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4 Ways to Best Use Agile Methodology During Remote Work

by Andrea Lankford, VP of Program Management

Remote work isn’t quite the dream situation we all thought it might be a year ago. As we’ve all learned, workdays are rife with distractions and ruled by detachment, which detracts from collaboration and deems productivity a daily challenge.

There’s an answer that can help, one that will allow leaders to strengthen how they are running meetings and inspiring collaboration, even during this endless coronavirus crisis: agility. Successfully returning to agile methodologies isn’t necessarily a pandemic panacea, but such an approach can positively impact tasks like project planning and ad-hoc collaboration.

As we’ve all experienced, teams can struggle mightily with collaboration during these remote times; the inability to walk by someone’s desk for a quick question or a working session is creatively crippling. Today, someone may struggle with a problem longer than necessary because they’re afraid to “bother” someone via an instant message or setting something so official as a meeting. Those Slack status updates don’t give us the full breadth of a situation.

Teams can compensate by setting meetings for creative collaboration, but then it forces a time frame and a duration for working through a challenge. What if the brainstorm isn’t complete and the answers aren’t determined when the hour is up and everyone needs to break to go to another meeting?

Becoming More Agile

The aforementioned remote-work challenges directly impact things like daily standups and sprint planning sessions, which in turn affects project completion as well as establishing effective deadlines and processes for more collaborative efforts.

Typically, “blocker” issues are brought up during a standup and the team will agree that a few key players take the issue offline to address them. With the challenges noted above, it can take longer to address issues due to the need to find time and set a meeting, among other logistics.

Timelines may need to be more prescriptive rather than working fluidly within a sprint. The scrum master may need to stay more on top of open issues and help facilitate conversation, communication, or closing out issues.

Thankfully, there are strategies to help leaders who want to better utilize the agile methodology and its components in a more effective way during remote work. These include:

  1. Be nostalgic. Stick to your scrum ceremonies and pre-remote ways of working as much as possible. Ceremonies will provide the backbone for successful sprints and agile initiatives. Group chats and the facilitation of online conversations will be imperative.
  2. Be flexible. Adjust management strategies if needed. For those team members who are not known to speak up when having problems, leaders will need to adjust their ways of managing the individual via quick check-ins, perhaps pairing team members to solve problems and collaborate together.
  3. Be aware. Recognize this is a different approach for everyone and utilize agile methods to keep team members aligned. Remembering that this way of working is foreign to many involved is helpful, as is using sprint retrospectives to specifically speak to challenges and possible solutions to a remote working environment. One of the tenets of agile development is that scrum teams are self-managing; give the team space to work through how they can work best in a remote environment.
  4. Be empathetic.While we’re all remote and focused on getting the work done, the things that tend to slip away are the relationships we have spent months and years building with team members. There’s no question that remote team management can directly impact team productivity, morale, and overall team well-being. It’s easy to lose the sense of a team when we’re remote and not physically connected with people like we were a year ago. Encouraging video conferences (via Zoom, Teams, etc.) and maintaining the human connection is more important than ever. Don’t make everything about work; ask people how they’re doing personally, what they did over the weekend, or how their dog is.

Maintaining typical agile scrum ceremonies is the tip of the iceberg. When we’re all miles and even time zones apart, agile activities like team chats and dedicated calendar time for workshopping with teammates can help. Just be patient and remember that adaptation is key. Continuous improvement is a journey, not a destination!