Teams that were dispersed before the pandemic used creativity and digital solutions to bring Agile methodologies to life without face-to-face meetings. So how does Agile change for everyone else in remote work?
In sum, harnessing the right tools, setting expectations for accountability, and mastering communication are key components of transforming Agile for remote teams. According to a study by Capterra, 71% of companies use Agile approaches in some form or another. In 2021, we know it is a unique and effective way to manage workflows used by many in the tech industry, including the BWBacon team.
For those new to Agile, the idea behind its approach is to implement a project and divvy tasks at defined time intervals, or sprints, with a self-organized, interdisciplinary team. The overall goal is to prioritize tasks with the highest business value first. This enables teams to adapt and act quickly towards shifting requirements in every project phase.
This post will examine challenges and solutions for maintaining and building on Agile regardless of co-location. Agile, as a method of managing large deliverables and projects, wasn’t codified and popularized on a big scale until 2001, when a group of software developers wrote the Agile Manifesto. Since then, software teams have latched onto Agile techniques including waterfall methods, practicing standups, and delivering retros.
Settling into the new normal, there is a tendency to get comfortable and let good communication slip in a digital environment. We all have a little predisposition as humans to retreat into our isolation. We stop intentionally seeking that collaboration that is such an integral part of F2F office spaces.
When brainstorming sessions are part of a scheduled, formal process, there is a different feel in coming prepared with your thoughts and ideas versus the spontaneous, organic sessions of the pre-virtual work world. Ongoing communication across remote teams is not the only struggle in trying to follow the guiding principles of Agile. Other hurdles include:
The high engagement and dedication that characterize outstanding Agile teams will decrease over time if rituals cannot be reformed for WFH. Fortunately, there are schools of thought on this transformation from before 2020, plus stockpiles of data from last year that can guide us now. Another tenant of Agile, welcoming changing requirements and embracing a flexible mindset will allow innovative teams to carry on.
Diving into solutions for these common challenges, it is important to take stalk of your team’s motivation levels and how to help them avoid burnout. Especially for Agile teams used to rapid-fire discussions and in-the-moment interpersonal dynamics, working alone can be hard, or lonely. Start by being honest about what’s working and what’s not. Leaders must prompt these conversations and continue to create safe spaces for employees to express their needs.
Standups, and meetings in general, keep teams adaptable, light, and pivoting towards changing goals. Let’s focus momentarily on improving meetings. A few tweaks can banish the dreaded Zoom fatigue all together before it makes eyes and ears glaze over. Yet another principle of Agile is eliminating waste, and ongoing jokes about “this could have been an email” certainly have validity to them! When scheduling a virtual conversation, ask what is the goal of this meeting? What are we trying to accomplish?
If a meeting where you can bounce ideas off one another and see each other’s expressions is crucial, then absolutely have that meeting. Sending out expectations and goals ahead of time can be a boon for maximizing productivity and takeaways. Consider generating a story map, or ideal outcomes for the task, and how you and other collaborators might reach that goal. Ensure your entire team has easy access to the digital collaboration tools to keep ideas, notes, updates, and communication flowing.
Another meeting-related concept we could appreciate is leaving some breathing room, or space at the start of calls for catching up on a personal level. While it may take a moment longer, it cuts down on video call fatigue by giving us those small-talk, socializing endorphins that also remind us why we are working with these people, towards a collective goal. A recent survey of software developers found that 43% believed their team’s velocity had increased since the onset of COVID-19, meaning meetings are even more business and results driven then before.
But what do we stand to lose for being so hyper-focused? It’s something many companies are struggling with as of late. Nonetheless, this is still the moment to brainstorm what else we can do about loss of connection and cultural deterioration. So, dig in, and make the most out of video-calling and online chatting.
Our connection and relationships with one another are still based on building trust, and engaging outside our shared work. Add a daily joke to your standup or weekly challenge, even simple add-ons do a lot for creating a unified team experience. Consider reducing group sizes and rethink how you facilitate focus groups to leverage online collaboration where everyone feels heard and seen.
If an earnest effort is made, organizations can encourage bonding among team members in remote work, and develop the very “spontaneous ideas and innovation that makes agile so powerful to begin with.” Build discipline, self-motivation, and open communication incrementally. We encourage leaders to experiment with new ways of incorporating human elements into each and every day. Working remotely requires more purposeful and structured communication, so set check-ins with your people. Are they being supported and trusted to get the job done? Do you set aside intentional times for examining process and eliminating waste?
To keep things fresh, try adjusting long-term goals to short-term goals. Build in check-points and reinforce your organization’s “definitions of done” for assessing performance and progress over time. Taking the time to learn the virtual tools at your disposal will level-up your idea building and efficiency. As remote work expert Lisette Sutherland puts it, “learn how to use breakout rooms; learn how to use whiteboards; learn how to draw and design together online…the only way you can really fine-tune is if you're evaluating regularly.”
Given time, both teams practiced in Agile and those learning it, can recreate its virtues for remote work. It’s simply a framework and technique for organizing your approach to the work at hand. For additional resources, this webinar covers a lot on reinventing Agile for remote teams. A template that can be adapted across industries, it’s no wonder Agile has continued to be a backbone for teams working remotely, revitalizing its applications along the way.
Here at BWBacon Group, we know and live what you are experiencing as an employer or job seeker in Denver, Boulder, Dallas, San Francisco, New York City or any of the other cities we work in. We believe great recruiting starts and ends with understanding people.