In our previous post, we presented the idea of virtual agility as a means to maintain agile ways of working amidst a global health crisis. So now that we know why it’s important to embrace virtual agility, the next question is how do we implement it?
Acknowledge the Change
For organizations practicing traditional Agility, the idea of Virtual Agility is a completely new approach to how they’ll plan, execute, measure and deliver value. So let’s take a look at some challenges that organizations encounter along the way, and steps taken to mitigate and overcome those challenges.
Initially, moving to a virtual model is a psychological challenge for team members. Not everyone is “wired” for remote work, and for those people, remote work can result in feelings of isolation, loneliness, lack of motivation, and a disconnect with co-workers. And so, in addition to the challenges revolving around the work, we need to be especially sensitive to the challenges individuals may be experiencing and address those as well.
Organizational leaders also struggle with how their role (and the roles they manage) might change in terms of managing virtual teams. Concerns around the perceived negative impact to productivity if teams are not co-located are often raised:
Will teams be able to effectively collaborate and connect in a virtual environment?
Can motivation and productivity be sustained after such a transition?
Will teams continue to have the tools necessary to effectively deliver customer value?
Can Agile teams still perform all the necessary Agile ceremonies and big room planning (BRP) sessions in a virtual environment?
The good news is that the answers to these questions are "yes." Prior to the current situation we find ourselves in, companies have successfully conducted business as usual in a virtual environment. The reasons for going virtual were different—perhaps financial, acquisition-based, or a philosophy embraced by an organization. Regardless of the reason, they’ve been able to successfully navigate and overcome the inherent challenges of such a transition for quite a while now. With proper planning, virtual ceremonies and events can be just as successful and productive as those conducted in person.
Provide Virtual Support
Support Team Collaboration
Provide communication alternatives. Maintaining team collaboration and interaction is critical, not only to support the goals of the organization, but to offer alternate methods of communication to virtual employees supporting the idea of “staying connected”.
Introduce teleconferencing solutions such as WebEx, Zoom, or others that support not only audio, but video as well, to mirror in-person meetings as much as possible.
Implement collaboration software like Slack to define communication channels to share ideas, findings, and learnings within teams. In addition, use discussion channels in large-scale planning sessions to communicate across teams.
Encourage the use of mobile apps to keep folks connected wherever they are.
Define Purpose-Based Virtual Rooms
Look to establish virtual rooms for activities ranging from team ceremonies to BRP sessions.
Let the audience drive the need for a virtual room. For example, with respect to team ceremonies, the audience for a daily standup is typically different from that of an iteration demo, so consider creating a virtual room for each. In addition, the audience for a BRP briefing session is different from those in a team breakout, so consider creating a virtual room for each here as well.
Choose Appropriate Agile Software
Choosing the right agile software to support an organization's agile journey is always an active topic for debate. Discussions range from solutions that focus on team agility to those that provide a more comprehensive, integrated, portfolio-driven approach. Transitioning to a virtual environment brings with it the need for careful consideration when selecting a software solution. Here are some features to consider:
Ensure the solution is purpose built to support a “virtual friendly” environment.
Look for a solution that supports the ability to align strategy and execution to ensure teams are working on the right things at the right time.
Lean towards an integrated solution that automatically and seamlessly updates work items from one level of scale to another.
Aim for a solution that stresses the concept of bi-directional visibility as visibility to work items takes on a new level of importance in a virtual environment. Bi-directional visibility provides the ability to view progress from the portfolio level down to teams, and provides teams with the ability to view how the work they’re performing contributes to the larger goals of the organization.
Strive for a solution that mirrors current in-person agile activities and ceremonies in order to ease the transition from traditional to virtual.
Leave No One Behind
Ensure All Teams are Trained in Agile Methods
Introduce and train all new participants in agile principles and practices both at the team level and at scale. This is no different from what would be proposed for onboarding in a traditional environment in the same circumstance.
Knowing the basics surrounding Agile methods allows teams to focus on outcomes during ceremonies and events.
Ensure Teams are Trained in Agile Software
Introduce and train all participants in the software selected.
Plan training sessions for teams to gain confidence around the mechanics of team ceremonies as well as large-scale planning events, all while doing so in a virtual environment using Agile software.
Transition In-Person Ceremonies to Virtual
Continue to conduct team ceremonies as usual. The collaboration software outlined above will enable the communications aspect of those sessions to be productive.
Encourage team members to join virtual sessions with video “on” to simulate an in-person session. Face-to-face meetings improve communications, support established team relationships, and improve focus.
Establish short and long-term patterns around ceremonies and events so teams are aware of expectations over different time horizons.
Keep Agendas Comprehensive
Overemphasize the importance of a thorough agenda as it serves as a roadmap for individual team sessions and large-scale planning sessions.
Especially important for virtual, large-scale planning sessions, due to the number of participants. In those cases, an agenda needs to be very detailed including start/end times for each activity, speakers, links to virtual rooms, the general chat channel and key contacts such as the PM, RTE and Coach.
Be Sensitive to Time Zones
Discourage planning sessions that negatively impact specific time zones.
Challenge the status quo! Daily standup sessions don’t have to take place at 9 a.m. If noon works better, schedule accordingly. Similarly, BRP sessions don’t have to adhere to a two-day event at eight hours per day. If a three-day event at six hours per day works better, modify the schedule.
Schedule a Dry Run for Team Ceremonies and Large Scale Planning
Plan and execute dry runs for both team-level ceremonies and large-scale planning events. Virtual sessions are much different from live sessions or distributed sessions and a practice session is beneficial.
Prepare teams for virtual sessions by conducting a very limited dry run of the activities in which they’ll be engaged to further educate the team, ensure all that’s been planned is working correctly, and to instill a sense of confidence within the group. Keep sessions centered around very limited use cases and limit duration to no more than a few hours.
Perhaps the most important rule of all—be agile. Remember not to panic, and expect challenges along the way. Start your journey, retrospect often, and continuously improve.
Dennis Petrillo is an agile practitioner with more than 7 years experience delivering agile solutions. He has been part of several transformations, helping organizations shift from a waterfall approach to a scaled agile approach using the SAFe framework. He’s also worked with scrum and system teams to identify bottlenecks in the delivery pipeline, reduce manual processes and optimize speed and quality using automation. He is passionate about helping organizations become more efficient, innovative and competitive in the market.
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