There probably wasn’t a blizzard. Historical weather data from Dark Sky suggest there was some light snow in the days leading up to and during the retreat. But the weekend did—at least, metaphorically speaking—bury a lot of what came before it.
“I have been in many, many of these kinds of meetings throughout my career,” recalls Highsmith. “This one was really special.”
I spoke with 16 of the 17 attendees. (Kent Beck, a technical coach at Facebook, declined to be interviewed for this article.) Over a decade and a half later, they reflected on the retreat. “It was one of those things where you think, ‘You know, you’re gonna get a bunch of people in a room and they’re going to chitchat and nothing’s going to happen,’” says Martin. “And that’s just not what happened. This group of people arranged themselves, organized themselves, and produced this manifesto. It was actually kind of amazing to watch.”
Settled at Snowbird, the group began laying out what they had in common. Schwaber recalls, “When we compared how we did our work, we were just kind of astonished at the things that were the same.”
Unlike other historical documents, the Agile Manifesto doesn’t declare truths self-evident. Rather, it compares: We value this over that. This construction, some of the framers say, is one of the crucial features of the document. Of course, it’s unclear who came up with it, though several of the document’s framers have their theories.
Ward Cunningham, the cofounder of Cunningham & Cunningham (who is famous in the software community for, among other things, coining the term “wiki”), reflects on that moment. “When it was written down on that whiteboard, some people were out in the hallway on a break,” he recalls. “And I was out in the hallway, and [someone] said, ‘Come here, and look at this. Look at what we wrote.’ And we were just standing around looking at that whiteboard, in awe at how much that summarized what we held in common. It was such a dramatic moment, you know, that instead of everybody talking in small groups, we stood around that whiteboard and studied it.”
Cunningham says he jumped on a chair and took a picture of that moment “because I could tell that something profound had happened.”
So what is the Agile Manifesto? The preamble reads, “We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.” It then lays out the four core values:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
The document concludes that “while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.” Like any good founding document, the words can be interpreted differently, but the basic gist is this: Put people over process. Focus on making software that works, not documents about that software. Work with your client rather than fight over a contract. And along the way, be open to change.