In February 2001, 17 big thinkers in the world of software development came together at Snowbird ski resort in Utah to discuss common ground and best practices. They emerged with The Agile Manifesto.

Ten years later, a mini-reunion of sorts is taking place on the same dates in the same place, with a discussion about problems that have been solved, those that are solvable, and those that can never be solved, according to Alistair Cockburn, one of the original manifesto signatories. (While not all the signatories can travel to Utah for this reunion, most all of them have committed to a get-together at the Agile Conference, to be held in August in Salt Lake City.)

Cockburn noted that when the 17 met at Snowbird 10 years ago, it was not about solving problems. It was more an exercise in codifying practices that they already had been using for about a decade. “We were all doing this stuff in the ‘90s,” he said. “I was hired by IBM to work on methodologies, and was debriefing people to find out what they were doing.”

Cockburn pointed out that Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland already had written a paper on Scrum in 1992, and that Kent Beck and Ward Cunningham were already driving forces behind Extreme Programming. “We all independently were finding out the same things,” he said.

Sutherland, who started laying out the Scrum process in 1993, thought the meeting would be significant because of the people that were there. “People had realized ‘waterfall’ [development] had been a huge failure, and that [Rational Unified Process] had become heavyweight with its roles, responsibilities and artifacts. It was becoming another waterfall thing. We wanted to see what we could do to change the direction,” he said.

Interestingly, he said, “We didn’t agree on hardly anything.”

Cockburn credited Bob Martin with questioning “if something deeper was going on here. He wanted to write a manifesto. For us, it was a wrap-up of the previous decade.”

Sutherland recalled that it was Martin Fowler who went to a whiteboard there and said, “’Let’s see if we can find some things to agree on.’ An hour later, we had the manifesto.”

Cockburn added that “we knew when we wrote the manifesto that it works. It was all road-tested before we got there.” But he acknowledged that the extent and speed with which it caught on was surprising.

“The manifesto was written in February, and already there were panels that summer” at conferences discussing the new agile philosophy, he said. “We didn’t speculate it’d get to the level that it’s at now.”

About David Rubinstein

David Rubinstein is editor-in-chief of SD Times.