Agile By Accident?

Way before the Agile Manifesto was written I had inadvertently stumbled into a very Agile way of working. At the time, I was working for a Defense contractor creating an inventory management system for military hospitals. As it was the early 1990s we, along with most other organizations, were using a project management system of creating software largely implemented by multiple stage gates and lots of paperwork.

As such, we would have to create a design change, on paper, before we would make any code changes. Then upon code checkin more paperwork, printed and filed, was needed as our audit check. As you can guess, even simple changes took quite a bit of time and manual effort just to file the correct signed papers. Working software was not the primary measure of progress, ensuring the software librarian had all the right up-to-date paperwork was the measure.

Also during this time, our customer was quite often literally on-site, though a few floors beneath where the developers were working. So it was quite common to have a meeting on their floor or they would come to our floor. Or sometimes I would visit them at one of the various U.S. Army base hospitals where they primarily worked. Either way, the primary method of conveying information was though the before mentioned paperwork. This typically slowed things down immensely.

It was during one of these many paperwork sessions, trying to document a formal change request, that I had an idea. What if, instead of just talking with our customers, trying to understand what they wanted, filing some paperwork, doing the code changes, testing them out as I understood the change and only then showing it to the customers, I worked on the code changes with them?

An Agile Journey is Born

Many people have asked me how to get started or in what order their learning should proceed. This is very difficult to answer because Agile (and I include Lean, DevOps, Leadership and other things) is so vast and always growing and evolving. My journey will not be yours. Other aspects of Agile may interest you more deeply or at different times than they interested me. Certainly you will be presented with difficulties and challenges that require you to dig into aspects of improvement in a different order than I did.

In general, I always encourage people to read the Manifesto for Agile Software Development before going any further. If you do not agree with the values and principles identified in the Manifesto a career in Agile will likely not be enjoyable or successful.

Then I suggest any number of more general books, blogs or podcasts on Agile to get your feet wet and find topics that interest you or may help resolve issues currently faced. As you proceed, you may discover a passion for Product Management or Coaching or even digging deep into Value Streams to understand the flow and what is inhibiting value delivery.

My journey roughly took me from using Agile practices, mostly from XP, as a developer to then a far broader understanding of Agile, then Lean in greater depth, then a deep dive into a number of frameworks. Lately I’ve been on a mission to understand Leadership and learning more effective ways to communicate and introduce change. Think Again by Adam Grant has been instrumental in influencing my current coaching approach and style. Thanks again to my coaching buddy Mark Montalvo for that excellent recommendation!

Having been to Zermatt, I can attest to the immense size and humbling experience it is to view the Matterhorn up close.

The books listed here are just a part of my learning journey. I tried to list the most impactful to me but I’m sure I missed some. Many of these books can be ordered from my reading recommendation page.

There are also many blogs, articles, videos and now podcasts that I also follow and use for learning. The image was already getting too busy to add more.

No matter where your Agile journey starts or ultimately takes you, it’s time to begin!

Wrapping Up

As you can guess, my experiment of working directly with the customer, getting realtime feedback and direction, was immensely successful. We made huge progress and the customer was delighted. Delivering customer value is, in fact, the most important thing and I had done it. The nightmare of trying to catch up the paperwork after the fact was real but worth the price. It was a number of years before I could recreate that magic but my initial experimentation encouraged me in what became of lifelong journey of learning to uncover better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.

Until next time!

(Visited 36 times, 1 visits today)


  1. Mark May 9, 2022 at 2:09 pm

    Dave, I agree Think Again had a huge impact on my coaching and I have used many of the ideas in several of my coaching session. Thanks for ready the book. It gave me someone to talk to about the concepts and I always appreciate your perspective.


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *