How to stay agile despite working from home: remote teamwork
Executive Education / 16 April 2020
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Project Management Product Manager
Barbara Rave (M.A.) is a product manager in Frankfurt School’s Professional & Executive Education department. She designs continuing education programmes covering Strategy & Change Management and Technology & Operations.

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Typically, agile project teams depend on lively exchanges of ideas and information – a working method which has been made much more difficult by the coronavirus outbreak. Team members are now obliged to work apart, a situation that represents a major challenge for those used to agile working methods such as Scrum or Kanban. But by tweaking a few factors, there is no reason why teams should not adjust to the current situation, continue to enjoy all the advantages of agile working, and bring projects to a successful conclusion.

The daily Scrum

The need to work from home is a genuine obstacle to the high-intensity communication between team members that is a vital feature of Scrum-based work. Stand-up meetings are where stories and backlogs are discussed, and where project status is established. But the social distancing imposed as a consequence of COVID-19 has effectively blocked all such direct, personal exchanges. Most agile team members are now working from home – and some of them are finding it difficult to maintain their workday rhythm and establish consistent workplace routines. To solve this problem, you (or your scrum master) should organise daily “virtual” meetings to maintain the flow of information. These daily stand-ups could take place several times a day. So if you wanted to keep to a standard nine-to-five routine, you could start with a 9:00 a.m. morning call, kicking off the day with a team update to make sure everyone is on the same page before the working day starts in earnest. Then you could reunite your agile project team in another virtual meeting at around 3:00 p.m. to discuss the day’s achievements. When holding these meetings, use your collaboration platform’s video functionality to ensure that all team members can see each other; audio is essential, but facial expressions, gestures and body language all help to enhance understanding and ensure that messages are correctly interpreted.

By holding mid-afternoon meetings, you give your team members enough time to quickly implement something discussed in the meeting by the end of the day. In turn, this allows you to keep the sprint running at high speed while ensuring that everyone knows exactly which tasks are still outstanding and who is working on what. This approach facilitates joint problem-solving and dissolves the inhibitions that can result from extended isolation.

Encouraging customer buy-in

Of course some of your customers are (understandably) concerned and may be expressing anxiety about the viability of agile project methods simply because information is no longer being shared in the usual ways. This is a good reason for directly involving your customers in weekly reviews, to restore their faith in the process and reinforce their sense of personal involvement with the project team, as in “we’re all in this together”. Now is the right time to blur normally rigid boundaries and provide even greater transparency!

Another possible solution is to shorten your sprints to just one week. Compact bundles of tasks are easier to manage, and also make it easier to update your customers on a regular basis without jeopardising deadlines.

If you follow these tips, you should be able to avoid any unpleasant surprises in terms of unexpected drops in performance. And if you need help to implement your agile methods among your home workers, we would be delighted to provide the necessary support!