Working remotely with Scrum or how to stay Agile in the Home Office environment
Coffee at the office, morning meetings or face-to-face meetings for a review or a retrospective were our daily routines until recently. In order to curb the spread of COVID-19, the current situation has forced us to extend the work-from-home option to slow the spread of the coronavirus. We at Indrivo, were able to maintain our processes from day 1 of the Covid-19 lockdown since we have always been open to the topic of home office, even before Corona. As an IT service provider, our infrastructure was set up accordingly from the start and our employees had always the possibility to work from home on a half-day or day-to-day basis.
Indrivo's Journey to an Agile Organization
At Indrivo, we said goodbye to classic, plan-driven management years ago. As a software company, Indrivo has been using agile methods in teamwork since 2016. We introduced Scrum in 2016 when a customer project was delayed. The reason for this was that the technical details were not sufficiently clarified in advance. This has led to problems in complying with the program and delivery, as there have been constant changes in functionality and requirements. The switch to Scrum put the project back on track and led to its successful completion. We managed to offer the customer the possibility to actively be involved in all project development stages as a product owner. This allowed the customer to intervene at any time in the development, to make adjustments and to influence the development phases.
Since then, our development team has been working according to the Scrum principles. In 2018, other non-technical departments such as administration, marketing and human resources started to use the Scrum Framework. Sometimes, however, the strict process rules of Scrum are simplified in these departments, they can’t be used in full to all departments. If necessary, we break up the method and tailor Scrum to the individual requirements of the teams. The departments use elements that better fit their work and processes. In these cases, we no longer speak of Scrum, but only of Agile methods.
Agile Work and Home Office - do they even go together?
The answer in advance: It works!
By definition, agile teams should work together on a product. They can do this best when everyone involved is physically located in the same space. In this way, decisions can be taken more quickly because communication takes place face-to-face. This is the main component of agile work and is also reflected in the 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto.
The principle states: "The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation."
But neither Scrum Guide nor Agile Manifesto forbids remote work. Face-to-face conversations are the most efficient and effective, but there are exceptional situations like the current one when work from home is almost the only option. Especially in times like these, when most of our employees work remotely, the use of these working methods has proven its full value for our teams. Home office enables our employees to combine leisure, work and family according to their own needs. They save themselves the trip to work and the associated stress in the morning. This freedom motivates and when people are motivated to work, they usually also produce good results.
Clear rules lead to successful cooperation. Meetings now take place in the virtual space instead of the meeting rooms. We click into the virtual conference rooms punctually at the agreed meeting times. Coordination between the teams takes place in groups via group chats, phone calls or video conferences.
Must-have tools for virtual collaboration
Indrivo has 5 locations, which means that even before the current crisis, it was necessary for us, as a company, to provide the right IT infrastructure for all our locations so that we can work together efficiently. For some years now we have been enjoying the conveniences and advantages of the collaboration tools in their role as enablers of agile processes, but during the lockdown, we have started to appreciate them even more. Our internally developed CRM and ERP give each our team member real-time information about all To-Dos and Dones of the day.
The impact of effective communication
Agility is based on communication. It is very important that all information is formulated in a clear and understandable manner. The risk of misunderstandings and ambiguities increases. Therefore, we make calls rather than write to our colleagues, and even better, we host video conferences where everyone can see and hear each other. In addition to virtual meetings, we have our 15 minutes daily and then, of course, every two weeks reviews and retrospectives. Daily meetings and other agile events are reserved for professional communication, we focus and talk only about business topics.
Usually, we hold a monthly “Grand Hall All Staff Meeting”, where we shared the company's successes, challenges and updates. With the Corona outbreak, we have now switched to “Remote Grand Hall Meetings”. Although online meetings of this size were unfamiliar and new for everyone, everything goes really well, both in terms of the discussion and in terms of the technology.
In everyday office life, we are much more than just people who do a similar job for the same company. We are partners in “Crime” and exchange ideas about private, sad, funny, angry things apart from business topics. That’s why, we have created a (virtual) space for exchange that is not directly related to the job, where “feel-good” topics, casual talk and jokes are encouraged.
React quickly and with agility
The regular Scrum meetings, for example, give us a clear structure, all planning and coordination activities are carried out using a well-established process. Goal, scope, work and problems are always transparent for all team members with the help of digital tools. Our agile teams use clear goals in order to start faster and to react flexible to changes as well as new findings in the development process. In agile projects, we rely on short, manageable iterations or sprints and a regular exchange on the project progress. The order of requirements in a backlog can be quickly changed so that the most important work can be tackled in the next sprint.
Achieve more performance with cross-functional teams
It is important that an agile team is put together correctly. Cross-functional teams have all the competencies required to perform without being dependent on others outside the team. Our experience shows that self-organized teams are more independent, efficient, creative and innovative in their thoughts and actions. These advantages allow them to develop better solutions and realize the highest added value for the project.
Some tips from Indrivo for working remotely:
- Manage to recruit the right people for remote teams;
- Start with trust when interacting with remote team members;
- Schedule short and more frequent team meetings;
- Whenever possible, use videos while limiting emails and messaging;
- Use interactive digital solutions for collaboration and work planning;
- Deliver prototypes in each sprint to gather customer feedback;
- Involve customers remotely in solution development;
- Ensure a sustainable team experience;
- Measure outcomes, not outputs;
- Allow time for social bonding;
- Set up specific rules and goals for maintaining balance (e.g., regular virtual/physical team-buildings, sports and fun activities);
- Provide support.
- Hold each other accountable;
- Communicate, don’t assume;
- Understand the levels of interaction and tools you use;
- Look for opportunities to have fun together;
- Take care of your health (breaks, timeout, and self-care).
Agile methods and home office bring more productivity
The lockdown was a test by fire for our agility. For Indrivo, Scrum has proven to be a useful tool and an efficient way of working in this challenging time. Agile has helped us to keep remote teams functioning effectively and made them even more resilient for the future. Adapting and integrating new practices into already familiar processes creates opportunities for development. The regular meetings and backlogs ensure open communication and transparent exchange. The clear planning phases enable us to implement new product and service features and identify problems as they arise. As a result, our teams work faster and more efficiently.
Above all, let's not forget the last agile principle: face-to-face conversation is the most efficient and economical method for exchanging information within the team. Tools are nothing without human contact.
Stay Healthy! Stay Agile!