Virtually Agile: Creating Impact When You Have to Work from Home

Let’s face it – in the modern era, there are many times when working from home is the optimal solution. The need to work from home may range from an employer or government mandate (such as the current novel coronavirus crisis),  to a medium term need (such as recovering from a personal illness, or maintaining business continuity during a corporate move), to a one-day need (say, attending a family event).

Below are some practical tips that you can apply from the world of Agile methodology to help you continue to maintain morale, manage remotely, and drive impact – in essence, helping you to be Virtually Agile.

1. Hold daily standup meetings to keep everyone on the same page.

One of the key types of Agile ceremonies is the daily standup (or “daily scrum”), a brief daily meeting, first-thing in the day. When your team doesn’t have the ability to collaborate in person, it’s critical to touch base daily, ideally in the morning over a virtual meeting. A daily standup (or check-in) helps ensure that everyone is on top of what needs to be done, to complete tasks and goals on time.

The daily standup also provides a forum for strategizing how to remove blockers and increase coordination, in efforts from various team members. In times of crisis (or large scale needs for people to work from home), the daily standup also serves a morale building purpose, to help people feel less isolated and more connected to one another.

A variety of modern, digital collaboration tools can be leveraged to enable daily standups and help everyone stay on the same virtual page. Examples include:

  • Communication Tools: Tools such as web meeting platforms, conference lines, chat software (and good old-fashioned email) set the foundation for basic communication, away from the office.
  • Collaboration: File sharing software (e.g., Microsoft SharePoint, Google Drive or GitHub) help centralize files and deliverables, enabling visibility to work-in-progress.
  • Task and Project Tracking: Task and project portfolio tools (ranging from entry-level or lightweight tools such as Trello and Wrike, to enterprise-grade tools such as WorkFront) help make operations process dependent vs. person dependent.

Project Portfolio Tool examples: Wrike (left) and WorkFront (right)

In times of crisis, people dependent operations are at significant risk of disruption. With the present condition of the world, its completely possible that a member of your team will be unavailable during various times. Defined and readily available processes ensure minimal disruption in work progress.

Working from home is a good indicator of the strength of your organizations processes, beyond time and space.

2. Define Roles on virtual meetings.

Having clearly defined roles during virtual meetings, whether they are daily standups or other types of meetings, avoids confusion and allows action items to be taken away. While everyone has good intentions, it is possible that your team comes away from the meeting with no recording or notes because everyone assumed that another person would be doing so.

Therefore, it is good practice to assign a Scribe for documenting what was covered and record the meeting for future reference. For projects and tasks that are managed by Agile, the Scribe is often the Scrum Master (the Agile version of a project manager), or the Product Owner (the Agile version of a Product Manager or perhaps a Process Leader), but you can also simply pick a person to be the Scribe.

You don’t want too many chefs in the kitchen with no one writing down the recipe.

You might also want to explore using a web meeting tool that can record meetings as a documentation aid such as Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, or Microsoft Streams. Some organizations pair these web meeting tools with other tools to translate speech to text for tasks such as gathering and analyzing the conversations captured during virtual advisory board meeting.

In addition to a Scribe, there should be a defined Meeting Manager, who dictates the meeting agenda. With larger virtual meetings, a defined agenda with one leader is important so that the meeting does not go sideways or turn into a back-and-forth session with no clear takeaways.

Again, in Agile, this Meeting Manager leader role is often served by the Scrum Master, but this role may also be held by a more senior business leader, depending on the importance of the meeting topic.

3. Develop Squads to complete pieces of projects or tasks.

Developing Squads – the Agile definition of a team – allows small teams to get to know each other well in ways that make working together more efficient. Work tends to get done quicker with tight knit teams that are small enough to manage.

In a non-virtual environment, squads may consist of 5-9 members (the average size of fabled Amazon “two-pizza team” is usually 6 people). However, when you are trying to be Virtually Agile, smaller team sizes (4-5 people) might be more optimal for your organization.

The larger the team, the messier things can get in terms of collaboration and lines of communication – as this model of expanding lines of communications shows (when you expand a team), based off what is known as Brook’s Law (source: DZone):

An additional benefit of focusing a Squad on a specific task of a project (or process) is that it can help you create functional expertise in-house around a particular topic vs. having a team of generalists. In the Agile methodology, a collection of experts is sometimes called a Chapter or a Guild (depending on how they organized).

A closing note on Squads, in the context of virtual meetings:

  • While it may seem like a good idea to have the entire team weigh in on everything and attend every meeting – the larger the group, the less responsibility each member feels.
  • With giant virtual meetings for example, there is a greater likelihood that many participants will be doing other things while listening in.
  • Therefore, do your best to limit virtual meetings to only those Squads or Squad members that are required to attend, or other resources who are expected to weigh in on topics in the meeting agenda.

4. Capture user stories and translate them quickly into visual process models to aid virtual discussions and decision making.

User Stories are the basic level of requirements in Agile. Since user stories are easy to understand, they facilitate discussion within a Squad, and possibly other stakeholders that may not be technical.

As opposed to traditional documentation of user requirements, user stories simply state what should be built, who it is being built for, and why. User stories also ensure that solutions are human-centric, keeping customer experience (and perhaps Design Thinking) at the forefront of the idea process.

As a user, I would like _______ so that I can _______.

However, merely reading a User Story can slow down the creation of a solution. This is especially true in a modern context, when that solution is often a new software artifact (such as code) or a digitized solution (one or several software applications, working together).

This is where virtual artifacts can help aid decision making – giving everyone at the “virtual meeting table” something to look at. Having something to look at and talk about helps everyone stay on the same page, and helps move things along, faster.

A great example of a visual artifact is a process map. Digital tools like Signavio’s Process Manager allow for new process map flows – and even digital applications – to be designed quickly and efficiently. These easily created visual artifacts provide business stakeholders and Squad members with enough information to evaluate a new idea. These visual flow diagrams are also mapped out in enough detail that engineers can translate the design into a new application build, thus, everyone wins!

Source: Signavio

Features of tools such as Signavio Process Manager include decision modeling, which provides interactive what-if simulations, process sharing and an area to test decisions. Commenting and sharing in Signavio Process Modeler provides real-time feedback, ensuring the end-product solves the what it was intended to.

Other examples of “things to talk about” at the “virtual meeting table” range from PowerPoint slides, Excel spreadsheets and other design artifacts. Ideally however, you want to try to make sure that the “thing you talk about” can quickly be turned into a “thing” (such as a process map or model being quickly turned into a digital application, as in our Signavio example above).

Key Takeaways and More Details to Help you Be More Effective at Virtual Agile:

  • Daily Standups kicks off the workday, helps everyone stay organized and feel like they are part of the organization – We’re All In This Together!
  • Define Roles and avoid the meeting risk of “Too Many Chefs in the Kitchen and Not Enough Recipe Takers”
  • Small, focused teams (or Squads) enable short-term results, help keep communications clear and clean – and can help you build expertise in-house for long-term impact
  • Capture meeting notes into “things to talk about” to aid decision making and translation of requests and requirements with agility – notably with process mapping tools

To learn more about how you can leverage tools such as Signavio Process Manager, click here to watch an archived replay of Lima Consulting Group’s recent webinar, Digital Foundations to Transform Customer Experiences.

You can also click here to connect with Lima Consulting Group experts for more tips on using Agile to foster your ability to drive impact when you work from home or to learn how the LCG Digital Transformation Maturity Model can aid your organization’s strategic digital and resiliency aspirations.

 

About Lima Consulting Group:

Founded in 2004, Lima Consulting Group helps transform the digital futures of our customers by developing, deploying, and optimizing sustainable, competitive advantages.

LCG uses a series of proprietary methodologies to improve the Return on Marketing Investments. We use a multi-disciplinary approach with experts in strategy, data science, business intelligence, digital marketing and technology while providing these services in the languages spoken throughout the Americas. With regional offices in Philadelphia and São Paulo, Brazil, LCG provides local services with world-class expertise.

About Signavo:

The Signavio Business Transformation Suite does what other business process software can’t. Other companies may have one or the other, but Signavio is the only BPM provider that combines sophisticated modeling, effective workflow management, and powerful analytics in a single innovative, easy-to-use package. The Signavio Business Transformation Suite allows you to examine business processes at every level of your organization, establish what works, discard what doesn’t, and use your own data to demonstrate success. This results in lower costs, higher profits, and more satisfied customers.

Learn more at Signavio.com.

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