January 26, 2022
This article was originally posted on the Agile Alliance website.
2021 marked the 20-year anniversary of the publication of the Agile Manifesto. Though I was not present at that now infamous Utah meeting of 17 back in 2021, I am very grateful that it happened.
I was busy in 2001 with the challenges of delivering technology solutions using the waterfall approach that was dominant at that time. The waterfall approach was heavy on process and documentation and light on success rates. Perhaps because of that experience, I have a great appreciation for what that group of 17 did in authoring the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and in forging the Agile Alliance shortly after.
We are literally standing on the shoulders of giants today though I doubt that the millions of people who are using agile ways of working today appreciate that. There are people using agile approaches today who have little or no understanding of what might have been without the Agile Manifesto. An entire generation of agile practitioners either grew up with agile or learned it in their university curriculums so that it is second nature. Had it not been for the collaboration of that group in 2001 and the agreement to a set of 4 Agile Value statements and 12 Agile Principles, we might still be following those document and process-heavy methodologies that were prevalent at the turn of the century.
I don’t want to seem too critical – those heavyweight approaches served a purpose and had their place in history. Designed to be plan-driven and intended to be predictive, they provided some idea of what might be delivered and when. Waterfall approaches served as a warm blanket for those who demanded delivery dates upfront.
Unfortunately, they were inhuman by enabling forced timelines, lack of participant agency and autonomy, and death march projects. They also set up an adversarial environment between teams and customers and where it was important to have documents to know who to blame when things did not go as predicted. And things rarely went as predicted – waterfall projects only succeeded 1 out of 3 times, based on the Standish Group Chaos Studies.
The meeting in 2001 represented a crystallization of great ideas from different approaches. The 17 attendees had all been living with the pain of developing software with the heavy-weight approaches. They were all working separately to resolve that pain and they developed new novel and divergent approaches including Extreme Programming, Scrum, DSDM, Adaptive Software Development, Crystal, Feature-Driven Development, Pragmatic Programming and others.
The gathering in 2001 resulted in a convergence on a set of common Values and Principles from all those approaches. It was published with some amount of humility as shown by the first sentence in the Agile Manifesto:
“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it…”
As the story is told, there was even some debate around the label of “agile” for the Manifesto that was ultimately created. Prior to meeting together, the alternative to the existing predictive and document-heavy approaches was called “lightweight”. The label adaptive was also considered before the group settled on agile. This is great because I don’t think calling myself a “lightweight coach and trainer” would be nearly as effective.
Since the creation of the Agile Manifesto, agile has exploded well beyond the confines of software development. It is now used in all types of technology initiatives as well as in manufacturing, marketing, human resources, and finance. Today organizations are seeking true business agility and looking at every part of their operation with an eye toward speed, responsiveness, and effectiveness.
I want to encourage you to show your appreciation for those who blazed the trail and created modern agile. Here are some specific things that you can do.
The following 17 individuals attended the Utah meeting and are credited with creating the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Below is a link to some of their most popular works – it is by no means exhaustive because most of them have a body of work extending 25 years or more.