As more workers across the globe are becoming “virtual” workers, many of us never physically meet our teammates. While this can make financial sense for our employers, it also creates challenges in building team rapport and establishing effective collaboration. With communication being arguably the most important facet of Agile teams, how do we manage this dynamic?
Specific to the Sprint Planning, which was designed to focus the team towards a common goal, I have compiled a shortlist of ideas for your consideration.
#1 – Use Your Webcam Wisely
If available to you, take advantage of the webcam to maximize focus and communication. Even though your team is not physically co-located, being able to see each other’s’ body language and visual cues are both extremely powerful mediums of communication. If you are in a situation where webcams are not allowed for some reason, you will need to explore other options to close the physical and virtual gap.
#2 – Don’t Skimp on Estimating Your Stories!
Planning Poker is one of the key activities that your team should do during every Sprint Planning event. Although not being in the same room together creates an extra challenge, try to avoid cutting corners on this critical activity. There are plenty of tools that will enable your team to conduct this estimation process. The tool I have found a lot of success with is PlanitPoker. This tool is cloud-based and is highly customizable. The facilitator can customize the cards and lead the team through productive discussions through the normal estimation process.
#3 – Prepare the Backlog in Advance
When your team remote, there’s a tendency to become lax when it comes to refining the backlog ahead of the Sprint Planning meeting. One technique to sustain a positive momentum and high-quality backlog is to hold a recurring Backlog Refinement/Grooming meeting. With a distributed team, it is helpful to provide the backlog items for the team to preview prior to the planning event in order to optimize the meeting. A good practice is to ensure that all high-priority stories have Acceptance Criteria documented within the management tool for the entire team to review at least one day prior to the Planning day.
In closing, operating a virtual team is no easy feat. There are many challenges that will hinder team output, and to ensure a healthy and productive team, communication is by far the biggest factor. The more you can do to help the team collaborate, the higher the chances are for achieving your desired outcomes. If you haven’t considered these tips before, give them a try and see how it works!