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How to Manage a Remote Scrum Team

Remote Scrum teams are a growing concept and gaining more and more popularity thanks to the pandemic and tons of other benefits associated with remote culture.
March 29 · 7 min read
Learn how to manage remote Scrum team

The world of business has changed rapidly over the last couple of years, especially with the pandemic that is forcing corporations to adopt varying work structures. The global workforce has seen a large-scale shift, with most people being forced to work from their homes. As corporations strive to adhere to new ways of working, remote practices and teamwork have become the norm. This means that a lot of Scrum teams now work either partially or entirely remotely.

The Scrum framework is great for adaptation and flexibility and it's now more important than ever to implement this structure. Scrum teams have the unique ability to be communicative, transparent, and self-regulating. All of these are essential for any team to have a chance to be successful. And now, with Scrum teams becoming remote, it's more crucial than ever for them to inculcate all of these elements.

Remote Scrum Team – Brief Overview

As per Gartner, it is anticipated that 90% of agile teams will add remote work part of their business continuity plan, which will be up by 30% as of 2020. These numbers are staggering and denote the immediate need to train and re-train Scrum teams to function as remote entities. But the first question is that what exactly is a remote scrum team?

A remote or distributed Scrum team is a partially or fully remote team where members do not work in the same space. They might travel to attend monthly check-ins in the same physical location, but the understanding is that they conduct the major portion of their work from home or somewhere else. Scrum experts recommend having a smaller Scrum team if the members will be working remotely since this is an easily manageable structure than say the traditional team of 7-10 people.

Benefits of Having a Remote Scrum Team

The good thing about Scrum is that a lot of the pre-defined guides and tools can easily be adapted to a remote situation. This means that things like sprints, retrospectives, and standups can still be carried out with a remote scrum team. It makes it easier to create a remote scrum team that adds value and benefits the corporation.

There are a lot of benefits to having a remote scrum team. First off, there are a lot of people to choose from. Some businesses manage team members that live in different countries, not only in different cities. Being unrestricted by geographical location means that you get to have access to team members who are highly qualified and motivated, meaning a larger pool of talented people.

What's more, you can save on office space if you are a small or medium-sized business. Maybe you don't have space to have your team of 6-8 people comes in on the regular or you're having trouble managing overheads. You can use a remote scrum team and get your work done without incurring numerous overheads.

Lastly, since different people are in different time zones, you can theoretically have a 24-hour workday. This is an interesting and productive benefit of having a remote scrum team.

Challenges of Having a Remote Scrum Team

While there are a lot of benefits to having a remote scrum team, it does come with its unique challenges. The Agile framework, while being flexible, was originally designed to be implemented for teams in the same physical location. So much so that the Agile Manifesto says, “the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation”. However, a lot of things have now changed and there is a lot of techs that allow remote communication to be easy and effective.

One of the biggest challenges that remote scrum teams face is communication. It's easier to check-in and touch base when you're in the same office space. Hallway chats and watercooler discussions are a great way for team members to become comfortable with one another and with their supervisors. With the advent of remote work, communication can suffer because team members only log on to talk about work and miss out on personal or emotional connections.

Another challenge is that project knowledge may be hazy or disorganized across the team. Some teams may struggle to stay on top of things, as they might be in different time zones, have connectivity issues, or may not get a chance to stay in the loop. This can make it tough for the team to do timely product backlog estimation, sprint planning, sprint reviews, and similar other sessions. Moreover, with insufficient or delayed information about the team's progress, the Scrum master might find it challenging to lead the team effectively and ensure timely deliveries.

How to Manage a Remote Scrum Team

A successful remote scrum team should follow some essential principles. It should have clear and open communication, transparency, the willingness to learn and improve, skill-sharing, and motivation. The whole structure only works if the team stays on the right track and trusts each other. These are the two things where Scrum Master can help a key role. So, how can a Scrum Master manage a remote scrum team effectively? Here are some ways to do so.

1. Tools for Collaboration

It's crucial to adopt the right tools so the team can collaborate. The remote Scrum team should be made familiar with all the tools and technology that it will use to talk to each other and organize its tasks. For example, apps like Async Poker, Zoom, Trello, or Slack should be made routine parts of their day.

The Scrum Master should organize training or refresher courses for team members who may not know how to use these tools so that everyone can be on the same page throughout the project. These tools must be accessible to all of the members, provide them with relevant information, and foster a sense of transparency. Not only will these help with communication, but they will encourage a sense of trust and mutual respect among the team. Not to mention, tools like Trello and Slack will help the team stay organized with deliverables.

2. Hangout Sessions and Chats

As we mentioned earlier, team members need to have impromptu conversations with one another. The Scrum Master can use a tool like Slack and create channels that are just for watercooler chats or hangouts. Team members can talk to each other about things unrelated to work so they create emotional connections that will help them collaborate a lot better.

This practice will help the scrum master build unity among team members and lead them towards self-regulation much faster. If team members know that they can easily communicate with one another, they will talk to each other about common issues and be able to work their way to a solution much quicker.

3. Daily Check-ins or Meetings

The Scrum framework demands that team members have daily check-ins to estimate the amount of work left to and to assess the emotional well-being of every individual. The Scrum Master can easily arrange virtual check-ins daily where the team talks about any issues it may have and figure out a solution.

These daily check-ins can be held at a time when it's convenient for team members across different time zones to buzz in as well, ensuring that the whole team has a chance to be on the same page. The Scrum Master can also give any updates or point out any issues that need to be looked at. Sometimes, it can even just be about giving out praise for a job well-done and boosting morale.

4. Host On-Site Events if Possible

This may not apply to organizations that have remote scrum teams in different countries, but if your team is distributed across the same country or area, you can use this tip. Host semi-regular on-site bonding events that members of the remote scrum team can attend. This is particularly useful if you have had a remote scrum team from the beginning because no one will have met anyone else in real life.

This will be a good moment to have everyone come together, chat over coffee or food, and get to know one another. It will also give the team members a chance to bond with the whole organization workforce, as they will meet other employees, creating a lot of motivation and trust across the board.

5. Plan Sprints Effectively

Sprints are one of the most important parts of the scrum framework. If you have a remote scrum team, make sure the sprints are planned out well and everyone is involved. Planning a sprint session for a remote scrum team is a little different from planning an on-site one. Sometimes, Scrum Master can face roadblocks while planning online sprints which is why it's crucial to have a well-thought-out plan.

A pragmatic Scrum Master will use video conferencing tools to organize efficient sprint sessions and will make sure that sprints are carried out in smaller groups. This works both for team members in different time zones and those who might not be comfortable collaborating with everyone at the same time. You can either have live sprint sessions with your team or pre-record videos, so the team can look back at them during the week. Both of these tactics will ensure that your team doesn't feel isolated or disengaged during the project.

6. Create a Fair Agenda

While it's vital to create established and transparent goals and objectives for Scrum teams normally, it's even more important to set down this agenda for a remote scrum team. Overcommunicating goals is perfect when you're managing a remote scrum team because it allows all team members to understand what they're working towards. Plus, some information may get lost in translation or be miscommunicated on a digital platform, so overexplaining overcomes this hurdle.

It is also the duty of the Scrum Master to set down goals in a way that is fair to all team members. Remote team members shouldn't feel like they're being burdened with more than they would be doing if they were in a physical office. For that, you should make a clear agenda that outlines everyone's responsibilities and divides daily or weekly tasks according to what is manageable. This will ensure that the team has a chance to work but also get in enough downtime that they don't burn out while working remotely.

Are Remote Scrum Teams Worth the Trouble?

When you're considering opting for a remote scrum team, consider this fact: the company that owns WordPress (Automattic) has a workforce that is almost completely remote. More and more companies have either partially or completely switched to using remote teams and it makes sense because there are fewer overheads to pay, the talent pool is a lot bigger, there are new learning opportunities through diversification, and there may be lower costs depending on where you are sourcing your team members from.

All in all, it just takes some learning to organize a remote scrum team well enough that it becomes autonomous, efficient, and self-regulating. Thankfully, there are a lot of tools and technology that can help, as we have mentioned above. There are even ways to set up virtual whiteboards, which arguably can be a lot more efficient than on-site ones, since they are technologically advanced and allow all team members to access them. A remote scrum team is very much worth it, provided it can be managed in the right way.

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