In this episode, we interview David Horowitz who’s the CEO of Retrium, a company that builds tools to help you facilitate remote retrospectives. The links to Retrium’s Retrospectives Academy below are affiliate links, if you prefer to follow a link that takes you to Retrium’s site, but does not give anything back to the podcast, you can. Just follow this link: Retrium.com. On the other hand, if you want to help us grow this podcast, you can follow the links below or this link to Retrium’s Retrospective’s Academy.
As David started his Scrum Master journey, he was faced with a big challenge. He struggled with remote retrospectives. No wonder, he ended up creating and being the CEO for a remote retrospectives company. He experienced the pain first-hand!
As he got started experimenting, he found the Lean Coffee format to be effective (see our Lean Coffee episodes). However, he found that even when the format worked well, there was something else missing.
The collaboration that can be had when the team is in the same room simply isn’t the same when we are all remote, and sometimes even without video!
Collaboration is one of the key aspects of focus for Scrum Masters. We are, and should always be on the lookout for way to improve collaboration in our teams, and across teams and departments. In this episode, we dive into a specific Actionable Agile Tool that aims to boost collaboration: The Internal Unconference. Gene and Jeff share their own experience organizing Internal Unconferences, and why this even may be exactly what you need to improve collaboration in your organization.
Discovering how to improve collaboration across departments
From that survey, the early results are conclusive, one of the biggest challenges you are facing right now is to help your teams coordinate their work, and collaborate effectively after transitioning to #Remote work.
So, to help you adapt to this new #Remote work reality, we collected the following strategies and tools for helping #Remote teams coordinate and collaborate effectively.
Many of us have started to work from home while our children are also at home, which presents additional challenges. Here’s a collected list of tips from our listeners on Twitter. You are not alone! Many others like you are working from home with kids!
Stay calm, be empathic with your colleagues
One of the most important rules when working from home is to respect each other, we are all in the same situation, we are all getting started in our #Remote work journey. A simple practice that will help you with this is to tell your self: “We are all figuring it out,” she said. “It might get a little messy.” Yes! It will, sometimes, get messy. But it will also improve over time.
Be understanding with your colleagues, give the example and say also to them at the start of your next call: “We are all figuring it out,” she said. “It might get a little messy.”
Use your mute button generously, but accept when the noise comes from the other side! Have a post-it ready to remind your colleagues they are not on mute. Be kind, though 🙂
Pay attention to your children. You’ve gained time, give it to them
I work from my home office. Have lunch together and engage mine with some books and other electronics to play games and learn new things. I am signing her up for an online class (fun class) tomorrow. It also helps with bonding as I save about 2 hours of commute time daily
Talk to your partner/spouse. Agree on how you will help each other
Many of you are working from home with your spouse or partner. You are probably both in the same situation, so talk early about how to handle the situation.
Daniel suggests ~2 hours shifts, talk about it, and agree on what would work for you.
We’re setting shifts a bit more flexibly according to meeting schedules but yeah, more or less 2 hours each. And 100% agree on the second part. Also important to adjust them externally to workmates and clients.
Another tip is to share your work meetings calendar with your spouse/partner and try to help each other. You may try to book meetings when one of the adults in the house is not having another meeting (if possible).
In any case, don’t forget: be empathic with your spouse/partner too! You are both going through the same experience.
Anna has a slightly different approach, she suggests short bursts (more likely to work with smaller children), it’s a bit like the famous Pomodoro technique (which some already call Mozarella technique because “Pomodoro” apparently have been trademarked 🤷🏻♂️)
That is a great challenge, not with older kids, but with the youngest. What we are trying now is something like Pomodoro but with longer breaks work. We ask for uninterrupted time for 30-45 mins. And then reconnect. And repeat…
Remember, this is what being empathic towards others and yourself means! However, you are an Agilist! You also know that you will be adapting and improving over time. Stay with it.
Create a routine of reflection, individually and with your partner/spouse. And if your kids are old enough include them in that reflection. They will benefit from your example and will learn to be deliberate about reflecting and adapting to novel situations in their lives.
Help your children learn and practice skills at home, it’s a win/win!
The final tip comes from Paul:
Drawing, how to draw things from internet he has his ipad and practices different drawings. Reading different kind of books. Also watching the plants grow :))
Do your children already want to practice a skill? Maybe playing the piano or guitar? Or learn how to draw? Help them out. Buy them an internet course, and let them practice. Those skills will be beneficial immediately for you, and in the future for them! It’s a win/win!
What other techniques and approaches have worked for you? Share your learnings below in the comments!
I’ve worked remotely since 2014. Sometimes for weeks at a time. Most of that time as a Scrum Master or Agile Coach, so I’ve had to learn a few things about working with remote teams. Here are some of those tips that I’ve collected
Get used to booking 15 min sessions with colleagues
When we work remotely, it is quite normal to have more meetings. That’s how we synchronize our timetables. There are fewer opportunities to meet colleagues in the corridor, kitchen, or while walking out to lunch or a coffee break.
So, I started booking 15min session with colleagues, to be able to interact with them, but not completely disrupt their day (or mine).
Here are the rules I follow:
Book the 15min session just before or after a meeting they already have in the calendar (to avoid breaking up their un-interrupted time)
If I need a decision, I send an email ahead with the topic and a few possible decisions (3 is a good number)
Keep discussions short, if no solution can be found, book another call while talking to my colleagues
My goal with these 15min sessions is to keep in touch and get work done in short bursts. Turns out (based on my experience) that most 1h meetings can be avoided by having short 15min sessions to make decisions. However, sometimes that’s not enough, and we book another session for later that day or the day after.
One of the hardest lessons for me to learn though, was the need to have breaks. When working remotely, all my colleagues are literally a few keystrokes away. There’s no physical barrier (thought there might be a mental one, more on that later). This means you end up having back-to-back meetings, and not getting up from your seat, which may make you feel productive, but will negatively impact your health and creativity.
In my experience, having a 10-15min break every 2 hours is a good rule of thumb, although sometimes I do get up and walk around more often than that. To keep me active in those breaks I either play a game (I’m a big FIFA fan) or do exercise (I bought rubber bands to do strength when traveling or at home).
I’ve learned that a 10-15 min break will help me be more creative when I get back to the “zone”.
Create a routine
I’ve developed my own routine over time, and I expect you will too. Over time, I learned that sitting down right after breakfast is my best strategy. I have breakfast and get right down to the most important tasks (I keep all my tasks in Evernote. Although I’ve tried other tools, I feel text files are my best tool).
After the first work burst, I’ll walk around, play a game and think of the next tasks.
I usually have meetings only in the afternoon (I’m a morning) person, and in the evening. Between the morning and afternoon slots, I have a longer break, maybe an hour or so.
Because I usually have evening meetings, I break up the afternoon with a walk outside to go shopping or go running.
That’s my routine, but you should think about what works for you. Are you a morning person? Or are you more productive in the afternoon?
Set up a workplace you are proud of (you will be on video often!)
When I started to work remotely, I used whatever space was available at home. That’s great for when you get started, but over time you will feel a bit out of place, or get tired of setting up and tearing down your workspace. Recently I’ve bought a green screen and a good camera to be able to create a space that I’m proud of. In the picture to the right is my “morning” workspace. I feel like I’m in a real office, and so do my colleagues!
If you have a sufficiently powerful computer, ZOOM will handle the lack of green screen, so there’s no need to invest in that. And if you use Skype you can blur the background so that your presence pops-up on video. Pro tip: surprise your colleagues with the “coolest” office you can find online! PS: I use PIXABAY and Google image search to scout the net for office spaces.
Track your work, keep yourself accountable
Over time, I’ve had to learn to be even more organized when working from home than when I had an office to go to. Working from home means that you have less of the implicit signs from people coming to talk to you, or having coffee break chats. #Remote workers are both in charge of their work, but also have less information available to make the right priority calls. Because of that, I’ve started to write down what I want to achieve when I start working. I have a “today’s tasks” note on Evernote, and keep all my work there. I write down everything I need to achieve for that day and will jot down future ideas on a future date.
I start my day by writing down the date and listing the tasks/achievements for the day (see image). During the day that list will change, and I’ll also write down tasks/achievements under future dates.
My system is loosely based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. If you don’t have a task management system, start now. Start with pen and paper, and slowly try out and adopt a digital tool.
I might write a longer post about my time-management and work-management system. I’ve developed it over quite a few years and learned what works for me (and what does not).
These were 5 simple tips that I’ve learned work for me. What works for you? What questions do you have? Share your experiences and lessons learned below.
At the time I write this blog post, there’s the #covid19 epidemic going on. What this means in practice is that many of you will have changed recently to work with a #Remote team, so we are putting together a set of resources for all of our listeners jumping, head first, into working with #Remote teams.
In this post, I’m putting together a few ideas and lessons learned on remote retrospectives, and how to get started in your #Remote work journey.
One of the key differences to co-located teams they highlight is how distributed team members need to develop their “affiliation” to each other and form a team even when they are not meeting each other in the corridor.
Mark shares a few ideas, like setting up a #water-cooler channel in your favorite chat application. My self, I love to have coffee sessions with my colleagues. Set up a calendar invite, make everyone optional, prepare a coffee cup and chat with your colleagues.
Scrum Masters all over the world make a significant effort to get better at facilitating retrospectives… Until they have to host a Distributed Retrospective. At that point, we learn that all you learned about facilitating retrospectives is still useful, but not nearly enough!
Preparing, hosting, and facilitating a Distributed Retrospective is a completely different challenge.
The 4 things that you need to make Distributed Retrospectives work
We like to keep our retrospectives fresh. We find it helps to reveal things we might not otherwise have found if we alter the format frequently. With this goal in mind, we follow a simple system:
Once a month we use our ”normal” retro format. Everyone in the team is familiar with this, and we can perform them quite quickly, with minimal prep work and explanation required. Basically, effective with very little admin.
Once a month we have our ”experimental” retrospective. A little more set-up time required, but a good opportunity for experimentation and explorations.
This is the story of one such retrospective.
Obviously, you can perform many Agile practices, but not be Agile. However, there are a lot of practices out there and sometimes teams can become focused solely on those that they are currently using, rather than looking at other tools they might bring to bear. This is where the Agile Practices Retrospective comes in.
In preparation for the retrospective, we created cards with various Agile practices as headlines, and a brief explanation of each listed on it. I also color coded them under various categories so they could be more easily identified from afar. Then we simply taped all these cards to a wall in their respective categories. There were about 50 cards in all.
With over 50 cards, there was a lot of information. We split into groups and started categorizing the cards under a new set of headings, it was made clear to all that they were not expected to read all the cards.
Doing (Working Well): Things we are currently doing, and quite happy with the way they currently work.
Doing (Could be better): Things we are currently practicing but could use improvement.
Not doing (By choice): Things we are not currently practicing, but have made a choice not to use in our context.
Not doing (Not tried): Things we are not doing, and have never really tried.
WTF!?!: We have no idea what this is, or what it means.
Deciding what to focus on
We obviously cannot talk about all these things. So, we used dot voting to decide what topics to focus on. Each team member was given 3 ”dots” for each of these types of vote:
We should start and or alter this practice in some way. (Indicated by a dot)
We would like to learn more about this practice. (Indicated by a +)
I also printed out simple list versions of the same information, as I knew it would be hard for everyone to gather around the board when deciding how to use their votes. Despite this, this was still not as successful as we would have hoped. Part of this is because we are actually two teams and our 3 customer representatives, so the whiteboard was too crowded. I feel this would go better with a single team.
Discussions and action points
We had open discussions and tried to create action points/experiments around the topics we had discussed. I will just give a very brief of what we arrived at:
Root Cause Analysis/ 5 Why’s
We even arrived at the fact that without formal tools, we are still quite good at root cause analysis. But perhaps a formal tool might reveal something we would have otherwise been unaware of.
Experiments: 1)Focus on using our discussion time during retrospectives (Generate Insight) to use more formal tools like 5 why’s.
2) When events are added to our timeline at daily stand-ups, then we should also consider doing a more in-depth analysis of those items.
Discussion: We felt that we very likely do have a product vision, and even a fair amount of impact mapping done for that, but this is not communicated to the entire team at a frequent enough rate. Also, we need to get better at following up these things.
Experiments: 1)Make the product vision more concrete and communicate it at a regular interval.
2)Follow the vision and impact map up at a regular interval.
Behaviour Driven Development (BDD):
Discussion: This is a discussion point we wanted to learn more about. So, the discussion was brief. We basically arrived at the fact that it was intriguing and we want to know more.
Experiments: 1)The two team members who know something on the subject will provide some links and a quick intro for everyone else.
2) Some of the team will experiment with these concepts in our ”Brain Day” next week.
This retrospective was reviewed well by the team, everyone generally liked it.
It was a fairly active retrospective, because of all the moving things around and working in teams, so the energy level remained high throughout.
Probably the best aspect of this retrospective was the addition of fresh concepts into the team, the idea to focus on things we wanted to learn more about was a good one. In the future, we would probably recommend only focusing on these things.
There was a fair amount of prep work involved in this one, although I consider it worth the investment, it wasn’t free. Hopefully, a bit cheaper for you, as we have provided the work we have done. Once again: https://tinyurl.com/l8loec6
It was too hard to get an overview with so many items, this may have been due to team size, and might have been possible to mitigate by having the team read the list beforehand.
Despite there being so many items, the list was not even close to exhaustive, and it was hard to leave off some practices that really should have been included.
Jeff is an Agile Coach who considers the discovery of Agile and Lean to be one of the most defining moments of his life and considers helping others to improve their working life not to simply be a job, but a social responsibility. As an Agile Coach, he has worked with driving Agile transformations in organizations both small and large.
Jeff is also involved in the Agile community and is one of the founding members of Gothenburg Sweden’s largest agile community at 1500+ members , and he also organizes the yearly conference www.brewingagile.org.
Scrum Masters understand the importance of having many tools for different situations. The quality of our work is often related to the quality of the tools we have in our toolbox and the context in which they work.