Current developments around COVID-19 urge many teams in organizations to suddenly work remotely. This brings a lot of challenges for working together in teams, compared to face-to-face interactions in a typical office space, but might also create new opportunities. Current technology like collaboration tooling and (video) conferencing facilities can be of great help, but will only work in full when teams are set up in the right way. Over the past years, teams have gained experience using Agile and Scrum practices. Especially in the area of software development, teams have already learned to deal with teams that are distributed on several locations. Their learnings and best practices can be of help to other teams as well. In this short article we outline how these Agile and Scrum best practices help to get your teams going.
Agile is the ability to create and respond to change. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment. Scrum is the most commonly used Agile framework for managing complex projects. The framework (see figure) is already in use for more than twenty years in software development and currently also heavily used outside of IT environments. Scrum is built around three pillars: transparency, inspection and adaption that are supported by five values: commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect.
From our own experiences we have summarized six practical tips to keep your teams going.
Staying in contact and feeling connected to the team is very import to keep the team flow going. Having daily stand-ups or check-ins is a good first start. In many organizations, these events have already proven to be a useful way of updating each other frequently. Especially when team members are working from different locations, these regular team check-ups are of a vital importance. By doing this every day at the same time, you create a ritual. Ask all your team members to prioritize the meeting and plan all other work around it.
In these unsure times, working in short intervals is most likely the best way to start to deal with the uncertainty. The so called Sprints (fixed time boxes of about one to two weeks) are a good way to create focus, while also creating the opportunity to respond and deal with changing situations.
Also create some other rituals, like a meeting to plan the work (Planning), evaluate work (Review) and evaluate the process (Retrospective). In Scrum these meetings are planned around a so called Sprint, depending on the length, they are either every week or every two weeks.
We have learned from Agile practices and software development teams working with teams abroad that it is important to keep meetings to a minimum to keep the focus on the work itself.
Dare to change when things are not working as expected. A good practice in Scrum is reflection on your own process as a team, mainly done in the so called Retrospective. So in the case of remote working and planned meetings, regularly discuss how the meeting(s) is (are) working, or if something needs to be adapted to be more useful. Use these small steps to create the most optimal situation as you adapt with your team to the new normal.
Buy-in and commitment are of the greatest importance when working together as a team. Working remotely makes this harder, so create a planning ritual where the tasks are discussed, prioritized and committed to by team members. Reach out to the team with requests and ask for volunteers, rather than pre-assigning tasks to team members.
After agreeing on the process of working together remotely, it is important to keep each other accountable for the tasks people are committed to and to be transparent about it. Let the current technology help you. Use tools like Jira, Azure DevOps or Monday.com* to keep the work visible. Keep track of the ownership of specific action items and discuss whether they are on track or any help is needed during the daily check-in. Remember, the number one way to build trust is to do what you said you would do.
Trying to do team building remotely can be quite a struggle. It is important to still share some personal stories. This personal disclosure is important to maintain the team spirit. First of all, use video so everyone can see each other. Start the meeting with a simple check-in. Everyone should take 2 minutes to say how they're doing or to share a personal story.
Use your group messaging applications even more. Perhaps your team has already been using technologies like Skype or Microsoft teams to share instant messages with each other. Keep using them for useful notes, but also for some upbeat jokes or goings-on.
Show your team that you trust that they are doing the best they can under these special circumstances. Allow them to self-organize as they see fit. Make sure the team has the space and created context for retrospective types of conversation, but let them draw the final conclusions. These are indeed special times and with certainty everybody's morale is affected. However, when it concerns the teams keep the pace steady without extensive reshuffling.
Currently, teams are confronted with many challenges to tackle in a very short period of time. To mature the process of working remotely we have seen many teams going to a steep learning curve before these distributed ways of working mature. Although teams may feel blocked, consider it an opportunity to mature your team's best practices of working together (remotely). As it becomes more difficult, team members are 'forced' to think creatively and to show adaptability. Leaders play a vital role in facilitating this and are urged to show their skills. These learning can also be of use when working face-to-face again.
*KPMG uses these tools internally within teams.
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