Operating high performing Agile Teams in a WFH environment


People working from home



Immanuel Pachaiyappan, Project Manager, PMP, CSM, SAFe Agilist | LinkedIn


The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed every aspect of our lives, and today's new normal of the workplace presents a unique set of challenges. Organizations are changing their processes to work with teams that are no longer co-located or able to have in-person conversations. This abrupt shift requires Agile Team members who are dispersed and working remotely to adapt and adjust to this new reality. This sudden shift to a fully remote Agile team can reduce the harmony and increase ineptitude. It is a known fact that traditionally Agile teams thrive when they are co-located and work closely daily, and some of the advantages are constant contact with the team members, trust-building, problem-solving, and accelerated decision making.


How do you stay productive, sane, and prepare for future similar events which can potentially disrupt your business? One of the Agile manifesto's core values is "responding to change over following a plan," and the response to change is the sudden shift of working remotely and still being able to deliver quality software in time. With the proper technologies in place, remote Agile teams can deliver as much if co-located. The assumption here is that an organization takes care of the technology, and the Agile leaders/practitioners can take specific actions described below to sustain the team, culture, and readjust their processes. Let's Go back to Agile 101 and revisit the following key strategies:


Supporting the people and culture of a remote Agile team

Working from home is a significant shift in terms of the workplace atmosphere for agile teams that used to be co-located. It is easy for the co-located agile teams to build that sense of team spirit and trust due to in-person meetings, chats, sharing of ideas, innovations, and much more. Remote teams have to work around this unique challenge, ensure that the focus is not lost, and enable the team to concentrate on outcomes rather than processes. These can be addressed by revisiting team rules, cultivating confidence, and adjusting a team’s approach to training.


Updating the norms and ground rules for collaboration

Today, Agile team members suddenly face a set of tools such as virtual whiteboards, instant chats, and video-conferencing, as opposed to in-person meetings. The team members who already have experience with such tools can help navigate the challenges and provide support with the tools. Establishing a new set of ground rules on conducting the sprint ceremonies boosts the team’s collaboration and interactions. Individual team members need to assume a more proactive stance when capturing ideas during brainstorming sessions. They should be willing to accept some new working habits when working remotely due to these remote workspace arrangements and interruptions.


Encourage team closeness and boost self-esteem

The Agile team members should make a conscious effort to be social, well-mannered, specific, and thoughtful so that individual team members feel confident in sharing their ideas. The Scrum Master can designate a team member to share interesting ideas that promote team bonding.


Team leaders should adjust their approaches to focus on building interpersonal communication skills by increasing understanding, candidness, and self-esteem. Also, the ability to provide and receive peer feedback goes a long way in keeping team members motivated. These approaches are designed to establish a new baseline for communications, ultimately helping reduce any misinterpretations associated with electronic communications.


Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools

During a pandemic, the first core value from the Agile Manifesto could not be timelier. Gone are the days when a scrum team member can casually peek over a cubicle to ask a quick question. Focusing on individuals and interactions over processes and tools is key while team members work remotely, but those interactions are infrequent and, well, clunky. Today, more than ever, make sure that your Scrum Team has processes and tools in place which foster collaboration and communication.


To increase your productivity during these times, ASSYST recommends five easy tips: .


Tip 1 - Project Management Software:

Try leveraging visual project management tools, like Get To Done, Atlassian JIRA, or Microsoft To-Do. Having the right people in the right conversations working on the right tasks at the right time is your goal here. Most tools available today are designed for remote workers too.


Tip 2 - Instant messaging tools:

Tools like Slack, Google Hangouts, and Cisco Jabber, are recommended by Agile practitioners because they are designed to create a virtual version of those “peek over the cubicle” workplace conversations. These allow team members to locate backlog items that need focus and help keep attention in real-time. The tools have varying features including customization, allowing for rapid access to FAQs, key documents, and other team artifacts.


Tip 3 Video Conferencing:

Cloud-based tools such as Zoom have become ubiquitous, and when used in conjunction with PM tools, the combination provides an enhanced collaborative experience. Why not create breakout rooms to support smaller groups and increase your overall fluidity and efficiency while boosting your team spirit. Any other video conferencing software like Teams, Meet, WebEx, or Skype can be used.


Tip 4 Document Collaboration:

Every document created, stored, and shared in document repositories like G Suite or SharePoint is either a final deliverable or an intermediate working product. Backlog items in the visual project management software become a central hub that helps us manage the documents produced by our efforts. G Suite’s commenting function also makes editing and brainstorming simple and easy to track. A written record becomes even more essential when working remotely, to keep everyone aware of the most recent updates.


Tip 5 Scrum Ceremonies:

Scrum Ceremonies are not technology-based, but it’s as critical, if not more so than the ones above it. Scrum Teams thrive on familiarity. When the Team starts working remotely, they long for that familiarity as it helps the Team to stay grounded and enables them to react in calm. Now it reveals the importance of having Scrum Ceremonies in place.


Daily standups should not be eliminated because it is challenging to get everyone in-person. Thus by adopting the tips and tools, suggested challenges are averted. The same goes for your Sprint Planning, Sprint Reviews, and Retrospectives. The Team (and the workflow) needs that time together. With Scrum, inspection and adaptation happen all the time, and the framework helps to identify opportunities for continuous improvement. Remember that adhering to the Scrum framework can keep your Team united and focused.


Following a sound plan is the first step, but effectively responding to a change makes all the difference to Scrum teams, the fourth core value of Agile.


The Scrum teams can get back to the office once the pandemic ends and restrictions for lockdown are eased. However, in the meantime the Scrum Team has got to respond to this change. The above narrative should provide some insight into how organizations can put technology in place, entrust the team and keep on Scrumming.


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