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Tuesday
Dec202011

What is Agile?

 

Dear friends,

 

Since we are Agile by practicing many agile methods, it might important for us to know what Agile really is and where it came from.  As it turns out, there was an Agile in business 10 years before agile in software ever existed.  No, it is not the "origin of agile in software" or even the only relevant historical reference -- it is only part of the story, yet, it is the only other thing we called "agile" before "agile software development".

There was a lot of parallel development between the business and the software concepts of Agile, that is they developed almost independentlly, but Agile in software was definitely named Agile because of the already existing Agile concepts in business that defined both Production and Development processes with it -- and that itself was a fortunate coincidence.  As it turns out, they do have a lot in common.

But in fact, we do know there is a historical connection from Scrum itself, since some of the Lean techniques were used there for development in the early 1980s and Agile in business evolved from Lean.  Agile Manufacturing and Development from the business perspective is, or at least was seen as the next step after Lean in the evolution of production and development methodologies.

 I have heard several people in the software space over the last 10 years suggest that we should use the same concepts in the Agile Manifesto www.agilemanifesto.org for business purposes – and they are right, except the application of these principles to businesses had already happened nearly 10 years before we wrote the Agile Manifesto.  In fact, the first “Agile” conference was:

  • First Annual Agile Manufacturing Enterprise Conference in Orlando, Florida, December 1991

Almost ten years before the Agile Manifesto in software. I teach this history and both the business and software Agile principles at my Scrum courses (CSM, CSPO, CSD, Enterprise Scrum, ScrumStartup) – it is important to understand previous art and the true origin of things.

To understand what Agile is from a business perspective and in what context it was invented in 1991 and 1992, I invite all of you to read the seminal paper on the subject – where Agile was first defined at:

 

21st Century Manufacturing Enterprise Strategy, Roger Nagel, Iacocca Institute, Lehigh University, 1992

http://www.enterprisescrum.com/publications/

 

However, be aware there are hundreds of papers and several books written on the subject since then.  This publication also resulted in the creation of the Agile Manufacturing  Enterprise  Forum, still in existence today, as far as I know.

Here are the companies which executives participated in the creation of the concept:  Air Products  & Chemicals, AT&T, Boeing  Helicopters, Chrysler Motors  Corporation, FMC  Corporation, General  Electric Aircraft  Engines, General  Motors Technology  Center, IBM  Corporation, Kingsbury  Corporation, Motorola  Corporation, Naval  Industrial  Resources  Support Activity  Center, Texas  Instruments, TRW  Space  & Defense  Sector, Westinghouse  Electric  Corporation  Systems & Technology  Center, Westinghouse  Electronic  Systems  Group.

Over the early 90s period (1991-1994), I consulted for 3 of those corporations, so I had in-depth knowledge about this effort from very early on, and in fact produced several publications with the name Agile:

Enterprise Architecture Patterns: Building Blocks of the Agile Company, SIGS, New York, (1998)

cOOherentBPR: A pattern language to build agile organizations, PLoP '97 Proceedings, Tech. Report #wucs-97-34, Washington University (1997).

Here are some of my favorites quotes from the paper:

“The  Agile Manufacturing Enterprise  Forum  seeks nothing  less  than  the revival  of American  competitiveness through  the  adoption  of agile  manufacturing  strategies.”

 

“The  fact that all of the world's leading manufacturers  have to build a new infrastructure  to make the transition  from mass production to  agile manufacturing  provides a  unique opportunity for U.S. industry to regain the leadership it lost in the 1970s and  '80s.”

 

“Those nations  that  focus now on speeding the transition to agile manufacturing will become the strongest competitors in the global marketplace.”

 

Rapid  product creation,  development  and modification  in  an  agile  manufacturing  enterprise is made  possible  by:

(1)  the  routine formation  of inter-disciplinary  project  teams, able  to  develop product  designs and  manufacturing  process  specifications  concurrently

(2)  extending  the  concept of design  to the  entire  projected  life cycle  of a product,  from initial specifications  to  its  eventual  disposal

(3)  the availability  of  scientific  knowledge  of  the manufacturing  process,  and  of computers capable  of accurately  simulating product performance  characteristics,  and  of modeling  the entire manufacturing  process

(4) modular, flexible,  reconfigurable,  affordable  production  processes  and  equipment

(5)  the  ability  to  obtain  relevant  information  quickly,  to  share  it  with  project  members distributed  throughout  a  firm  and  in  different  firms,  and  to  link  that  information  directly  to production  machinery

(6)  modular  product  design  incorporating  reconfigurability  and  upgradability  leading  to extremely  long product  lifetimes.”

“The  flexibility,  superior process  knowledge  base,  and  focus on customer  satisfaction  of agile manufacturing  will  require  assimilation  of  social  values  into  the  managerial  decision-making process.

In addition, the whole Agile initiative since 1991 was about going beyond efficiency and lean, which were already fashionable in the late 80s, into the other tenets of Agile Manufacturing, which Goldman et al. define to be in their book " Agile Competitors and Virtual Organizations - Strategies for Enriching the Customer" as:

1.valuing human knowledge and skills;

2.delivering value to the customer;

3.forming virtual partnerships.

4.being ready for change;

This is in sharp contrast with the Agile Manifesto main statements:

 

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

 

It was a coincidence and complete parallel development, as I stated before, but they in fact have a one-to-one correspondence:

 

1.valuing human knowledge and skills -->> Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

2.delivering value to the customer -->> Working software over comprehensive documentation

3.forming virtual partnerships -->> Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

4.being ready for change -->> Responding to change over following a plan

 

I teach this in all my Scrum classes as well – how close the two Agiles really are.

 

2. More Interesting Papers

 

At the Enterprise Scrum website you will find several other seminal papers on either Agile or Scrum:

Borland Software Craftsmanship: A New Look at Process, Quality and Productivity, J. O. Coplien, AT&T Bell Laboratories, 1994

“The project capitalized on its small size by centering development activities around daily meetings where architecture, design, and interface issues were socialized.”

 

SCRUM Development Process, K. Schwaber, 1996

“Rugby student William Webb Ellis, 17, inaugurates a new game whose rules will be codified in 1839. Playing soccer for the 256-year-old college in East Warwickshire, Ellis sees that the clock is running out with his team behind so he scoops up the ball and runs with it in defiance of the rules.”

“Backlog: Product functionality requirements that are not adequately addressed by the current product release.  Bugs, defects, customer requested enhancements, competitive product functionality, competitive edge functionality, and technology upgrades are backlog items.”

“The delivered product is flexible. Its content is determined by environment variables, including time, competition, cost, or functionality. The deliverable determinants are market intelligence, customer contact, and the skill of developers. Frequent adjustments to deliverable content occur during the project in response to environment. The deliverable can be determined anytime during the project.”

“Categorizing the systems development methods as empirical is critical to the effective management of the systems development process.”

 

SCRUM: An extension pattern language for hyperproductive software development, Beedle, Devos, Sharon, Schwaber, Sutherland, 1996

“The patterns of the SCRUM development method are presented as an extension pattern language to the existing organizational pattern languages.  In the last few years, the SCRUM development method has rapidly gained recognition as an effective tool to hyper-productive software development.  However, when SCRUM patterns are combined with other existing organizational patterns, they lead to highly adaptive, yet well-structured software development organizations

 

The New New Product Development Game - Nonaka and Takeuchi, HBR, 1986

Under the rugby approach, the product development process emerges from the constant interaction of a hand-picked, multidisciplinary team whose members work together from start to finish.  rather than moving in defined, highly structure stages, the process is born out of the team members' interplay.”

“Moving the Scrum downfield -- From the interviews with organization members from the CEO to young engineers, we learned that leading companies show six characteristics in managing their new product development processes: 1. Built-in instability, 2. self-organizing project teams, 3. overlapping development phases, 4. multi-learning, 5. Subtle control, 6 organization transfer of learning

 

Scrum History, Jeff Sutherland, 2004

“This concept of a harness to help coordinate independent processors via feedback loops, while having the feedback be reality-based from real data coming from the environment is central to human groups achieving higher level behavior than any individual can achieve on their own. Maximizing communication of essential information between group members actually powers up this higher level behavior.”

“On this fertile ground, the Takeuchi and Nonaka paper in Harvard Business Review provided a name, a metaphor, and a proof point for product development, the Coplien paper on the Borland Quattro Product kicked the team into daily meetings, and daily meetings combined with time boxing and reality based input (real software that works) started the process working. The team kicked into a hyperproductive state (only after daily meetings started), and Scrum was born.

Happy reading and best luck with you Enterprise Scrum implementations!

- Mike Beedle

Enterprise Scrum Inc.

 

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Reader Comments (2)

Agile sums up the ability to adapt and go with the flow of what is going on in the surrounding environments.

March 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhamilton switches

Hi , I am pondering over attending any PMP prep course / PMP classes to get PMP credentials. What are your thoughts? Would that be worth the money spent professionally?

April 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterElla Mapple

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