Agile: The History Never Read

Everyone has heard of agile, few know its roots.


Walter Shewhart of Bell Labs in the 1930’s offered the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) model for quality improvement. Deming embraced this model and carried these principles strong into the 1980’s. That helped to provide the foundation. But when did the concept of pure agile really take hold?


Back to 1957 at IBM’s Service Bureau Corporation, based in Los Angeles, teams were doing incremental development (Larman & Basili, 2003).  It’s confusing to follow as the core concepts remain true the names evolved over the years. 


Let’s recap what agile was called, before 2015.


  • Quality Improvements
    • Before 1960
  • Kanban
    • Principles applied 1953, written about 1993
  • Iterative and incremental development’s (IID’s)
    • After 1960
  • Evolutionary Delivery (EVO) (Gilb, 1985)
    • 1985
  • Scrum
    • 1986 (Takeuchi & Nonaka, 1986)
  • Lightweight Software Development
    • 1990’s
  • Extreme Programming
    • 1996
  • Agile
    • 2001


There are three key themes here: 1. Quality improvement 2. Iteration (do-learn-repeat) and 3. Agile (flexibly first).


Another interesting pattern emerges: when delivery must be met, iterative and agile approaches are applied.  When there is flexibility in delivery a waterfall method is applied.  Below are a few examples that chose an iterative approach even before it was widely adopted:



  • Project Mercury (’58) – Project Mercury was the first human spaceflight program of the United States, running from 1959 through 1963


  • X-15 hypersonic jet (’62) – The North American X-15 was a rocket-powered aircraft operated by the United States Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as part of the X-plane series of experimental aircraft.


  • Shuttle Program Software – NASA Space Shuttle software, the Primary Avionics Software System (Mar, 2011)



Gerald Weinberg bought us ½ day iterations, in 1958, with the Project Mercury using Test Driven Development (TDD).  IBM Federal Systems Division (FSD) extended these ideas into feedback-driven requirements and architecture.  U.S. Government and Department of Defense adopts the concepts of feedback-driven development rolling out the Missile Defense System, Light Airborne System and the Trident Submarine.  This test and development concept expanded into project management with Tom Gilb’s EVO methodology of evolutionary project management (EVO). After the 1980’s these models ping pong between feature-driven development, iterative approaches (rapid application development) and agile.  All of these models are variants on an agile (iterative) framework (Santeon, 2011).



Quality requires iteration and flexibility.  Agile brings us one step close to quality delivery.





  • Gilb, T. (1985). “Evolutionary Delivery versus the “waterfall model.”” ACM SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes 10(3): 49-61


  • Larman C. & Basili V. R. (2003). “Iterative and Incremental Development: A Brief History.” IEEE Computer Society 36(6): 47-56


  • Mar, K. (2011). A short history of agile software development. Retrieved from A short history of Agile software development


  • Santeon. (2011). History of agile s/w dev. Retrieved from


  • Takeuchi, H., & Nonaka, I. (1986). The new new product development game. Harvard Business Review, (January)
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Peter is a healthcare business and technology executive, recognized for Digital Innovation by CIO 100, MIT Sloan, Computerworld, and the Project Management Institute. As Managing Director at OROCA Innovations, Peter leads the CXO advisory services practice driving digital strategies. Peter was honored as an MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award Finalist in 2015 and is a regular contributor to on innovation. As Head of Information Technology, Peter was responsible for Connecticut’s Health Insurance Exchange’s (HIX) industry-leading digital platform transforming consumerism and retail oriented services for the health insurance industry. Peter championed the Connecticut marketplace digital implementation with a transformational cloud-based SaaS platform and mobile application recognized as a 2014 PMI Project of the Year Award finalist, CIO 100, and awards for best digital services, API, and platform. He also received a lifetime achievement award for leadership and digital transformation, honored as a 2016 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader. Peter is the author of Learning Intelligence: Expand Thinking. Absorb Alternative. Unlock Possibilities (2017), which Marshall Goldsmith, author of the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Triggers, calls "a must-read for any leader wanting to compete in the innovation-powered landscape of today." Peter also authored The Power of Blockchain for Healthcare: How Blockchain Will Ignite The Future of Healthcare (2017), the first book to explore the vast opportunities for blockchain to transform the patient experience. Peter has a B.S. in C.I.S from Bentley University and an MBA from Quinnipiac University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He earned his PMP® in 2001 and is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Masters in Business Relationship Management (MBRM) and Certified Scrum Master. As a Commercial Rated Aviation Pilot and Master Scuba Diver, Peter understands first hand, how to anticipate change and lead boldly.