Agile 1 – On the beginnings of agile

Copyright Graham Berrisford. One of several hundred papers at Last updated 29/05/2019 14:47

Avancier’s agile papers

This is the first in a series of mostly short papers.

1.      On the beginnings of agile

2.      On agile software development

3.      On agile businesses and systems

4.      On systems thinking ideas used in agile

5.      What is agile architecture?

6.      EA in the world of agile architecture


In the last decade, almost every architect in my classes says their organisation use agile methods

Most use SCRUM or similar, and many say Kanban as well.

Few realise agile development principles are older than programming.

The first agile method?

In 1943, agile design and development principles were promoted in the “Skunk Works” division of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.

Kelly’s rules for Skunk Works say nothing about what is being designed (aircraft); they are about engineering project management.

1.       The Skunk Works® manager must be delegated practically complete control of his program in all aspects. He should report to a division president or higher.

2.       Strong but small project offices must be provided both by the military and industry.

3.       The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner. Use a small number of good people (10% to 25% compared to the so-called normal).

4.       A very simple drawing and drawing release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provided.

5.       There must be a minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly.

6.       There must be a monthly cost review covering not only what has been spent and committed but also projected costs to the conclusion of the program.

7.       The contractor must be delegated and must assume more than normal responsibility to get good vendor bids for subcontract on the project..

8.       The inspection system... should be used on new projects. Push more basic inspection responsibility back to subcontractors and vendors. Don't duplicate so much inspection.

9.       The contractor must be delegated the authority to test his final product in flight. He can and must test it in the initial stages. If he doesn't, he rapidly loses his competency to design other vehicles.

10.   The specifications applying to the hardware must be agreed to well in advance of contracting. The Skunk Works practice of having a specification section stating clearly which important military specification items will not knowingly be complied with and reasons therefore is highly recommended.

11.   Funding a program must be timely so that the contractor doesn't have to keep running to the bank to support government projects.

12.   There must be mutual trust between the military project organization and the contractor, the very close cooperation and liaison on a day-to-day basis. This cuts down misunderstanding and correspondence to an absolute minimum.

13.   Access by outsiders to the project and its personnel must be strictly controlled by appropriate security measures.

14.  Because only a few people will be used in engineering and most other areas, ways must be provided to reward good performance by pay not based on the number of personnel supervised.

Further agile methods

Kanban (often associated with agile methods) is a scheduling system for lean and just-in-time manufacturing developed by Taiichi Ohno at Toyota.

Wikipedia says it “originates from the simplest visual stock replenishment signaling system, an empty box.”

This was “first developed in the UK Spitfire factories during the Second World War the late 1940s.”


In the 1950s and 60s, other iterative and incremental development methods emerged.


The 1970s saw more evolutionary project management and adaptive development approaches.

IBM promoted Joint Application Development (JAD) workshops.


By 1990, James Martin’s Information Engineering approach presumed Rapid Application Development (RAD).

The Dynamic System Development Method (DSDM) was published in 1994.


In 2001, the Agile Manifesto was published. Compare it with Kelly’s rules


Kelly’s rules for Skunk Works - 1943

The Agile manifesto – 2001

(3) Use a small number of good people.

We value individuals and interactions

- over processes and tools

(9) The contractor must test his final product in flight [and] in the initial stages.

(5) A minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly.

We value working software

- over comprehensive documentation

(12) There must be mutual trust between the [customer] and the contractor

[and] very close cooperation and liaison on a day-to-day basis

We value customer collaboration

- over contract negotiation

(4) A very simple... release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provided.

We value responding to change

- over following a plan


So, agile methods have been around for decades.

The values in the manifesto reflect those used in engineering and software projects from the 1940s onwards. 

The first rapid/dynamic application development conferences and methods were primarily a reaction against waterfall projects.

Were agile software development methods based on object-oriented programming?

Mostly no; they were more a reaction to earlier approaches.

Royce had defined a "waterfall" software development method in 1970.

But the failures of large waterfall projects in the 1980s led people to look for more "rapid", "iterative" and "dynamic" development methods.


This coincided with the introduction of graphical user interfaces and OO programming languages (OOPLs).

Naturally, the development of user interfaces proceeds best in a collaborative, incremental and agile way.

For this and other good reasons, OO programmers adopted, developed and promoted agile practices.

Agile development methods do include particular software engineering practices.

However, practices like pair programming and test-driven design (in extreme programming (XP) are not specific to OO programming.

Does agile benefit from some up front design?

Yes. Kelly’s rule 10 (below) was that “the specifications of hardware must be agreed to well in advance of contracting”.

Similarly, agile development methods recommend stabilising the “infrastructure” in advance of software development.

Where the infrastructure can include not only platform technologies but also any persistent data structure that must be populated and maintained.