I was speaking to a struggling Scrum Master - his team had gone fully online and were going through some turbulence.
So, how’s it going?
Terrible. My team are worried, we feel disconnected and I’m finding it hard to bring us back together.
It is. It really is. I just don’t understand how these other teams I read about are working together so well.
Hmm, how are the rest of the team feeling?
I think we all feel the same, demotivated and lonely.
It doesn’t need to be this way, let’s turn it around… ‘
Learning through experience. The heart of Scrum.
As an active agile Scrum Consultant and Professional Scrum Trainer, I am constantly helping a large number of agile teams. Unsurprisingly all the teams I am supporting are experimenting with different ways to make remote working, work!
Here are some patterns that I have found to be common in the teams that are doing really well
1. Create A Team WOW.
For online working a team ‘Ways of Working’ approach has been the number one action that great online Scrum teams have executed.
A Team WOW is an agreement created by the team for the team that outlines how we as a team will work together whilst Covid19 happens. A good team WoW will answer some of the following questions;
- How will we collaborate?
- Will we favour live communication such as Skype, Zoom over email?
- If we decide to go with real time approach (good!) then will we encourage camera’s on vs cameras off?
- What tools will we use to share our work?
- What tools will we use to visualise progress?
- What are our core working hours?
- How will we help each other?
- How will we stay connected?
- How will we update our WOW as things change and we learn more?
2. High bandwidth communication.
For day to day collaboration, great teams prefer online live real time communication over email. Teams that collaborate well tend to prioritize
- Video conferencing and Visual web based calling over telephone calls.
- Telephone calls over chat-based tools
- Chat tools over email
- Email over smoke signals
Some of the teams I work with have core video conferencing hours, so their cameras switch on for a period of time to create a sense of connectedness for periods of the day. Its just like sitting with your team for a while. Others just use video conferencing for their scheduled meetings and that’s enough for them. Use your teams Ways of Working session (see above) to decide what will work for you and be disciplined in their use.
3. Real time collaboration tools
These tools are an essential component of a team’s ability to stay productive during these distributed times. Lack of transparency is something that we should all be worried about and work to improve consistently. If we don’t know what is happening, how will we support and help each other? How will we eliminate impediments to remain creative and continually deliver value?
Collaboration tools like Trello, Microsoft Azure, Asana, Mural, Miro etc. offer ways for teams to track progress, plan together, retrospect together and continually keep our work and our thoughts transparent to the team so that we can inspect, adapt to overcome friction and continually deliver value. Try some, adopt some.
4. Iterate, use a retrospective driven change approach.
Never underestimate the power of consistent team learning. In times of turbulent challenge, we never can be sure what we will encounter. If you are an Agile team using Scrum, you are already using retrospectives to learn what is working well for the team and what isn’t. You are already adapting to new circumstances; you are consistently evaluating your tooling and you are remaining open to new ways of delivery. Retrospectives help us check in on what is working for the team and what isn’t – this is more than just physical stuff. Good retrospectives help eliminate emotional friction, they help us check in on the teams mental and social health; for the attentive team, the retrospective helps us help ourselves and provides early warnings of problems before they become catastrophes. Retrospectives use problems to help us become better. Every team I know that is responding well to working from home, is doing so because they understand and realise the importance of consistent proactive adaptation – use retrospectives to adapt regularly.
5. Schedule adapted core working hours
The best teams accept that as our children, pets and dependants are now at home with us, that the standard 9-5 may not apply. It may be unrealistic to schedule meetings during the times that our children have breaks or lunches, or the dogs need walking, or elderly parents need checking in on. Teams that adapt to the new normal change their working patterns and core working hours to eliminate day to day challenges. Scrum provides a minimum pattern of events that are proven to work in times of change. The best Scrum teams have already adapted these events to work around the teams specific scheduling challenges.
6. Test disaster recovery.
Your teams are already using retrospectives to adapt right? If so then you may already be looking at back-up ways of remaining connected and visualising work if something unexpected happens. What’s your back-up if your high-speed broadband stops working? Running simultaneous tests of backup technology and approaches help teams look ahead, switch to back-ups and remain functional. Recently whilst running a Professional Scrum Master training, my internet died. Someone, somewhere had decided that it was a perfectly good time to cut through some cables. How inconvenient.
Fortunately, I had already spent days running trainings off of my mobile internet provider and had a tested back-up in place. Minutes later I was operational again and the training continued. What are the key pieces of technology you rely on, what’s the likelihood of these failing and what are your go-to back ups to stay in the game?
7. Mitigate technical friction together
With all the challenges facing us when working from home, learning new technology can seem daunting. It needn’t be. Once your team has chosen some good tools, a great way to learn them quickly is to schedule learning sessions where we teach each other how to best use the tools in a safe supportive environment.
When I was transitioning to Mural – I was having some frustrations, I just couldn’t figure out how to get Mural to behave how I wanted it to. Luckily for me, one of my fellow PST’s – the magnificent Ralph Joachim invited me to one of his online practice events where I could learn from his experience as well as the experience of 15 other Professional Scrum Trainers. Ralph created a safe space to answer and ask questions, simple or complicated. The result? Comprehensive, rapid learning. When my internet failed and I ran the training through my mobile using Mural, I didn’t miss a beat, I have Ralph to thank for that.
Additionally, the teams that learn adapt to new tools quickly, deliberately help each other and use collaborative scheduled sessions to experiment, learn and answer questions together. They don’t hope for it, they plan for it and support each other consciously. As an extension to this, if you see that your colleague is struggling, offer support and support them. Be deliberate in helping your team how to overcome and master the technical challenges we all face, don’t assume that everyone knows how to use all the tools well.
8. Accept learning, and solve problems
Turbulent times mean that we won’t get it right every time. It’s easy to get frustrated with ourselves and our colleagues when things go wrong. We need to be patient with our team. Learn to remember that everyone is doing their level best to handle the challenges that face them, given their skills, abilities and the resources available.
Being Agile is not about apportioning blame but about accepting turbulence as a part of life AND deliberately solving problems without blame.
9. Schedule non work events
One management team I know sends stuff to their teams on Thursday night for a Friday hangout event, can you guess the morale of the people working there? Other teams have a 30-minute hangout session at the end of the working day for non-work banter and giggles. Some teams have decided that once per week is enough. Try approaches that work for your team.
Remember that Covid-19 means we must be physically distant, but we don’t have to be socially distant. Use the above approaches to bring you closer to your teams and successfully overcome today's challenges. Remain. Connected.
I leave you with a quote that has given me great determination in times of difficulty.
We must free ourselves of the hope that the sea will ever rest. We must learn to sail in high winds.
~ Aristotle Onassis
I’d love to know your thoughts on what makes a great online team, so please feel to reach out to: hello@FractalSystems.co.uk
Jay is co-founder of Fractal Systems Consulting, an agile consultancy run by a group of Professional Scrum Trainers, change agents and agile delivery coaches who have deep experience and know-how in creating behavioural change, come and find us at www.FractalSystems.co.uk
Additionally, if you’re interested in learning in a fun application rich environment that focuses on real world applied approaches, come along to one our training's at FractalSystems.co.uk/agile-scrum-training