We at SilverBridge have not only embraced Agile, but for the last five years we have done so in virtual teams. For most this seems impossible, as face-to-face meetings and conversations are so important for Agile. Even though we were strongly advised against taking this route, we took the plunge and have never looked back. Yes, there are a few hurdles, but virtual teams and Agile work well once you can overcome them.
While agility is important, it is just as important to embrace change in all business areas. And this definitely includes working from home and capturing the brainpower of people who don’t live in your town. Today’s technology certainly lends itself to this.
The size of our team has also changed considerably during the years, without any negative effects. We were 13 or more people at one stage, and then the number dwindled down to 5 for a while. That is exactly what makes Agile so effective; the amount of work, the number of team members, the number of available hours can change, yet work will still be completed.
Looking back, the main challenge we had to overcome was finding the right tools and adapting Agile to support this. So how do we work virtually in an Agile team?
We start each workday with an online stand-up meeting. The scrum master usually calls the team members via Skype for Business. Every team member explains what he/she did the previous day and is planning for today. If there are any problems or issues, we raise these at this time.
We use the software application Jira to manage stories and tasks in the sprint. The scrum master adds stories with tasks to the sprint during the Analysis & Design meeting. Every team member is responsible for pulling tasks into progress/completion and billing against these. This helps every team member to know who is working on what at any given time.
All team members are accessible all day. We have given each other the freedom to call one another at any time. If a team member is busy with a task where intense concentration is required, he/she can change his/her status on Skype to ‘busy’. A team member with a ‘busy’ status cannot be called or contacted. But we find that this happens rarely in our team.
Every 14 days we set aside one day for reflection, show-and-tell and planning. We all try to meet at the SilverBridge office on this day, as far as possible. We use Skype for business and a microphone to ensure that those team members who cannot be present can still contribute and share in the meetings.
During the retrospective meeting we share our experiences and problems of the past sprint. We talk about ways in which we can work around or remove problems. Together, we find solutions to obstacles and so make our lives easier. The longer the team is together, the easier sprints become.
At the show-and-tell meeting we show the product owners and other stakeholders what we have done in the previous sprint. The product owners give their feedback and the scrum master records all the possible adjustments or modifications.
In the planning session, we discuss portions of work that we will work on during the coming sprint. Our to-do list is in the form of user stories and we break these down into tasks. Every task is assigned to a team member. This means that everyone can visualise what they will be doing in the next 2 weeks. The product owner is responsible for writing the stories and providing all details necessary for us to envision what we need to accomplish. If anything is unclear, we call the product owner to help us understand. Sometimes we need to draw on a whiteboard to understand all aspects of the development and for that reason we have installed a camera to enable the off-site team members to see the drawings.
Key requirements: Pay attention to these things to ensure a working, virtual agile team:
- excellent leadership
- well written user stories
- well-defined objectives
- periodic face-to-face meetings
- frequent communication
- accessibility (minimise time differences)
- courtesy and consideration for cultural differences
- suitable software and hardware