Chapter 1. What Is “Agile”?


In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environmen

—Charles Darwin

Darwin’s famous voyage on the HMS Beagle took four years, nine months, and five days, ending in 1836. We are all familiar with the story: Darwin set sail and discovered unique species of plants and animals in South America and other regions of the world, resulting in years of work that culminated in his Theory of Evolution.[1] Darwin began his adventure much to the disappointment of his family, who felt that it would delay his anticipated admission into the clergy. After his return from the voyage, and aware of the Victorians’ strong belief in the divine, he kept his emerging theories quiet for twenty years while he studied barnacles to derive enough data to one day prove and thoroughly support his point. He knew the uproar that his thoughts and beliefs (or disbeliefs!) would create.

The rest is history, as the cliché goes. Darwin’s theories were so profound, so prolific, that they still fuel debates in school systems and in medical research around the globe today. His discoveries threatened the religious norms of the time and prod at that belief system today, more than 125 years since his death.

Darwin’s voyage is like the project manager’s walk across the bridge to agility: the leap of faith, venturing out into the unknown, the process of discovery, and the sometimes unpredictable results. Both Darwin and the new agile project manager wonder about what to make of their newfound knowledge and how to blend that knowledge within the current context of society or the business organization.

Even though agile ways of doing development have been around since the 1960s, only recently has the agile movement gained so much momentum that one in seven companies is piloting or exploring the methods.[2] We are living in a time of a major movement within the software industry. This movement has caused many project managers to investigate what it means to be “agile.” What they find is that, like Darwin’s discoveries, agile methodologies are different from the traditional norms of software development, norms that often represent the societal structure for their business organizations. For some of you reading this book, agile methodologies will be a completely new island; yet, for others, the approaches might represent a way of working with which you’re already familiar.

One trip to the Agile Manifesto web page yields thousands of names of supporters of the process. A random sampling of the comments on that web page produce quotes such as “The Agile Manifesto is an important first step in reforging the craft of software development.”[3] And, as evidenced by the thousands of postings, the support is global: “Me siento feliz porque nuevamente me siento emocionado por los avances en mi profesion.” (I feel happy because again I feel touched by the advances in my profesion [sic].)[4]

Although agile has a lot of support, it also has its fair share of critics who believe that it is a fad and does not work. There are websites and blogs from people who insist that a plan-driven, prescriptive approach is more appropriate for delivering software. Our experiences have shown that successful agile projects and agile teams exist all over the world. It is our opinion that when teams are supported by management, and can interact with the customer, they are much more successful than teams who create software using a sequential, prescriptive approach.

We realize that traditional project managers with no agile experience who visit an agile team’s room for the first time must feel a bit like Darwin when he discovered the unique creatures and life on the Galapagos Islands, as the landscape is quite different: Teams deliver incremental product releases, which allow the organization to be responsive and proactive in resolving issues; teams are safe places for individuals whereby trust, collaboration, and hard work are the founding values; people talk to each other.

This chapter provides you with a solid understanding of the origins, values, and principles of agile methods so that you will understand what the other island looks like.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *