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Refuting the Idea of Rewriting the Agile Manifesto

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Alistair Cockburn recently posted his viewpoint on the history of the Agile Manifesto, from the perspective of one of the original authors and signatories.  He encourages readers to understand the perspective taken at the time by the authors, and also to explore the ongoing work of many of the original signatories as they expand on the ideas that they came together over in 2001.

He uses a deliberately provocative title “How I saved Agile and the Rest of the World” and immediately says:

This is not about me saving anything. It is to remind you that the Agile Manifesto was written by 17 people, all very experienced and with very different backgrounds. Before you claim to understand the heritage of the agile software development, you need to interview all 17 of those people who wrote it. Hopefully someone will do that before we start dying off.

 He explicitly tackles the desire by some to update the manifesto:

It was a free-for-all, that is to say, there was no given purpose or agenda. Self-organization at its finest, held together by deep respect and generous listening on all sides. What emerged was what these exact 17 people could produce together at that particular moment in history. We agreed at the end never to update the manifesto for that exact reason. (So don’t ask us to).

He discusses the ongoing contribution of each of the authors and how their ideas at the time gave a complex combination of viewpoints that resulted in the formulation of the values and principles of the manifesto, and how their ongoing work has influenced the direction of agile development over the years.

What I hope you see is that the Agile Manifesto was the product of 17 people from different schools and backgrounds. No one person is responsible for the words we came up with – it is clear that it was the product of all 17 people. The addition or removal of any 1 person would have changed the outcome, something we recognized and discussed at the end of that meeting.

Jim Highsmith, who is also one of the original authors, wrote a history of the Agile Manifesto which is on the manifesto website.  He makes an important point about the motivation behind the manifesto:

At the core, I believe Agile Methodologists are really about "mushy" stuff—about delivering good products to customers by operating in an environment that does more than talk about "people as our most important asset" but actually "acts" as if people were the most important, and lose the word "asset". So in the final analysis, the meteoric rise of interest in—and sometimes tremendous criticism of—Agile Methodologies is about the mushy stuff of values and culture.

InfoQ plans to take Cockburn up on his challenge and hopes to get all 17 signatories to respond to a request for an interview. 


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