Skip to main content

Happy birthday, Agile!

news #agile

Welcome to the party.

Are you ‘experienced’ enough to remember a time when it was acceptable for early evening TV to broadcast close camera shots of Pan's People? Did your father stare unmoved by the vision in front of him, as your mother apprehensively unwrapped your Vesta curry-in-a-box? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, you’ll also remember a day when there wasn’t something called ‘Agile’.

On 13 February 2001, a full 18 years ago, ‘Agile’ was chosen as the term for an alternative collaborative, iterative and incremental project delivery approach.

Wow, Agile. You’ve come a long way.

But how did Agile come into being, what was in place before, and what's still to come?

Projects were delivered way before Agile came into our toolkit, but the success rate wasn’t good. In 1995, the OASIG Study (using a sample from over 14,000 organisations) found that 70% of projects failed in some respect.

In 1997, the KPMG Canada Survey revealed that 61% of projects failed. In 2001, a survey of E.R.P. installations by Robbins-Gioia revealed that of the respondents, 50% said their method of delivery was unsuccessful.

The exact mathematics of these statistics isn’t important. The key take out here is that project delivery was an unproductive, ineffective and unsatisfactory science.

Projects, before Agile, were often delivered in stages. Each stage was independent, didn’t start until the previous stage finished and often had a go/no-go checkpoint meeting involving all stakeholders before moving onto the next stage.

These stages were often referred to as the seven deadly sins:

  1. Inception
  2. Requirement definition
  3. Design
  4. Development
  5. Testing
  6. Release
  7. Support

And so, we move forward, to a time when pioneering teams (and managers) trialed a whole new way of delivering projects. They said ‘goodbye’ to the stunted, staged delivery model, and ‘hello’ to something a bit swifter. Make way, you lucky party people, for RAD - aka “Rapid Application Development”.

The very early RAD projects were monitored by Ph.D. students and professors from Bangor University, looking at how human behaviour changed to match the dynamics of organisations (large group dynamics) and projects (small group dynamics). This early work formulated the background, and conversations, that went into creating The Agile Manifesto. This is still the basis for Agile thinking and behaviour today.

So what’s next?

The various flavours of agility will continue: Scrum, Kanban and others will always be valid, and The British Computer Society Agile Methods Group continues to be a bastion of Agile independence, providing information and running events across all Agile disciplines.

Agile will develop and change as our requirements do.

So, when my systems manager said (back in the day) that Agile is dead… well, maybe he was right: Agile is dead. Long live Agile!