Molood joins us in the special LIVE Q&A episode to talk about Distributed Agile software development and many tools, tips, tricks, and techniques for teams that just recently moved to a #Remote-first work setting.
Scrum Masters often have to face cultural anti-patterns when working with teams, and the organizations they are part of. Those cultural anti-patterns are being amplified by the move to #Remote work due to the #covid19 situation.
What can we do? How can we get ready?
Here are some tips to get you started or to help you further adapt to this new reality.
Lack of transparency is even worse when #Remote
There are many Scrum Masters that come on the Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast and share stories that relate to a culturally-engrained lack of transparency. This lack of transparency takes many forms:
- Team members don’t share their struggles in the Daily Standup because they perceive that as a sign of weakness (for example)
- Product Owners don’t share the reasons why certain changes are brought into the Sprint, perhaps because they themselves don’t know
- Other teams we collaborate with don’t share changes to a dependency we have on them
Whatever symptoms of lack of transparency you experienced when working in the same office, those symptoms will only get worse when our organization moves to #Remote work. Some of the reasons are:
- Individuals are less engaged and motivated due to the stress, or being distracted by the presence of children while they work, or because they don’t see (and therefore don’t take into account) their colleagues during the day
- Sudden tasks or priority shifts are communicated to individuals, and the rest of the team isn’t physically present to witness that change
- Now that we’re distributed we miss out on all the spontaneous collaboration that used to happen.
Tips for Scrum Masters to increase transparency and foster collaboration
As Scrum Masters, we must be deliberate about improving transparency and collaboration in #Remote teams. Our domain of expertise is collaboration, and we must keep adapting to enable collaboration at all times. Here are some tips, that may help you improve transparency, information sharing, and collaboration between team members and with other teams:
- Have a collective retrospective with the teams on which your team has regular dependencies
- Discuss with the Product Owner how to share changes to the Sprint so that all team members are aware and can share their possible impact on the work they have to finish
- Move to a shorter Sprint. Agile is about creating more, and faster, feedback loops. As we go #Remote those feedback loops are even more important. Shorter sprints provide more transparency (problems are found faster), makes the amount of work smaller which helps with clarity (shorter stories), and with identifying and solving process problems in the team, and across teams
- Have 2 daily check-ins
Quick tip for #Remote #Scrum Masters: Have 2 check-ins / day. One at the start of shared work hours, and one closer to the end of shared work hours. Make the second an “informal” check-in (e.g.: ask each team member to bring their favourite drink and enable video).
— Vasco Duarte (@duarte_vasco) March 30, 2020
- Integrate more often. If you are integrating with dependant teams at the end of the Sprint, consider bringing their work into your daily build pipeline, or assign specific team members on both teams to work on integration from the start of the sprint
- Track dependencies on other teams just like you would a User Story. Understanding of dependencies will grow during the Sprint. Make sure you are covering that dependency on the Daily Standup if nothing else to learn that “everything is proceeding according to plan”
- Create an URGENT Slack/Teams channel, so that team members can always explicitly ask for help to solve a problem they are facing. When #Remote, even waiting one more day can make the problem harder to find.
When we are #Remote, collaboration and cooperation are harder to achieve, and transparency can be a critical trigger for that collaboration to flourish. Consider what you can do as a Scrum Master to improve collaboration. Every day.
Stay Safe, #StayHome
More tips, and more insights from the Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast
We have started a page to help you deal with the reality of #Remote work. Bookmark this page to easily access all the tips we share related to #Remote work. In this page you will find blog posts, as well as links to the YouTube videos of our LIVE Q&A sessions with #Remote work experts!
Many of us are going #Remote because of the #covid19 situation world-wide. In this very special episode we cover tips, tricks and techniques on how Scrum Masters can help their teams go #Remote to thrive, not just survive.
In this episode, we mention a treasure trove of resources to help you in your adaptation to #Remote work. You can find those below
Resources for going #Remote and Distributed Agile teams
We started a survey to collect your biggest challenges when it comes to transitioning to remote work. You can submit your answers here.
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.
Scrum is #Remote ready, especially this one tool…
Read on for the full list…
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
Our previous Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast guest and listener Bola Adesope reminds us that we have gained time by not having to commute. It’s only fair that you dedicate that time to your children. You will all benefit. In Bola’s own words:
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
— Bola Adesope, PMP (@bolaadesope) March 16, 2020
Lunch together, breakfast together, reading books
— melsop74 🇬🇷🇫🇮🇨🇾🦅 (@melsop74) March 16, 2020
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.
— Daniel García (@gulfuroth) March 16, 2020
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…
— Anna Zalucka (@annazalucka) March 17, 2020
Adjust your expectations, but know that you are learning and improving as you go
Rene reminds us:
My wife and I will try two-hour shifts. Other than that, drastically lower expectations on what you can do on a day.
— René Wiersma (@Rene_Wiersma) March 16, 2020
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 :))
— Horvath Paul Oliver (@paul8620) March 16, 2020
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!
Stay healthy, #stayhome and enjoy your children!
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.
How to facilitate remote #Retrospeectives
get people to participate actively
get everybody on video (if at all possible)
pace them forward all the time (e.g. using strict timeboxes)
use round-robin (or some other technique) to get everybody to talk
If you are looking for a tool to facilitate #Remote retrospectives, you may be interested in checking out these tools, which all have a free plan:
- Retrium: a native #Remote Retrospectives tool
- Miro Board, previously known as Realtime board: a #Remote collaboration tool with templates that help with #Remote Retrospectives.
Working with, and facilitating #Remote teams
First things first, team agreements
Information: What kind of information do you need when working with your team? What needs to be actively shared? What can be passively shared?
Communication: What kinds of communication do you need to setup now that you are #Remote?
Collaboration: How do you share progress information and offer/request help when needed?
In this episode, we explore in detail some of the most common anti-patterns Darren sees in the Product Owner role, and we discuss why a PO training is not necessary for a great PO.
The Great Product Owner: Business knowledge and outcome focus
To be a great Product Owner, it isn’t necessary to have attended a certification course. However, it is necessary to have a good connection to the business and a sharp focus on outcomes (impact) over output (more work). In this segment, we discuss what happens when you have those characteristics in your PO.
The Bad Product Owner: 3 Anti-patterns PO’s should avoid
There are many sides to a failed Product Owner role. In this episode, Darren shares with us some of the most common anti-patterns that he’s witnessed in his career as a Scrum Master.
In this segment, we refer to the remote facilitation online masterclass by Judy Rees.
For more anti-patterns, read Darren’s “How to Fail as Product Owner” infographic.
Are you having trouble helping the team working well with their Product Owner? We’ve put together a course to help you work on the collaboration team-product owner. You can find it at: bit.ly/coachyourpo. 18 modules, 8+ hours of modules with tools and techniques that you can use to help teams and PO’s collaborate.
About Darren Smith
Darren, aka the Naked Scrum Master, has been helping teams and organizations be better than they were by exposing dysfunction and helping people to remove obstacles from their path so they can be happier and more fulfilled in their working lives.
In this episode, we explore the story of a team that was scattered and working outside the office. We then explore the anti-patterns that made those team members feel like outsiders in their own team. Finally, we talk about the antidote, what to do to make the team feel like a team, no matter where they are.
In this episode, we also talk about Transformational Leadership.
Featured Book for the Week: The culture code, Daniel Coyle
In The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, Rik found a definition of the characteristics of successful groups. What makes them tick and got some inspiring stories that help him be a better coach for his teams.
About Rik Pennartz
Rik is an agile coach, who’s worked during the last years at the Volksbank, the Dutch Railways and ABN AMRO bank. Rik also teaches various agile courses such as Professional Scrum Master, DevOps fundamentals and Leading SAFe.
You can find Rik Pennartz at the Cap Gemini Academy.
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.