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Agile in the Cedar Valley

Agile in the Cedar Valley

There’s a movement among tech companies in the Cedar Valley to embrace agile methodologies. A set of practices that turns traditional software development on its head, agile offers a more flexible, efficient, and adaptive way to build.

Though its origins date back to the mid-1980s (some say its true roots trace as far back as 1957 at IBM in Los Angeles), the use of agile methodologies in software development has increased more rapidly since the publishing of the Agile Manifesto in 2001.

The Agile Manifesto is comprised of four concise ideals to be valued above everything else in the development of software—individuals and interactions over processes and tools; working software over comprehensive documentation; customer collaboration over contract negotiation; and responding to change over following a plan.

At Far Reach, we began wholeheartedly embracing agile—more specifically, the agile method called scrum—a year or so ago. Prior to that, we used a kind of hybrid methodology that included bits of agile, but was primarily rooted in traditional waterfall development in which requirements were defined in great detail before any actual development work was done.

Admittedly late to the party, we began studying scrum and implementing it with our projects in February 2015. Turns out, the movement toward using scrum and other agile methodologies had already begun to take hold in other companies in the Cedar Valley. As we talked with more and more of our fellow geeks, we learned there was a widespread desire throughout the community to continue to learn and develop agile skills.

In June 2015, Trevor Carlson organized a two-day scrum workshop to be facilitated by Eric Engelmann, CEO of Geonetric and director of the Iowa Startup Accelerator in Cedar Rapids.

The turnout for this event was outstanding and from this, the idea of carrying the learning forward through a community-led effort was born. Trace Steffen, CEO of HowFactory and graduate of the Iowa Startup Accelerator, approached me about co-leading a monthly meetup on the topic of agile development.

The idea, he said, was that we could all learn from each other about how to help our teams work better together using agile methodologies. We could share tips and tricks, what has worked and what hasn’t, and, in the process, expedite our learning and build valuable relationships.

The turnout for our first meetup exceeded our expectations with nearly 20 people representing at least half a dozen companies showing up on a cold January night to become involved in this movement.

We spent our time together using scrum to uncover the issues and opportunities the participants have encountered using agile methodologies in their work. It was a lively and interactive discussion and, from it, we started a backlog of topics to cover in future meetups and began the work of prioritizing them. 

The idea is to leverage the collective knowledge of the group for everyone’s benefit in true community-building fashion. Everyone is encouraged to participate in leading a session of their choice, to contribute to the backlog of topics, or to simply engage in the conversation each month.

What struck me that first night was the passion in the Cedar Valley tech community for delivering great products and learning how to work together more effectively in that pursuit. I’m particularly excited to learn from and engage with this group of talented and passionate individuals.

The real beauty of this effort, however, is the benefit to be realized by our teams, our clients, and the users of the systems we build because, when it comes right down to it, it’s all about the product.

If you want to become involved or just learn more about how teams are using agile in the Cedar Valley, reach out or join us at our next meetup. We look forward to seeing you there!