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Agile teams are built on the core principle that flexibility — to find the most effective configuration of resources and capabilities — can provide an important competitive advantage. Agile work is built on a few key principles: Teams are small to enable fast decision-making and high productivity; teams use quick experiments to capture feedback from internal or external customers and then make decisions; and team members meet daily.
The premise of agile teams is based on the collaborators all being in the same physical location. In fact, the document that introduced and codified the concept. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
The belief is that face-to-face communication makes teams more agile because it eliminates confusion and overhead often caused by documentation.
Face-to-face conversation has been seen as the gold standard that can resolve misunderstandings on the spot in real time.
To maintain the short and efficient meeting processes that agile approaches require, just send out a simple agenda prior to virtual meetings or ask team members to reflect on key items before convening.
Asking team members to jot down thoughts on a shared platform prior to group brainstorming is an important shift to make in remote agile collaboration. As an initial step in proposing ideas, a team could use any asynchronous form of communication that it may be accustomed to.
When the team convenes, members can immediately start appraising the ideas jotted down before.
Using asynchronous collaboration tools, such as Google Docs, allows the team to constantly iterate without the guardrails or boundaries of a conventional in-person workday. Team members can make comments or suggestions in a shared document whenever a thought comes to them on their own time, rather than waiting to broach the subject with colleagues in the office during scheduled meetings or when a colleague doesn’t appear to be busy.
Shared documents can be a particularly useful way to socialize an idea and get a team to make a quick decision on it.
For in-person teams, it is customary to have someone present their work in the stand-up and people chime in directly on each piece of work. This hardly works in virtual meetings.
Remote work requires new customs for these daily stand-up meetings, and a little more orchestration is needed. One option is to give each person a dedicated time to speak without interruption before handing the virtual baton to the next person. This approach eliminates the problem of people unintentionally talking over one another or waiting to read a virtual room that is not readable.
One challenge that larger agile teams of up to 10 people encounter when working virtually is providing easy input without interrupting or speaking simultaneously. Reducing the number of people involved in a virtual huddle in the early stages of a project can help focus communication.
Holding meetings with a small, cross-functional group to include, for example, one engineer, one project manager, and one designer can accelerate decision-making as well. Once the smaller group has reached some preliminaries, more people can be brought in.
Remote teams should establish norms that identify which digital communication platforms are most appropriate for certain forms of correspondence. Email may be most suitable for formal but non-urgent requests, while instant mobile messaging may be more appropriate for informal but urgent requests.
Phone calls can be used for quick check-ins. Working remotely, using one’s mobile phone to call a team member becomes a replacement for the quick cubicle check-in, with slower and more laborious texting relegated to matters requiring little to no back-and-forth discussion.
Because virtual communication can occur at any hour of the day or night, whereas face-to-face interaction at an office is bounded by more standardized work hours, it’s important for managers to establish guidelines on when to communicate — and more importantly, when not to communicate — to preserve the boundaries between work and non-work responsibilities.
Team members talk with one another rather than directing comments upstream to a supervisor or manager. The agile process has retrospective reviews built into the end of each work segment — or “sprints” — during which team members put up anonymous Post-it notes on an office wall stating what they liked about the experience, what they didn’t like, ideas sparked and things to celebrate.
However, honesty, trust and candid communication are not always easy to maintain for intimate, in-person teams and can be even more difficult for agile teams that are remote, large, numerous (or all three).
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