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The History of Agile

Instructor: Laury Hales

Laury has taught in professional adult education settings for over 10 years and is currently working on a PhD in Organizational Psychology.

Today, agile methodologies are popular project management approaches that focus on flexibility. However, agile is a fairly new concept born out of the increasing speed of technological advances. Let's take a brief look at the history of agile.

Life Before Agile

Today, project managers can choose from numerous methodologies addressing the software development life cycle (SDLC) to fit a particular project. Top choices are agile methodologies, which allow teams to respond to changing requirements and customer unpredictability through incremental, iterative project work.

That wasn't always the case, however. At one time, SDLC followed a rigid process of gathering requirements, designing the software, implementing the software, verifying functionality, and maintaining the software. The phases were completed in that order, without deviation.

Each phase of the process was completed in its entirety and approved before the next process was started. A change to something in a previous phase sent the entire project back to the start and each phase was redone and approved. For example, if a requirement to have the software automatically populate a field, for instance, was not known until the implementation phase, the entire project would stop and go back to the requirements phase. The project would essentially start over.

While hard to believe in today's fast-moving technological world, the inflexibility of this process didn't hinder software development. That is because early in its history, software was fairly simple programming used to automate human tasks. Technological innovation was slow, and business happened at a much easier pace. It was not uncommon to spend several months gathering requirements and designing a software program without a single change required. With over 20 years between the invention of the modern computer system and the release of the first personal computer, fast or responsive software development methodology was not needed.

The Road to Agile Methodology

In the late 1970s, the personal computer explosion happened. With it, the average Joe gained access to modern computing. Consumer demand drove innovation at a faster pace than ever seen. Businesses striving to meet ever changing customer desires sped up the pace at which business needs changed.

Software development needed to meet the pace and changes, and the rigid methodology that had ruled the SDLC world wasn't able to keep up. It simply couldn't deliver the software fast enough or respond effectively to requirement changes during development.

By the early 1990s, a small group of software industry leaders began developing and promoting innovative approaches to SDLC which embraced quickly reacting and adapting to changing requirements and technologies. Rapid Application Development (RAD), Rational Unified Process (RUP), Scrum, and Extreme Programming (XP) became the new, highly responsive, and flexible software development methodologies used.

In the early 2000s, a small group of software industry leaders met in Snowbird, UT, to discuss these new methodologies. The term agile software development was coined in 2001 to describe the flexible nature of software developed in iterative stages and became a blanket term for the new methodologies.

To distinguish agile software development from the traditional methodologies, the leaders at Snowbird, UT, came up with a set of values for using agile, called the Agile Manifesto. In it, the authors promote:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

In short, while agile recognizes the need for processes and tools, documentation, contracts, and plans, the focus is to quickly meet the customer needs with working software products.

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