A Short History of Agile

Here is a look at how Agile emerged, how it acquired the Agile label, and where it went from there. It’s important to take a look at where Agile software development came from to get an understanding of where things are at today in the world of Agile.

Pre 2001 – Practices and methods develop independently through experience

History of Agile

Many people peg the start of Agile software development, and to some extent Agile in general, to a meeting that occurred in 2001 when the term Agile software development was coined.

However, people started working in an Agile fashion before that 2001 meeting. Starting in the mid-nineties, there were various practitioners, either people working inside organizations developing software products or consultants helping organizations build software who thought, “You know what? The way we’ve been building software just isn’t working for us. We’ve got to come up with something different.”

“You know what? The way we’ve been building software just isn't working for us. We've got to come up with something different.”

These software developers started mixing old and new ideas, and when they found a combination that worked, they created a methodology for their team to help them remember the combination of ideas that worked in a given situation.

These methodologies emphasized close collaboration between the development team and business stakeholders; frequent delivery of business value, tight, self-organizing teams; and smart ways to craft, confirm, and deliver code.

The people who created those methodologies figured that others might be interested in getting some of the same benefits they were experiencing, so they created frameworks to spread the ideas to other teams in other organizations and contexts. This is where frameworks such as Scrum, Extreme Programming, Feature-Driven Development (FDD), and Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), among others, started to appear.

The spread of the ideas at this time was very organic, and all of those different approaches started to grow in a very grassroots manner. People borrowed the original frameworks and tweaked them with different practices to make them appropriate for their own contexts.

When most teams and organizations start doing Agile development, they focus on the practices that help with collaboration and organizing the work, which is great. However, another key set of practices that are not as frequently followed but should be are specific technical practices that directly deal with developing software in a way that helps your team deal with uncertainty. Those technical practices are essential and something you shouldn’t overlook.

There wasn’t a consistent way of describing these different ways to develop software until a group of 17 people thought, “We’re all doing these different approaches to developing software. We ought to get together and see where there are commonalities in what we’re thinking about.” The result was a meeting at a ski resort in Snowbird, Utah in 2001.

When they got together, they did some skiing and also discussed where their approaches to software development had commonalities and differences.

2001 – Agile Manifesto authored

“We ought to get together and see where there are commonalities in what we’re thinking about.”

They didn’t agree upon a lot of things, but there were a few things that they were able to agree upon, and that ended up becoming the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. The two main things the Agile Manifesto did was to provide a set of value statements that form the foundation for Agile software development and to coin the term Agile software development itself.

In the months afterward, the authors expanded on the ideas of the Agile Manifesto with the 12 Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto.

Some of the authors, including Martin Fowler, Dave Thomas, Jim Highsmith, and Bob Martin, wrote up their recollections of writing the Agile Manifesto. 16 of the 17 authors met at Agile2011 and shared their recollections of the event and their views on the state of Agile up to that point.

Post-2001 – adoption started grassroots, became mainstream

Agile Conference Volunteers

After the authors got back from Snowbird, Ward Cunningham posted the Agile Manifesto, and later the 12 Principles online at People could go online and sign it to show their support.

Agile Alliance was officially formed in late 2001 as a place for people who are developing software and helping others develop software to explore and share ideas and experiences.

Teams and organizations started to adopt Agile, led primarily by people doing the development work in the teams. Gradually, managers of those teams also started introducing Agile approaches in their organizations.

Agile Alliance was officially formed in 2001 as a place for people who are developing software and helping others develop software to explore and share ideas and experiences.

As Agile became more widely known, an ecosystem formed that included the people who were doing Agile software development and the people and organizations who helped them through consulting, training, frameworks, and tools.

As the ecosystem began to grow and Agile ideas began to spread, some adopters lost sight of the values and principles espoused in the manifesto and corresponding principles. Instead of following an “Agile” mindset, they instead began insisting that certain practices be done exactly in a certain way.

Organizations that focus solely on the practices and the rituals experience difficulties working in an Agile fashion. Organizations that are serious about living up to the Agile values and principles tend to realize the benefits they sought and find that working in an Agile fashion is no longer something that’s new and different. Instead, it simply becomes the way they approach work.

Agile Alliance continues to curate resources to help you adopt Agile practices and improve your ability to develop software with agility. The Agile Alliance website provides access to those resources including videos and presentations from our conferences, experience reports, an Agile Glossary, a directory of local community groups, and several other resources.

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