COVID-19 definitely has created an extreme situation for many companies where most of their employees suddenly were required to work from home. The same situation happened at our offices at Selleo and due to the coronavirus epidemics, we needed to adapt to the new conditions still keeping our teams agile.
The COVID-19 crisis disturbed our best practices, cooperating with agile and scrum which have worked well so far. However, remote work is just another challenge for our agility, yet the definition of Agile is “being able to adapt to a rapidly changing environment”.
After a couple of months of working fully remotely with our teams, I can assure that being truly agile is possible in distributed teams. Neither Scrum Guide nor Agile Manifesto forbids remote setups, yet many scrum followers insist on having colocated teams.
The question is how to create a remote environment that is collaborative, efficient and empowers the team members to do their best work. The agile framework definitely helps teams to accomplish that goal. As a result of delivering the work in small increments, the team has the power of adaptability and flexibility to their processes and plans.
However, if you have your teams distributed, either you wish so or you were forced to due to external conditions, in this article you can find some tips on how to keep your remote teams agile.
Regular Rhythm of Meetings
If you want your team to succeed in adopting agile practices while working remotely and increasing their efficiency, meetings are a must. A regular meeting cadence helps to make sure that everyone is on the same page and in general enables collaboration when people are distributed.
The challenge is how to make the most out of the meetings with your remote team. Here are a few tips on how to improve the quality of your remote meetings.
1. Eliminate any technical issues
Before you start your first remote sprint and the meeting that goes along with the event, check if all of your team members have the right tools and resources in place. Without the right technology, your meetings become less effective and more time-consuming. It is good to do a dry run with your team and check everything you will need during your meetings, like video conferences with screen sharing, sound quality and so on. If you come up across any issues, make sure to find a solution to get rid of them as quickly as possible.
When people change their working environment and for example, start to work from home, at the very beginning, they need to set up their audio and video tools properly in order to collaborate efficiently with the rest of the team. Sometimes it is necessary to buy a new microphone or headset for voice/video calls since it is crucial that everyone can hear each other without any technical issues.
Also, if you find your current video conferencing tool is not working properly, e.g. freezes every time you host a meeting, you will need to check another tool and onboard everyone before the next meeting.
Any problems with communication due to technical issues impact the team’s productivity, so it is important to work them out.
2. Use stand-ups to connect with your team
Stand-ups or daily scrums are a core component of the agile framework and work perfectly in a remote setup owing that they are an easy meeting structure. Stand-up is a short meeting, timeboxed to 15 minutes when the team members share status updates on their progress and what tasks they are working on currently. The meeting helps to keep the team updated but also to identify any impediments and find solutions for them.
During the remote work, this meeting is really powerful because it is not only the check-in for your team to keep everyone in the loop but first of all, it is a great way to create a sense of connection and collaboration.
It is important to figure out with the team the best time for a daily scrum to occur and hold the stand-ups at the same time every day.
From our experience at Selleo, we recommend holding a daily scrum at the start of the day so that everyone has a clear idea of what the day holds. You can think the stand-up as a morning check-in for your team and energise them for the whole day.
However, if you have your team working in different time zones, it is a good option to choose an hour when the majority of your team is starting their day. This way, the team members can get aligned on the most important tasks before they start.
3. Eliminate unnecessary meetings and keep timeboxes
It will be hard for your team to find enough time to deal with their tasks efficiently and productively if their schedule is fully packed with meetings, especially when some of them are unnecessary.
As mentioned before, meetings are important while working remotely, but remember not to host meetings just for the sake of it. It is best to have only the necessary meetings and run them efficiently, keeping time boxes and having the goal of meeting in mind.
The Scrum framework has defined ceremonies dedicated to particular goals and they are timeboxed to achieve these goals. The essential scrum meetings are Sprint Planning, Daily Stand-up, Sprint Review and Retrospective. In addition, the team may need a backlog refinement session during the Sprint to ensure the quality of users stories and prioritize the features list.
All these events, when done properly, should be sufficient to help with achieving the Sprint goals so there is no need to host any other all-hands meeting.
In Selleo, each team has those events scheduled upfront, so that everyone involved could participate and be prepared for the meeting.
It is crucial that the meeting begins and ends on time, so you need to stick to your schedule no matter who is there to attend the meeting. Waiting for the team members to join causes you to lose precious time and patience of those who joined on time. This particular Scrum meeting practice will also invoke a sense of punctuality in your team members the next time they join because it will be clear for everyone that meetings will always begin and end according to the schedule.
Build a Distributed Team Culture
This may probably be the most challenging part of working remotely and also the most important. The organizational culture is a crucial part of the workplace and it can be easily lost when teams are suddenly distributed.
In Selleo, we have our playbook with permission-to-play values and set of behaviours: we are “kindergarten players” (positive, collaborative, helpful) and we work according to these values on a daily basis. These values definitely help while working remotely and it is important to keep them in mind.
1. Being positive and empathic
It is important to understand that some people who never worked remotely before can have problems to quickly adjust to the new situation. For them, changing the work environment is a total disruption of their work practices and at the very beginning can cause problems with efficiency and productivity.
Team members that are aware of one another’s circumstances collaborate more effectively so it is important to create an atmosphere of openness and empathy. Consider that everyone’s working environment may be different and talk about various perspectives openly. Also during meeting create a positive and engaging atmosphere in order to keep your team in connection.
2. Being helpful
In a remote environment, this value has another purpose. Not only being helpful in solving problems, removing impediments, sharing knowledge, but also in building self-reliance, both as individuals and as a team.
Some people can have problems with building self-regulation mechanisms when working environment changes. The daily routine from the office is being disrupted and new working conditions need to be setup. It is important to help with adapting to the changes they encounter.
3. Being collaborative
In order to build effective collaboration with your remote team members, it is really important to create an environment of trust and transparency. We need transparency between the development team and a customer to make sure we are building the thing expected. Also, we need openness inside the team to make sure we build it the right way.
Frequent communication, open and frank question between team members help to avoid any misunderstandings and to get things done faster. Focus on the common goal bring all the team members together and increases their engagement and collaboration.
Using agile practices to better support and collaborate with your remote team is a learning process. And if you want the process to be successful, always strive for better results. Look back on what was working well, what was not working and what needs to be improved.
Scrum has an event solely dedicated for this purpose, Sprint retrospective meeting, when the team is reviewing what went right and wrong during a Sprint in regards to the process, tools, communication and so on. The meeting brings a great opportunity for the entire team to reflect back on the work and what improvements are needed to be made.
In Selleo, we look back at our track record and learn continuously. We are aware that mastering the skill of Scrum meetings, especially those hosting remotely, requires practice and improvement so we are consistently looking at what’s working, what’s not working, and what needs to change. Compare the results with the original goals and be aware of all the changes that are occurring around your team.
In the end, the agile framework is effective for a variety of team structures. But from our experience, we can ensure that it is especially effective for remote teams for the reason that it allows to quickly identify what is working well and what needs to be improved. Owing to the inspect and adapt approach, you can make changes immediately which is especially important in maintaining efficiency in distributed teams.