Reflections on the 10 Years Since the Agile Manifesto

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Today is the tenth anniversary of the start of the meeting that resulted in the Agile Manifesto. Much has changed in the ten years since the Agile Manifesto. Back then, the processes encompassed by the Manifesto—Extreme Programming, Scrum, DSDM, Feature-Driven Development, and others—existed only on the fringes of the software development world. It was, therefore, easy to dismiss them as being inappropriate for real-life application.

"Tenth Anniversary of the Agile Manifesto"

Even in my own division, we questioned our decision to use Scrum. After all, most of the buzz in those days was about the Unified Process. There was this feeling in the air that if you weren’t doing the Unified Process, perhaps you should be. We had been tremendously successful with Scrum yet were filled with doubt—would we have been even more successful if we used a complete methodology instead of this little toy of a process called Scrum? After all, we didn’t know anyone else doing Scrum and the term “agile software development” didn’t exist. When the whole world seemed to be moving toward a “unified process,” it was hard not to wonder if you were the only ones who weren’t.

And then one February morning I got an email from Ward Cunningham: “Look how I spent the last few days,” he wrote. He included a link to a new website, www.agilemanifesto.org, and a grainy photo of some guys standing around a whiteboard. But that website hit me like a lightning bolt—we weren’t alone, after all. Suddenly I knew there were at least seventeen others who felt the same as we did. And then day by day, there were more, each signing his or her name and adding a brief statement of solidarity on the agilemanifesto.org website.

With a name for what we were doing— agile—others like us seemed to pop out of every corner. “Yes, we do that, too,” became the catchphrase of early agilists as we all discovered we were not alone.

And now here we are ten years later, and things have swung 180 degrees. If you aren’t agile or in the process of becoming agile, you probably feel like you should be. The biggest change from ten years ago is that agile processes now deserve a seat at any table where people are discussing which process to use. If I were a VP of development today in a large conglomerate and I suggested agile to the VPs of other divisions, they could not just dismiss it with a wave of their hands. Agile, in its many forms, is a viable, credible alternative. It may not be the right one for every company or project but no one would be laughed out of the room for suggesting it.

From laughed out of the room to credible alternative in ten years. Where does agile go from here? Hopefully two things are in store for us next. First, I’d like all the brands to go away. No Scrum. No XP. No Kanban or lean. No DSDM. No Crystal. Just agile. We saw this happen two decades ago in objects. We had various modeling approaches and methods from Rumbaugh, Booch, Meyer, Jacobson, and others. Those differences were eventually put aside and we now have merely objects and UML.

The next change I’d like to see (and predict will occur) over the next ten years also occurred in the OO world: We stop talking about agile. We stopped talking about objects a while ago—they won. No one engages in big debates about OO anymore. Sure, there are some applications, such as those with intense performance requirements, where we don’t use objects. And some projects are written in non-OO languages. But even in those cases I suspect the code being written has still been influenced by objects. I’d like agile to reach this same point, where we no longer need to talk about it. Rather than “agile software development” it is just “software development”—and of course it’s agile. No one asks me if the Ruby code I’m writing these days is OO. Of course it is. I hope someday no has to ask if I used agile on the project. Of course I did.

In another ten years I hope I am asked to reflect on what will then be twenty years since the Agile Manifesto. I hope by then it’s a largely forgotten document, like the Magna Carta. Yeah, that dusty old thing. My life is still influenced by the Magna Carta, and I was recently called to jury duty to remind me of this, but I hardly spend my days thinking about it. I hope for a similar fate for the Agile Manifesto. And when I do reflect back on agile software development ten years from now I hope we’ve stopped calling it agile. I hope we’ve stopped calling it anything at all and are just doing it.

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