In the beginning, Agile was devised for grouped teams, teams that were actually located together in the same office – crazy right? To keep on the agile straight and narrow, the idea that “the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation”, early agile teams were intended to work together in close proximity.
But today, most businesses have dispersed teams – especially now that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many to work remotely. It’s not all doom and gloom though! With the right solutions and the correct agile mindset, distributed teams can work on projects 24/7 with a promise that productivity won’t fall.
The benefits of distributed teams will obviously come with some sticking points. For some, it’s difficult to adopt the agile practice of face-to-face interactions.
Other difficulties can include:
- Building work relationships when everyone is not in the same office
- Coordinating across time zones
- Collaborating between various development cultures
- Scheduling meetings or informal conversations when both teams are online at the same time for only a few hours.
These are real problems that need to be addressed if remote working is a part of your team and you want to be agile. The plus side? this isn’t some unsolvable conundrum and let’s face it, this epidemic doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon, does it? Let’s take a look at some strategies to help our teams stay agile whilst working remotely.
First up, keep it simple
The first value of the manifesto is “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” Keep the interactions happening, and keep the ceremonies such as the daily scrum, even when operating remotely. The key here is to not let tools get in the way. Use the tools at your disposal (Zoom, Skype, Slack, MS Teams, etc.) and do not abandon the framework. Many Agile teams become fixated with the development model itself. The Agile model is there to boost productivity and if we are not agile enough to use Agile to the team’s advantage, then Agile is a failure.
For remote teams, distance can become a reason to stay the course and avoid growing the solution when challenges or obstacles emerge. This can be counter-productive for the whole team. Sticking to the existing ceremonies: Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective will keep your team responsible after they pull the next highest priority item from the Sprint Backlog.
Continue building a rapport
It’s crucial in any program, particularly agile programs, to have quality rapport across the team. Personal connection builds trust, decreases missed expectations, promotes self-organization, and increases morale and confidence. Within your office, take time to get to know everyone on your team – If like me, you work in a different location to your team, make sure you take time and effort to build relationships within your team – with the current outbreak of COVID-19, now more than ever, this is vital to your everyday working environment. Personal connections are important, the stronger they become, the higher the chance of seeing these colleagues as any other, rather than distant coworkers from unfamiliar places without good relationships.
At Valiantys, each new employee posts an “intro blog” on our internal Confluence instance (Atlassian’s content and collaboration tool). The blog introduces the new hire professionally as well as personally (hobbies, interests, family, etc.) which helps bridge the gap between offices. The more we know each other as people, the stronger we are working together as teams. Above all, nothing replaces meeting face to face. However, in the current situation, team members in each office will benefit from regular face time via video conferencing. That’s why to keep projects moving and morale high, we introduced afternoon coffee breaks on Microsoft Team’s so that colleagues can enjoy a quick chat with their counterparts.
Video conferencing does a lot to bridge the gap between teams, especially for those distributed agile teams. However, teams that rely on video conferencing should be aware of certain limitations.
- Video conferencing only allows for a very short window of communication, while working in the same office gives significant visibility into another’s world: challenges, successes, and opportunities.
- Network issues occur between offices that can make video and audio choppy or difficult to understand.
- Most people still think of video conferencing as scheduled time. Creating a culture of using video chat for spontaneous casual conversation takes time.
To help alleviate some video conferencing issues, inspire team members to have weekly 1:1 video chat sessions. These can be less formal, and help promote knowledge sharing in a casual way. Teammates can use these events to establish rapport and work better together.
Remember, tone, voice, and posture play a vital part in communication. In-person face time helps the team get to know their remote colleagues better, which, in turn, makes future video conferencing more productive.
Whether it’s a house or a product, you need to define the vision and outline the strategic themes. Think of themes as organization-wide focus areas. What do you want to focus on over the next quarter, 6-months, year? Where do you want to spend time and resources? Performance, user experience, security, new competitive features, or a combination of all these?
Automation that makes sense
A continuous review of the process is key to achieving productivity in the workplace. Make sure you review your processes on a case by case basis and aim for a solution to make the process as efficient and modernized as possible. Invest in one umbrella application that eradicates the need to use different applications for different processes, so as to ensure faster and more effective ways of carrying out tasks by ensuring there is no duplication of processes.
Creating a culture with continuous integration is especially valuable on projects with extended timelines or when managing remote teams.
Automation saves the day in a number of ways: it fast tracks the whole delivery and reporting process, rewards the ones participating with a sense of responsibility, and it’s 100% achievable, all thanks to the latest tech advancements. For instance, Jira is the tracker of choice for teams planning and building great products. Many teams choose Jira to capture and organize issues, assign work, and follow team activities. It gets the job done, no matter where the teams are based.
Have the right tools in place
In this testing time, having collaboration technology really helps teams be more effective – distributed source-code management, continuous integration, continuous delivery tools, wikis, video conferencing, and chat platforms such as Microsoft Team’s or Slack all help high-performance distributed teams be more effective. But they can’t make a low-performance team into a high-performance team. Lack of these tools can reduce the effectiveness of even a high-performance team, however, if you follow some of the simple tips we have highlighted, continue in your positive mindset then we see no reason to allow this pandemic to get the better of our working lives. Find out more about the entire Atlassian Suite here.
Some top tips for working remote:
- Understand the importance of recruiting the right people for remote teams
- Start with trust when interacting with remote team members
- Measure outcomes, not outputs
- Allow time for social bonding
- Try some experiments, see what works
- Provide support when needed, check in and ask what support is needed
- Hold each other accountable
- Have the hard conversations: “let’s figure this out”
- Find ways to create “water cooler” moments
- Looks for opportunities to have fun together
- Find a way to communicate your “focus state”, letting others know if you are open to interruption
- Establish team norms and adapt them
- Be clear about levels of interaction and tools you will use, how to use them
- Hold yourself accountable
- Communicate, don’t assume
- Presume good intent in others
- Understand how others like to communicate
- Be clear about time (with time zones)
- Professional appearance, use video
- Take care of your health: walks, breaks, timeout, self care
- Understand your teammates: culture, background, interests, motivations
Just Remember, every team is distributed
In a distributed organization, the reality is that every team is remote. All teams need to adapt and learn how to share work between offices, communicate effectively, and grow a consistent culture across geographies. The most effective teams don’t just make the remote office conform to the headquarter’s culture because they understand that every office can learn something from the others. They seek to find and share successful practices across all locations. They also embrace “we” rather than an “us vs. them” culture. Teams that embrace both structure and transparency scale more efficiently. When your project scales beyond your office, the culture will be set up to do the right thing naturally.
So act now, get in touch with us for more information, our consultants are still working as productively as ever at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Send them a message with your questions now: