Once a wise man said, “We can’t predict the future. But we can control how we react to the evolving emergency as it unfolds.”
Unfortunately, these are times of uncertainty and anxiety. This can have a huge impact on the Scrum Team. On top of that, many will have to work from home with their partner and kids ever-present. You can’t expect people to work similarly as before.
According to the Scrum Guide, Scrum Teams embrace the values, such as Commitment, Courage, Focus, Openness, and Respect. We can translate this to the current situation. Scrum team members should have the courage to be open about their issues in dealing with the situation. They should be open to how they can commit to the team goals and how to focus on the work at hand. They should respect each other’s challenges and limitations in dealing with the present crisis.
Co-location was once a pre-requisite for success with agile approaches like Scrum. This is no longer the case: Remote Working and Distributed Teams are the New Normal.
If you are a Scrum Master in the team, then you may ask yourself if you can be effective in the coming weeks or months. The answer is Yes! You will have your work cut out for you. As we know, a Scrum Master has responsibilities towards the development team, Product Owner, and the Organisation. As a servant leader, your responsibilities are the same whether your team is remote or co-located.
With distributed teams in place, as an Agile enabler following questions will cross your mind:
- How do you deal with different time zones?
- Isn’t it less efficient than being all in one place?
- How do you establish coordination within the team?
- Are there tools you use that make this easier?
- How do you deal with remote meetings?
- How do you ensure your remote team members are actually working?
Here, I am presenting seven ideas that can unlock the agility of a Scrum team during these testing times and can help them perform despite being in a distributive environment.
- Provide necessary support for a healthy WFH environment – Companies should provide employees with everything they need for an ergonomic setup. You should consider giving employees a budget to get what they need — even just enough to get a laptop stand, external keyboard, a good chair, headphones, and external mouse would be a game-changer for many people’s home setup.
- Technology to facilitate seamless communication – I highly recommend using video conferencing; at a minimum, in my current firm we use Zoom for video meetings for everything from one-on-one meetings to all staff meetings. Zoom enables voice, video, and text chat and also allows for breakout rooms, polls, recording, and other features. Scrum teams also use Slack, Skype, or MS Teams for internal communication and often find that this works well.
- Face to face interactions – One cannot simulate face to face interaction while working remotely, still while joining meetings via video conferencing (if network bandwidth allows), participants must turn the video on so that they can see one another’s face during the team meetings. This can be helpful to add a human touch to the conversation, read body language, and keep everyone’s attention in check.
- Workload Management – This is something that we have done successfully at our organization. In every sprint, we consider only 85% of the development team capacity leaving the remaining 15% to deal with any unforeseen circumstances like connectivity issues, family problems, etc. We have also cut down on the number of meetings and their duration by 20%. This has helped the team remain focused during these testing times.
- As part of the Psychological support, have fun at times – Working from home can sometimes make you sick, you might feel lonely, depressed, and stressed out. As an Agile enabler or Scrum Master, you must be in regular touch with the team members. Take time out to catch up with the teammates casually just as you would do in the office. Try to have an informal online chat session on Friday or over the weekends. The team should look forward to introducing fun events like quizzes, virtual coffee sessions, and online games, etc. for the team. The team can find these sessions to be very relaxing as all work and no play can be boring at times.
- Adoption of online facilitation tools – In the present remote working scenario, we cannot conduct Sprint ceremonies in the designated team area. It seems planning poker, whiteboard sessions, daily stand-ups are the things of past now. Still, one can try to simulate the same using online tools available for free(mostly) on the internet. For Sprint planning, one can use Google drawings, Trello or JIRA and for Sprint retrospectives one can make use of Miro, Retrium, and FunRetro.
- Kaizen – The last tip I wanted to share is not mine, but again comes from the scrum. Kaizen means “continuous improvement,” and it is something teams should always be striving for, regardless of whether you adhere to an agile philosophy or practice. Set aside sometime each month, each quarter, and each year to think about how you work. Agile metrics can help determine where we need to adapt and change. This means examining your processes, the tools you use, and even your mindset and the context in which you work. What are you working on now, and what should be prioritized next? What seems like it might be a blocker to your team’s success? What achievements can you celebrate as a team? What’s limiting your capacity or hurting your mood? Try small experiments, and always strive to establish and demonstrate progress toward specific goals.
I hope you can tap into some of the ideas in this post to enable more effective interactions between the individuals in your Scrum Teams, regardless of where in the world they are.
With a new way of working (remote and distributed), the principle of “face-to-face communication” may need to be reconsidered for the distributed teams that are effectively delivering software. Instead, it may be time to update this principle to “open, authentic communication”. While we have not solved all challenges working in this environment, we continue to inspect and adapt as a truly distributed agile team.
Finally, let me conclude by citing a study conducted by Stanford Professor Nicholas Bloom (published in Harvard Business Review) which says that working remotely can lead to a 13.5% performance increase. And, Connect Solutions’ annual report suggested that fewer distractions lead to higher productivity, with 77% of remote workers reporting an increase in the overall efficiency.
1password, Financial Express and Medium.com