Covid-19 is an unforgettable situation in our lifetime on each front, personal & professional. It brought disaster to the world in social, political, and economic forms as well as impacting the life of the individual. Most of the unexpected things are happening around the world.
Due to COVID-19, our team had to adopt a new work culture in-line with government guidelines put in place, bringing several issues to light, as we did not have the time necessary to analyse potential future challenges. Although some of these issues were existing within the teams already, the abrupt change to our work culture quickly brought these challenges to the surface.
But is this not that one of many situations which Agile can be applied to? By focusing on these factors from the beginning:
Let me share what happened within our teams & how we handled the situation.
The first week of distributed workforce was like sailing a boat through a hurricane, and the journey began as follows:
First Step: Early Retrospective
I (as a Scrum Master of the Team) facilitated a very early Retrospective (after 4 days of distribution starting) with one very specific agenda:
“Challenges due to distribution and how to address these challenges”
This Retrospective proved beneficial for our team, as we were able to identify the core challenges of working separately from our co-workers. These challenges can be seen below:
- Lacking self-organization of individuals within the teams (few members faced enormous challenge in organizing themselves)
- Poorer communication due to not being face-to-face with peers.
- Digital intervention & a particular time-box was required to begin any communication.
- Home environment is not supportive for some employees (disturbance, no dedicated space).
- Technical challenges, VPN issues, Device availability etc.
Also, within the Early Retrospective, the team discussed possible solutions to the listed challenges. It was extremely important that these issues be addressed within the early retrospective, as we felt we could not continue working without identifying some solutions. After rigorous discussion amongst the team, we decided to adopt certain practices within RSK BSL, with the aim of resolving the difficulties we faced with remote working.
Second Step: Possible Solutions/Changes introduced by Team
- Weekly Retrospective – One important decision made was to conduct weekly Retrospectives with a very specific agenda: “Challenges in working distributed & solutions”. It is important to note that these retrospective meetings are very different from Sprint Retrospectives, which focus on Sprint-happenings.
- Increased frequency of Daily Scrum to Twice/day – The team decided to have 2 times daily scrum during the day, one when starting the first half of the day, and the second when starting the second half of the day. The whole idea was to improve coordination among the distributed members, by scrum team members sharing the plan for 4 hours total in each daily-scrum session. By doing this, it increased co-ordination within the team and tackled the issue of self-organisation amongst individuals. The team felt more comfortable because of this change, as it was easier for them to plan for a lesser time-box. It really worked for us!
- Common chat group to facilitate discussions – We created a common chat group so that team communication can be done using this tool, unless it is very specific between two people. The use of a group chat enabled us to maintain the sync of information and meant that information leakage could be cured.
- If possible, priority will be for video calls – We made an agreement, irrespective of the type of discussion, to conduct video calls where possible, as undoubtedly the engagement was less interrupted.
Finally: When we became distributed, my whole idea was to emphasize the scrum values among the team. These values (Commitment, Courage, Focus, Respect & Openness) gave us confidence & courage to be more aligned & have better coordination, which happened because we understood the value of communication & alignment. What can be better example than:
“One member actually managed to get pass from govt. administration, to visit the remote locality, just to get one device & make it available to another team member so that we can deliver the feature timely”.
Approach for the Future: As a team, we now have the skills to adapt to a distributed work environment, which prepares us for the future, where future pandemics are more than likely. In my opinion, the very first step is to understand the core problems and challenges, and to initiate discussion amongst the team. We would tackle similar situations with the same approach: find the core problems & let’s brainstorm to solve these, like we did this time (Retrospective & more coordination).
I understand that Covid-19 brought about unforeseen challenges and it might be, we’ll never be out of it. But I cannot deny, it gave everyone in general, myself and my team specifically, a new way of thinking, new kind of team-spirit, next level of maturity and great confidence to handle such challenges.
One thing still needs improvement - that is related to our geographic culture. In our geography, most of us are not supporters of working remotely and that is why most of us don’t have certain arrangements like dedicated space, working hour ethics at their end (home or anywhere else) which can sometimes create unnecessary delays & disturbance. I believe, everyone at her/his level making effort to improve such scenarios and is this not the essence of Agile - “To Inspect the current scenario, Adapt the better way and Learn from it for future”?
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