Organizations around the world are coming up with ingenious solutions to the problems that are being hurled at them by the current crisis. One such problem being faced by many agile teams is not being able to work in co-located environments. But fortunately, distributed agile teams have been around for quite some time, and now, they’ve emerged as a new norm. While transitioning to remote agile teams might have been easy for some and difficult for others, a tough road still lies ahead for all of them.

First of all, agile frameworks work well for co-located teams. But a whole bunch of challenges pop up when you transition to distributed agile teams. Distributed agile teams have constrains such as poor communication, overlapping hours, dilution of project goals, and lack of strong relationships among team members.

As the most popular agile framework, Scrum involves developing complex software products by using an iterative and an incremental approach. This calls for frequent collaboration among scrum masters, team members, and product owners. It also requires self-organizing teams that can solve complex problems. Scrum ceremonies are unique meetings conducted by the stakeholders to ensure transparency, inspection, and adaptation. But the constraints of a distributed environment can lead to disruptions during these agile ceremonies. Scrum masters, team members, and product owners can overcome these distributed agile challenges if they adhere to scrum values. Let us see how these stakeholders can ensure that these ceremonies are conducted efficiently.

Scrum masters

Sprint planning is an important ceremony where team members and product owners prioritize the backlogs. However, as distributed teams are scattered geographically, scrum masters must bridge the time differences by establishing core work hours and ensure team members have proper communication tools. They can also have the meetings recorded so that the team members who were absent due to time constraints can catch up.

Owing to poor communication, remote teams can lose sight of the project goals and start working as isolated units. Daily scrum can address this issue and scrum masters should ensure that all the team members are on the same page. Even though this is a fifteen minute ceremony, scrum masters must address the time differences and network issues for conducting it smoothly. There are also project management tools like Trello that can help team members to update their progress and keep track of the project.

Sprint reviews are conducted after every sprint and involve team members reviewing the product in front of the product owner. Apart from the demonstration, scrum masters must oversee the documentation and tools like Jira come in handy for distributed agile teams.

During scrum retrospective meetings, scrum masters can use video conferencing applications skilfully to give and take feedback. They can use this ceremony to educate new team members about the agile values and motivate them.

Development team members

The 2001 Agile Manifesto states that the most efficient method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation. This applies to agile ceremonies as well and is usually a challenge to remote team members. This is because the flow of information must be fluid. So it is important for development teams to use their communication tools effectively. Tools like Skype and Microsoft teams will help team members to communicate and will help them avoid working in an isolated manner.

Creating channels in platforms like Microsoft Teams will help team members to organize their conversations and maintain good relationships with scrum masters, product owners, and others like documentation teams.

The development team should make sure the daily scrum is conducted for no more than fifteen minutes. Otherwise, the ceremony loses its purpose. After all it’s just a meeting to keep track of the sprint’s progress.

Team members should have backlog grooming sessions with the Product owner before sprint planning ceremonies to run them as efficiently as possible. They should ensure that the sprint board is screen-shared so that all the team members can see it. Creating a checklist of all the tasks discussed will help them during other ceremonies such as sprint reviews.

Conducting dry runs before the sprint review will help team members to sort out any problem beforehand. Recording the meetings and using tools like Jira to document the feedback from the product owners and stakeholders will help them in the long run.

Product owners

Product owners must educate the team members of the customer expectations during sprint planning meetings. In distributed agile teams, this ceremony can be a bit challenging for product owners in terms of conveying the message clearly. Collaboration tools like Jira dashboards have features like filter results and pie charts that can help product owners to provide real time reports and graphical representations to team members. They can use these tools to communicate with both team members and clients during ceremonies.

Apart from daily scrums, product owners can make a daily video call to remote team members to educate them about the emerging priorities and obstacles. This will help the team members to get the big picture and save everyone time during the sprint reviews and sprint planning meetings.

Sprint reviews usually have the team members and the stakeholders on board and product owners must foster relationship between them. During the video conferences, they should ask relevant questions to the stakeholders and involve the development team members into the conversations.

Conclusion

Distributed environments can pose serious challenges to agile teams, but they can overcome them by proper planning. Organizations need not worry about loss of productivity in distributed agile teams during crises if they adhere to the agile principles and work as a team to uphold them.

 

Pradeep Kirthivasan

Project Manager, Sales Enablement at Aspire Systems