How to keep your Agile team going in times of Corona
Read more by Oebe Rombout
It started out with the advice to work from home to reduce the number of people in the daily commute or to stay home at the first signs of a cold. This advice was taken very seriously by INFO and its employees. That’s why almost all INFO employees are working from home at the moment. Working remotely is not new to us and we know how you can be almost as effective at home as in the office.
However, having my whole team work from home was something that never happened before, so it demanded a slightly new approach to working remotely. As a Scrum Master, this is the time to become really creative in getting the most value out of your Agile team(s).
Physical Scrum board vs online Scrum board
Use an online Scrum board. Up until about six months ago, we worked with both a physical (offline) and an online Scrum board (Jira). Even though we mostly loved working with the physical Scrum board, we stopped using it because:
- Offline and online were sometimes out of sync;
- Our permanently remote team member didn’t have access to the offline board and it was hard to see it via the webcam;
- By default, the Jira Active Sprints view is really bad, but we improved it a lot (use this free Chrome plugin + free script to try this out). For me, this enabled us to have an effective daily Scrum.
Jira Scrum board
Daily Scrum standup
We already broadcasted our daily Scrum via video conferencing (Highfive), because we have one permanently remote team member, but having all the team members working online required some small adjustments:
- Now, we use a set order (alphabetical) for the team members, whereas before we used the order that the group was standing in during a standup, which differs every day.
- The facilitator opens Jira Active Sprints screen, shares his/her screen, and moves the subtasks around at the request of the one that is speaking. Team members should be explicit about these actions.
Unfortunately, Jira doesn’t have good syncing capabilities, like Trello or Google docs. Hopefully, this will improve asap. For now, the facilitator has to ‘control’ the board.
Daily Scrum Standup via Highfive
We keep in touch throughout the day with tools like Slack, Confluence, and Bitbucket. This has always been our way of working, and our weekly 1-on-1s are done via videoconferencing instead of meeting face to face.
Refinement, Sprint review
No big comments here. One thing we did find out is that using the chat functionality of our video conferencing system worked just fine for estimating User Stories during a refinement. As per usual, the facilitator does a countdown and everybody enters their chosen amount. Alternatively, you can use Slack with plugins of online poker tools like PlanITpoker or Poker Planner via GitHub. But with an experienced team, the chat functionality was much easier and equally effective.
Personally, I prefer using Trello for some retro variants. Doing a Start-Stop-Keep can easily be done in Trello, for example, if everybody has their own Trello screen open and adds/edits issues while everybody is on the same video/audio conference discussing these issues. Voting can be done with a Power-up, but you can (ab)use the assigning functionality for this as well (shortkey: space). Focusing on the card that you are talking about can be done by labeling (shortkey: 1).
How to use Power-up in Trello
Now that everybody works from home, we miss the social interactions we usually have with our colleagues: the hi/bye in the office, the small talk at the coffee machine, the ping pong table, the lunches, and the bi-weekly drinks. Some ideas to keep your spirits up and motivation high:
When working from home, some tend to move around less than in the office, so feel free to do a lunch walk outside (if you’re not quarantined or at risk). If you miss the social interaction with your colleagues, create an open video channel for your colleagues to join. You can have a chat while walking or while having your lunch at the kitchen table. At INFO, we use Highfive for this. If the channel has too many attendees, try to split up.
Just make a date with your colleagues: “Let’s have a beer at 5:30!” Get some chips and beers, and open a video conversation. I know, the real deal is much better, but this is better than nothing.
Online Friday afternoon drinks
The online alternative to ping pong
You will be amazed at how many simple, online multiplayer games there are. Just start a video conversation with one or more colleagues, choose a game, and battle against each other.
As a Scrum Master or any other team facilitator, be alert to how processes change when everyone works remotely and try to accommodate these changes. don’t only focus on work-related processes, but pay attention to the social aspect of these changes as well.
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