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At the Five-Year Mark, Agile Manifesto Still Stands
But adoption of agile methodologies is only now starting to be seen beyond project level
March 15, 2006 — Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.Working software over comprehensive documentation.Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.Responding to change over following a plan.
Five years after the Agile Manifesto was inked, the jury is out on its impact. On the one hand, there is evidence that the ideas put forth by its backers have taken hold, influencing how teams think about software development today. On the other hand, adoption of agile methodologies is only now beginning to get off the ground.
Even teams that aren't consciously practicing an agile methodology are moving toward more incremental delivery of software and earlier testing, particularly around service-oriented architecture (SOA) projects, said Forrester analyst Carey Schwaber, referring to two well-known agile practices.
Another agile concept that has moved into the mainstream is the notion that effective customer interaction is key to producing good software, said Martin Fowler, one of 17 software consultants behind the Agile Manifesto. "The first and third values [of the manifesto] have to do with people and interactions," he said. Emphasizing those things, instead of tools and processes, was revolutionary for its time, he said. But today, the importance of customer collaboration is well-understood.
According to a November 2005 report published by Forrester, agile software development processes are in use at 14 percent of North American and European enterprises. Another 19 percent of enterprises are either interested in adopting agile or already planning to do so, the survey found. But adoption rates don't tell the whole story, said Schwaber, who authored the report. "The real numbers are higher. A project uses agile methods, and then the project ends. It's difficult to discover every team in the company that is doing agile development."
The survey, which marks the first time Forrester has formally measured agile adoption rates, concluded that a second wave of agile adoption is under way, as enterprise IT shops adopt agile processes to cut time-to-market, improve software quality and strengthen their relationships with business stakeholders.
Enterprise agile adoption is significant because, earlier, such processes were adopted primarily by small, high-tech product companies, said Schwaber.
Agile software development processes have been in use for about 15 years, and include half a dozen methodologies: Adaptive, Crystal, Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), Feature-Driven Development (FDD), Scrum and—best known of all—Extreme Programming (XP). All of them aim to deliver working software fast, and reject the traditional waterfall, or "code and fix," approach to writing software. Each entails, to varying degrees, some combination of project management, collaboration and engineering practices.
XP is more prescriptive than the others, said Ward Cunningham, a consultant who helped create the Agile Manifesto. But the methodologies share more similarities than differences, added Fowler, chief scientist at Chicago-based consulting company ThoughtWorks.
The manifesto emerged from a three-day meeting in February 2001. Seventeen software pundits gathered in Snowbird, Utah, "to get at what it was we had in common," said Cunningham, director of committers and community development for Eclipse Foundation. "At the time, XP was getting traction that the other methodologies weren't," he said. "When we wrote the manifesto on the white board, we said: 'This is a perfect expression of what we all believe,'" he recalled. "It was startling."
In addition to Cunningham and Fowler, the group included XP's inventor, Kent Beck; Alistair Cockburn, author of Crystal;
Jim Highsmith, who developed the Adaptive methodology; and
Brian Marick, a consultant who focuses on how testing fits into agile software development.
A key accomplishment of the Agile Manifesto is that "we succeeded in not drifting to different camps, not arguing about what is different," said Fowler. Another outcome of the meeting was the term "agile" itself. Earlier, agile methods were known as "lightweight," noted Cunningham. But that term had a negative connotation, he said. "We agreed on 'agile' as the right word. None of us were using it, so it didn't favor one methodology over another."
Would the manifesto's authors change anything if they were writing it today? "No," said Highsmith. "The values are as solid today as when we wrote them. They say, 'All these things are important. But the left-hand things are more important than the right-hand things.'"
Fowler agreed. "We produced something I am proud of." It stands to reason that the Agile Manifesto still holds up today.
'What I Didn't Know Then'
In Jan. 29 blog entry, Marick, who heads Champaign, Ill.-based consulting firm Exampler.com, looked back at the Agile Manifesto, reflecting on "what I didn't know then." Topping his list is that tools matter more than he thought. "I don't think Agile would have taken off without semiflexible languages like Java and the fast machines to run them," he wrote. "Moreover, each new tool—JUnit, Cruise Control, refactoring IDEs, FIT—makes it easier for more people to go the Agile route. Without them, Agile would be a niche approach available only to the ridiculously determined."
Five years ago, he wouldn't have said the customer role was the most difficult part of a project. But "now I say it all the time," wrote Marick. "I also greatly underestimated how central the role is."
Fowler agreed. "Building projects around individuals is still very challenging." And outsourced development efforts are putting a strain on that, he added.
Schwaber noted that one outcome of the Agile Manifesto was that it lessened the importance of individual agile methodologies. "People use a mix—some elements from Scrum, some from XP," she said, offering an example. "It's a little of this, and a little of that."
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