How Agile Practices Enable Remote Working

We’ve already discussed the importance of decentralised command and decision-making in an earlier blog, outlining how managers need to be able to train, mentor and teach their teams. And last summer’s 14th State of Agile report clearly demonstrated that Agile adoption is more important than ever in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a trend that is set to continue throughout 2021.

The fact is that, with many managers still struggling to cope with the huge surge in remote working (top-of-mind being concerns about delivery, keeping teams engaged and ensuring their well-being) Agile working practices help to tackle all of these challenges.

The following five simple events derived from Scrum offer leaders and managers a way of regularly checking-in with their teams, always being present for them without falling into the pitfalls of micro-management. Nothing erodes trust and performance as fast as being treated as if you are not trusted.

“As organizations adapt to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, their agile teams can be a real source of competitive advantage,” noted one McKinsey report last year. “Such teams are typically well suited to periods of disruption, given their ability to adapt to fast-changing business priorities, disruptive technology, and digitization.”

We know Agile is not just for software teams. Our experience has shown that time and again, Agile working practices benefit all sorts of teams. Leaders/managers need a lightweight framework for optimising the collaboration of their people – a framework which answers the questions around when teams should collaborate and on what.

These five events from Scrum strongly support a decentralised command approach.

#1 – Planning

In the Sprint Planning event, for example, leaders can use a decentralised, servant leadership approach to communicate their intent to their teams. Working on a fortnightly cadence, teams can go through a planning conversation whereby they focus on the most important things to have completed in the forthcoming two-week sprint.

That planning conversation enables the team to come together, work collaboratively on a problem and generate the actions that they are going to execute in order to achieve the business objectives over the upcoming two weeks. Planning together enables leaders to collaborate with their teams to outline the most important objectives for the firm, detailing what good looks like (leader’s intent) but allowing the team to figure out the ‘how’.

#2 – Daily Scrum

Following Planning, during the execution phase, the team themselves can then check-in every morning for a maximum of 15 minutes. In our experience, this Daily Scrum is an invaluable everyday risk management event for a team to see make progress transparent and, most importantly, to offer mutual support if any of the team are struggling in any way.

That Daily Scrum creates an environment where the team is organised to help each other. And, as many of us now know, remote working can make us feel lonely or disconnected from our teams. That daily check-in can be a lifeline, because if anyone is getting stuck or having challenges or problems, it creates an elegant opportunity for your team to step in and help each other.

When introducing new ways of working, leaders can be present for these daily check-ins as mentors and coaches to guide the team as needed. Initially it’s massively helpful if they are there, until they can see that the team is collaborating and working well together, at which point they can back off. For leaders, it’s also a great opportunity to separately catch-up and help any individual team members that are signalling that they need support . The stand-up creates the conditions where the team is aware that is there support, if needed. The Daily Scrum facilitates teamwork and risk management, boosts morale and keeps the team moving forward.

#3 – The pre-planning or refinement conversation

In the middle of that two-week sprint period, you can also have a session where you bring the team together and you have a pre-planning sessions or a refinement conversation, whereby you look at what work is upcoming.

This is an opportunity for the leader to collaborate with the team and talk through the next goals on the roadmap, inviting the team’s thoughts and collaboration.

#4 – The Review

At the end of each two-week sprint the team demonstrates the work they have done, talking about what they have delivered and demonstrating their work in action (rather than a PowerPoint presentation!).

Deliverables are assessed against the goals which were determined during Planning meeting. In this way, the Review makes transparent what was delivered, sharing successes and answering any questions.

In addition, any work that remains outstanding is discussed, with the option to talk through any challenges that prevented delivery. Here leaders have additional opportunities to support their teams to success.

#5 – The Retrospective

At the end of the sprint, after the Review, you have the Retrospective. The Retrospective is an intentional opportunity for the team to reflect on its performance, evaluate successes and challenges in its ways of working and generate options for getting better.

Rather than leaving mindful learning as optional and unimportant, good leaders ensure that the team deliberately assesses itself and evolves, incrementally improving, relentlessly getting better over time. A leader’s role in all of this is to meaningfully offer support and help wherever needed, removing the causes of friction and enabling their people to do an even better job.

For leaders, these events facilitate the ability to support your teams. They organise you as a leader to make sure you can help your teams and that you are there at exactly the right time whenever needed. But at the same time, they are not onerous. Everyone can do 15 minutes a day, right?

The Scrum events offer a way to organise teams for maximum mutual support and collaboration. They also enable leaders to maintain transparency on the team’s progress and struggles thus offering the opportunity for the right help at the right time.

Tailor this framework to meet your needs

Of course, each leader and organisation can tailor the above framework for their own environment so that it works best for them. So, for example if a check-in every morning is too much, you can do it every other day – the Retrospective will inform your actions.

In many ways, the overall shift to remote working plays to the strengths of Agile practices. That’s because it organises communication and collaboration in a way that is real.

Each event helps call your team toward collaboration and purposeful action.

When we are in a face-to-face environment, many of these things can occur naturally, but when we are remote, we have to create and organise these conditions far more intentionally. That’s exactly why Agile ways of working are so valuable for remote teams. Otherwise we don’t get these touchpoints and check-in points. Team members and individuals can easily feel disconnected from the whole.

Many people hesitate to bother each other for support or for help. What Agile working practices do is set things up so that you don’t have to ask for help. You are just there, talking about where you are. It makes it very easy for the team to see whether you need support. Which means they can just help you, organically.

Most importantly, and the really lovely thing about Agile working practices – whether the team is distributed, working entirely remotely or working in a hybrid fashion – is that they are seamless. It doesn’t really matter where the events themselves take place; what matters is that they bring complete transparency to how your team is doing.

What approaches have you found to support your remote teams?

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