Here is the brief history of the term: THE AGILE INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX.

A Brief History of the term: “THE AGILE INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

The first known occurrence in English of the term “The Agile Industrial Complex” appears to occur on April 02, 2014, in an essay from one Matthieu Cornillon, in his essay, “I Did Not Say I Was A Good Plumber.” This essay was called to my attention by one Peter Merel, who I hereby thank for doing so.

But I’m getting ahead of the story…here is the history of the term AGILE INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. If you can locate earlier citations (via WayBackMachine, for example) I certainly welcome those references. You can reach me here.

The historical facts are these:

Chapter 1: The Ancient History, circa 2006

The term THE AGILE INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX may have been used before 2014. However, some 10 years earlier, Martin Fowler wrote his important 2006 essay, The Agile Imposition, issuing a very clear warning about the disrespect to people and the harm and folly of forcing Agile, of trying to “make people” be this, or do that, in the name of “Agile.” 

Here is some of what he said: 

“…Imposing an agile process from the outside strips the team of the self-determination which is at the heart of agile thinking.”

“… imposing agile methods introduces a conflict with the values and principles that underlie agile methods.”

“…I’d rather have a team work in a non-agile manner they chose themselves than have my favorite agile practices imposed upon them.”

So I hope I’ve made clear that imposing agile methods is a very red flag. -Martin Fowler, Agile Manifesto Signatory

Remember now, this essay published in 2006.

Since then, “push” has gone completely mainstream and is considered a good thing, something positive. 

It isn’t.

Here is the link to the full essay from Martin Fowler:

So there is that essay from Martin Fowler, which everyone (especially the “thought leaders” and the esteemed “institutions”) totally IGNORED.

Chapter 2: The Modern History, circa 2014

The first definite reference to the term The Agile Industrial Complex appears to have occurred in 2014. It occurs in a blog post dated April 02, 2014, in an essay from one Matthieu Cornillon, in his essay, “I Did Not Say I Was A Good Plumber.

Here is what he said:

 “…Occasionally, I run into some online screed about the world surrounding Agile development.  Typically, it’s written by someone who has a relatively high level of experience, and decries people/organizations who are less seasoned.  Those posts really bum me out. Some focus on the Agile-industrial complex: the slew of people selling services or tools that will help you be better at Agile development.  Okay, maybe some of that happens, but is there any part of any industry where this is anything but normal?  Does it add value to the world to scream that some profiteers have descended on Agile development like they descend on everything else?  It is about as constructive as writing that some people who work in Agile are unfriendly.  Maybe true, but not a great addition to the conversation.” 

And so, here we can see: instead of questioning “the slew of people selling services or tools”, the author is saying that being skeptical of them is not really constructive at all. “…is there any part of any industry where this is anything but normal?” etc. He’s not calling any of THAT into question whatsoever. There’s no warning or protest. He’s actually validating the situation and calling it “normal.”

And so: prior to October 2016, the term “The Agile Industrial Complex” was seldom if ever used, and when it was, it was apparently never used to seriously question the status quo. 

Far from it!

So there is also that.

Once again: I hereby thank Peter Merel for bringing this obscure 2014 essay from Matthieu Cornillon to my attention, an essay. Far from questioning the status quo, the essay actually mocks anyone who does. So the modern meaning of the term ‘Agile Industrial Complex’ did not start here.

Chapter 3: The Recent History, circa 2016

In October of 2016, in an interview on INFOQ.COM, a man named Joshua Kerievsky picked up the term Agile Industrial Complex, and effectively used the phase as it is used today. Here is that quote and the link: 

the Agile Industrial Complex (including tool vendors, sales and marketing people, consultants, certification groups, certified trainers, etc.) is challenged by changes to Agile, since those changes require updating learning objectives, training materials, exams, tools, web sites and more. While we can understand their focus on monetization, we don’t have to let it stand in the way of modernization.

Reference link:

So apparently, it was actually this man, Joshua Kerievsky, in 2016, not Matthieu Cornillon in 2014, who used the term as it it commonly understood today.

And so: there is also that.

Chapter 4: The Publication of the essay, THE AGILE INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX (December 2016)

In December 12 2016, I drafted the incendiary essay, THE AGILE INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. This essay went viral as it denounced the deplorable tolerance of disrespectfully pushing agile on people in organizations, and the folly and harm (and total disrespect) of authoritatively imposing practices, all in the name of progress, virtue & overall agile goodness.

Here is the opening line of that essay: 

A nearly 100% tolerance of the coercive imposing of Agile practices on teams is a cultural norm of the Agile industry. This tolerance of force is profoundly disrespectful of people. This is the most pressing issue of our time. Agile leaders have almost nothing to say about the dangers of this widespread tolerance of imposition. “

At the end of this essay, I issued a call to action: if you care at all about this, SAY SOMETHING. Issue a warning about imposing and forcing practices. Protest the status-quo. Speak up! Do it from the conference keynote podium, if you have that opportunity. Say it in an essay if you don’t.

Here is the full reference link: THE AGILE INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX essay, circa 2016:

About one year later, some other folks also began writing about The Agile Industrial Complex.

Chapter 5: The Essay “Disrupting the Agile Industrial Complex” (November 26 2017)

On or around November 26 2017, on LinkedIn, about a year after the original Agile Industrial Complex essay appeared, and about 3 full years after the term appeared on INFOQ.COM, a set of articles appeared. The author was a man named Peter Merel. His series of essays appeared on LinkedIn (and you can see them all here.) These essays described 10 “anti patterns” propagated and supported by the now-enormous Agile industry.

By then, the denotation and the connotation of the term Agile Industrial Complex had become very well established over the previous 3 years, and strongly associated with protesting and warning about the harm and folly of pushing and forcing and imposing agile practices. 

Chapter 6: The Martin Fowler keynote of 2018

In 2018, Martin Fowler responded to the call to action issued by the AGILE INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX essay. Here is exactly what Martin Fowler, an Agile Manifesto signatory, actually said: 

the Agile Industrial Complex imposing methods upon people…that to me is an absolute travesty. 

“I was gonna say “tragedy”, but I think “travesty” is the better word…Even the agile advocates wouldn’t say that agile is necessarily the best thing to use everywhere. The point is, the team doing work decides how to do it. That is a fundamental agile principle.

On the surface, the world of agile software development is bright, since it is now mainstream. But the reality is troubling, because much of what is done is faux-agile, disregarding agile’s values and principles. …we should focus on … fighting the Agile Industrial Complex and its habit of imposing process upon teams…”This is actually even worse than just pretending to do agile, it’s actively using the name “agile” against the basic principles of what we were trying to do, when we talked about doing this kind of work in the late 90s and at Snowbird.

“….a lot of what is being pushed is being pushed in a way that, as I said, goes really against a lot of our precepts. The Agile Industrial Complex imposing methods on people is an absolute travesty”

“….So that’s the first problem: the Agile Industrial Complex and this imposition of one-best-way of doing things. That’s something we must fight against.”

(NOTE: These are direct verbatim quotes from the actual text of his speech. The link to the full text of this important speech is here:

Shortly after this speech from Martin Fowler, there was an inflection of interest in the term AGILE INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. The meme now has a life of its own and has entered the public consciousness.

And I, for one, am very happy about THAT.

Chapter 7: 3Q2021

Three years later….during which time the entire deplorable situation became obvious to most people.

Satire Suddenly Appears:

The next chapter is taking on the archetypical shape of a late-stage decline: outright satirical mock and ridicule of an entire industry.

Here is the current and primary example:

“On a mission to help organizations seem legitimately agile while avoiding the risks of improvement while lining our coffers with certificate revenue.”

“Our goal, when we produced this content, was to use parody and satire to point a big ole finger at the Agile Industrial Complex.”

“And while some noticed the obvious parody of one of the largest, oldest framework vendors in the industry, they understood the main message regarding the problems created by the Agile Industrial Complex”

Here is the link to this satire: