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How Agile Adapted in a COVID-19 World
Beth Schmidt, Director, IT Delivery and Agile Operations, Markel
I’m sure by now most of you are familiar with Agile approaches to Software Development. One of the values in the Agile Manifesto is face-to-face communication whenever possible. Many teams have relied on post-it notes and physical boards on their walls, and in-person stand-ups. Remember, Agile is not just for Software Development teams or Project Managers. It’s important to note DevOps and programming practices necessary to achieve the full value, and many business teams have adopted Agile as well. This means Agile could be practiced by an entire organization. So how have Agile companies adapted to our virtual world?
“Technology has become critical in this time where most team members are working from home. Online Scrum and Kanban boards, as well as video conferencing, are a must.”
Technology has become critical in this time where most team members are working from home. Online Scrum and Kanban boards, as well as video conferencing, are a must. Teams using a scaled approach have even bigger challenges due to the need for cross-team collaboration and dependency tracking. But, companies have in fact adapted, and while nothing beats face-to-face communication, it is possible to run Agile projects virtually. It just requires a growth mindset to find ways to solve these “problems.”
Several positives have come out of all of this, one of which is an increase in sharing ideas and solutions. I receive notifications at least weekly from people offering tips and advice, both internal to my company and externally from bloggers and other members of the Agile community. Using tools that mimic the visualization we’re all used to is easy if you already have such a tool available. For teams who did not previously use technology to track work, this is a harder task due to the need to evaluate, possibly purchase, and learn new tools. But with the right tools in place, there are many benefits such as reporting capabilities and better transparency into the work. Another positive outcome is that training and certification classes that had previously only been held in-person now have virtual offerings. As someone certified to teach some of these classes, I will say it’s no small task. For learners, it means more options since location is irrelevant.
There can be bumps along the way for team members with internet issues or an insufficient work-from-home setup. Some companies are offering assistance in the form of purchase programs to help employees get the setup they need. Then there are the challenges of using video conferencing and managing how we communicate. I’ve found that setting ground rules helps, such as muting your phone if you’re not speaking and having someone monitor a group chat for questions. Some tools allow team members to virtually raise their hands and use checkmarks next to their names when they’re done with online activity. It’s also helpful to integrate other tools that allow for polling, and don’t forget to incorporate fun such as quizzes and games that reinforce learning and team bonding. Once the setup is addressed and the right tools are in place, some teams are actually seeing an increase in productivity!
Agile practitioners are skilled at dealing with change, so we need to use these skills to adjust our daily interactions with our teams. I recently presented at a meetup group on the topic of using our Agile Mindsets to change how we think about work and life. This also means rethinking priorities and clearing out our backlogs of the things we can’t do to make room for new opportunities we can do. While COVID-19 has challenged us to work in ways not ideal for Agile teams, we’ve proven that it can be done, quite successfully!