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How The Agile Manifesto Came To Be

How The Agile Manifesto Came To Be With Dr. Jeff Sutherland20 years ago, I made a trip to Snowbird, Utah to join with 16 others who shared a goal; change the way our industry, software development worked for the better. Put customers first. Work in smarter ways. Deliver faster, more often, and better. 

At that meeting, we created the four values and 12 principles better known as the Agile Manifesto. I am proud to be one of the 17 signatories of the document that has helped transform so much. 

On this 20th anniversary of Agile, I’d like to share the story of how the Agile Manifesto came to be (you can also watch it on our YouTube channel). But first, I want to affirm and thank everybody who was there. 

I’d also like to thank all of you who are implementing Agile processes. Thank you for all you have done to take a great idea and turn it into a global transformation. 

We’ve all done a lot but there is so much more to do. So, let's celebrate 20 years of Agility and go into the future even more Agile than we are today.

What Brought Us Together

Back then, there was a lot of concern about the way software development was moving. It was primarily done using the Rational Unified Process, which had become very heavyweight and not very Agile at all. 

Many of the people at the Agile Manifesto meeting had been active in internet newsgroups working up what amounts to precursors to Agile processes. We were trying to create a better alternative. 

Then in 2001, Bob Martin, who ran a company doing object technology consulting, called us all up and said, “let’s get together.” Uncle Bob, as he’s known by many in the Agile community, was the chair of the Agile Manifesto meeting. 

But why did we meet in Snowbird? 

Alistair Cockburn and Jim Highsmith, two Agile Manifesto signatories, lived in Utah at the time. 

Jim had just written a book on adaptive management, and Alistair had written several books on a framework that he called Crystal. 

All 17 of us were thought leaders in the industry. We were facing a competitive threat in the form of heavy software development processes that no one liked. That was what motivated everybody to come together. We knew there had to be something better.

Why Is It Called Agile?

On the first day of the meeting, each one of us had a chance to talk about their own ideas and what they were doing. At the time we were using the term ‘lightweight processes.’ We knew we needed a better word. 

Calling it Agile was Mike Beedle’s idea. 

He was inspired by a book about hardware companies that had formed a consortium to figure how to take Lean to the next level. Lean is really good for efficiency, but it is not very good at connecting with customers or getting them excited. So, the consortium wanted to figure out how to take Lean to the next level (I still keep a copy of the book on my bookshelf). 

At the end of the first day, we had a series of names on a flip-chart. 

We selected Agile as the word we would use. It was an important decision all thanks to Mike Beedle

Creating The Four Agile Values

 

Picture showing the creation of the four values of the Agile ManifestoAround 10:30 in the morning on the second day, we decided to take a coffee break. It was winter and we were in Utah, so nine of the 17 gathered decided to go for a quick ski. The eight that stayed in the room are the ones you see in the picture on the Agile Manifesto website

Martin Fowler, who authored many books on software development and was part of the first Extreme Programming (XP) team went to the whiteboard and said he was concerned that we would spend a couple of days together and not agree on anything besides the name Agile. 

“Is there anything else we can agree on?” he asked. Someone said, “Well, we know that great teams make great software.” They added, “It’s all about the individuals and how they work together.” 

So, Martin wrote individuals and interactions on the board. 

There were two people there who worked for companies that sold development tools who asked, ‘what about processes and tools?’ 

The rest of us said they normally slow you down, but we don’t want to ban them. 

Martin, still at the whiteboard, completed the sentence. We value individuals and interactions over processes and tools. The first Agile value. 

Then Ron Jeffries, who was on the original XP team, said “We value early and regular delivery of working software. That is the most important thing. It's way more important than documentation.”

But, others noted, some documentation is always needed.

So, Martin wrote we value working software over comprehensive documentation.  The second Agile value was born. 

Now, we only had about 15-minutes in this coffee break, and the next five minutes were spent talking about the customer. 

Here, I was a strong advocate because I had just come off four years as CTO at one of the biggest healthcare software companies in the world. We were constantly fighting over contracts. They were often the root cause of project failures. Clearly, getting the customers involved and working with us was the key to success. 

After a considerable discussion, we all agreed that we valued customer collaboration over contract negotiation. The third Agile value.

Finally, one of the XP folks said, “We value responding to change over following a plan,” which was the mantra of XP. The fourth Agile value. 

The coffee break was over. The others returned. We all looked stood there, staring at the whiteboard. 

It got really quiet, then Ward Cunningham (developer of the Wiki and many other software tools) said, “that’s awesome!” 

Nobody changed a word. Not one. 

It was written and edited in 15 minutes.

If you talk to us now, we say it's like we took a half-page note, put it in a bottle, and threw it in the ocean. Then everybody read it. It’s amazing to see that the work we did is now a global phenomenon. 

But we were just getting started. 

Creating The 12 Agile Principles

That afternoon, we reconvened because we knew we had to put some meat on the bones of the Agile values. So, we spent several hours crafting the 12 Agile principles

They amplify and clarify the four values. 

Then, and now, if you go into most companies, you’ll hear a lot of arguments over what should be done, what are the priorities, who should do what, and who should get funded. 

Often there is very little discussion about the customer. They're an afterthought.

So, one of the major things we wanted to do is place the customer front and center. Because at the end of the day, anything that doesn't make the customer happy is a waste of time and adds no value.

Another area we focused on was the importance of incremental, fast delivery. 

You need to get a product out there and iterate it very fast. That was and is the key to success. And of course, that's the second value of the Agile Manifesto. 

On the Agile Manifesto’s 10th birthday, we had a reunion and were asked what we would change. Ron Jeffries said the only thing he would add is a note at the bottom of the Manifesto that read, “Early, incremental delivery of software. We really mean it.” 

That is the core of Agile.  

The Future of Agile


Agile development methodology concept on virtual screen. Technology concept.
Agile has moved well beyond software. When we at Scrum Inc. discuss the four Agile values of the Agile Manifesto, we use the word product instead of software.

Most of our business is in industries outside of software development. The same is true for other, similar organizations. 

The use of Agile and Scrum continues to grow but more can be done. I firmly believe that eventually, all organizations will be Agile. Everybody needs to be Agile, but those who are the most Agile, they're going to be the most successful.

The faster, more innovative organizations that embrace the four values and 12 principles laid out in the Agile Manifesto will endure and thrive. 

That’s why I want to acknowledge the importance of not just the Manifesto, but the people who came together and created it. 

Every person there had a unique contribution to make. I think we've mellowed over the years but back then we didn't agree on anything. 

Except for the four values and the 12 principles that make up the Agile Manifesto. It took us a lot of work to agree on those. It was well worth the effort.  And 20 years on, it remains as valuable as it was then.

 

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