Out-of-office Agile – Agile basics in a remote-work world

https://www.capgemini.com/2020/10/out-of-office-agile-agile-basics-in-a-remote-work-world/

In these turbulent times, the dynamics of many organizations’ Agile development teams have been disrupted thanks to work-from home mandates. Keeping the Agile Manifesto and Scrum Pillars and Values in mind, we’ve identified four common issues with remote development teamwork that have emerged during this crisis. We’ll show you how you can take targeted measures to reduce the negative impacts of these issues – and even prevent them altogether.
When working from home over these past few months, many teams have become fragmented with poor visibility of work and overall progress.  We’ve also seen two distinct phenomena emerge with people either losing focus or going in into states of hyper focus. Many have been struggling with focus due to the absence of stimulation from colleagues or disturbances occurring around them in their homes. On the other hand, many have experienced hyper focus because of a lack of healthy disturbances. Both phenomena can have negative effects on your sustainable process flow.
Another negative effect of remote development could be that teams begin to skip the inspect and adapt cycles. Reviews may not happen because the tools don’t work, or people are afraid to use them. Or even worse, they could use this as an excuse not to attend at all. But even when the official “inspect” and “adapt” moments are planned, people could just be going through the motions. When we’re unable to look each other in the eyes, we get limited information and miss signs and cues that may trigger deeper questions – causing possible solutions to problems to remain buried.
Coming together while keeping your distance – aligning fragmented teams
This is obvious – and most teams have certainly taken some action to address the issue of being apart, for example, using live meeting tools. However, there are strategies you can employ with these tools that include:
Setting up a single team chat channel that every team member can access – it’s a good idea to use this channel as a place to spark discussions. Even if a certain question is directed to one specific person, this open channel will enable anyone to jump in and offer assistance if they can
As a discussion lengthens, it can then be siphoned down or move into a direct call – if you find yourself talking for an extended period of time, go into a separate call and slide into a meeting room to avoid disturbing any people around you
People that attend a session or ceremony should have their video on – this increases the feeling of being present and reduces distraction during the session. Microphones should be muted if participants are not speaking to reduce background noise that could distract others.
Plan and control from outside the team – invite everyone, see everything
The main reason managers go into a plan-and-control mode is due to poor visibility of their team and overall progress. Therefore, it’s best to consider the following counter measures:
Invite managers to the sprint review more frequently than before – during the review, they’ll be able to see the team at work and the progress that’s been made
Prepare reviews with more care – as the review becomes of more value to managers, it should be prepared with more care in order to make it a smooth journey. However, this doesn’t imply that more preparation time should be taken. Rather, the development team keeps the review in mind during the sprint while working on the backlog items. This could result in a slightly extended “definition of done”
Utilize and give access to online boards – in a face-to-face situation, a physical Kanban board is often somewhere in the room on a wall. If managers walk by, they can look at it and ask the product owner questions about the team’s progress or a specific backlog item. To keep visibility as high as possible, it’s a good idea to provide managers with read access to online boards.
Stop moving in and out of focus – concentrate and have fun
Preventing loss of focus or going into a state of hyper focus are difficult in a remote situation. You can’t see and feel any tension people may be facing just by being present online. To address these issues, we recommend that you:
Stay in frequent contact with the team members – as an Agile coach, have a regular chat (of course, with video on) about everything that is going on in team members’ minds. Be wary of focus issue signals, for example, house mates that need attention, pets or children making noise, or if team members look tired or display a loss of concentration. Don’t just listen – watch the environment as well
Make monitoring a team effort here – make everybody aware of this risk and stimulate social cohesion by inviting team members to look after each other
Add a “fun factor” into team meetings – for example, play a short game, have a team member give a quick virtual tour of their house, or ask questions about other things in life just like you would do in the office.
Skipping inspect and adapt – just don’t do it!
The worst thing you could do in Agile is skip inspect and adapt activities. This reduces the team’s capability to learn and improve tremendously. So, the only advice we can give here is – just don’t! To guarantee a smooth inspect and adapt session, we recommend that you:
Put the proper tools in place – these tools should facilitate collaboration. You could consider tools for sharing and updating sticky notes, whiteboards, or supporting specific purposes of scaled ceremonies
Be sure to test these beforehand – especially for meetings where stakeholders outside the team are attending, whose valuable input you really need
Employ a measure for “not being together” related to video and voice – always have it on but be muted when you have nothing to share.
In these uncertain times, there are clearly a lot of pitfalls while working remotely in an Agile environment. Luckily, the Agile Manifesto and its principles as well as the Scrum Pillars and Values can provide us with initial guidance in detecting these pitfalls, while frequently doing inspect and adapt yourselves is also crucial. To learn more about Capgemini’s approach to Agile & DevOps – with actionable strategies geared to towards thriving in times like these – visit us here.
And to find out how we can help you apply these strategies immediately to your business, contact us at christo.martens@capgemini.com and jan.klabbers@capgemini.com.

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