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 No, it is not the "origin of agile in software" or even the only relevant historical reference -- it is only part of the story, yet, it is the only other thing we called "agile" before "agile software development".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
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