The Agile Architect

A Fascinating Confession from our Agile Founding Fathers...

Recent evidence has surfaced that has produced a surprising confession from the founders of the Agilist movement -- that the true architects of the modern Agilist software movement were in fact the founding fathers of the United States of America.

Beck, Cockburn, Cunningham, Fowler, Jefferies, Martin… We know the names and we know the story. In 2001, in a remote ski resort in Utah, the founders of the Agilist movement came together to create the Agilist Manifesto.  Representing a diverse mix of software development practices, it was unclear if the group could ever come to agreement on anything useful. Putting aside their differences, and focusing on their commonality, they framed a constitution for the creation of a new kind of software development based on the values of delivering working software, favoring collaboration and responding to change over heavyweight, process-centric and documentation-centric solutions.

But a new story has come to light, one that will change forever how we view the agilist movement.

I was at a panel discussion at the recent Agilist Conference in Midland where the founders of the Agilist movement finally came clean about how it all started.

Ken Beck describes what happened, "We really couldn't believe it. It was 2001 and Willie Fowler had called us all together in this remote Utah town. He practically twisted our arms to get us to come. Who wants to spend their winter in the middle of nowhere? But its hard to say no when a Nobel prize winning physicist says he needs you."

Willie continues, "That previous summer, I had been at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. vacationing with my family.  I was bored and started poking through some old documents. That's when I saw it. I couldn't believe my eyes. I knew I had to share it. That's when I called the others."

"So we are in this hotel room in the middle-of-nowhere Utah and he shows us this large flat envelope," says Matt Jefferies, co-agilist founder and inventor of the Jefferies Tube. "He places it carefully on the table, opens it, and pulls out this ancient document. (See Figure 1). It had that funny smell, like old newspapers or comics books when they haven't been preserved properly. And you can tell he's really enjoying it. He's grinning from ear-to-ear as he slowly reveals more of the document. The top of it reads "The Agilist Manifesto." It's like finding an old draft of the U.S. Constitution or something. And then we see the signatures at the bottom.  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison... We couldn't believe what we were seeing."

[Click on image for larger view.] Figure 1. A screenshot of the true, original Agilist Manifesto, circa 1787.

Willie interjects, "I was at the Archives and they just let me check it out for two weeks. I mean, who does that? Only in America!"

At this point, Dave Thomas steps in "I knew when I left sketch comedy to start my hamburger franchise that software would be important. But this was beyond belief. We'd been searching for a new way to build software. And here it was, laid out before us by our country's Founding Fathers. We were astounded at their audaciousness. I mean, back then computers were really big and really slow.  How could they know?"

"Uncle" Steve Martin picked up, "We didn't believe it. How could we? It was like some kind of wild and crazy joke. But we started digging. This was early in the days of the internet but slowly we were able to find proof of the document's authenticity. Of course, the easiest person to track was George Washington. We found a treatise he wrote on agile team dynamics. One part in particular stands out - Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light. In the same treatise he comments on retrospectives - We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience. However, he saves his worst condemnations for bad code quality - Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind: for your pocket-book not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved."

Richie Cunningham, looking a bit opie, like he just couldn't contain himself, finally chimes in, "And Thomas Jefferson. Don't forget him. He was a big proponent of delivering early and often. In one section of his code, we found him practically screaming from the keyboard - Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you."

"They were all in on it," continued Reuben "Rooster" Cockburn, "It was like the Illuminati all over again. They were competing with each other. Not to be outdone, John Adams wrote down his own thoughts on a metrics-driven approach - Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. Its unbelievable to think that, while these great men were designing a nation, they were also creating a new way to build software."

Willie interrupted, "So what were we to do? We published. We didn't try to hide where the document came from. In fact, we tried to give credit to the Founding Fathers, even "signing" it ourselves and allowing others to sign it online. How much more honest could we be? But no one would believe us. So now you know."

And with that, these great men stood up in unison, shrugged, and left the stage, leaving us all to ponder whether their greatness was tainted by their mighty confession or burnished.

Final Thoughts
I am honored and lucky to have been in attendance to hear this unforgettable story in person. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears, even I would have thought I'd made the whole thing up.

About the Author

Dr. Mark Balbes is Chief Technology Officer at Docuverus. He received his Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics from Duke University in 1992, then continued his research in nuclear astrophysics at Ohio State University. Dr. Balbes has worked in the industrial sector since 1995 applying his scientific expertise to the disciplines of software development. He has led teams as small as a few software developers to as large as a multi-national Engineering department with development centers in the U.S., Canada, and India. Whether serving as product manager, chief scientist, or chief architect, he provides both technical and thought leadership around Agile development, Agile architecture, and Agile project management principles.