Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Agile8After work, Punit Sheth taught himself how to build mobile apps.

“It all started when I realized how much we rely on mobile applications; in almost any industry, you can see how mobile apps have helped streamline and optimize the processes they’ve been using for many years.”

He put his plans for dental school on hold, and invited others to join him in forming a startup team. He needed help.

Agile2That’s when he discovered the Agile Immersionists Meetup held at Geekdom, a collaborative coworking space and tech incubator in downtown San Antonio. AIM, as it’s called, welcomes techies from organizations of all sizes to work on projects collaboratively using its Agile methodology. It’s a clear give-get: visitors such as Sheth get a taste of Agile methods, while AIM members get practical, hands-on experience applying those methods to a variety of “real-world” scenarios.

Raje Kailasam, an Agile coach, is the group leader. Kailasam is scheduled to speak at the upcoming Scrum Gathering conference in New Orleans in May, and at Agile 2014 in Orlando in late July. She founded AIM to evangelize Agile methods, writing a curriculum meant to appeal to members who wanted both the Agile framework as well as immersion into its practical application. Agile’s “start small; iterate fast”
emphasis on producing a viable product in rapid “sprints” has led to a surge in popularity. By creating a continuous feedback loop between product and customer, Agile increases the likelihood that the offering will evolve in tune with marketplace changes.

Photos courtesy of Raje Kailasam

Photos courtesy of Raje

Typically, meetup attendees include a handful of developers, a technical writer, several veteran architects, a project manager just returned from an Agile role in the Netherlands, and two or three people with product marketing or “Big 5” consulting backgrounds. Each member has the opportunity to participate as a facilitator, a learner or a sponsor. Those with a strong technical foundation tend to be interested in understanding the Scrum-master, or process-owner, role. Others are drawn towards becoming a product owner who will define user scenarios. All of them see the meetup as having direct relevance to their day jobs. It’s an example of an organic, self-organizing outgrowth of the Geekdom tech community.

“It’s an example of an organic, self-organizing outgrowth of the Geekdom tech community. “If you’re doing cool things in technology, we’re your tribe. We want you to feel at home here,” said Lorenzo Gomez, Director at Geekdom. It’s doubtful that a program like Agile Immersionists would have existed prior to the incubator’s inception two years ago, because there was no galvanizing force behind San Antonio’s tech community. “If you’re an IT manager at Rackspace, USAA, or military research and operations, we want you to feel that you can send your people here” to experience the dynamism of the broader tech ecosystem. “It can all happen here.”

When Sheth joined the Agile Immersionists Meetup, he didn’t know what to expect. “All I knew was that I was meeting with a group of really passionate people who have a vision to utilize the Agile process on my idea…I definitely walked out with a gold mine of valuable knowledge. Raje and rest of the group did a wonderful job walking me all the way through” the Scrum process.

At the meeting, one member volunteered to be Scrum-master, the developers queried Sheth about his development tasks, and Kailasam periodically stepped in to ground everyone in the Agile framework. The group methodically defined scenarios and user stories, prioritized the product backlog of development tasks, and mapped out the first sprint cycle.

“The part where it all came together for me was when we developed the Scrum board at the end” said Sheth. “I could see all the moving parts finally fit in together and it opened up a whole new way I look at the development process now.” He went home and continued to map out his development planning calendar.

Kailasam said for many larger organizations, Agile is not just about learning a project management methodology, but embarking on cultural change. Agile requires active listening, information-sharing, and collaboration. A functioning, healthy team is prioritized over adherence to specific rules or processes.

Sheth agreed: “Whether you’re a start-up, established small business, or large corporation, I believe this process can help out anyone.”

Editor’s note: The author Zach Reed is a member of the Agile Immersionist group and has participated in their meetups. Also, Geekdom is a sponsor of Silicon Hills News