The History of Agile Methodology: Evolution and Impact

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Narasimha Reddy Bommaka

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Jun 17, 2024

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The software development landscape of 2024 has evolved after a lot of massive changes over the last few decades. As an industry veteran, I have seen a seismic shift in this space in this time frame. One such key success enabler that has been invaluable in my project management efforts has been the adoption of Agile methodologies. For me, I view it as a radically different project management approach compared to older waterfall methods that we used to work with.

As a software development specialist, I associate agile with an iterative and incremental development approach. This approach has transformed how tech teams conceptualize, build, and deliver software. The concept has enabled companies to get a productivity thrust. Plus, it has helped them enhance quality and accelerate time-to-market for the tech product.

In my experience, professionals who wish to embrace Agile would benefit from knowing about the situations that led to its birth and rise in the field of software and application development.

While Agile’s origins can be traced back to the 1990s, I feel it keeps endlessly evolving based on real-world business needs of the current times. Today, Scrum, Kanban, and Lean are examples of agile frameworks and ideas that are now standard in software organizations of all sizes.

With this blog, I will explore the interesting history behind Agile’s birth and growth. We end with a sneak peek into its future trajectory. With this blog, you will come to appreciate why you need to know about the history of agile methodology when you enroll for a certified Scrum Master course with us.

Waterfall Methodology Function Before Agile

Prior to the advent of Agile, tech experts worked primarily on the Waterfall model of software development framework. This was a linear, sequential approach. It had originated in the manufacturing and construction industries, where the emphasis was on meticulous upfront planning and design.

In the Waterfall methodology, software projects were divided into discrete, successive phases. A typical framework consisted of -

  • Requirements gathering
  • Design
  • Implementation
  • verification
  • Maintenance

Each phase had to be completed fully before the next could begin. Changes or revisions were discouraged once a phase was approved.

It is here that many modern demands fell short within the Waterfall model. While it provided structure and documentation, it had several major drawbacks for software projects. I feel that it is an inflexible method. The method made it difficult to incorporate changing customer requirements midstream. Testing only occurred at the end. So, if there was any bug or error, the entire loop had to be run again. This led to potential rework if defects were discovered late. When we earlier used the waterfall methodology, this issue led to costly iterations and re-work. This also led to a delay in product release.

Perhaps most critically, working software wasn’t delivered until the final phase. This problem results in long development cycles.

As projects grew larger and more complex, it became clear that Waterfall would not be valuable. Its rigid, bureaucratic nature was ill-suited for the dynamic and fast-paced world of software delivery. This realization paved the way for the "Agile Revolution." It sparked a new way of thinking about software development.

How was Agile born?

A simple, tranquil evening in 2001 led to the inception of Agile as a software development methodology. Records show that seventeen tech experts had gathered at a ski resort in the Wasatch mountains of Utah. The occasion was to meet and talk about tech. But the result of the meeting on February 11 to 13 led to the birth of the Agile ‘Software Development’ Manifesto. Representatives from various tech fields came together. These included-

  • Extreme Programming
  • SCRUM
  • DSDM, among others

The need for the pivot from waterfall to agile was clear. By this period (2001), it was no longer feasible to build software meant to do the same work for three to five years. With the waterfall methodology, the slow pace of work was acceptable. This was because the monolithic IT infrastructure was meant to churn out software products that would remain in force for a very long duration of time. But by 2001, the internet and faster broadband speeds led to a demand for shorter turnarounds and faster time-to-market. Obviously, the waterfall model clearly would not align with these shifting preferences.

Plus, with growing business needs, it was becoming challenging to document everything upfront at the planning stage itself. The consortium of 17 tech experts needed a framework that could drive an iterative and collaborative process. This was what led to the emergence of the Agile model.

While the manifesto led to its birth, best practices in Agile began emerging in the early 2000s. It is here that we see some notable approaches like Scrum and XP (Extreme Programming) that have started shaping the world of Agile. It is an important chapter in agile methodology history.

Scrum was a frontrunner here. It was developed by Jeff Sutherland and formalized in 1995. Its principles of cross-functional teams are fused with short iterative sprints and continuous process improvement. This made Sprint one of the most widely adopted Agile frameworks. Scrum promoted the delivery of potentially shippable product increments every 2 to 4 weeks. This also led to more structured practices like kanban boards and Daily Scrum.

Examples of Successful Agile Implementations

Agile methodology has delivered exemplary results for many companies. The two main examples that come to my mind are -

1 – Lego: LEGO followed the SAFe Framework. It is an anagram for “Scaled Agile Framework.” The idea was to scale the process to their specific business needs. It follows a lean-agile hybrid system. Skilled SAFe “agilists” can align their team to this configurable process model.

Experts in SAFe use these principles to promote efficient working on projects. This helps the teams to plan and collaborate better for success. Their 20 product teams started adopting it bit by bit. From 5 teams, it moved to all 20 teams adopting the journey towards agile practices. This helped in leaner production practices and better delivery timeline forecasts.

2 – Cisco: With agility, the company planned to do away with periodic major releases with continuous delivery of new features. It started with a small team on simpler projects and gradually worked its way upward to more embracing agile on more complex projects. Out of the many teams, the Cisco Cloud and Software IT team was the fastest to embrace the methodology.

They formed a ‘team of teams’ called the Agile Release Train. This new approach was better than the previous waterfall model, with major defects going down by as much as 40 percent.

Misconceptions About the Agile Methodology

Misconception 1: Agile history has seen some fallacies and criticisms over the years. One major critique is that Agile equates to having no processes or documentation at all. This is a misunderstanding. Agile still involves planning and documentation. Yes, it is true that developers and managers can be more lightweight on the documentation front than Waterfall.

Misconception 2: Another misconception is that Agile means abandoning all upfront planning and design. This is not entirely true. Agile does focus on flexibility and responding to change. But many companies and teams still find value in initial planning and design efforts.

Misconception 3: Some criticize the collaborative nature of Agile as being too time-consuming. They feel that the approach involved too many meetings and ceremonies. However, I feel that these processes are vital. They are meant to improve alignment and efficiency in the long run.

In my experience, there are also concerns around potential misuse or ‘cargo cult’ implementations. I feel that these don’t fully embrace the core Agile principles and values. Here, it is a problem of execution rather than the concept. When implemented properly, Agile can deliver tremendous benefits. You can see enhanced quality and better production efficiency.

Future of Agile

The tech landscape keeps evolving at a fast pace. This means further developments in the Agile methodology domain in 2024 and beyond. Experts suggest a smoother and deeper fusion with new-age technologies like AI and DevOps. For instance, within the DevOps model, this approach will lead to better automation gains and tight feedback loops.

We can expect to see more pronounced adoption of frameworks like Disciplined Agile and Scaled Agile. These are likely to cater to the complexities of enterprise-scale initiatives. You will not only get insights about Agile methodology but frameworks used in it in our Certified Scrum Master Certification.  

Conclusion

We explored the evolution of Agile methodology, starting from its inception in the early 2000s. The history of agile shows that it started as a way to counter the rigidity of the waterfall method. But today, it has become the de-facto framework for businesses that want to have a competitive edge.

Agile’s core tenets remain unchanged. But its practices continue evolving in the face of new-age technologies like AI and DevOps. The flexibility and efficiency associated with this model will ensure that it will remain highly relevant in 2024 and beyond. Make sure that you know about this when you enroll into the CSM certification courses. It will make a real difference in the corporate workspace.

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