November 23, 2020

5 minutes

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Remote working with scrum teams

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, teams across the globe are having to embrace remote working without having had the chance to prepare for the sudden change of working environment and team interaction. In this blog, we look at the impact of remote working with Scrum teams and provide guidance, tools and techniques to help teams thrive.

Working remotely or as part of a distributed team for Agile software development can, in many instances, be tough to adopt. Especially, considering the value that Agile software development places on face-to-face interactions, as demonstrated in the sixth principle of Agile: “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” The foundation of Agile development is built on huddles, or co-located Scrum teams in the same office. However, much can be done to make it easier to adopt to a highly distributed Scrum team. Consider these six key areas:

1. Use readily available communication tools:

Video Conferencing is a great way to reduce the feeling of isolation and encourages face-to-face interaction. It also highlights important communication cues that get misinterpreted in written conversations.

If some team members feel nervous on camera, they may feel more comfortable on the phone. Short planned 1-2-1’s can really help with this. This also gives the opportunity to find out about people’s preferred method of home working, any family commitments that might need to be considered, time zones or specific gripes.

Alternatively, team members may be more alert to emails and prefer this method to respond over verbal methods. Attempt to agree as a team your preferred method of communication be that instant messaging, email or even WhatsApp, so that there are minimal sources of information.

2. Utilise online resources:

Alongside your development tool i.e. Azure DevOps, Jira, etc. there are many widely available online resources to help you whilst working remotely, some of which we have outlined below. Choosing the right tool needs careful consideration, therefore make use of the free trials for those tools that have pricing structures.

As everyone is co-located and not interacting on the face-to-face level they are familiar with, gathering insights into the mood of each team is crucial. TeamMood can help you gather this anonymously. Its handy charts can provide daily feedback which then support open conversations in the Retrospective.

The most widely used Scrum Event for online tools is the Sprint Retrospective. Remote Sprint Retrospectives require a lot more creativity and certainly more preparation than onsite Sprint Retros – so why not use a tool that helps you plan? Retrium has all the features that help to facilitate creative, thought-provoking and valuable Retrospectives. When using this tool, each participant gets the opportunity to independently ideas-storm on the Sprint i.e. Stop, Start, Continue, etc. based on what went well – or not. They are able to vote for items, select talking points and importantly create a plan of action.

There is also a great online substitute for Planning Poker cards to help facilitate your Sprint Refinement. ScrumPoker assists teams and improves collaboration during Sprint Refinements. These can be accessed by all team members and votes are hidden until the last vote has been counted. This can be extremely useful in preventing team members being steered by others.

3. Evaluate the Scrum Events:

Do not underestimate the role of the Scrum Master during the evolution of remote working. The changes to their duty in facilitating events is vast. The process and cadence of these events should not change, but how to conduct these certainly will. A Scrum Master that truly knows their team and their personalities, how they communicate and collaborate is on the right path to success. Here are some considerations:

  • Add a video conference to each invite and record these where possible so that the team can have a reference during the Sprint, and beyond.
  • Review the invite list and attempt to keep the meeting to a small group to encourage a more open conversation which fosters greater engagement for all involved.
  • Create realistic agendas and focus on time boxing each topic – and stick to it!
  • Find a frequency and time that works best for the team. If the stand-up time of 9am works for the team or the Sprint Retro at 3pm on a Wednesday is OK with everyone, great. If not, then consider changing to suit – but do not skip any of the crucial events.
  • Adjust the Retrospectives and gather the data in unique ways. The Sprint Retrospective is a crucial event in the Sprint cycle, as such it is important that the Scrum Master considers the correct facilitation technique for the team.
  • Consider more open-ended Retros, than the simple Start, Stop, Continue. Some excellent resources can be found here.
  • And lastly, ensure that the Retro involves everyone.

4. Allow teams to adapt:

Consider, as a team, resetting Sprint velocities. Due to the shift of face-to-face collaboration to remote working, there is likely to be an impact on the complexity of each work item, availability of team members, and the realistic Sprint commitments.

Where possible, reconsider breaking down further, or re-prioritising the complex User Stories in the backlog that require significant team inputs as the availability of team members may be affected during the Sprint.

Equally, avoid committing to work items that have a large dependency on other teams. This collaboration for the new ways of working may take a couple of Sprints to outline.

Finally, identify what cannot be achieved with remote working so you can investigate how to address it. i.e. some developments might need physical interaction with a 3rd party device to be properly tested and signed off.

5. Increase focus on distributing documentation:

Undoubtedly Agile promotes working code over up-front documentation, yet this does not mean that they are not important. If you already have these, then great. If not, it could be worthwhile proposing these are up to date and readily available. Having reference points that the team can always refer to is a great practise for distributed teams as there is less reliance on the face-to-face solution conversations. For example, repository structure, coding standards, API guidelines, architecture and UI guidelines.

6. Create a Sprint Report:

If you are not already doing so, try creating a Sprint report to visualise the activities from the Sprint for the whole team to engage. Create Sprint reports which include burnups, burndowns, velocity charts, work completed, etc. Celebrate successes and share insights with your team. Also share the learning opportunities that you have identified and some of the action points that you are to take forward.

A huge part of being considered an Agile team is not just following the guidelines but also identifying when and how to change, no more so than now. Get creative and try new things!

If you would like to discuss how to improve your Scrum teams working remotely or require support in managing your Agile software development projects, contact us.