Agile at 20: Where it's been and where it's going - SD Times

Agile at 20: Where it's been and where it's going - SD Times

May 6, 2021

It has been 20 years since the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was published, and even longer since the idea was first formed, and yet there still isn’t a clear understanding in the industry of what Agile really is. 

“Far too many teams that claim to be ‘Agile’ are not. I’ve had people — with a straight face — tell me they are ‘Agile’ because they do a few Scrum practices and use a ticketing tool. There is an awful lot of misunderstanding about Agile,” said Andy Hunt, one of the authors of the manifesto and co-author of the book “The Pragmatic Programmer.”

According to Dave Thomas, co-author of “The Pragmatic Programmer” and the Agile Manifesto, just the way Agile is used in conversations today is wrong. He explained Agile is an adjective, not a noun, and while the difference may be picky, it’s also really profound. “The whole essence of the manifesto is that everything changes, and change is inevitable. And yet, once you start talking about ‘Agile’ as a thing, then you’ve frozen it,” said Thomas.

However, Alistair Cockburn, a computer scientist and another co-author of the manifesto, believes that Agile being misunderstood is actually a good thing. “If you have a good idea, it will either get ignored or misinterpreted, misused, misrepresented, and misappropriated…The fact that people have misused the word Agile for me is a sign of success. It’s normal human behavior.”

One thing that is missing from the Agile Manifesto is an actual definition of Agile. In one of Hunt’s books, “Practices of an Agile Developer,” he defined Agile development as an approach that “uses feedback to make constant adjustment in a highly collaborative environment.” 

“I think that’s pretty much spot on. It’s all about feedback and continuous adjustments. It’s not about standup meetings, or tickets or Kanban boards, or story points,” said Hunt. 

But Thomas believes there is a good reason a definition wasn’t included in the manifesto, and that’s because Agile is contextual. “Agile has to be personal to a particular team, in a particular environment, probably on a particular project because different projects will have different ways of working,” he noted. “You cannot go and buy a pound of Agile somewhere. It doesn’t exist, and neither can a team go and buy a two-day training course on how to be Agile.”

Thomas does note he doesn’t mind Hunt’s definition of Agile because you have to work at it. “None of this can be received knowledge. None of it can be defined because it’s all contextual. The way of expressing the values that we had was so powerful because it allowed it to be contextual,” he said. 

Dave West, CEO and product owner at, believes the real reason people don’t understand Agile is because of social systems, not the practice, the actual work or even the problems they are looking to solve. “Over and over again, we see this sort of pattern that...


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