We are faced with the reality that we can’t make use of our project “war” rooms and are forced to work from home. Well.. challenge accepted! Scrum actually provides a perfect framework for remote teams. If you’re not already working with such a framework, maybe you should.
Set goals and ask for commitment
Stop asking for estimations of time to complete a task and start explaining what goal you are trying to attain. When are you satisfied with the result? Describe what you want to accomplish or (preferably) what you want for your customer. This could also be another department within your company. Discuss thoroughly the context of the result and the criteria when your customer is satisfied. This gives your team member an insight of why something needs to be done and who it’s for. They are able, an capable, to determine the best course of action to accomplish this. Let them be the experts and you the leader.
With a framework, such as scrum, you can define a goal for a set period of time. This period is called a sprint. A goal could be delivering something to you customer, but could also be testing an assumption or addressing some risks. A sprint usually consists of several thing that need to be done, that are part of the sprint goal. Explain these different parts and how they contribute to the goal. We call them backlog items. Tell your team when you would be satisfied if it’s delivered at the end of the sprint. If you can't use sprints, and sprint goals, at least use clear backlog items.
Explain the goal, the context and who it's for, your team is capable enough to determine how this needs to be accomplished.
When you explained what you want to accomplish, ask your team what would be feasible. Team members that are forced to work at home during this crisis also have some social obligations to attend to and limited in their time. They are the best judge of what is feasible. Research also shows that when you can determine to what extend you can give commitment, you are more likely to be committed and have more fun.
In this way you are the person who determines what is most valuable. We call them the product owner within the scrum framework. You are not bogged down by discussing how your experts are going to do their job and can focus on prioritizing the goals you want to pursue.
Keep in touch and review the result
Working remotely can create isolation and that will result in a downturn in communication and lessened quality of results. To maintain the team spirit you need to make sure that everybody feels like a team.
Start everyday with a quick get together. Not more then 15 minutes. It’s called a Daily Scrum. First of all it gives everybody the feeling they belong to a team, but you can also keep track of anything that impedes your team from reaching their goal. You discuss the progression towards the sprint goal; what they have been working on, what they are going to work on today and where they could use some help. This could result in some of your team member having some additional discussions afterwards to keep alignment.
Keep the team spirit by coming together daily and check in on the progress and impediments of your team.
After every part that you have described within the sprint, make sure you and the team members that worked on that part, get together to discuss the result. You can evaluate the result and see if the goal is reached within the criteria that you set. If not, discuss openly your concerns and let your team advice you for possible solutions. Naturally you'll have new ideas, so describe them as a part of your next sprint.
At the end of the sprint, set up a meeting with your team and the customers that requested result. Your team has the chance to show what they have been working on and your customer can give them feedback. You'll see that there will be appreciation from the customer and empowerment of the team. The shared understanding will grow during the discussion and miscommunication will be quickly identified. All this information will lead to better alignment for upcoming sprints and new tasks that will be taken on.
Fake face to face communication
“The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”, is one of the principles of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Well, that might not be possible in the coming weeks, but luckily there is a second best. Video conferencing! Use Microsoft Teams, Zoom, WhereBy, GoTo Meeting or some other tool. We're fan of Microsoft Teams, but there are lots of others out there (we like to hear your opinion).
We like to have our meetings so we can see everybody and their screens. It ensures we pickup non-verbal communication. Working remote this makes it a little bit tricky, but you'll have more information if you can at least see the other person through a video stream. So make sure everybody's camera is on.
Non-verbal communication is important when conveying information, so share your camera feed.
If you have a meeting with a bigger group ensure that everybody respects the others in the group. Don't start talking while others are talking. Use the chat function in your conference call to raise your virtual hand, so that everybody knows you want to add to the story or ask a question. This way your meetings keep running smooth.
Inspire others to collaborate!
Are you managing a remote team and you have any tips and tricks, please feel free to send me a message or add them in the comments. Collaboration is key to working at home efficiently.
Keep collaborating and stay healthy!