Why Did Agile Originate In Software?

I was reading Lior Friedman’s post about the agile research. He raises an interesting question:

Why are agile studies coming from the exact science fields? After all, we don’t see groups of accountants doing a stand-up meeting every morning.

The easy answer of course, that’s where they practiced mostly. We tend to look under the flashlight. But the more important question is what chain of events brought us to this point? Even Forbes says the next management revolution is coming from software.

Why didn’t it come from sociology? The study of how groups of people behave should have predicted how agile practices benefit the organization. However, sociologists and organizations don’t see eye-to-eye. After all, who are these socio-geeks to tell us how to run our organization? Sociologists usually don’t have access to teams inside organizations, where they can study their behavior. And therefore they did not observe and studied and produced reports.  Psychology had the same fate.

Management studies? We’d expect it to come from there, right? The problem with management is that it has become such a low risk-taking occupation. Managers are afraid to take risks in the form of organization change. So, if it’s not done, why teach it?

By the way: MBA stands for Master of Business Administration. With a name carrying so much “tradition” would you expect otherwise?

Let’s move closer to exact-science land. I would expect agile practices to emerge from industrial process engineering. This is the science of improving processes.  Lean practices have evolved from production and manufacturing. But in Toyota they got something right, that wasn’t discussed in the university: The human worker. So process engineering left out the most important thing that agile recognized: The human element. Turns out, without it, life becomes simpler. Well, academic life.

The fact that we have agile today can be a miracle.

So why did it appear in software, of all places?

Here’s my guess: Software is such a huge field. You need to recognize the fact that you can’t know everything about it. Not to mention, keep up with all the new stuff.

Accepting that makes you humble and eager to try and learn new stuff. Then you feel human, and think about other humans in that respect, not as resources. When that door opened, now we could think about new ways of organizing people, focusing on tasks and showing results.

What do you think? How come we’re lucky to be the first citizens in agile-land?

3 comments on “Why Did Agile Originate In Software?”

  1. Stephen Jones Reply

    This is such an insightful question to ask.

    I agree that agile processes likely arose from software because its a field that is constantly “falling forward” and therefore less likely to rely on rigid processes that fail to keep up.

    Of course, parts of agile exist elsewhere: SCRUM/standups already existed in sports, military operations and theater groups. Iterative design is well established in the arts, theater (again) and advertising.

    Also, it makes sense that top-down, waterfall processes exist where physical resources are large and complex: Aircraft design, civil engineering, etc.

    Bottom-line: It makes sense that agile arose and thrives in fields where the problem and solution are fuzzy and the medium is flexible.

  2. Gil Zilberfeld Reply

    Thanks Stephen!

    And yours is an insightful answer.

    I think, that whatever your occupation, you’re probably better off, with more collaboration, clear prioritization and showing result quickly.

    Where there’s chaos and no answers, you’ll really feel the difference.

    But the need still exists even if you don’t try. Which puzzles me about other areas.

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