10.12.2020 - Read in 6 min.
Agile, Scrum and Remote Work
10.12.2020 - Read in 6 min.
What experiences are present in Scrum Master’s remote work? Can we still talk about agile management? Read this interview to learn how Ewa manages to cope with agile methodologies and how the pandemic impacted her work.
Remote work is a challenge not only for teams, but also for Scrum Masters. When the situation forces us to stay home and work in a mixed/hybrid mode, oftentimes we experience communication interference and problems with providing services on time. It’s difficult to communicate and understand one another, define guidelines, or work efficiently at home where we are surrounded by our family and everyday life.
How to work remotely and stay sane? Is agile management possible in remote work? Read our interview with Ewa Felińska, who featured in one of the episodes of Drive with IT and talked in detail about her experience with Scrum and how she manages to coordinate the work of geographically dispersed teams. If you wish to listen to the interview with Ewa, visit our YouTube channel.
How long have you been working as a Scrum Master? What did your journey look like?
I have been a Scrum Master for nearly 2 years, and my journey has been rather long. Earlier, I had spent ca. 2 years working as a team leader in waterfall projects (in a rather “rigid” organisation). That was when I realised that communication is key in the work of developers. This is one of the main pillars that needs to be provided. I came across Agile and Scrum relatively early, but back then I was not thinking about it this way. I have obtained my certificates and have been working as a Scrum Master, first at my previous workplace and now with RST, for nearly two years now.
Did your previous company want to replace waterfall with agile methodologies?
Not really. They got used to it. I took part in large international projects based on ITIL. They were highly limited, we were audited, there was no space for experiments. It was then when I realised that it should be clear what the client expects, what is the why and desired outcome, especially in such large projects. It turned out that as a contractor I can be a party in this conversation. I saw that with less work and lower costs we could achieve what the client asked for.
Was your transition to Agile a “soft landing”? Or was it something completely new?
I would call it a soft landing. I started from obtaining a Scrum Master certificate. I chose an organisation with practicing instructors (people who used Agile and Scrum in small, large, international and domestic organisations). After obtaining the certificate, I applied for another one, i.e. a Product Owner, to be able to look at a given issue from different perspectives. That’s something that I learned and appreciated while working in IT: if I can look at a particular issue from different perspectives (as a person who works on a project, designs it, commissions work, and coordinates the work of a global team), my knowledge and understanding of what’s happening grows. I can see where the communication doesn’t work, and how that leads to unnecessary standstills. At the beginning of my work as a Scrum Master, I mostly relied on my previous experiences as a team leader.
What do you like most about working as a Scrum Master?
I enjoy working with people. The communication factor and the fact that we can always do things better. What I don’t like is the so-called waste. Unnecessary standstills, quarrels, or when we provide the client with things they did not want, and yet they don’t know how to tell us and we don’t know how to ask. The most satisfactory moment is when we achieve understanding and manage to deliver things we can be really proud of.
How did this unexpected situation, i.e. the global pandemic, impact you?
I remained calm. Maybe because I already had some experience with remote work and coordinating the work of people from different parts of the world. Earlier, I had worked with teams spread across three different continents.
So you have had previous experiences with remote work.
Yes, and it’s good to remember that there’s a plethora of tools that developers or Scrum Masters can use. Here’s a Toolkit prepared by Ewa. They are easily available, usually free, but to me the crucial thing to ensure is proper communication. There are a few things to remember:
- Meetings that take 5 minutes when held in the office, can take a little longer while working remotely;
- Don’t be afraid to overcommunicate to make sure that you have been correctly understood. And if not, provide feedback.
I remained calm, while keeping in mind that our company is known from working in small rooms, in the same building, and some associates may not be used to working remotely or to certain things associated with this style of work.
Agile and remote work – was this a challenge for you?
Yes and no. People work at home, where children can be really distracting.
There are a few things worth remembering when working remotely:
- when working at home, make sure to prepare space exclusively for work – not for eating, watching TV, etc.
- dress and act as if you were at work
- stay available – when taking a longer break, make sure to communicate and let everybody know
- use your phone
- search for new solutions.
On the one hand, this is a huge challenge. On the other hand, based on my conversations with the teams, we learn a lot from it.
Would you agree that remote work from home generally means higher efficiency?
That depends on the actual work. With tasks requiring only my work and undivided attention, it may be easier to do that at home. Nothing distracts me. But with several different topics, suddenly it’s a big “snowball”. For instance, I am waiting for somebody to perform code review, and I need to communicate with another team – this leads to delays that could be avoided when working in the same room. On the other hand, associates say that it is tempting to work a little longer, because they don’t have to commute. This work-life balance can easily be lost – read an article on how to ensure the balance after work in a few easy steps.
Can you see any issues in communication between teams? As a Scrum Master, you have the complex view.
Every team has a Scrum Master, and in case of questions or doubts, it’s good to remember that there’s a Scrum Master in your team or a Scrum Master of another team you need to communicate with. We have established communication channels: some prefer to write, others prefer calling. Personally, I always remind everyone not to be afraid to contact others. Make those calls. It’s better to say things twice than not say them at all, or to assume that everybody knows that. In fact, they probably don’t.
What about people who do not use Agile methodologies and do not have a Scrum Master? What can they do to cope with remote work?
Back in the days when I worked for international customers, I was the last person leaving the office. There was no team leader or manager to help me. Keep in mind some basic rules of communication. It’s better to call someone twice than to miss some important information. You have to search for the most effective communication methods. Some will answer your calls right away, while others have tons of work and will not respond to 5 e-mails. I think that in such non-agile environments communication is the common denominator. You have to have the need to know what the person on the other side of the line wants from you, who they are, how to communicate with them, how to get information from them, and what they need from you.
Have you introduced any enhancements or new procedures after the first week of remote work? Or was it too soon for that?
New things come up almost every day. One thing I particularly liked was a board to monitor the progress of tasks at hand. This is a similar visual tool, a very simple one, and yet that’s something we missed. It turns out that with the wide range of free tools, you can create such a board and put it into use (e.g. in Miro or Mural). The tool is very intuitive. It takes ca. 5 minutes to learn how to use it. I have created such a board for my team to mimic the style of work that they are used to. One look at the board and I know where I am and where the rest of the team is. It works great.
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