A hybrid team’s toolkit for Agile meetings
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Posted by: Bryan Stallings, Lucid Chief Evangelist, Agile Coach, and Certified Scrum Trainer
Twenty years ago, teams first turned to Agile as a way to better collaborate, respond to change, and quickly deliver value. The Agile Alliance states that Agile essentially provided teams “a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment.”
Today’s challenges are increasingly more complex than those that existed when Agile first came to be. Constant, unpredictable change is now the norm in many industries and areas of the business world. The speed of technological change continues to accelerate, as does the pace of competition. Leading organizations are now deploying product upgrades hundreds of times a day. It takes exceptional teams, cross-organization collaboration, and program-level coordination to bring these solutions to life.
On top of all this, a recent curveball is thrown at today’s teams: the shift to a new way of working as remote, distributed, or hybrid teams. Organizations are in a place where the ability to be agile—to succeed in a turbulent environment—is more important than ever. When teams are hybrid, though, they face a new set of challenges that makes it difficult to remain agile.
These challenges include:
- Slow, clunky, and frustrating collaboration.
- Reduced transparency without everyone in the same room.
- Difficulty fostering team trust, motivation, and buy-in.
- Slower and prolonged decision-making.
Looking at the Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto, it becomes clear how achieving what is intended with Agile can seem like a near impossible task for hybrid teams. Many of these principles focus on communication, collaboration, and motivation—all of which suffer when teams aren’t in person together.
Take, for example, the sixth principle that asserts, “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation,” or the fourth principle that states, “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.”
We know these principles are necessary for agile teams to rapidly learn from each other, adjust appropriately, and continuously deliver value. This then begs the question: How can we reestablish agility to stay competitive when we’re working in different places, different times, and different ways?
Tips for remaining Agile in a hybrid world
It is indeed possible to continue Agile practices in a hybrid setting. To demonstrate how, let’s take a look at some ways teams can make one of the most common Agile frameworks, Scrum, work in a hybrid setting. Keep these tips in mind throughout all of your Agile meetings—or events, as they’re referred to in Scrum—to keep your hybrid team ahead of the curve:
Invest time up-front fostering team connections: In a hybrid environment, teams may lose some of the bonding that occurs naturally in an office setting, like water cooler talk or the playful conference room interactions that used to occur before meetings started.
Look for ways to connect your team members and encourage bonds outside of business, such as team lunches or one-on-one meetings between team members. When the barriers start to come down, empathy grows, trust will form naturally, and collaboration will become more effective.
Create a “safe to fail” culture, not a fail-safe one. Psychological safety is one of the most important foundational elements to an Agile team. For teams to truly embrace an Agile mindset, a culture that makes it okay to experiment, admit mistakes, and openly share ideas must exist.
Re-establish team norms and agreements. Team dynamics change drastically when members are working from various locations and at different times. It’s important to take time to establish processes and expectations for communication early on. You can think of this as slowing down now in order to speed up later. These could be as simple as coming to consensus on when to mute mics or have cameras on. Be sure to establish these agreements as a team to ensure all voices are heard and everyone is on board.
Brush up on your facilitation skills. With hybrid teams, it becomes even more important to have an effective facilitator to foster productive group collaboration, enable teams to develop a shared vision of the future, and decide on their direction forward. Keep our meeting facilitation toolkit handy for some best practices.
Use a visual, virtual meeting space to increase team collaboration. Hybrid teams still have each other (who), projects to work on (what), and times to meet and collaborate (when). What’s missing is the place to work, or the where—and we’ve noticed the absence. Teams that effectively fill this gap will be able to adapt and innovate much quicker than those teams that don’t address the gap.
Zoom and Slack are a good starting point for hybrid communication, but to really fill the gap teams need a place to collaborate, share ideas, and return to consistently. Look for a visual collaboration solution that enables team members to document and share plans, meeting notes, and ideas—whether working asynchronously or in real time. A solution like this inspires creative problem-solving, allows the best ideas to surface, and accelerates your team’s ability to learn, adapt, and deliver in a competitive market.
While the above tips can be applied throughout all your Agile meetings, each Scrum event has a slightly different goal, and therefore, a slightly different set of challenges that need to be addressed. To truly help your hybrid team stay competitive, here’s a series of tips and tools for each of the Scrum events, including a virtual Agile meeting space template in Lucidspark to kick-start your collaboration.
Sprint Planning kicks off a sprint by establishing the Sprint Goal, what can be done during the Sprint, and how the chosen work will be completed. Developers, the Product Owner, and Scrum Master attend. During this event, it’s important for the entire team to agree on the Sprint Goal and their part in achieving it because they are jointly accountable to demonstrate the valuable outcomes achieved at the Sprint Review. The greater the depth of their agreement as a team, the more motivated they’ll be knowing the work will be inspected in the Sprint Review.
In a hybrid setting, coming to this consensus and ensuring that all team members are bought in on the goal is tricky. Don’t be concerned if Sprint Planning runs longer than in the past because coming to an agreement can sometimes take longer when teams are hybrid. Also, be aware that remote team members may be faced with at-home distractions or feel left out of decisions unless the facilitator takes significant care.
Tips for facilitating Sprint Planning:
Be transparent. Visuals are so important for keeping everyone on the same page. Instead of taking notes individually, find a shared digital space where you and your team can collaborate on notes and document ideas and decisions together.
Make a decision—on how to make decisions. To ensure that every perspective is heard and the best ideas are surfaced during sprint planning, decide as a team on your process for making decisions. This could mean identifying a collaborative space where everyone can contribute ideas, using a practice like multi-voting to select among alternatives, or formalizing a team practice to call for a vote.
Give it a try: Use this Lucidspark Sprint Planning team room template to host all of your Sprint Planning meetings, document notes, visualize roadblocks, and hold voting sessions to reach a consensus as a team.
The purpose of the Daily Scrum, or Daily Standup, is to inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal and adapt the Sprint Backlog as necessary, adjusting the upcoming planned work. These quick events are for the developers and can take a variety of forms, with a common approach being to discuss progress made towards the Sprint Goal, identify roadblocks and individuals in need of help, and coordinate as a team on what each member plans to do next.
Ensuring everyone feels equally engaged in this meeting can be challenging when team members are attending this event from different locations. As teams adapt to frequent changes inherent in being hybrid, they should periodically reevaluate their practices for the Daily Scrum to level the playing field for all team members and optimize this key Scrum event.
Tips for facilitating the Daily Scrum:
Consider a remote-only approach for this meeting. When reviewing daily tasks and roadblocks, it’s often the in-person team members that speak first, with others contributing only at the end, as if an afterthought. To create a greater sense of team unity, consider a team agreement for all team members to attend this meeting virtually.
Test out different formats to find what works best for your team. Instead of each person running through their individual tasks, consider looking at a visual representing the work and discussing each of the backlog items by priority. This focuses the team on outcomes and keeps the entire team engaged, with team members contributing throughout.
Give it a try: Use this team room template to set up your Daily Scrum meetings in the format that works best for your team. By returning to the same Lucidspark board daily, you’ll create a one-stop shop for all notes and keep team members aligned on the sprint’s progress.
During the Sprint Review, the Scrum team demonstrates the outcome of the sprint to appropriate stakeholders, with the goal of gathering as much feedback as possible to adapt the product backlog. Sprint Review and Sprint Planning are bookends on the sprint and are critical to establishing an inspect-and-adapt cadence.
In a hybrid environment, though, there are a few unique complications for Sprint Reviews that may make it more difficult to truly inspect the sprint outcome and gather feedback. With stakeholders joining from different locations, it may be difficult to encourage good practices. There is also a risk of this meeting turning into a demo and status update instead of a collaborative working session, drastically reducing the creative and productive feedback needed to improve.
Tips for facilitating the Sprint Review:
Communicate expectations up front. Facilitators should help orient distributed participants by doing some pre-work before the review session. Take the time to create an agenda, establish precedents for interaction, and communicate these out ahead of time and at the beginning of the event.
Take advantage of visuals to inspire collaboration and engagement. To ensure you get as much participation and the best feedback possible, set up a shared virtual whiteboard where stakeholders can leave input and notes. Not only will this allow for a broader range of perspectives, but it will spur discussion and create a transparent record for reference both after the Sprint Review and during the next Sprint Planning.
To further foster a sense of trust between your team and stakeholders, be sure to follow up with the appropriate contributors on their ideas. By showing that you are listening and incorporating their feedback, the stakeholders will feel more connected to the outcome and will likely share thoughts in future sprint reviews.
Give it a try: The Sprint Review team room template creates a sense of consistency and can be customized to summarize the sprint outcomes, to collect and organize stakeholder feedback, and to ensure follow-through. To encourage even more engagement, try holding voting sessions or using emoji reactions to prioritize ideas.
During the Sprint Retrospective, the Scrum team inspects the sprint with regard to the individuals, communication, processes, and tools. While the Sprint Review is held with outside stakeholders and designed to elicit product feedback, the Sprint Retrospective is a team-only event designed to elicit feedback on the sprint itself. It’s a chance for the team to identify improvements to make the next sprint more effective and more enjoyable.
When teams are hybrid, though, they may not feel comfortable providing their input over video, especially if a sense of psychological safety has not been established. Hybrid environments also make it more likely for input to be misinterpreted, creating more tension or conflict.
Tips for Sprint Retrospectives:
Build intentional team connections. Until your team members have formed bonds with each other, it will be difficult for them to open up in retrospectives. Find ways to intentionally encourage this bonding, and remember that developing these connections takes time. Practice empathy and patience as the team grows and evolves over time.
Follow through on the team’s input. When a team member brings up an issue that can be resolved, take the time to actually do it. You’ll not only increase team productivity by removing an impediment, but you’ll also create a sense of trust that their voices are heard.
Give it a try: Use the retrospective team room template in Lucidspark to easily gather your team’s feedback in one collaborative workspace. Unlike other Scrum events that involve stakeholders, retrospectives are private conversations with the team, so keep this board private. To make the retrospectives interesting and encourage feedback and creative solutions, try switching up the retrospective format by dropping any of Lucidspark’s existing retrospective templates, such as the 4-box or lean coffee retrospective, into your team room space.
These tips and templates provide a great framework for your Agile meetings, but keep in mind that all teams are different. It’s important to test, evaluate, and iterate your processes over time until you figure out what works best for your team. Once your team does establish a system for effective collaboration, you’ll be ideating, strategizing, and delivering solutions that not only meet customer needs—but exceed them.
Many enterprises are using the Lucid Visual Collaboration Suite to establish a system for effective collaboration that improves their team’s agility in today’s hybrid world. With the combination of Lucidspark, Lucidchart, and now Lucidscale, you too can visualize the future and identify the changes, processes, and systems needed to make that future a reality—from anywhere.
About the author
As Chief Evangelist at Lucid Software and Certified Scrum Trainer, Bryan Stallings has coached thousands of individuals and teams in Agile and Scrum techniques.
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