Agile From Afar: Staying Present When You Can’t Be Present

March 27, 2020 Beccy Dreyling

Remote Agile Teams

As I (finally) sat down to write this post, I got to thinking about where we were three weeks ago and where we are today. Three weeks ago, I had plans to fly to Costa Rica for meetings—today I am holed up in my home while stores are rationing toilet paper. Two weeks ago when I walked my dog, I had to look both ways while crossing our busy street. Today, no cars are in sight. How quickly things change. While I know these changes are not permanent, learning how to navigate them is important.

For Gorilla Logic’s Agile Practice, that means discovering what works in their individual and collective landscapes and with their customers and teams. In this post, I want to share how our teams are responding to the changes in their everyday work lives. 

 

Same Tools, New Experiences

Gorilla Logic regularly works remotely. We know how to work in Agile Frameworks remotely—whether it is Scrum, Kanban, SAFe—we have the tools, the knowledge, the experience. But, that isn’t what this blog post is about. This blog post is about the challenges we face during these times of separation and isolation, about empathy, and reaching out, and paying attention to what is not being said. This blog post is about little fun things we can do to stay focused and in the moment with ourselves and our teams. I want to share some of the new and different ideas I’ve seen, heard, and done during my remote interactions. They may give you just one more thing to do with your team—or family and friends. 

 

Keeping Agility in Your Remote Events

As a mostly virtual Band of Gorillas, we have gotten really good at hosting all different kinds of remote events. From remote daily standups to virtual demos to two full days of PI planning. So how do we keep it real when nothing seems real? Here are some fun, creative and impactful things our Gorillas are doing:

• Do a one or two-word check-in at the beginning of your team meetings and again at the end before you leave. Think of it as a personal weather report.

• During the daily stand up, actually stand up! Turn on your camera and stand for the session. 

• Scrum-tato: one person starts the stand up or other check-in meetings and “passes the hot potato” to the next person until everyone has gone. Keeps things fun because you have to remember who has gone and who hasn’t.

• During planning sessions, keep those cameras on but make sure people feel free to get up and walk around.

• Our virtual Agile tools have extra features you might not typically use. Check out Zoom’s cool whiteboarding tool.

• Have your own PI planning with those that you live with to decide who needs to be where, when. This can include taking care of pets, managing space, and planning time to have lunch. 

• Move around, take calls standing up or on a walk. Walk around the neighborhood, walk around your home, just keep moving!

• Have a virtual background contest for your video meetings. Everyday the winner gets posted to Slack. Keeps things creative and entertaining—and a little competitive.

• Add to your daily meetings one of these:

• Virtual happy hour

• Team lunch 

• Group coffee in the morning

 

Open Space

If you aren’t familiar, an open space is an agenda-less session with like-minded individuals. The topics of the sessions come from the individuals present and can either be small breakout sessions or all individuals can participate together. In our open space last week, 25 Agile practitioners participated. In light of the current landscape, our typical serious conversation included more fun and games than usual. We shared things that we may not have thought to share with each other before, things I believe will remain in our future sessions. 

Doing a remote open space can get people together who may not work together regularly to learn from each other. Zoom is a great tool to use for remote open spaces because it offers breakout rooms. These can be useful for separate topics and allow people to come and go. Gorilla Logic’s Agile practice has these open spaces weekly. Here are some things that have evolved in our open spaces recently: 

• We chose not to limit the attendees to those within our practice. We believe whoever participates is the right group to be there. 

• We have discussed empathy and how to talk to our teams and customers in a way that might be new or uncomfortable for us.

• People discussed their current needs, including assurance from leadership.

• We discovered lots of new ideas for virtual games and learned that virtual happy hours are a thing! 

 

Try Empathy On For Size

Reach out. Ask how someone is doing who you don’t usually talk to or maybe just give status to. Ask how they are really doing, not just how they think they should be doing. Ask what worries them, tell them what worries or even scares you. You don’t have to fix it, just thank them for sharing with you. Being open, showing the cracks in your armor sucks and is not easy. Do this with the people you work for, not just those people you work with. You might just be surprised at what happens, what changes, and how the connections you establish keep you connected when we go “back to normal.” Remember that our typical micro-breaks and interactions are not happening in this new environment so be sure to make time for them. 

Interested in learning more about empathy? Check out this video a colleague sent me on Empathy vs. Sympathy

 

Turn On Your Camera

I mentioned it before but this one deserves an extra mention. Who cares if your hair looks bad or if your dog or cat or kid walks by in the background. That is the fun part. Enjoy it. If your video isn’t working well, then take a selfie right before your meeting and use that as your avatar rather than that cool shot of you and your dog or you at the beach looking happy and relaxed. Put something real out there. Once you get used to it, it will become normal and comfortable. This human interaction can make a real difference. 

Looking for even more ideas to keep things fun? Keep reading. 

 

“Around the House” Photo Scavenger Hunt

Since we are getting to spend more time around the house, take some time to look around, notice things we might not usually, and have some fun!

Steps:

• Facilitator publishes a prompt daily

• Participants upload a picture they feel represents the prompt

• Make participation voluntary to keep it fun

• A Picture of the Day is chosen based on emoticon/reactions

• Make sure to keep it light and fun while not making it an interruption to the daily work  

Prompt Ideas:

1. View from your window

2. Cat in the hat

3. Downward facing dog

4. Comfort food

5. Real-life meme

6. I spy, with my little eye, something that begins with the letter [pick a letter]

7. Tonight, on Netflix!

8. Master Chef: I made this myself!

9. Today’s Lunch

10. Game Night!

11. Appliance I own and never use

12. Book Club

13. Warms my heart

14. Spring cleaning

 

What else?

Post your ideas in the comments below! What did you and your teams try? What worked well? What bombed?

 

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