The whole premise of agile working is to thrive amidst change, adjust and adapt, and continuously improve in times of adversity. All the challenges that we have faced as a direct result of the Coronavirus pandemic are very fitting to the way that we work by agile principles. So, it’s no surprise that teams have taken this opportunity to re-think and adapt traditional agile ceremonies to better suit a distributed workforce, and some of the innovation that has come as a result is likely to stick around.
We brought together a panel of Agile Leaders to discuss how their teams have adapted during this time, and to discuss some of the challenges and solutions they have faced with their teams when hosting and attending agile ceremonies. Read on for a round-up of their advice!
A huge thank you to our panel for sharing their insight:
Colin Traub, Senior Delivery Manager at YOOX Net-A-Porter
Anna Keren, VP of Technology at ComplyAdvantage
Sophie Allen, Senior Program Manager at Peloton
Tom Philbin, Principal Engineer at YOOX Net-A-Porter
THE CHALLENGE: PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
Asking people to think more than two weeks ahead to the future is difficult. Things are continuously changing and nothing is certain; we can’t predict what’s going to happen 3 months down the line like we used to. Try using increments and a sprint mentality to overcome this. Ask the team ‘what can you achieve in the next two weeks and what kind of milestones are coming up’, rather than overwhelming people by trying to plan out the next strategic year.
THE CHALLENGE: COLLABORATION & ENGAGEMENT
Try out a squad model. Teams who are working on similar projects with similar features can be coupled up and work together in teams. By also hosting their own planning sessions you can avoid those large 50+ people meetings. This gives some more autonomy to how people are working across departments and allows everyone to use their time more wisely and focus on their individual tasks.
Encourage initiatives such as ‘10% time’ to provide teams with the freedom to work on projects outside of their day to day work and explore new creative ideas. As well as being vitally important for personal and professional development, these approaches will provide a great ROI in the long run in regard to employee engagement & satisfaction.
THE CHALLENGE: READING THE ROOM IN MEETINGS
Our ability to read body language and non-verbal cues has been removed through video calls. It’s particularly difficult for people to facilitate or lead a session and understand how people think or feel about something when they can't see them in person, or not everyone has their cameras on.
This experience has made us all more sensitive to words and we should be mindful of the way we’re communicating, given that we’re not able to see those body language cues. Reading into people’s voices is a new skill we all need to be refining right now.
1-1 meetings with no cameras on can be challenging. However we need to appreciate that people may have camera fatigue and being visible on screen isn’t always necessary.
There should be a mutual agreement around camera etiquette. For example, if you’re in a 1-1 meeting, everyone does their best to put their camera on if circumstances allow, but in larger meetings it could be optional. It’s important to look at things like the chat function as another medium of conversation rather than just being on video. If people aren’t on camera, encourage them to interact via the chat bar.
THE CHALLENGE: KEEPING TEAMS ENGAGED ON VIRTUAL CALLS
Making small changes to the way a ceremony is run can make a big deal. For example, changing stand-ups slightly; where you would usually stand in a circle and go around, on a call make the person who talks nominate the next person to go. This creates a nice energy on the call and enables everyone to bounce off each other better.
THE CHALLENGE: COLLABORATING TO CAPTURE AND MANAGE REQUIREMENTS
Having clear requirements that are documented has always been important but even more so now. Make sure there’s no room for interpretation by breaking down tickets to very granular detail and being very specific on acceptance criteria and behaviour requirements.
Make sure there’s one source of truth by sticking to one centralised Google Doc.
THE CHALLENGE: PREVENTING MEETING OVERLOAD
Don’t be afraid to defend your time and block out hours in your calendar to ensure you can keep your focus when working on a set task or project.
Where we don’t have a physical relationship or the ability to communicate in person, it’s easy to over communicate through Slack, video calls and sharing documents to try and bridge that gap. Try defaulting meetings to 15 minutes wherever possible to keep the content focused and avoid video fatigue. If you do need longer meetings, try to schedule them to finish 5 minutes earlier to allow a short break before back-to-back calls.
Making sure meetings run on time is really important for diary management. Stand-ups should start on time regardless of who’s there, to enforce the message that no one is more important than anyone else in the team and people shouldn’t have to wait around for one another.
THE CHALLENGE: COLLABORATING WITH STAKEHOLDERS
Try reducing the number of people in meetings by having 1 representative from each business area or workstream to present on behalf of their team. However, this does add another layer of direct communication with the stakeholders and can add some ambiguity or confusion. To avoid this, it’s really important to send out any slide decks, make things visual and engaging and don’t be afraid to use music and gifs to make presentations more memorable. Get feedback from the teams and executive sponsors around how the meeting is going to ensure it’s a collaborative effort.
THE CHALLENGE: FINDING THE RIGHT TOOL
It’s a very subjective market for tools and we’re inundated with choice. What works perfectly for some teams can be a nightmare for others. Our panel shared their recommendations for some of the tools that have worked well for them.
BEST FOR: FULL WORKSHOPS & LONGER SESSIONS
With the free version of Zoom, meetings are limited to 40 minutes which is great for ensuring they’re kept on focus and for creating plenty of breaks. Zoom Meetings also have a breakout rooms feature which enables the audience to be split up into random or predetermined focus groups. Having small focused teams with a targeted question to be addressed is much more effective than an ‘open season’ method.
Mentimeter is a real time polling and engagement tool that allows you to capture audience engagement without needing the audience to come off mute and speak. Perfect for instant feedback or votes on a topic with large groups.
BEST FOR: STAKEHOLDER MEETINGS
With people becoming more comfortable with videos, there is definitely scope for innovation in how we can present stakeholder and management updates whilst moving away from traditional meetings. Try sharing your next feature update on Instagram Live, or taking inspiration from Apple’s latest WWDC Video.
BEST FOR: PAIR PROGRAMMING
Live Share in Visual Studio is great for marking sessions. You don’t realise how good the readily available tech is until you're forced to use all the features more!
BEST FOR: RETROSPECTIVES
funretro.io is useful when asking teams to contribute before a meeting, rather than asking for feedback in real time. This also allows people to add all of their feedback across the tiers and up-voting and discussing points in the meeting.
BEST FOR: PLANNING SESSIONS
BEST FOR: VISIONING & IDEATION SESSIONS
Break the group up into smaller teams, mixing people who may not usually work together and follow the ‘How might we…’ method. Each team comes up with 3 questions on ‘How might we…’ and using a Trello board they put everything down on different cards. At the end of the session, each team feeds back to the group. Everything is captured and refined and is then fed back to the stakeholders.
So... what can't we do remotely?
Team building and culture creation is definitely more challenging whilst working in a distributed team. And whilst we are all away from the office, we're unable to celebrate the big milestones and successes all together in person, which is a big part of agile development.
However, what’s the alternative? We can stop and wait for things to go back to ‘normal’, but what if it never does? Or, we can continue to innovate and move forward. Form new teams, work on new projects and hire new people. We can’t just stagnate. This is the perfect opportunity to be innovative and come up with new solutions. It’s a very challenging time, and there’s no silver bullet to solve all of our problems, but we need to continue to adapt and overcome as an industry!
How have you and your teams adapted your agile ceremonies during this time? We would love to share your different initiatives and ideas!
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