Ideas to Overcome the Impact of Distributed Agile Teams-EN

Picture of Ana Aranda Diaz

Ana Aranda Diaz

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A few days ago, governments in several countries declared states of emergency.

What does this mean? Basically, it is recommended that citizens do not attend mass events, do not go to shops and parks…. or even to their workplace. They are asking us to be responsible and collaborate to prevent the virus from continuing to spread among the population.

My friends have been telling me that in their companies, they have gradually been sending entire teams to work from home because there was some family member or friend infected, or with symptoms, or simply out of caution.

We are in a scenario of Teleworking and dispersed teams.

The current circumstances associated with COVID-19 lead me to reflect on a topic that has become very important in today’s world:

Can distributed agile teams still be agile? Can teams keep working?

This issue is not new, in fact, more companies, for various reasons have had to face the challenge of getting their teams to work in an agile way while being dispersed. It’s not the best situation, and if any of us were given a choice we would always opt for co-located teams working side by side, physically and mentally😊 but sometimes, such as now, we are not given the choice.

In this article I would like to present some ideas that can serve as points of reflection for teams that have been impacted by this new reality of COVID-19.

Let’s begin…

Review the “Alliances”

I think the first things that needs to be reviewed in the team are the rules of the game or the work agreements. At Netmind, we like to call them “alliances”.

These “alliances” contain the rights and duties agreed upon by the team members, and serve to generate a mutual understanding on how to act within  it, and thus create an appropriate environment that helps us manage the way we relate and work together..

In these agreements we should define things like:

  • When and how to update the status of activities on the Kanban board
  • Schedules and location of the daily stand-up
  • When and how we perform the rest of the ceremonies

In most cases these “alliances” were defined and agreed upon considering that the teams were to be co-located. Now most of us will be teleworking, we need to review, update, and agree upon the tools and schedules for each of the examples above.

It would be important to convene a “crisis” cabinet and review these alliances.

“Individuals and interactions…” Perhaps one of the first rules of this alliance would be to reinforce the recommendation to have the camera on when we interact with the rest of the team members, so that we can continue to have that “face-to-face” communication even if we are miles apart.

Be mindful of cameras in mass virtual gatherings though. Having all of the cameras on can be a distraction and prevent you from focusing.

Maintaining Transparency

Being in a co-located environment it is easier to have visibility and fulfill the commitment to “transparency”.

Alright, now comes the time for each team to consider how we can maintain that transparency with each of us at home.

Working remotely requires additional communication responsibilities, it is especially important to be open about sharing our information, sharing screen and/or documents, for example, and being available to others.

Being separated, it is not as easy to balance these workloads, we do not see in person that one of our colleagues seems overwhelmed, stressed, or tired.

When we’re in the same space, you don’t even have to say it, anyone could see it and give us a hand, or ask us. In this new situation, we must be proactive and be open to sharing our mental state. If we do not manage it correctly, we are creating a “lose-lose” situation. We would be suffering, and at the same time we may be creating bottlenecks and compromising both delivery on time and desired quality of our “products”.

Let’s not be afraid to “complain” or express any feeling of this kind. This type of openness is in everyone’s interest. Let’s be transparent about that too.


In a dispersed environment, knowing appropriate tools is critical in applying agile practices.

There are thousands on the market and there are many articles and references, look for the ones that can be adapted best to your needs, they do not need to be “the most sophisticated”, they simply need to be “good enough! ” Remember KISS (Keep It Stupidly Simple).

The Importance of Demos

Planning frequent demos can no only increase transparency and trust management, but can be a key factor in maintaining the trust of our stakeholders. The demonstration of our deliverables increases the visibility of the project, transmits the degree of progress, and is the best way to collect comments and feedback. Allowing us to make necessary adjustments.

In this sense, the team also has to think, for each particular case, how to carry out the Demos, how to make sure that we have the right tools, and that there is consensus in the team when using them.

Put it in writing?

These exceptional circumstances may cause us to review the need to document in writing. We may now need simple, brief, clear documents to help us bridge the gap left by the lack of “face-to-face”.

More Things… Motivation

How can we continue to keep the team motivated in these circumstances??

In dispersed teams, we have to work harder to communicate, keep engaged and focused. We also have to pay, if possible, much more attention in the retrospectives when it comes to measuring the “health” of the team and analyze, in an open way, the dynamics and interactions between us are now that we do not see each other. Again, transparency and trust are fundamental concepts to get out of this situation.

Each team has to look for ways to stay motivated. We have to be aware that this change can lead some teams going backwards to a previous phase of the Tuckman Model (Team Development Theory). The role of the Scrum Master will be essential to help the team return to the state it was in before this crisis.

It is quite likely that teams that were in a comfort zone (“Norming” or “Performing”) will  return momentarily to the “Storming” phase. You have to give them space and time for the team to participate, to share their concerns, frustrations, and rejections of the current situation, and from there encourage growth and standardization. 

We are Creatures of Habit

Humans are a complex and complicated species. Today, we are seeing how to adapt to this new need. But if this situation continues for weeks, months… there will come a time when we “get used” to working from home and we will not be motivated to return to the previous arrangement. Yes, it’s going to happen to us, so it wouldn’t hurt to think (starting now) of an incentive, some team activity for when this situation is reversed and we return to the office, to the daily routine with excitement and the motivation to the fullest.

Crisis, Danger, Opportunity

I know these are difficult times and I don’t want to be frivolous, but maybe it’s time to refer to Japan. I don’t know if you know that the word crisis in Japanese (危機=kiki) is made up of the characters 危=“danger” and 機=“opportunity”.

Let us try to identify these possible opportunities in the face of this difficult situation.

Take good care of yourself!

– Ana

#StayAtHome and #IWillStayHome

Forma parte de la comunidad #AlwaysLearning

¡Síguenos la pista!

Sobre el autor

Picture of Ana Aranda Diaz

Ana Aranda Diaz

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