Manifesto Mania

In Software Engineering on June 28, 2010 at 12:59 am

I don’t know about you, but I think that the manifestos have lost their allure. Most of you may know about the Agile Manifesto, but do you know how many other manifestos are out there? I think we’re seeing an epidemic.

The Agile Manifesto has had one of the biggest impacts in recent years. Seventeen well-known software developers—most of them consultants—got together in 2001 at a ski resort in Utah to try to draft the manifesto. They wanted to identify common ground in what they offered as value to their customers that distinguished them from other consulting organizations, especially  large organizations like Rational Software, IBM, and so on. This was a period where, like today, many trade conferences had sessions delivered by such experts that told the audience how to build better software. There was a lot of wisdom in what they said and there was a lot of differences and in-fighting to push their ideas forward as the best of the bunch. But there certainly was the common ground that most of them were from relatively small organizations who were competing with the big guys and that made it hard to get a foothold in customer organizations.

This post isn’t really about the Agile Manifesto though. You can read about the history of the manifesto and other good things in the above link. The key point is that the Agile Manifesto was important and had an impact upon the software development scene back then.

Like most good ideas, they get copied to the point of overuse. That’s what I believe has happened with the manifestos. Consider the following that I found in just a few minutes searching on the Web.

OK, that’s enough. You get the idea. It seems like anyone can create a manifesto and probably get some others to sign up for it. Unfortunately, the number of manifestos out there have diluted the space and lessened their impact.

One of my pet peeves about software development trends is simply that there is so little empirical data available to back up most of the claims that people, and especially business entities like tool vendors and consultants put out. Therefore, I have my own Manifesto.

Anti-Manifesto Manifesto

As an old curmudgeon who’s seen too many fads and useless—or worse, harmful—practices that are blindly followed without fully understanding them, I have come to value:

  • common sense over blindly following a process, any process
  • empirical results over unsubstantiated claims, even if they’re made by someone I respect
  • solid principles over trends and fads
  • clean code over cute tricks that obscure the meaning of the code

Therefore, I vow not to read anymore manifestos.

  1. Hi Professor, As a former SERG(at WPI) member, I want to add my 2 cents. I am an Agile manifesto and software craftsmanship member, I have found somethings that these manifestos promote (among others) useful:

    1. Putting thought into scalable, maintainable software.
    2. Encourage team work work
    3. Responding well to changing needs
    4. Breaking down work into achievable pieces that give a stakeholder understanding what he/she is paying for

    In general the way I look at manifiestos are to serve as general common sensical principles not a mandate to blindly follow.


    • Ajay,

      I’m not against promoting useful information. The fact that everyone decides that they have a manifesto is what I am against. It’s as bad as when everyone decides they have to be Agile! No, they don’t. Be Agile when it’s appropriate. Fads come and go. Wisdom remains for ever.

  2. I could complain a little about your wording — principles will do, no need for solid principles; words like blindly, cute, unsubstantiated, fad… all slant the presentation. But nevertheless I accept your manifesto. Let’s just accumulate and teach skills that work. And let us remember that there are many kinds of software: prototypes, games, engineering computations, nuclear shutdown sequences. One skill does not fit all needs.

  3. Agile in practice promotes crap.

    • I think this is a very narrow point of view. There are many facets of Agility that work in the right context. The key is to use some common sense and not throw out the baby with the bath water.

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