What I learned coaching Agile Teams (Remotely)

In the past year I worked with a number of teams as a Developer, Project Manager, Scrum Master, and Agile Coach. I worked with both remote and non-remote teams. Here are some things I learned.

1. Clarity is productivity

The clearer you define your objectives, deliverables, stories, and expectations, the happier and more productive your team will be. Most of the production problems occur from the lack of clarity around the Product. When the engineers are asking questions don’t ignore them. Even if the answers seem to be very clear to you

You need enough clarity for at least 1-2 sprints of work. The functionality may change before product release, but if you don’t make a short term decision, the team may stall and make little or no progress.

Keep on working on the product definition in a form of User Stories, Job Stories, Wireframes, and Documentation. Keep your engineers in those conversations so that they can anticipate the changes that will come 10–20 sprints in the future.

I watched one team deferring decisions on key User Experience issues for a few months. Thinking was “this is trivial” and “we’ll figure it out later”. Repeated requests for clarity by the engineering team were ignored. After a few months, these seemingly trivial issues caused a delay of the product release and a departure of some of the key engineers from the team.

I watched another team make clear short term decisions on similar issues. It was perfectly understood that there will be changes down the road. However, the solution worked for now. The product was ready to be tested by the potential customers through out the development process. The team never lost momentum.

2. Stubborn people make or break your team

I love stubborn people. They tend to be more productive once they figure out their way of doing things. If you are going through an organizational change get these people on board early on. Inspire them to take on leadership. Give them additional responsibilities. Make them accountable.

They may be more resistant at first, but in the end they will inspire the entire team and the organization to follow through. Note: when I say stubborn, I don’t mean arrogant.

On the other hand, when you have stubborn team members who are not engaged in the organizational change, they tend to stay in the familiar ways and quietly create resistance to change through casual conversation with other team members. Not a great scenario.

3. Being remote is fine

(…and it increases productivity)

Unless your organization already has a remote culture, you will hear that being remote doesn’t work. That is simply not true. Just ask DHH and Jason Fried over at Basecamp.

Sure there are some lazy people who play Xbox during team meetings and forget to mute the microphone. (That actually happened). However, those people are easy to identify by the low quality of their work. They are probably a bad culture fit for your company anyways.

In my experience remote workers are more focused, better rested, and more productive overall. It does require trust, psychological safety, “self-starter” mentality, and personal discipline. Especially not to overwork. When you work from home, pulling spontaneous all nighters is not uncommon.

When companies don’t have a remote culture and start working with remote people out of necessity interesting things happen. You see improvement in: communication; planning process; there are fewer useless meetings and you see an overall growth of productivity.

This is a huge topic. I would love to experiment with remote team structures.

If you are interested in working remotely check out the book Remote: Office Not Required and the courses over at Remote University.

You can find more info about me on my site: alexkarasyov.com

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