially in manufacture


    1. The quality or state of being agile : nimbleness, dexterity

Clearly business cannot be nimble.  It is a collection of people and processes, nothing more.  However, the people can exhibit agility and cause the direction of the business and the activities of the business to exhibit the dexterity we associate with people.  To achieve that, we must concentrate on the discipline of the people, not the processes that control the business.

Agile is about people and unleashing their creativity and passions to drive outcomes.  Processes deliver consistent outcomes, agility drives unexpected outcomes that are directed to the objectives that are desired.  Discipline allows agility to learn in a consistent fashion that creates incremental and sometimes extraordinary increases on outcomes.

For a long time in IT we have sought to gain efficiency improvements in a very consistent way.  This approach fueled IT growth for a long time, but produced minor year over year gains but never really unleashed the significant efficiencies that can be delivered by the discipline associated with minor adjustments to how outcomes are achieved usually individual creativity and passion.

The connection between agile and discipline is very strong and the very best agile teams consistently use very disciplined approaches to their work so when outcomes deviate, they can trace the deviation, good or bad, to the trigger and can maintain very high confidence in how those outcomes were achieved, and repeat them or improve them.

Ultimately discipline, not process, is what allows agility, in people and in turn, businesses.  Your focus on doing the right things right is what will enable and unleash your agility.