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Levels of Mastery in Agile – How Do You Measure Maturity?

I came across the diagram shown below that I think nicely summarizes different levels of mastery in Agile:

Levels of Mastery in Agile

Many people don’t seem to realize that there are these three different levels of mastery. Just learning the basic practices is only the beginning.

Levels of Mastery in Agile

The three levels of mastery are:

1. Practices (Doing)

The initial level of Practices is associated with learning the basic practices of Agile at a mechanical level.

  • There are many people who are at this level of learning.
    • They’ve received their CSM certification (or equivalent) and
    • They may have had some practice in the real world and know how to do the basics
  • The danger is that many people think that this is all they need to know. They think that their development is complete when they have mastered this level of learning
  • People who get stuck in this level of learning can become fairly ritualistic or dogmatic. They may insist that there is only one way to do Agile and that is doing it exactly by the book as they have learned to do it

2. Principles (Understanding)

People who have gone on to the “Principles” level of learning have gained a deeper understanding of the principles behind Agile. They understand why it makes sense rather than just doing it mechanically.

  • This deeper level of understanding gives people a broader perspective. Instead of seeing Agile as a mechanical process that must always be done ritualistically “by the book”; people at this level recognize that there may be a need to customize and adapt the processes to fit a given situation
  • People at this level are also able to see Agile in a much broader context.
    • They see beyond the basic team-level Agile implementation and
    • They recognize the need to make Agile work at much higher levels of complexity for large enterprise-level projects.

3. Values (Being)

Values is the highest level of mastery.

  • People at this level of learning go beyond only understanding the principles at a deeper level. They also understand the values behind those principles and have internalized those values into the way they work
  • People at this level are becoming Masters and are at the “top of their game”. They are able to:
    • Easily go beyond applying Agile to routine Agile project implementations.
    • Apply the principles and practices to much more demanding and difficult situations. They are also able to do it with much higher levels of consistency and success

The three levels of mastery shown in this diagram correspond to the “Shu-ha-ri” levels of mastery from martial arts. I have previously discussed that in this article:

Agile and Lessons Learned From the Martial Arts

How Does This Relate to Agile Project Management?

How does this relate to the idea of “Agile Project Management”? Many people in both the Agile and traditional plan-driven project management communities are at a very basic level of mastery of those two disciplines. They see them as firmly-defined processes to be followed. I believe that people who are at a higher level of learning and understand the principles behind these two disciplines will see things in a very different perspective. They will:

  • See these two areas as much more complementary rather than competitive
  • Recognize the reasons why one set of principles and practices makes sense in one situation and not another
  • Be able to easily blend the two sets of principles and practices together as needed to fit a given situation

Overall Summary

One of my favorite analogies for this that was originally created by Bob Wysocki is the difference between a “cook” and a “chef”:

  • A good “cook” may have the ability to create some very good meals, but those dishes may be limited to a repertoire of standard dishes. His/her knowledge of how to prepare those meals may be primarily based on following some predefined recipes out of a cookbook.
  • A “chef,” on the other hand, typically has a far greater ability to prepare a much broader range of more sophisticated dishes using much more exotic ingredients in some cases.
    • His/her knowledge of how to prepare those meals is not limited to predefined recipes, and
    • In many cases, a chef will create entirely new and innovative recipes for a given situation.
    • The best chefs are not limited to a single cuisine and are capable of combining dishes from entirely different styles of cooking

This is the challenge that I believe we face in creating a more integrated approach for Agile Project Management. We need to develop more “chefs” who are capable of seeing both Agile and traditional plan-driven project management principles and practices in a very different light as complementary rather than competitive alternatives.

Related Articles

The following articles are all related to the topic of “Agile Project Management Training”:

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

1 thought on “Levels of Mastery in Agile – How Do You Measure Maturity?”

  1. Hi Colleen, it’s good to hear from someone who has also recognized this need to become a “chef”. My new book is being published through Wiley and should be available in January 2015.

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