Agile Co-Founder Jim Highsmith Looks Back 10 Years -- And Ahead

Highsmith took some time earlier this month to talk about the legacy of the development movement he helped get on the map.

The biggest challenge facing practioners of Agile software development is getting management and leadership more involved, said Jim Highsmith, one of the original signatories of the Agile Manifesto, in an interview earlier this month.

Highsmith was attending the Agile2011 conference in Salt Lake City, near the site where he and 16 other developers gathered to create Agile 10 years ago.

He described management buy-in as the "next wave" of Agile. "We need more of that -- more involvement up and down the leadership ladder," he said. And, noting the large number of management types among the 1,600-plus attendees, he said, "That's what we're seeing at the conference."

Highsmith said the growth of Agile since that meeting 10 years ago was surprising to him and other signatories. "I don't think anybody was thinking 10 years ahead," he said. Looking back, he said, "It's pretty awesome, what's transpired. We thought we'd make some minor impact."

As far as peeking into the future to assess what software development might look like 10 years from now, Highsmith declined. "Agilists don't predict that far in the future," he joked.

But he did note the key ongoing trend of continuous delivery for "devops," described by Wikipedia as "an emerging set of principles, methods and practices for communication, collaboration and integration between software development (application/software engineering) and IT operations (systems administration/infrastructure) professionals."

Devops has been getting more and more attention lately by software development experts, including Forrester research analyst Dave West.

Management and leadership involvement is also key to devops, Highsmith said. If developers and IT pros can get products and systems delivered faster, he said, it's up to management to figure out how the business can take advantage. It's "getting back to business strategy," he said.

Regarding the continuous delivery component, Highsmith described it as "the ultimate expression of Agile" because it incorporates "continuous integration and comprehensive automated testing."

As an example of the latter, Highsmith pointed to Salesforce, which utilizes some 100,000 automated tests in the development of its CRM software. In each release, he said, "every single one of them has to pass." Following these practices makes Salesforce "extremely flexible in how they respond to the marketplace."

While reflecting on 10 years of the Agile movement, Highsmith said it was gratifying to see its wide adoption. He noted that some companies in China (and elsewhere) are adopting Agile on a mammoth scale, trying to convert up to 15,000, 20,000 or even 25,000 developers. "Unfortunately, some of them want to do it too fast," he said.

But the most gratification Highsmith gets is when someone comes up to him at an event or conference such as Agile2011 and says, "you've really changed the way our company operates" or "you changed the way I manage." In fact, he recalled recently speaking to the CEO of a medium-size company who told him, "Your book changed the way I manage my organization."

Stories like that, and the widespread adoption of Agile, weren't even on the radar screen of Highsmith and his fellow manifesto signatories 10 years ago, he said.

"We never thought about it too much... We just decided amongst ourselves that this is something that's important," he said.

The success of that group, though, can't be denied. Highsmith noted with humor that fellow signatory Bob Martin had earlier remarked in a conference session that the manifesto get-together was "the only meeting in his career that actually worked."



About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.