Interview with James Grenning

Today, we feature exclusive conversation with one of the original signatories of Agile Manifesto and XP Pioneer – James Grenning. It was our pleasure to converse with him. We learned more about his thoughts on Agile, Birth of Planning Poker, Agile implementation in non-IT environments, and his memories with Mike Beedle.

Let’s read;

Q1. It is said that you were Agile before it was Agile. Please elaborate a little for our readers.

James: I started learning and practicing Extreme Programming late in 1999. The Agile Manifesto was created in 2001.  Simply, XP proceeded the writing of the Agile Manifesto. My opinion is that there would not have been a manifesto, if there was no XP.  The provocative name got people looking at it, mocking it a bit. Though, they took notice and many discovered how it provided a way of working that solved many of the problems individuals, companies and our industry had. With 20 year experience prior to seeing XP, I got the problems and the solutions seemed logical.  

Q2. How was Planning Poker born? How did it transform ‘Estimation’ in past few years?

James: There is a paper on my website describing planning poker. You can get the complete story here

Basically, at an early XP planning meeting, our client’s two senior architects would debate for an hour how to implement something and finally write down an estimate. Often the same estimate they mentioned in the first minutes. We had a lot of stories to estimate; all the talking got in the way.  Most the other people around the table were not engaged.

We took a break and when we got back together, I asked participants to take a note card and write their estimate on the card, then simultaneously reveal their estimates.  (Deciding then showing helped to avoid bias of verbal estimates. a.k.a. telegraphing) After a little while people were holding what looked like a poker hand. Planning poker was born.  I wrote about it and posted it on Object Mentor’s website. Mike Cohn read my paper and asked if he could put it in his book and started giving away decks of planning poker cards at conferences.

In retrospect, planning poker was a pragmatic solution to a problem in a planning meeting.  We studied and practiced structured problem solving as part of Total Quality Management (TQM) at Teradyne in the 1980s. We learned various communication and problem solving techniques.  One was brainstorming, but not out loud. Given a question or a problem, everyone would write their ideas for solutions or causes on post it notes or note cards. The we would group common solutions and discuss the possibilities and merits of each proposal.

In verbal brainstorming, often ideas immediately get shot down.  This tends to make people not express their ideas. It also biases the participants when the loudest or senior person dominates.  The day of the first planning poker game, the two ‘experts’ dominated and no one else had a voice.

In a nutshell, planning poker was initially solving the problem of people in agreement talking too much and dominating the effort.

Q3. Which one thing, you think today’s Agile Practitioner’s are missing while implementation? Please share one of your experiences addressing such issue.

James: Most Agile adoptions I see first adopt management and planning practices.  Developers struggle because they lack knowledge and skill incremental engineering.  This is a a formula for pain and unhappiness.

Q4. If you have to introduce application of TDD to embedded C to a novice, what benefits would you like to highlight?

James: The initial problem being solved by TDD is that programmer make mistakes, many per hour.  TDD helps detect many mistakes immediately thus preventing code and product defects. The opposite of TDD is Debug Later Programming.  In DLP, programmers write code and debug it later. How long does it take to find the cause of a bug? It’s big unanswerable question. The TDD cycle is very predictable. You can read a comparison TDD vs DLP here:

TDD also produces a regression test suite virtually for free.  Another driver for TDD is the need to automate tests. You can read why Manual Test is Unsustainable here:

These are only the started benefits.  In the hands of a knowledgable and skilled software engineer, TDD has many more benefits.  The experienced practitioners tell me TDD’s test let you change your mind about design and safely refactor for you needs software’s changing needs.

Q5. When developing the Agile Manifesto, have you ever thought that it would be implemented beyond the IT Industry? How do you feel when you see Agile being implemented in HR, Marketing and other non-IT practices?

James: For starters, we never thought anyone would notice or care about the Agile Manifesto.  As far as applying the principles in other areas, I think it is pretty natural. People work incrementally. Some say it cannot work for embedded software.  I don’t share that opinion. It works for embedded software, it can work other places. You’ve heard of the wiki-speed car? A group of people are building a car using Scrum techniques.

Be it hardware, software, or mechanical, something is being invented. Incremental learning and building is part of the process.  

Q6. Agile Transformations has been an emerging trend in past few years in various domains. What it would be after Agile? Do you feel  the need of any changes in Manifesto with time?

James: The Agile Manifesto is a historic document.  As far as I know, none of the authors are interested in changing it.  That’s not to say that Agile should not change and evolve. It should. Don’t worry about the Manifesto.  It’s fine. How people adopt Agile needs to evolve. I’d like to see a big emphasis in the industry to embracing high-quality incrementation engineering approaches, those embodied in XP are a great start.

Q7. What are your plans for 2019? What should we expect coming from Wingman Software?

James: I’m cutting back my travel a bit being more selective, working with clients that really want to improve how they collaborate and engineer their products.

I’ve been doing an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) prototype with my brother’s company.  I think there are some important concepts in how to approach the problem and how to keep code independent of the ecosystem I’m using. That will be a topic.

I’ve had some wonderful family things that have gotten in the way of writing.  I’ve got ideas I’d like to share. Hopefully I’ll get back to writing.

Q8. Mike Beedle’s sudden demise has been a shock for Agile Community. Please share your fond memories with him while developing Agile Manifesto.

James: It is sad and tragic that Mike was taken so senselessly.  

Mike and I skied together one of the afternoons at the meeting that created to the Agile Manifesto. We skied some very tough tree runs in that famous Utah knee-deep powder.  It is a fond memory.

Mike and I did not cross paths a lot professionally.  Though he was a respected man in Agile and Chicago, the city that is my home.


James W. Grenning is one of the original signatories of Agile Manifesto. He trains, coaches and consults worldwide.  He started developing software in last 70s after avoiding computers from high school to early college years. He had worked in both technical and management practices to development teams.

He had authored much read book ‘Test-Driven Development for Embedded C’. James is one of the few experts in applying TDD to embedded C. With his 1.5 decades of training,coaching, and practicing TDD in C, C++, Java, and C# he will lead you from being a novice in TDD to using the techniques that few have mastered. Any C or C++ programmer can use this book to learn the whys and hows of TDD.


Thanking Mike Beedle for Valuable Contribution to Agile Community

Mike Beedle, one of the original signatories of Agile Manifesto, has inspired millions of people and made a difference in the world in a positive way. His contributions to the Agile Community, innovative ways of working, courageous leadership and revolutionary thinking has a significant impact on how a lot of Agile enthusiasts work today. He was one of the greatest minds in Agile industry and will be always fondly remembered by us.

I was interested to interview Mike Beedle, unfortunately that could not happen. Therefore, I bring this blog as a collection of five of his greatest value contribution to us;

1. Agile Manifesto : Seventeen years back, seventeen software practitioners gathered, brainstormed and sought ways to quickly build working software, let it reach the end user and get rapid feedback. This is how Agile Manifesto became a reality on February 2001. Mike Beedle was one of those seventeen software practitioners who added his wisdom to the Manifesto.

I reached out to co-authors of Agile Manifesto Arie van Bennekum and Alistair Cockburn, here is what they remembered of Mike-

“An approachable friendly man who has visionary thoughts. Also, we were aligned on the business angle of what we do. Both very much thinking about how to create value on the corporate/business level. I remember during our session in 2011, when we celebrated 10 years of the Manifesto, we talked about this as the next step in Agile evolution. Since then so many corporates have been working on becoming Agile as an organisation completely to achieve the benefits Agile can bring on the corporate level. From what I know it has always stayed in his focus and his recent work on Enterprise Scrum demonstrate this even more. An awesome guy, huge energy, awesome personality.”

– Arie van Bennekum

“Mike was a good person, at the same time intense and kind, intelligent and understanding. He supported my initiatives while in the process of developing and establishing his own, rare for consultants and thought leaders.”

– Alistair Cockburn

2. Agile doesn’t cure Incompetence : In one of his recent tweets, Mike has mentioned that one can coach teams to be more engaged and collaborative. He adds that there is no Agile Framework, Method or Mindset that can save one from blatant failure if the development team is incompetent in basic engineering practices. According to him, Technical Excellence is a must. Agile is not solutions for everything, like incompetency.

3. Agile Software Development with Scrum – Mike was one of the early adopters of Scrum framework and worked closely with Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. He co-authored much read book ‘Agile Software Development with Scrum’  with Ken Schwaber in which building system using descriptively simple method process, Scrum is described. This book provides understanding on cutting down complexity and ambiguity of complex, emergent requirements and deliver quality software quickly.

Jeff Sutherland, co-author of Agile Manifesto has shared his thoughts about Mike and his contribution towards the community –

“Mike was the second person to generate hyperproductive teams with Scrum and the first CEO to run an entire company with Scrum even before Ken and I got together to introduce Scrum to the industry. To this day, he is (was) one of a handful of people on the planet who understand how to generate a hyperproductive company (the entire company in any domain) with Scrum. That is the future of Scrum and he was the future of Scrum.”

– Jeff Sutherland

4. Enterprise Scrum – Mike has developed the first fully explicit Business Agility framework – Enterprise Scrum. He realized the need for Business Agility and Agile Management as the world is changing faster and outdated Management methods can no longer manage these changes. According to him, success can’t be achieved by maximizing one variable like profit, revenue, low cost, operational efficiency, customer satisfaction etc. Instead, it can be achieved by balancing customer satisfaction, employee happiness, profits and purpose in the world. He proposed Enterprise Scrum framework to Agilize entire company – top to bottom, side to side, at all levels and regardless of its size.

Mike simply explained it as – “Enterprise Scrum is to grow unicorns, and transform dianasoures into unicorns!!

5. Make most of the time you have : Mike was a family man and never missed a chance to spend time with his lovely daughters. He called them his treasure. Be it playing music for them or taking them out for lunch and dinners at special occasion, he made sure the happiness of his family.

The grief of Mike Beedle’s fiance Barbara Misiur is incredibly individual. Her pain is heart-wrenching which she shared with me while speaking her heart out about Mike as a family man.

“Mike was the best father to my children. He always worked hard to make sure we had food on table and everything we could ever need. Mike was definitely a food lover, he loved to eat well – we always enjoyed dinner together. We met years ago through our mutual passion for music. Specifically, he was a trance lover and at some point he completed a synths set to produce his own music. Sometimes the house was ‘shaking’ from loud music but I knew at the same time he was very happy. Through his extensive travelling around the world, Mike came to understand the complexity of the world more than anyone else I know. He was open minded and respectful of all cultures – I truly considered him a citizen of world, He was polite, generous and always a gentleman. I was and will always be very proud of him and his ability to walk into any situation or room, and be a person to brighten everyone’s day. He just had that effect on people.

When I asked him how he knew so much about Scrum, he explained to me that his PhD in Physics helped him to see into the future of business, and this was his talent and a blessing. He was my genius.

He always had stories to tell, always something interesting and relevant. We were madly in love and wanted to get married in Poland at the end of April 2018. Our three beautiful daughters will always remind me of Mike, each one of them is different and possess something unique from Mike. They are very smart and confident.

Our life will never be the same but this tragedy will never stop the immense love admiration we have for him. I know he is now our guardian angel, and he will stay alive in our hearts forever.”

 – Barbara Misiur


INNOVATION ROOTS sends it’s condolence to Mike’s family. RIP Mike Beedle.

Please support his family by raising funds at