How to Manage a remote Scrum Team?

Scrum has been one of the most implemented frameworks in Agile Methodologies. Due to Covid most of the operations in Scrum are done by distributed teams remotely. One of the highlights of using Scrum practices is that a particular product could be developed by Developers from any time zone of the world. As every day passes by, the world changes rapidly by reshaping and rethinking where and how we work. When a company has a global workforce, the quality of the work delivered will be relevant to the entire world which would help the company to grow globally. Businesses adapt and reorganize better ways of working so that they increase their productivity and their business value. Scrum tools and Artifacts are designed in ways to support such distributed teams working remotely and help them design the desired product without any hassle. The Agile principles such as open collaboration, adaptability, self-organization, and continuous learning play a major role in making the remote Scrum Team function efficiently. The Scrum framework’s defined set of roles and rituals can help them serve most effectively and also support the management of remote Scrum Teams. 

Remote Scrum Teams

The approaches of handling a remote team would be different than for teams working in an office together. Innovative approaches to adopt Scrum has been designed such that the remote Scrum Team could be successful. However, it becomes the responsibility of the team members to be disciplined about the Scrum rituals and make use of opportunities for bonding and collaboration even if the team is working remotely. Scrum Teams rituals such as Scrum Meetings, Sprint Reviews, Events, Retrospectives, etc could be adapted via online mode while working from home or any other remote place. A Distributed team should consist of people who could be fed by two pizzas which means that the team should consist of about 7-10 people. However, while working in a remote setup, it is best to have 5-6 people as important video conferences could be carried out easily with lesser people. 

What are the Benefits of Scrum Remote Teams?

  • Scrum with Remote teams has a broader range of available talent which increases the skill sets of teams. As people from any part of the world can be a part of the Scrum Team, there are endless possibilities of hiring talented Developers from all around the world. 
  • Each member from different locations can bring a wide pool of ideas, working styles, opinions, cultures, and innovations to the table that could be relevant to the entire world. 
  • Scrum Teams having members across geographies allow a 24-hour workday 
  • Scrum with remote teams makes the best self-managing, cross-functional Agile teams as it consists of all-embracing global team members.

Many companies have adopted remote working due to the COVID pandemic, and Scrum has been an enormous support for these organizations. Scrum is a framework to communicate effectively and collaborate with members globally. It can change easily according to the needs of the teams and adapt to the user requirements, which helps the teams to be Agile and learn and improve continuously. According to Gartner, “Remote teams that follow Agile technical practices can outshine or outperform a colocated team which does not follow Agile practices. 

What are the challenges faced while managing a Scrum Remote Team?

When Agile was founded, it was intended for teams who work in the same office, as the Agile Manifesto stated that “the most effective and efficient method of conveying information inside the team is by face-to-face communication.” But it has been a long time since Agile was founded, and many changes have taken place in the market. Softwares like Jira, Confluence, Trello, and zoom have improved the ways of communication. One of the main challenges of remote working teams is finding a common time to coordinate for meetings, or working together by communicating with one another. There is a misperception that remote working teams are not productive when compared to teams who are physically present at the office. However, a study found out that remote teams prove to be more productive, as they have lesser physical distractions compared to a physical workplace. 

Communication between the team members is the biggest challenge that remote scrum teams face. As there are no informal hallway chats, or impromptu in-person meetings, the communication between the team members might be lesser than that of the office-going teams. This could be tackled by adopting a specific time to communicate over video conferencing while considering the time-zones of the team members. Another challenge that remote workers face is the feeling of isolation, lack of unity, and misinterpreted social interaction with other members. It is difficult to build unity among team members who are physically not present at the office. However, one way to tackle it is to have remote meetings not only about work but also about their personal stories and connecting on a personal level. Having games during virtual meetings could also be a way of getting to know one another and having fun. 

Most importantly, one important factor is having an updated Product Backlog, as everyone depends on that to see how much work has to be completed. If the Product Backlog is not well-defined, coordinating a project will be very difficult and time-consuming for Scrum remote teams. 

How Should You Build and Manage a Successful Remote Scrum Team?

For any Remote Scrum Team to be successful, it should follow the core Scrum values of transparency, clear communication, and continuous improvement. The success of the team entirely depends on collaboration, communication, and transparency. The remote Scrum Team should have a solid plan that has the following factors:

  • Ways to connect other team members for informal questions
  • How the availability of the team members is communicated
  • Agreements of remote work
  • Agreements about the structure of meetings that have to be held.
  • Which collaboration tools to be used by the team for communication. 

When these questions are answered, the remote Scrum Teams could have a better quality of processing the product, and all the operations could run smoothly. Also, here are two most important ways that one has to follow while building and managing Scrum Teams:

  • Reality checks of transparency and communication should be done by setting aside some time. This should be done especially when the team starts newly when the 
  • Experimenting on various activities and exercises that would be relevant to a remote environment.

Three important tips to manage Scrum Remote Teams:

1. Fix a flexible Structure for work

When a team is working remotely, it is always difficult to find a proper structure among the chaos. Flexibility does not only refer to the time of work but also other operations of the product development. Scrum helps Developers to write down only meta-information about the product and leaves space to fill it with content that is suitable for the product. Under the flexibility of the team members, the following has to be discussed. 

  • The flow of meetings: This includes questions such as when meetings will take place, what is the goal, and who needs to be present at the meeting.
  • Expectations: This is needed in bigger teams where Developers have to write down what they are going to achieve and also what they expect from one another. This is a group activity where the process of interactions and creating transparency between team members has to be emphasized.
  • Which Agile tools have to be used: These Agile techniques include writing a DoD, a DoR, release plan, or a team contract. 

Here are some other tips to increase your flexibility:

  • Use a shared whiteboard for this meeting such as everyone could access this whiteboard. This application should be easy to use, and should only contain relevant and engaging information related to the product. 
  • Beginning with what you have and not trying to find a perfect solution would be a better choice to increase your flexibility.
  • Describe the process of what is already known and gradually improve on the product development.
  • Start with the Scrum Guide setup and later add or adjust anything needed by discussing with the team.
  • Start the day on a shared dashboard, by saying hello to each other, or by looking at the burndown chart. 

2. Build Trust among the Scrum Remote Team

Building transparency among the team members would seem hard in the starting as the team is divided and there is no sense of trust among the members. Building a foundation for trust in the team becomes crucial for effective collaboration. This trust needs to be built both on the technical team and with the client or the whole business on the client-side. For the Scrum Team to build the correct product, Developers and businesses have to collaborate effectively and efficiently. 

Reality checks in the Scrum Team

  • Is the feedback communicated through a manager directly?
  • Are Sprint Retrospectives conducted regularly, and how does the team react there?
  • Are the impediments taken into notice to the rest of the team and the Product owner?

Tips to build trust among team members:

  • Agreeing with the team that everyone assumes good intentions for the success of the project. The team members need to take accountability for their actions and not play the blame game and point fingers at others when a specific Product Increment fails.
  • Setting up ground rules that everyone has to follow such as:
  1. How does one communicate with others during work in times of urgent issues? 
  2. Setting up a time window where one should not be disturbed for non-urgent or unimportant communications.
  3. Making up different forms of communication and understanding what suits best for everyone. 

3. Building Self-regulation and Self-Reliance

Everyone on the team has to understand that a Scrum Team is a self-managing team and everyone has to take ownership of their work. This requires maturity and as a member, it begins with taking the leadership of their tasks and later expanding it to the whole team. Self-managing, Trust, and self-reliance are all interconnected qualities of the team members. When one of the factors increases, the other two increases automatically. 

What to look out for?

  • Is the Sprint Goal being delivered at the end of the Sprint as promised?
  • How is the team accountable for their actions and commitments?
  • Do members of the team share their responsibilities? Do they help each other to fulfill the common goal or just complete their share of the work?
  • Does the team achieve their business goal and Can they describe their current business goal and what tasks are they performing to fulfill it?
  • Are the team members giving feedback to one another?
  • Do people trust each other with their work?
  • Does the Product Owner trust the team and how much does the Product Owner have to engage to make the team understand the product?

Ways to increase self-reliance in the team

  • Set up ground rules before the team collaborates. This makes it easier for everyone to understand their boundaries and let them know about their tasks and what is expected of them.
  • Writing down the expected tasks that one has to complete and telling how team members hold each other accountable is a great way to keep a track of the tasks of the team members.
  • Find a solution to problems that arise in the team such as a fellow team member who does not attend the meetings or attends it late often. These types of issues should be raised openly and the whole team should find a solution together. 

Remote Scrum Teams have become a part of the new normal as every organization is forced to work from home due to the pandemic. Adopting the remote principles to the Scrum Team would help them share their work between locations and communicate effectively. This helps the team to maintain an Agile environment and a successful culture throughout the organization. Having clear and concise methods, processes, tools, and ways to work at scale would help the team to succeed in their projects and also would help the organization grow as a whole. Using software that helps to create remote team plans and promotes connection and collaboration among the team members is highly recommended for a Scrum with remote teams. Managing a remote Scrum Team may seem like a daunting task but with the use of the right software and remote principles for the Scrum Team, any remote team is sure to see success.