Remote work exploded in the wake of the pandemic, but interest in long-distance, digitally-mediated collaboration was growing even before lockdowns forced millions to quickly get up to speed on video conferencing platforms.
A study published by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics reported that the five years leading up to Covid saw a 44% increase in remote work, and unquestionably, the pandemic acted as a powerful catalyst for this trend. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the number of Americans working from home doubled in 2022.
Popular development frameworks like Scrum, though not originally intended for remote teams, can now take full advantage of this change by leveraging skilled talent from across the globe.
What is Scrum?
Scrum is a project management framework utilized primarily by software development teams that embrace Agile principles (e.g. self-organization, adaptive planning, early delivery, and continual improvement). Scrum is built around forming small teams (typically less than ten members) who break up big problems into smaller units which are tackled in short Sprints that are typically about two weeks long and never longer than a month.
The name Scrum refers to daily stand-up meetings that the team holds called scrums, which are also brief (typically just 15 minutes). The whole concept behind Scrum is to move fast, communicate openly, and prevent progress from being stalled by over focusing on tools, practices, and procedures. Instead, teams are free to innovate and encouraged to produce results at a regular clip.
Does Scrum Work for Remote Teams?
Agile frameworks were first formally codified over two decades ago, before broadband networks were ubiquitous. When the Agile Manifesto was released in 2011, digital connectivity struggled to support things like high definition video conferencing.
The manifesto describes in-person collaboration as a core tenet and promotes face-to-face communication and co-located environments. But, thanks to the rapid proliferation of digital platforms for collaboration, communication, and the secure sharing of sensitive software assets and work products, Agile frameworks like Scrum have been successfully adapted to modern, remote workforces.
How Do You Manage a Remote Team in Scrum?
Many of the same principles of in-person Scrum management still apply when the team is fully or partially spread out across a wide geographic region. Other Scrum principles will need adjustment to better fit the needs of offshore Scrum teams.
Scrum is an inherently self-organizing framework. Naturally, managers add a necessary layer of oversight and coordination, but skilled knowledge workers need room to develop personalized workflows and processes. Furthermore, strictly defined rules and milestones can be a hindrance to fearless experimentation and an openness to innovating by trial and error, which is vital in Agile development.
When there is no watercooler to hang by and colleagues are the next country over (not in the next cubicle or office), sharing knowledge and asking quick questions isn’t always easy. Hence, it’s vital that the team’s culture endorses daily interaction on digital channels.
Before starting their Sprints, everyone on the team needs to know:
– What their role is
– What collaboration tools they will have access to
– How frequently they will be meeting and where
– Whether they will need to be on-camera for meetings
– When the core working hours will be
– When they will have ‘focus time’ that is free from disruptions
When managers address core working hours they also need to specifically consider whether synchronous or asynchronous communication will be the norm. Some teams work on the same schedule even if members are in different time zones, others allow everyone to work on their own time.
Put People Before Tools
Naturally, digital products take digital tools to make, but Scrum advises against choosing your tools before investigating the problem. Team members should organically coalesce around the solutions that are a fit for their issues and not be forced to use a particular technology.
Shrink Your Teams
Classic Agile teams often follow what’s called the “two pizza rule,” which states that the team should be small enough that two pizzas can feed it. That typically amounts to seven to ten people. For remote Scrum, where managing lines of communication is more complex, it’s recommended to deploy even smaller teams of just five or six people.
Build a Positive Culture
Given the unique challenges of remote and offshore Scrum-based development, proactive management must carve out time for non-work-related bonding where shared values connect individuals. The goal is to nurture the level of trust and camaraderie that winning teams need to do their best work.
Remote Scrum is the Future, and There’s No Going Back
Not only has Agile software development based around Scrum principles been adapted to remote work, it’s even beginning to overtake it, according to some industry analysts. Gartner declared that “Remote teams that closely follow recommended agile technical practices could easily outperform a colocated team that does not.”
And thanks to the wider pool of available candidates it affords and the opportunity to capitalize on teams across the globe, self-organizing, cross-functional Scrum teams are proving that the ‘new normal’ of remote and hybrid work can be effectively applied to software development.
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