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– 05 Aug, 2020
Top Tips To Ensure Successful Distributed Agile Teams
“You can't build an adaptable organization without adaptable people--and individuals change only when they have to, or when they want to. --Gary Hamel”
The world in which we are working is changing and not just by COVID-19. The growth of multi-national corporations and the sharp increase in organisations offering greater flexibility in their ways of working are together shaping the ‘new normal’.
We’ve seen some fantastic unexpected benefits to remote Agile working in the past few months – all detailed in this blog by Rachelle Furnell…. but with fewer teams and businesses having regular face-to-face interaction, we want to share some of our top tips on how you can ensure success with distributed Agile teams.
1 – A Bad Workman Will Always Blame His Tools
It is easier to blame the tools used, rather than look at how they were used. Using the right tool for the right job is key to successful distributed Agile teams. There are a lot of tools out there to help replicate the office working environment we are so familiar with. Communication tools, development management tools, Agile Planning tools and Facilitation tools to name but a few.
A lot of emphasis tends to go into selecting the Agile planning tools; the right tool that your team is comfortable using, that the Scrum Master and Product Owner can navigate easily will enable a smoother journey for all. However, what often gets overlooked are communication tools. Communication tools help create an interesting and engaging meeting space for teams. whereas the planning tools foster a transparent, open, honest working environment, which is one of the 3 pillars of Agile. Using communication tools concurrently with the planning tools will enable Agile ceremonies to run more smoothly, ensure greater participation and collaboration.
2 – Less Is More
Agile ceremonies tend to have time frames associated to them to help your meetings be focused and productive for all participants. Some meeting basic etiquette will help with this:
- Ensuring there is an Agenda included in the meeting invite.
- Identifying Roles & Responsibilities.
- Managing expectations of the participants.
- Preparation is fundamental to a successful meeting.
- Have hard stops.
We’ve all been to meetings we don’t actually need to be in, or 'could have been an e-mail' or gone to a meeting that didn’t actually cover what we were expecting. So much time is lost from these, but we have found using these basics, Remote Agile teams are delivering quicker, we’ve also found from the COVID-19 experience data, that people are working longer hours and sometimes meetings can run over time, which is counter-intuitive. Sticking to times and trying to reduce meeting by even a few minutes will help keep the focus and energy for the team.
3 -Reality Check
It is important to embrace reality when working in Distributed Agile teams. Interruptions whilst working at remotely are natural. Our ways of working have changed and so too must our expectations. Kids will make a guest appearance, there will be unexpected background noise, our furry friends might need feeding or putting out into the garden, and guess what? That’s okay! We're all in the same boat at the moment, embracing reality means that things won’t be plain sailing 100% of the time. Acknowledging and accepting this as a team, will reduce stress levels, by worrying less about other people’s perceptions of an ‘imperfect’ working life.
4 – WOW (Ways Of Working)
Establishing new ways of working that suit the collective will enable your team to thrive, a huge part of this is setting ‘golden hours’ where everyone will be available for meetings/ceremonies/discussions. Knowing that Richard in the UK has 2 kids who will be doing PE with Joe Wicks at 9am means 9am meetings are off the cards. And knowing that Karen in Asia will be helping put her kids to bed at 8pm means that these re not the times when everyone can attend the daily stand-up. Understand the blockers and restrictions your team faces, and trust them to work at their pace, at their time to do what they need to do.
Using video cameras in meetings has been a great success, it allows us to see peoples reactions and read body language almost as if we’re in the office and as they say ‘actions speak louder than words’, so you can still know if you’ve lost the audience or if your message isn’t resonating.
5 – Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.
When cabin crew do their safety demonstration, they say to put the mask on yourself before helping others. This mantra should be applied to Distributed Agile teams. Make sure you are okay first, especially in these strange times. It is important not just for your physical wellbeing, but also your mental wellbeing and that of your teams. Communicating with each other often and checking in will really add value.
6 – Common Language
Knowing there will be cultural differences, it is crucial to establish a common language amongst the team. Using TLAs (three letter acronyms) might not resonate with all members of the team, especially if working in a global environment or for new members joining the team. Be cognizant of this, get everyone on the same wave length, it will boost engagement and ensure teams are more willing to share and socialise ideas.
7- Agile Facilitation
Facilitate comes from the Latin ‘facilitas’ which roughly translates to ‘easiness’. And that’s what a facilitator should do, make group discussion easier, thus making meetings more likely to achieve the outcome you were hoping for. They move conversations along when needed, and help direct it by asking questions and engaging participants.
There are a number of really effective and simple to use online tools that can be used by the facilitator, for example, a virtual parking lot for when discussions take up too much time or the conversation has strayed off topic. When working remotely, facilitation and virtual facilitation tools can be used to replicate the office environment. Instead of using a physical whiteboard or flipchart in the office, we can now use online collaboration tools that everyone can see, access and use. This really addresses the misconception that it’s impossible to hold creative meetings virtually.
A good facilitator ensures everyone is heard, ideas are listened to, blockers are addressed, and the team are aligned to a single goal they want to achieve.
Whilst the Agile manifesto values face to face interaction over any other form, it also says we must be adaptable and responsive to change. The manifesto itself was written almost 20 years ago… and a lot has changed since then and a lot is changing at a rate never seen before. We, at Chaucer like to question things, and the COVID-19 pandemic has raised questions around whether face to face interaction really is the best form. Whilst it certainly holds merit, we have found that in an ever more digital focused world, distributed teams can be just as effective, if not more effective, on digital platforms.
We hope that the above tips resonate with you and can be implemented in your teams so you too can see positive changes.
Todd is a Managing Consultant with significant expertise in Agile. Todd specialises in delivering technical and non-technical pieces of work, coaching and training senior leadership, and leading large-scale Agile transformations. Todd is passionate about Agile the methodology, the frameworks within and has a keen interest in the Agile mindset. Todd uses a people focused approach, ensuring greater collaboration and team engagement is achieved, resulting in greater efficiencies