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The Origins of Scrum and Agile

As leadership guru Steve Denning has written, Agile is “not about doing more work in less time: it’s about generating more value with less work.” At base, both Agile and Scrum emerged from an impulse many of us feel at one point or another — the motivation to get rid of excess and make life, or some part of it, simpler and more productively focused.

The above statements are clearly broad and general, but they lie at the foundation of the development of Agile and Scrum. They’re reflected in the related term “lean,” which describes a methodology first developed and applied by the Toyota Production System to the manufacture of goods in the 1950s. To quote Planview LeanKit, “At its core, Lean is a business methodology that promotes the flow of value to the customer through two guiding tenets: Continuous improvement and respect for people.” We can see these anchoring values reflected in things like 2001’s Agile Manifesto. The 1950s also saw the emergence of Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) and the accompanying Object-Oriented Design (OOD), which were meant to improve the flow of software design and programming. Taken together, these three things are among the most important foundations of Scrum and, in turn, Agile.

Two management scholars, Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka, first presented the term “scrum” in an article published in 1986 in the Harvard Business Review to describe a framework that makes scalable business agility possible across an organisation. Also in the 1980s, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber began working separately with Scrum’s hallmark small teams. The two then went on to develop the methodology together in the first half of the 1990s, presenting a paper on it at a workshop at the Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages & Applications ’95 (OOPSLA ’95) conference.

Agile, in turn, was heavily influenced in its evolution by Scrum, as well as by the Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), Adaptive Software Development (ASD), and Extreme Programming (XP). A group from these and similar backgrounds met first at the Rogue River Lodge in Oregon in the spring of 2000, then again in 2001 in Utah, to discuss a better way of working with the often-chaotic process of software development. They dubbed themselves the Agile Alliance, and published the Agile Manifesto that same year, just six years after Sutherland and Schwaber had presented their seminal paper. Tech Beacon refers to the manifesto as “the clearest and most succinct statement of purpose of an approach that was the antithesis of the waterfall model that was still prevalent at the time.” The waterfall method is about completing one phase of a project before moving onto the next; Agile, like the influences that shaped it, is about a far more nimble approach to projects and their products. Also in 2001, Scrum and Agile were presented together in the book Agile Software Development with Scrumwritten by Ken Schwaber and the late Mike BeedleAn increasing number of businesses, both in the field of software and elsewhere, now identify themselves as using an Agile approach.

Advanced Certified ScrumMaster Learning Objective 1.2: Outline the historical development of Scrum and Agile (i.e., origins in Lean and OOP/OOD, first Scrum teams in 1980s, first publication from OOPSLA96, Schwaber/Beedle Book 2001).