January 18, 2022

Agilists

News for Agilists

“As a Scrum Master, I’m Feeling Useless While Working Remotely”


Sarah sits at her kitchen table, staring at a laptop screen. Her 13-year-old son Victor sits next to her, doing his math schoolwork. Her partner Rene is on the other side of the table, working with their other son Filip, an eighth-grader who needs to prepare for the final exam. Here, in their small apartment, social distancing isn’t an option.

While Sarah divides her attention between her work and Victor, the team finishes the Sprint Planning. With that, a day of events comes to a close. Sarah actively participated in the Sprint Retrospective and was invisibly present during the Sprint Planning. As always. The one improvement they selected involved the quality of the regression test. At the Sprint Planning, the team had taken the difficult circumstances into account, planning slightly less work.

Then the team recaps the day and the consensus is that this first day has been great considering the circumstances. Sarah agrees. They hardly could have done it better. Then the call ends and she closes the laptop. She feels exhausted. This day was more draining than a typical office day.

Fifteen minutes later, Sarah sits on the couch. Victor is at the kitchen table and has a group call with his class. She hardly understands what they are talking about, but they surely have a lot of fun. Fifteen minutes later he is finished. He tells Sarah that his teacher will set up a call every day to maintain the class cohesion.

It’s 10 AM and Sarah sits on her bed with a laptop on her … lap. Rene is in the living room with the kids. Yesterday, they had created a standard daily schedule. The four will start working days together. At 9, Rene will occupy the bedroom for an hour and at 10 Sarah takes over. At 11 they will sit together again until 1 PM when Rene has the bedroom. Sarah then has the final bedroom slot at 2 PM.

Sarah’s Development Team has the Daily Scrum. Meanwhile, she has a call with the other Scrum Masters to share their working from home experiences. Sarah recommends Miro and Puneet shares how his team uses Mural. That’s about it concerning great tips. The rest of the 30-minute call is chitchatting about everything, including COVID-19 and the new reality it has created. When Sarah closes the Skype call, she smiles. It feels good to have informal talks like this, helping her to virtually escape the confines of the apartment.

In the afternoon, Filip has a remote gym class and Sarah decides to join. It’s awesome how creatively this school is using technology to continue teaching the kids. While she’s back behind her laptop, she regularly checks the news on COVID-19. She struggles with her work. Next week’s Scrum training is cancelled, so there’s no reason to prepare this. With that, her agenda a rather empty.

For now, occasional changes of the Sprint Backlog are her only contact with the team. She misses ‘walking the floor’ and feels detached. She asks to be invited to the Daily Scrum, hoping to be more involved in this way.

Filip sits next to her and is Skyping with a classmate. They received a task to work together to prepare a lecture about lions. Victor is Whatsapping with his class to discuss how to best learn from home. They sure know how to use modern technology!

The weekend has passed quicker than expected. While the weather was awesome, Sarah and her family stayed in their apartment, playing board games. Her only time outside was to visit a nearly empty supermarket. As there was hardly any other choice, Sarah decided to go vegan. These foods were left unsold.

At the Daily Scrum, Sarah is actively listening. As a Scrum Master, it is not her job to steer the discussion. There’s plenty to listen though. For starters, the team abandoned Pair Programming. Instead, they work on individual tasks. This wouldn’t be a catastrophe if they all know who does what. But they don’t. The team only has this daily call to align. If they continue like this, they will surely run into trouble. There’s irritation abound, but a lack of collaboration.

Sarah decides to have short calls with all the team members and these confirm her worries, the team is falling apart. Meanwhile, Victor is Whatsapping with his class again. Sarah observes this and then puts her hands on her head and cries “Of course!”

She creates a Slack group and invites her team. Her first message is a suggestion to use the channel for continuous team communication. This is meeting a need because the channel is instantly in use.

Another day, another Daily Scrum. Contrary to yesterday though, there are signs of the past group cohesion and little surprises, although there’s still the working in silos.

Inspired by her sons, she turns her attention to her laptop and decides to share their experiences:

  • About the daily informal chat with the whole class;
  • About working together via Skype, essentially Pair Programming;
  • About having regular group discussions to tackle an issue.

She ends with the suggestion that the team can apply these practices too as great alternatives while the team works remotely and offers her help to establish it.

Sarah can no longer be invisibly present. Her team has to deal with major changes in the way they do their work. With that, Sarah needs to bring guidance and coaching until the team is settled again.

Sarah sits on her bed with her arms crossed. She looks at her screen. She participates in the Sprint Review of her team. The event has twenty-eight participants online. This is their first fully remote Sprint Review.

Her team has meticulously prepared the Sprint Review as the world has changed in the past 14 days. This preparation pays and the participant engagement is again great.

The team tells about the struggles they have had to come to terms with remotely collaborating and discuss how do were able to adapt and find their focus again. This was not a moment too soon, because they barely managed to meet their Sprint Goal.

The responses of the stakeholders are generally favourable. However, some complain that they haven’t been as involved as they were before. Sarah realises how her team actively involved stakeholders in design decisions and other topics to meet the Sprint Goal. With that, Sarah knows what she needs to do next Sprint.

When we need to start working from home, our situation changes drastically. As a result, it changes a team. A Scrum Master needs to assess the new reality and change the approach to the team. Below two articles expand on this:

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