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DZone at Agile 2011: A Manifesto Signatories Q&A

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DZone at Agile 2011: A Manifesto Signatories Q&A

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Last night at Agile 2011, DZone was in attendance at "The Big Park Bench" Agile Manifesto 10 year anniversary reunion.  At this very special gathering of 15 of the original 17 signatories for the Agile Manifesto, we witnessed a very lively and thought-provoking discussion between Agile luminaries including Alistair Cockburn, Jim Highsmith, Robert Martin, Ken Schwaber, Martin Fowler, and several others.

The special event took place on a stage with benches and a setting similar to the Snowbird lodge location of the original signing.

Bob Martin kicked off the event by explaining how the event came together ten years ago after he and a few others had been organizing "XP Immersions" conferences at the height of the dotcom bubble era.  They tried to create a body like the Agile Alliance at an XP leadership meeting in Oregon, but it didn't pan out.  So, Martin Fowler and Bob Martin sketched out a meeting (he thinks they called it the "Lightweight Process Summit") to talk about their new ideas for development processes.

No one wanted to have the meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, Martin said, but once Alistair Cockburn volunteered to organize the summit if it was held there, everybody loved the idea (we all had a good laugh at this point).  That was how the meeting that gave birth to the Agile Manifesto and unified this new wave of methodologies was planned.  Robert Martin called it, "the only meeting he'd ever had that was actually a success!"  To find out some of the details of what went on in the meeting, we had to wait for the Q&A.


Would you change anything in the Manifesto if you could?

To this, one of the signatories suggested that they only change the terrible color balance on the old Agile Manifesto site.  Jim Highsmith said, "I wouldn't to get back together with this group."  Joking aside, no one really had any revisions to the wording of the Manifesto, only perhaps to how it is sometimes interpreted.

How can there be individual achievement if there is no "I" in "Team"?

To this question, one of the signatories responded that software quality is what matters, not individual achievement.  Martin Fowler followed up by saying, from his experience, individuals in Agile teams will still get recognition for the unique contributions they bring.  Bob Martin dislikes the statement "no 'I' in 'Team'" because he believes there's plenty of "I's".  For example, "I will handle my responsibilities, and I will do my best on this team."

What were the other possible names you came up with for what would eventually be named "Agile"?

Apparently, there were a lot of name suggestions including "Hummingbird" and, one that Cockburn implied "Ballerina" because, he explained, "We'd have to wear pink tights and tutus if we chose that one."

" Adaptive" was probably the closest competitor with Agile, but in the end signatories were happy with their final choice because "Agile" was a very accessible name and it meant something in the business world.

What did you argue over the most?

Even though a lot of these specifics weren't in the manifesto, there were arguements over how long an iteration should be.  Some said 2 weeks, others said 6 months.  Some didn't like the idea of self-organizing teams creating the best architectures because they didn't want to give that much weight to non-conscious processes.    

What were the biggest pleasant surprises and disappointments around Agile adoption in the last 10 years?

Some people don't really follow the manifesto, said one signatory. "Too few people really want to do it the way the Manifesto intended."  Instead, they just tend to do their own thing and call it Agile. This is where the "Scrumbut" term comes from, said another.  Some organizations don't properly understand Agile and when they fail, they blame the failure on Agile.

Signatories also talked about Waterfall, and the damage that it is still inflicting on the software industry 30 years after it became popular.  "The damage is still there" Ken Schwaber said.  "Many teams still don't know how to build software in iterative methodologies and know when its done."  He also added that many bad developers have been hiding behind Waterfall to mask their own bad practices.  "Those people won't survive for long," he explained.

Jeff Sutherland told a story where he had been to France many years ago and found very few software companies that were interested in Agile.  He did find one French developer for BMW that told Jeff: "It [Agile] has changed my life!" and then Jeff said the developer actually started crying.  That's some serious Agile love.

Another surprise over the past year was seeing more than just software companies using Agile.   Signatories also saw people coming up with more good ideas that weren't in the early manifesto discussions.  

Martin Fowler remembers that early on, the Agilists had to hide, mainly because the term "Agile" was scaring companies.  "Now we don't have to hide anymore!" said Fowler.  Alistair Cockburn said he's happy that Agile has gained a level of recognition and trust among major industries such as GE, who built several hospitals with a major contract saying that they must use Agile.

What are future challenges for Agile?

A couple of signatories thought that moving Agile into the enterprise would be the next big challenge for the movement.  Managing hundreds of projects instead of 10 or 20 is a lot more difficult, but they believe it can be done.  Brian Marick disagreed, saying that's there's too much focus towards fixing the "behemoth" organizations, when the focus needs to be on smaller teams.

Another challenge is bringing Agile to the business side, IT/Operations, and other industries.  Gartner has found that only 14% of IT departments use Agile, and two-thirds of the companies surveyed said their IT departments can take several months to finish projects.  Signatories were also interested in the glimpses of future Agile adoption by UX workers and hardware makers.

Cockburn wants Agile to dissolve as a descriptor of methodologies, and become "the way people do things."  Stephen Mellor said we need to change the way we document software, and believes there needs to be a lot more emphasis on context and documenting what we choose not to do.  One other signatory added that Agile needs to remain transparent, because if it's assimilated into large organizations and becomes opaque, "the evil empire has won."

Is Lean Agile?


There was a lot of disagreement on this one.  Some said that Lean is not about people, so it's not Agile.  One signatory said that Lean tends to be about bottom up thinking.  "Lean is one-third of Agile," said another.  There were also those who believed that Lean could be considered Agile.  One claimed that Agile and Lean are very similar, but with different lineages.  Cockburn considers them in the same pool.

Upon the close of the event, Bob Martin remembered when all the signatories threw index cards on the ground with values on them that they wanted in the document.   The turning point, Bob Martin said, was when they decided that they need to start writing these ideas down into a codified format.  In a lot of ways, it was a self-organizing, Agile meeting.  Signatories said that it reminded them of the U.S. Constitution, which has endured for so long because it addresses the core of human nature.

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