Remote Working: Agile Tips and Tricks
Collaboration within an agile company is by definition interaction-centric. The company creates value thanks to face-to-face interactions, collocated agile teams and hands-on ceremonies. With physical distancing in place, you might be struggling in collaborating remotely as efficient and effective as possible. Being able to closely ‘work online together’ on your total company scale, is now vital to stay on track and to keep your competitive advantage.Authors: Annabel Van den Bunder, Günther Lemmens & Sonja Noben
Working from home and physically separated from each other doesn’t need to be a challenge. It’s an excellent opportunity to bring your agile skills as a company to the next stage. The scaled agile way of working embodies the flexibility and creativity to maintain but also search, experiment and further develop your business, knowledge and capabilities via ‘remote’ human interactions.
Below you can read 7 tips & tricks while looking for inspiration to keep your agile momentum going in these virtual times.
We – as social human beings – all experience physical distancing as a challenge. It’s also something new and unknown to most of us. If you add the fact that nowadays most of us are working from home, this could add additional challenges (e.g. kids running around, distractions of more household-related tasks, etc.). To be successful in this setup, you need a shift in your mindset: your cosy home context needs to become an office context where you have to be able to focus, work on deliverables and attend meetings (via call). Hence, install yourself somewhere where you have as little distractions as possible. Sitting in the living room with Netflix drawing your attention is not the most productive idea.
Working in an agile modus at scale comes with quite some “probs” in your team’s workspace: You’ll have persona’s hanging around, large customer journey maps on the walls, architecture views, retrospective outcomes, Kudo cards and velocity charts to name some. A good starting point would be to have pictures with you of the last status and to be able to share them during the different calls to keep building upon them. In this way, you don’t need to start from scratch as some of you might not have all these materials ready online.
Try to replicate the face-to-face conversations/interactions as much as possible when working remotely. And keep in mind that working remotely doesn’t mean only having formal conversations. Most of the time while grabbing your coffee in the coffee corner you learn a lot more about the status of some artefacts than when sitting in a dedicated meeting. Keep this in mind and ask each other how you’re doing or organise an online coffee break. In other words, step out of your comfort zone.
To stay on track with the daily deliverables: It’s imperative to stay in close contact with your team and your colleagues. Remain online and communicate often, you’re not ‘disturbing’ them, you’re working when asking them (yet) another question via chat. Have video calls, share pictures, and experiment with different tools. You will be surprised what a team can create using the whiteboard in the office365 suite. Also, continue to share the artefacts you are working on. Your interactions will stimulate the creativity of the whole team.
Clear Remote Agreements
As an (agile) team, agree on some specific remote meeting rules. In other words: Define your ‘new’ online meeting culture. Some examples:
- Everybody connects during office hours. If you had more or less fixed office hours you could even go one step further and agree upon the fact that everybody connects at least between 9:00am and 5:00pm. As such you can optimise the collaboration and interaction between the different colleagues and teams
- Use headsets to improve sound quality when sitting in a ‘loud/shared’ environment. This will improve your focus and ability to get things done
- Turn on your webcam to enhance human connection. The first time you’ll do this, it will feel a bit awkward but trust me you’ll get the hang of it and even put on a nicer t-shirt which will also improve the way you feel about yourself. Double win!
- Mute yourself when not speaking. Nothing more annoying than hearing people breathing or coffee machines running in the background.
- Only one person speaks at a time. You will learn quite fast that otherwise it won’t work. Everybody speaking at the same time -with some delays in hearing each other because of the tools/connections- will result very quickly in chaotic meetings and many frustrations. If it’s tough (or nearly impossible) to get a message out there, try announcing in the chat (most of the time you can also chat with your audience while being in a video conference) that you would like to add something to the conversation. You’ll see it will be picked up quite fast.
- Connect to the meeting in time. Sometimes connection problems occur, you hear the others, but they can’t listen to you. Very annoying for both sides. If you connect on time, you can figure this out at the beginning of the meeting without losing too much time to discuss/align on the actual topic.
Adapt Agile Ceremonies
Adapt your ceremonies to fit the new context
In this case, you don’t only have to adopt a new way of working but also adapt them to the new circumstances. The biggest challenge with remote collaborations is having effective team ceremonies. Agile ceremonies like the daily stand-up or sprint review provide to much value, so cancelling them is out of the question. An absolute must-do before kicking off team ceremonies online: prepare well in advance and ensure you have a virtual room set up accordingly:
- It’s imperative to create the right chat group(s) for each agile team, each release train team and/or others
- Install whiteboard software: Use sharing boards such as Google Jamboard for each team context
- Have a qualitative voice and video conference tool in place such as Teams or Skype: Tone of voice and facial expressions are crucial elements to create and maintain impactful interactions
- Check whether you need and have the right accesses with backlog tools such as Jira, TFS, Trello or others. In this way, you can facilitate the sessions to your best.
Test before you execute
In all cases, test your remote working software sufficiently with volunteers before you kick-off your actual ceremonies. Learning and adapting to the possibilities of the tools will make or break your online ceremonies. Do not allow technical and/or quality issues impede good team interaction during ceremonies. A good practice is to have a dedicated person present in the ceremony monitoring the different technologies used and helping out where needed.
Adapt timings of ceremonies accordingly
An essential element is changing ‘timing rules’ compared to on-site and thus face-to-face ceremonies. The main reason is to manage the energy of your participants to keep everybody’s batteries sufficiently charged. Therefore, limit event duration to 55 minutes, building in short 5-minute breaks to stretch the legs or grab a coffee/tea and allow some social talks.
When planning a large event such as a quarterly planning, split the meeting over several days with a maximum of 4 hours a day. Look into specific tooling designed to support this kind of events such as Miro.com, PIplanning.io or Zoom. The content discussed during these planning sessions thus stays digestible for your audience and in the end success rate will be higher.
Feedback is a gift, isn’t it? To capture feedback on how the remote collaboration is going but and how your colleagues and team members perceive the different efforts, organise a retrospective on the specific topic of working at home itself. Discuss in the team what hinders you and search together for ways to overcome these impediments and allow yourself and the team to test new/other solutions. For example, an online lean coffee exercise where you discuss topics for just 8 minutes or less which keep the connection and dynamics within the team healthy.
Some colleagues but also bosses will be surprised about how effective you can be as an individual but also as a team collaborating in a virtual environment and thus remotely. When working from home, one often has extra time that can be dedicated to capability-building. Continuing with training activities is an absolute opportunity. For online learning and/or training classes: make sure the right technologies for every participant has been set up correctly before starting the class. Have a second trainer monitoring technology and connectivity at all times is recommended. Limit the training time per day to a maximum of 4 hours, provide sufficient breaks and be resourceful on the group exercises.
Focus is what most of us lack when we usually are working in an open space or when we have face-to-face meetings from morning till evening. In the cocoon of your ‘home office’ together with your online colleagues who are also much more available for answering questions, enjoy the focus it can bring to the fullest. Think about which items have been on your to-do-list forever. Well now is the time to finish them and scrap them from your backlog. Do you already feel the instant of joy that will bring?
Corona will have forces us to experiment with working remotely on agile scaled projects, teaching us how objectives and results can be maintained, while maybe even reaching them earlier. People will be more open towards working remotely than before.
DigitalScaler strongly believes this is a positive evolution and advises using your agility to the fullest in these remote times. Use this time to experiment with new tools and different ways of interacting with your colleagues at the other side of the screens. After all, relentless improvement is part of the Agile DNA. Be aware, while doing this, you are building the agile collaboration practices of tomorrow.