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
- Principles applied 1953, written about 1993
- Iterative and incremental development’s (IID’s)
- After 1960
- Evolutionary Delivery (EVO) (Gilb, 1985)
- 1986 (Takeuchi & Nonaka, 1986)
- Lightweight Software Development
- Extreme Programming
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 http://www.santeon.com/images/pdf/Santeon_HistoryofAgileSoftwareDevelopment.pdf
- Takeuchi, H., & Nonaka, I. (1986). The new new product development game. Harvard Business Review, (January)