Where did Agile Come From?

Have you ever wondered where the term “Agile” came from? This word has been thrown around as a buzz word frequently of late. As in: “We need to be Agile,” or “Our organization’s agile approach allows us to be flexible.”

The word “agile” is, indeed, an adjective that Merriam Webster defines to mean “marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace.” As a personal descriptor, I would take it as quite the compliment!

From a business standpoint, however, it is confusing to know if the use of the word “agile” to define an organizational attribute (desired or actual), or if “Agile” is indeed being used as the term which refers to a collection of frameworks that have their roots in lean manufacturing.

According to AgileManifesto.org, the term “Agile” was brought into being in early 2001 by a group of enlightened software developers looking to identify an alternative to the lengthy documentation-driven and time-consuming “heavyweight” software development process that they felt was inadequate. “Agile” is an umbrella term to describe their common values over the technical aspects of design. Though the group understood the utility of process, tools, documentations, contracts, and plans – they coined the term “Agile” to recognize that the inherent ability to be dynamic, flexible, productive, collaborative, and responsive when things change – is MORE important than all the technical stuff.

In other words – “Agile” strives to not remain isolated clinging to what was created in the past but to work as a team to move forward when things change to enable improvement in the future.

An underlying aspect of all of the Agile tenants, however, is similar to that of Lean – which is to deliver value to the customer. In The Machine that Changed the World, Womak, Jones, and Roos say that “all of the variety available from lean production would be for naught if the lean producer could not build what the customer wanted.” (page 66)

Agile as a framework utilizes many of the same concepts and tools that Lean does, so it is no surprise that Agile has its roots in Lean.

Once you know if an organization is using “agile” as a term rather than an adjective, here are our key take-aways about what Agile means:

  1. “Agile” refers to a collection of frameworks that have their roots in lean manufacturing
  2. Some of the Agile frameworks are for planning + execution and can help visualize capacity
  3. Implementation of Agile requires changes in management behavior

For more details, watch our Overview of Agile presentation which can be found at the bottom of our Agile Services page, and Contact Us to tell what you think!