Since COVID-19, agile teams have adopted remote practices to deliver continuous value to their users. Many leaders were unprepared for this remote work culture and thus some agile anti-patterns emerged. In this article, I have listed down some agile anti-patterns for remote teams based on some personal experiences. Before we start, let's understand what an anti-pattern means? An anti-pattern is a pattern that you think will improve things, but it doesn't.
Communication and Collaboration
With remote teams, communication plays a critical role. You need a communicate clearly, frequently, and candidly so everyone feels connected. Thus, one of the agile anti-patterns for remote teams that emerged is too many meetings. The break-room conversations near a vending machine or a water cooler have been replaced with meetings. As a result, an engineer does not find enough time during the day to work on his committed stories for the iteration and is spending extra time in the evenings or during weekends to catch up with his or her work.
There are multiple ways to deal with this anti-pattern. As agile leaders and scrum masters, we need to:
- Shield our team from unnecessary meetings and allow them to focus on their committed work.
- Ensure that teams have access to appropriate collaboration tools such as Slack, Skype for Business, etc.
- Choose the right collaboration tool to communicate frequently to your team
- Allow your team to be self-organized
Another agile anti-pattern that applies to both co-located and remote teams is conducting meetings with a large number of people even though only 2-3 people are required for the discussion. Other stakeholders simply want to listen to the discussion and track the next steps. To me, this sounds like micro-managing the team rather than trusting them to get the job done. Instead, agile leaders should encourage the team to take ownership, make decisions, have direct conversations, and share outcomes with the larger audience.
With a remote setting, there are no quiet corners or conference rooms to catch up on your work. Most managers now expect immediate communication which causes too much disruption, context switching, and lack of productivity. The problem of context-switching is not new, but it has increased with remote teams. Agile leaders should encourage their distributed teams to follow the practice of ‘do not disturb’ hours when they want uninterrupted time to work.
The other agile anti-pattern for remote teams is having long meetings that exceed more than 2-4 hours without enough breaks in between. This practice causes both physical and mental stress to the distributed teams. Some of the rituals like lengthy PowerPoint presentations etc. need to stop and meetings should evolve into engaging, interactive, and collaborative sessions that are more inclusive. Moreover, there should be 10-minutes breaks planned for meetings longer than an hour.
Not everyone on your distributed teams is trained on Netiquette. When it comes to online meetings, a few guidelines or etiquettes (“netiquettes”) will make them more effective such as:
- Mute your microphone when you are not speaking
- Don’t interrupt when the other person is speaking. Only the facilitator has the right to interrupt to keep things on track.
- Enable your video unless you have a network bandwidth issue at home.
- Send a meeting invite link to the invitees and details on how to join the meeting.
- Be receptive to each other's thoughts and remarks
Many businesses are struggling during this turbulent time with COVID-19 and have aggressive deadlines to cope up with market instability. With changing business priorities, kids running around the house, increased cooking, household chores, and endless work-at-home hours, remote teams feel more distracted and overwhelmed. They tend to work on multiple tasks at a time. With all this, people start to cherry-pick work that brings them instant gratification while procrastinating on complex long-term solutions. During this time, agile leaders should constantly encourage teams to stay calm, manage stress, take regular breaks, minimize context switching, and focus on business outcomes.
Remote teams are re-inventing effective ways to facilitate their ceremonies such as daily scrum, retrospectives, sprint planning, sprint review, virtual PI planning, and other SAFe, Scrum, or Kanban ceremonies. Let’s discuss a few agile anti-patterns in this area.
One of the agile anti-patterns is being the lone facilitator for a virtual meeting with a large number of participants. With more than 30 people in a meeting, it becomes challenging for the facilitator to share screen, take notes, capture risks, write down parking lot items, etc. while keeping conversations on-track to achieve the goal of the meeting. Thus, it is recommended to designate a scribe or a co-facilitator during such events.
Another anti-pattern is using flip charts or physical whiteboards (with a video camera pointed towards them) in a virtual meeting. This arrangement doesn’t work well and frustrates people as they struggle to read the content. Instead, facilitators should research the appropriate virtual drawing board or applications that promote visual collaboration within the team such as Mural, Miro, Draft.io, etc.
A common anti-pattern when teams first start with virtual events such as PI Planning is lack of preparation before the event. For a virtual event to be successful and meaningful, teams must invest time in preparatory work. A Scrum Master should work with the Product Owner to carve out the team’s capacity for the preparatory work.
Remote teams should watch out for a common agile anti-pattern when daily stand-ups become a status meeting. With no eye contact amongst the remote members, the team tends to report status to the scrum master. Another agile anti-pattern of skipping retrospectives holds good for remote teams too. With multiple meetings, increased stress, and more work, teams tend to defer or skip inspect and adapt ceremonies, don’t have enough backlog refinement meetings, start delivering work that has not met the “Definition Of Done”, and more. These common anti-patterns will impact an agile team’s ability to deliver business value and to continuously improve.
Built-In Quality and Technical Debt
Due to aggressive deadlines, increased stress, and reshuffled business priorities during this pandemic, it is quite likely for remote teams to de-prioritize technical debt reduction efforts such as code clean-up, automated testing, etc. This will result in the accumulation of technical debt over time. A few more agile anti-patterns that remote teams should watch out for are listed below:
- Missing Acceptance Criteria
- Undefined Definition of Done
- Delivering work without meeting the `Definition of Done`
- Lack of appropriate testing
- Lack of required documentation
These are a few remote agile anti-patterns that I have experienced. If you agree or disagree or if you would like to share your experiences, let me know in the comments section.
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