Preparation for a changing work environment (COVID-19)

Last post 09:09 am April 7, 2020
by Sanjeev Nanda
15 replies
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09:22 pm March 11, 2020

As the world continues to react to COVID-19, we're faced with several new challenges; not least how a previously collocated team or organization continues to function with workspace closures, or individuals going into self-isolation.

For some of us, that's already the reality, and for others it might just be a matter of time.

This morning, with one of my teams, we started experimenting with a remote whiteboard tool, even though everyone using it was in the office. We're trying to get used to this way of working, before circumstances force it upon us.

I wonder what other preparations people are taking, particularly in offices that don't have a strong remote-working culture.

09:47 pm March 11, 2020

For the past 12 months I've backed up my 2 teams' physical boards electronically., so we are prepared up to a point. However, there is little organizational appetite to WFH, and so the ability to remotely conduct events such as Sprint Planning is untested.

My immediate challenge is sorting out who ought to have admin rights for our tool, this currently includes people who I think left years ago. That's the main thing to check - do your admin rights exhibit resilience.

06:46 am March 12, 2020

COVID-19 looks like a task id in Jira. 

09:45 am March 12, 2020

MS Teams/JIRA/Zoom is helping us in that sense, keeping in mind that collaboration is taking a hit. We (ASML in Eindhoven, you (Simon) are probably aware of the challenges in Brabant) are forced to work from home every second week, while the other half of the department does so in the other week.So we only have face-to-face interactions with half of the team. Taking a more stringent look into dependencies and possible impediments helps.

12:41 pm March 12, 2020

A very interesting post and aside from ensuring the team has the technology to continue to communicate and collaborate with one another I'd say that a clear Sprint Goal will be very important for the team. 

This problem makes me think of the CDE model (containers, differences, exchanges) for self organizing teams. The container (physical location) that holds the team are being changed as a once collocated team is now split up to various different locations. This could influence their exchanges in a variety of ways. 

Create a common goal and use empirical process control to continue to refine the way to the team works remotely with each other and I believe they'll show resiliency and rise to meet the challenge. 

03:01 pm March 12, 2020

Azure DevOps + Skype  + Microsoft Teams.

My team is going completely in remote working from tomorrow onwards thanks to COVID-19.
It's going to be a challenge since we have only 1 day of home working/week in the past, but seeing the problems COVID-19 is creating, the team is (self-)motivated to give it their best shot(s).

08:30 am March 13, 2020

We have now whole office working from home starting from today. The biggest upcoming challenge is next week where our sprint ends and we need to hold all the events remotely. Retrospective we have tried in the past to conduct it remotely and since its more like internal team event seems like can be managed using virtual board and MS teams. But the big problem i see is with Sprint Review. Does anyone has any experience of having sprint reviews remotely ? 

10:20 am March 13, 2020

Hi Harshal,

Yes we made an online sprint review. To make review online we use skype,cameras, concept boards. To be honest it is much more focused meeting and every body like. For daily meeting I create an online concept board, for the retros also I frequently use concept board.

 

Thanks

12:33 pm March 13, 2020

My team is a distributed team, half the team is in Egypt, the other half is from Germany, but working from home, since our office location has been moved.

From the beginning we were working with the backlogs in Excel. Maybe not the optimal solution, but everyone knows Excel and we did not have to get used to a tool like JIRA or so.

For Meetings we are mainly using MS Teams, in which you could also use Apps like Planner (which we use as Impediment Backlog), you can have OneNotes for the team, central document repository...

As for meetings, in my experience they work, but you will need someone to moderate, to avoid muddle. In one place you see the others and see if someone wants to talk, you don't see that in a remote meeting.

It works perfect for Daily Standups. For Reviews we use Skype for Business to also have customers attending and with Screen Share this also works good and costumers are happy. Little downside in Retrospectives. In personal meetings, you can see reactions from the team, which makes it easier to read the team. Remotely it is sometimes tricky and you have to challenge the team. And for Plannings, well, can be hard. I can imagine having a full day meeting in office with casual brakes. But whole day with your headset on and remotely you cannot just walk out for five mins to fetch or carry away your coffee... We, for example, have two planning sessions over two days in which we have one fixed break.

 

I know, a lot of people say in Scrum you need your team at one place, able to talk to each other any time. Meet at the same day, same time in person, to gain the best possible outcome.
Yes, it might be ideal, but you can also work Scrum remotely. One of the Agile Values is discipline and with some discipline and trust working Scrum remotely can work as well.

09:39 pm March 13, 2020

Been working with distributed teams for a while.  Things you will absolutely need:

  • Video conferencing capabilities
  • Team chat capabilities
  • Digital backlog capabilities
  • People committed to the work (working from home is full of distractions)

All of the events can be done electronically but it requires some discipline. For the Daily Scrum we usually have 1 person start off, then have them pick the next person until everyone has had a chance to present their findings. As each presents their findings, conversations occur but everyone has to be on video so that you can see facial expressions and body language to determine who has something to say.  Face-to-Face can be done digitially. 

Team chat capabilities allows for conversations in the course of the work.  Not as good as turning to your right and talking but it does provide the same benefits.  And it actually allows others to participate in the discussion.  In an office setting there are often conversations with the people immediately on each side of you.  In the digitial case, everyone is sitting right next to you.  Learn to thread conversations so that multiple conversations can occur at the same time.

You will need digital backlogs because it doesn't work to write on a sticky note and put it on your monitor.  

Scrum Masters play a big part in the success of the remote teams. Just as you are to help the organization appreciate Scrum, you also have to help remote teams appreciate the use of the tools available. 

A few nice to have capabilities:

  • Digital pair programming
  • Digital collaboration

Retros are difficult if you can't have a way of "storming the board".  I've used things like Trello but had better success with something as simple as sharing a Google Doc or a Microsoft Word document for collaboration. Most chat tools allow screen sharing and video chats. 

You can do paired programming using them if the participants take turns sharing their screens as they type (driver) and the others consult (navigator). 

Be creative with the tools you use.  It is often easier to use something simple in unconventional ways than to go to the expense of using tools built for specific reasons. 

And one more thing I want to contribute.  When using some of the free online tools, you need to pay close attention to the licensing agreements.  Most of them are very friendly to personal use (families, clubs, college projects) but not friendly to corporate usage.  I suggest having your corporate legal representatives look over the agreements before you agree to them and commit your organization to them.  Most of them will have clauses around ownership of the data that your organization might now want to agree to. 

If you aren't in a distributed situation yet, I recommend you try some of the events in a remote fashion. Take a tool that is available to you and have everyone attend remotely.  And I mean remotely. Everyone go somewhere that they can not see or hear anyone else. Spread across your offices, have people to go different coffee houses, everyone work from home one day.  Create the situation and practice before you are forced into it without preparedness. 

Always open to discuss and offer suggestions.  Hit me up on LinkedIn if you thinks I could be of help. 

02:24 am March 14, 2020

We're keeping it simple. While telecommuting, talk to each other as much as you need to. Audio, video or text. Connect to solve problems together. The remaining are just electronic tools that are nothing more than shiny objects.

09:22 am March 16, 2020

Things escalated even more quickly than I expected, and Friday was our first day with the office closed, and everyone working remotely.
I asked team leads and Product Owners to be particularly aware of the personal needs of people, and to really help keep people focused on personal, team and company goals; to do things that keep up morale like taking time for extra small talk, just asking how people are, or even telling bad jokes to put a smile on someone's face; but also calling each other out on what we're doing, so that we don't forget the purpose of why we're working together.

One team lead organized a virtual coffee break in the afternoon for that Scrum Team. We spent the first 5 minutes just chatting about how we were, and making each other laugh. And naturally it progressed to people asking each other if they needed help with what they're working on.

I think we need to find more ways to emulate the physical contact we crave, and I expect it to become emotionally tougher once we're into the middle of this week, and remote working is no longer a novelty.

10:17 am March 16, 2020

And one more thing I want to contribute.  When using some of the free online tools, you need to pay close attention to the licensing agreements.  Most of them are very friendly to personal use (families, clubs, college projects) but not friendly to corporate usage.  I suggest having your corporate legal representatives look over the agreements before you agree to them and commit your organization to them.  Most of them will have clauses around ownership of the data that your organization might now want to agree to. 

That's a good point. Espescially the data ownership. We found that on an online Planning tool that kept all the stories and anyone was able to take a look at those. Fortunately we already found that when assessing tools and did not want that for our productive data.

But even so, there is nothing against the tool itself. Descision was taken that we do not put the whole stories in a tool. Today PO is sharing his screen with the PB and in the tool we are using placeholder stories.

Just use some common sense, do not put your productive data anywhere in an open cloud. Combine your tools, use what you have and what you know. 

06:14 pm March 16, 2020

In addition to the points already raised I will share some of my findings/observations based on working with mainly remote teams over the past three or four years. Many of these teams were cross-continental, inhabited different time zones and rarely met more then once or twice (in some cases they never met in person even over the course of more then a year working together). Many spoken languages were in use as well. Most also had the challenge of working together despite never having been part of a common company.

1) Pick a group chat tool like slack or teams. In addition to the normal channels you set up for each team setup an extra channel called "Group name - I-am-blocked". Request that the team use this to report blocking issues in addition to whatever they usually do when needing help. Ask that the whole team monitor that channel. In this way most blocking issues can be rapidly resolved in well under 2 hours and you have multiple people awareness of what is going on. As Scrum Master you own making sure the blocks are resolved, nothing stops the team from helping each other when they can

2) Use a video conferencing client whenever possible (like Zoom for example). Ask that everyone use video whenever possible. This is of critical importance so that people see body language and facial expressions since just audio can often lead to misunderstandings. Seeing the picture helps a lot.

3) If you use video, only record sessions after asking permission of the group to do so for a specific and important reason. This helps with the concerns people have about how they come across on video. You want the tool to enhance communication, not hinder it

4) As the facilitator for a call start by briefly setting expectations for the call including things like "each person will have one - two minutes maximum to discuss the daily plan" and how to show respect for others by focusing on what they are saying and giving them to chance to complete their sentences. It is also important that you make sure everyone is being heard and getting a chance to speak.

5) Refer to 4 when going through the sprint events like sprint planning, sprint review, daily scrum and sprint retrospectives

6) Some other useful tools that I have used include carboardio.com for story mapping, white boarding and other activities where using electronic stickies in a free form state is useful. I also use pokerplanning.com for estimation and within zoom itself you can do white boarding, complete surveys and have break-out sessions that you can later recall to the main discussion area once you need everyone back

7) Although I recommend this only for special, high need situations, it is also possible to have an open conference bridge so that people can speak to each other on demand just like they would in a normal co-located session. Personally I find it tiring on people to do this for extended times so I typically use it for emergencies etc.

8) If the team is comfortable with this idea, periodically schedule someone to provide a brief review of their work space with the team. It's critical that they feel happy to do this. The interesting thing is that often people decorate their home office in a more personal way then their work office so you can often learn a bit more about them including their hobbies and passions that they care like sharing. This can lead to a team feeling more connected if done well. If you looked at my home office for example you would see a huge picture of my two dogs

9) A very useful web page is https://hr.mit.edu/learning-topics/teams/articles/stages-development While useful beyond the remote working scenario I've found it even more important especially when a team is either going through a significant change in how they work or they are relatively new as a team.

The key thing to focus on when working with a remote team is the quality of the communication and the absolute importance of trust and respect among team members. Things can go sideways very easily. As a Scrum Master/facilitator you likely have the most knowledge/training/interest in the people side of things that can help keep that from going badly.

I hope this is useful and helpful!

~Jamie N

09:33 pm April 6, 2020

Our team used to have a small number of remote employees, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the entire office also switched to remote work. Using tools for remote work and constantly communicating mainly through social networks or using something like Discord, GoToMeeting, Hangouts, Hottelecom, etc. and everything will work out quite well.

https://hottelecom.biz/

https://discordapp.com/

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/google-hangouts/knipolnnllmkl…

https://www.gotomeeting.com/

09:09 am April 7, 2020

We have been practicing WFH for nearly a month now! The message is simple, and clear as the light of day - if you have a clearly defined role-structure, optimal technological coordination, and dignified work/ home dynamic - you're golden! A lot of WFH breaks down due to burnout - that I feel, is a bigger productivity killer, than any technical issue overall.

~Sanjeev Nanda