It’s pretty common place these days that teams are remote, which in my opinion is great. It definitely started out as something pretty difficult to handle, especially where collaboration was concerned, but some really helpful tools are out there to help the collaboration.
Now, the remote team movement isn’t a new thing, and I think it’s working very well when it comes to the general team collaboration throughout the sprints. Call me old fashioned, but there was one thing that I always wanted the team to physically get together for, the demo, retrospective and planning session. I think it’s nice for face time with the partners and sometimes it’s nice to really just get down and dirty with the issues at hand.
However, this sprint, I had a challenge…
The team were tracking behind on sprint commitments due to some unforeseen infrastructure issues, which meant that unless we cracked on for the day, we wouldn’t get close to our commitment. So I made an executive decision. The team would be remote for this session, and here’s why:
- The team are spread across the south coast of the country, myself included, with the Partner in London, which meant combined, the team would be travelling a total of 12 hours there and back, that’s 12 hours of work that we could do instead. which is HUUUGEE.
- I wanted to make these sessions more efficient, because when I look at capacity planning I always have to discount a day each for these sessions, which ironically seems so… “un-Agile”
I joined the Partner in London because I think that it’s important that as Project Manager/Scrum Master from the agency side, I continue working as close as possible with the Partner/Product Owner their side. Plus my sprint activities are more focussed around ensuring the team are set up for success.
So with that in mind, I had an evening after I made my decision to work out how it could be a successful use of time. Here’s the tooling we used, and honest overview of what I found worked and didn’t work.
Firstly I worked out what activities I need to do in the session.
Nice and simple this one, as a business like many others, we’ve adopted Zoom as our technology, which works well. So we used this as our microphone. As with every conference call, there’s occasionally a bit of talking over each other, the awkward pause when you both realise so you both stop, then you both go again, you know, we’ve all been there.
Once again, we used Zoom for this, as it has a built in screen share function where we can easily pass over control to different members of the team for them to demo.
all going well so far…
One thing we did struggle with at this point, was that the room we were in didn’t have a global microphone to pick up everyone’s voice. Because I was in the room with 3 of the stakeholders from the Partner, we were using 1 microphone from the laptop so we didn’t get loads of audio feedback, which meant the remote team couldn’t hear very well when our partners had comments. it just involved moving the laptop around the desk a fair bit. Nothing major, but it was a bit annoying. We wouldn’t normally have come across this issue, as we have room cameras and conferencing mics in other rooms which would combat this issue. But not everyone has that.
Firstly, I understand the benefits of the retro, but I find them pretty boring, so something i’ve learned over time is to make them a bit more fun to keep people engaged. I normally just go to Google and search for something relevant at the time for a retro. As it happens, I sat in a retro the day before on another project, which was run by one of our Senior Front End Developers, Adam Burt, not only was this a breath of fresh air, but it was brilliant fun. It was an Oscars themed retro. So, I did what all good people do when they see something cool. I stole it. (Full disclosure, I gave Adam all the credit when I got the praise for it)
Traditionally, retros are done on post-it-notes, so we needed a way to get this digital. Mural seemed the best tool for this. We could all collaborate on a board at the same time, and the jovial names they give guests are quite fun and keeps things light hearted. Nathan, our UX designer, helped set the board up for this.
Then there’s a sticker-style voting functionality if there are items that you want to vote on. This again worked really well.
This was going to be the hardest item to solve, and I think that it worked really well.
Some call it the most boring part of the session, and again, this is something that isn’t the most exciting, but it is the one of the most important parts.
For this particular project we used Jira, so I drove the screen share going through the backlog. But the thing that we didn’t have due to last minute planning of this was a way to size the stories/tasks. It was ok, we used a finger voting system. Since then, i’ve come across a really good collaborative remote friendly estimating tool. called PlanITpoker
It seems free to use, and it gives you a share link to invite the team to the session. Once you’ve finished discussing the story, then you start the timer, and the team start voting. once they’ve finished, you get the breakdown of the results, plus the average.
Here’s a screenshot of my test session with a couple of colleagues.
I think this is a pretty cool tool, it even lets you revote after discussion. I’ll definitely be bringing it in to the planning sessions even for the ones when the team are in the room.
I think it worked really well to have the team remote and saved the precious time when we really needed it. I do think there’s real value in the team getting together and grabbing a drink or whatever you want afterwards. I say it in most of things I write and talk about Delivery Design, but team mentality is key.
I would suggest that you mix up the remote planning days. Get face time with the Parter and each other, because although time is precious and as a Product Owner or Scrum Master, delivery and velocity are metrics we all want to see increase, relationships are a really important intangible that hold the team together, and create that team mentality which is key in Agile projects, so getting together face to face every now and then is a big recommendation.
To end, It can be done, just make sure the tooling is right and you’ll have a really successful session without the train fares.
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