The origin of agility existed before Agile manifesto

origin of agility
origin of agility

I still hear many people think that the origin of agility is agile manifesto in 2001. No, the agile is older and the world of IT is not at the origin of agile.

The agile word to start

A documentation “21st Century Manufacturing Enterprise Strategy Report” in 1992 by Roger N. Nagel, that you can retrieve, speaks of agile before the existence of agile manifesto.

“The Agile Manufacturing Enterprise Forum seeks nothing less than the revival  of America competitiveness through the adoption of agile manufacturing strategies. The developers of this strategy believe that U.S.  industry does not have an unlimited amount of time to make this transition.”

The term was not unknown and present a concept of transformation (even of transition).

However, we even finds this term used a year before in 1991 in “la théorie de l’entreprise agile” book (french) that you can buy on Amazon; he reminds us of this:

[FRENCH] > “l’entreprise agile tend vers la vente, à chaque client, de “solution totales” mélangeant biens, services et informations, à haut niveau de différenciation et au prix de série et ce, compte-tenu du degré d’exigence occidental, depuis ces vingt dernières années [Nagel/Dove, 1991]”

Translation: “the agile company tends towards the sale, to each customer, of “total solution” mixing property, services and information, with a high level of differentiation and the serial price and this, taking into account the degree of western demand, since these last twenty years [Nagel / Dove, 1991] ”

We are far from the IT origins that people believe to be at the origin of agility; indeed, the word agile was in a global idea of ​​the company and its popularization began in the early 90’s.

So, we can say that Roger N. Nagel is the father of the word “agile” although this movement was also based on other older principles.

Origin of agility : let’s go back in the past

This article will not go into detail but it’s just to recall the origins of agility with the names of reliable sources on this topic. We must be careful because many errors circulate around the agility on the net and in some books.

Agility tacitly refers to its paradigm on the theory of “organizational design”; Galbraith in 1977, defined it as “a decision-making process aimed at achieving a coherence between the original and structuring objectives of the organization (the strategy) and the modes of organization of work and coordination of units and staff”. [théorie de l’entreprise agile]

[original in french] > « un processus de décision visant à aboutir à une cohérence entre les objectifs originels et structurant de l’organisation (la stratégie) et les modes d’organisation du travail et de coordination des unités et du personnel ».

This theory integrates different approaches to the organization such as classical theory, the school of human relations, industrial psychology or the theory of contingency.

Leblond and Paquet (not me) talk in 1988 about the new organizations with principles such as decentralization of decision-making, reduction of hierarchical levels, management by leadership, self-organization of teams, strategic use speed and first experiences. All these principles are based on models such as the adhocracy established by Bennis and Slater in 1964.

So the agile?

The principles that were taken up by Roger N. Nagel under the word “agile”, date from the 60s or even before.

The word “agile” appeared with Nagel’s work on a corporate organization.

But the concept of agile transformation of an enterprise that comes back more and more, is at the origin of agility. So today these agile transformations that are multiplying are the expected the basis of agility.

And no, the agile transformation is not an extension of agile methods …

And Agile manifesto with that?

Agile Manifesto is the result of the work of 17 software development specialists in 2001:

  • Ward Cunningham the inventor of the Wiki.
  • Kent Beck, creator of extreme programming and co-creator of JUnit.
  • Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland creators and promoters of Scrum
  • Jim Highsmith promoter of ASD
  • Alistair Cockburn promoter of the Crystal clear method
  • Martin Fowler, Dave Thomas and Arie van Bennekum for DSDM.

However, it’s important to understand that if today many things are based on this agile manifesto, it’s absolutely not the father of agility. Agile Manifesto can be considered as a deviance of the agile like the “Lean Startup” based on the philosophy of Lean (I have vulgarized because I don’t want to go into detail in this article) .

But the Scrum has become agile method only later?

And yes, the Scrum is older than agile manifesto that wants to be the definition of agile methods. The term Scrum appeared in 1986 in a Japanese publication called The New New Product Development Game and it became the project management method that we know today in 1995 presented by Ken Schwaber.

Agile manifesto was based on different project management methods to create itself like Scrum, XP, RAD, DSDM …. And we even consider the EVO published in 1976 as the first project management method that has been validated “agile method”.

Warning, this doesn’t mean that agility dates from 1976 because we are at the level of agile methods and not at the level of agile (we must separate the two).

Origin of agility : the Deming wheel is an ancestor?

The Deming wheel is considered by some like the ancestors of agile methods.


la roue de Deming
The Deming wheel – origin of agility

Now you need to better understand the subtlety or understand that agile methods took their concepts in different approaches.

In a nutshell, Deming’s wheel is the result of works by Walter A. Shewhart and William Edwards Deming published in 1939. Deming’s wheel was imported to Japan in 1950 and popularized in subsequent years.


Conclusion origin of agility

Agility is a term that appeared in 1991 but is based on much older concepts.

The definition of “agile methods” appeared in 2001 with the creation of Agile Manifesto which is considered the basis of agility. It’s a mistake.

Without going into the debate, some will consider that the liberated enterprise or the holacracy are real children of agility unlike the Scrum …


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About Judicaël Paquet 190 Articles
Judicaël Paquet (agile coach and senior devops) My activities in France and Switzerland: - agile transformation architect - customized agile training - sensitization and manager coaching - agile maturity audits and situations - agile coaching (teams, orga, product owner, scrum master, agile coach) Specialties: scrum, kanban, management 3.0, scalability, lean startup, agile method.

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