Scrum Mastery in Corona Times

As precautions against the spread of the Corona virus take effect, many of our teams have started working from home.  This is hard.  Good Scrum is much easier with a team who all work in the same location.  The Spontaneous- and non-verbal communication that is lost usually makes understanding each other a lot easier.

Here are a number of practical tips that we thought up.  Please feel free to share ideas that we didn’t come up with.

General

• Over-communicate, call every team member every day to see how they are doing, also privately.  Are there worries about Corona virus in the family, extended family etc.
• These can be tense times, people will be more stressed than usual.  As a Scrum Master you can take the stance of a trusted confidant.
• Share information from the company about how we deal with Corona virus.
• Practice expectation management with your team and with your stakeholders.  Development velocity will probably drop, team morale may suffer.  Speak about this, practice openness.
• Online meetings are more difficult that face-to-face meetings, people are more easily distracted and the meetings can be more tiring.  Ask everyone to switch on their webcam so you can see people’s engagement as in a normal meeting.
• Keep meetings short – 1 hour max!
• Be extra strict in facilitation.  Allow only 1 person to speak.  Consider that there will be lag and latency in audio and video.
• Use a headset and not laptop audio to reduce background noise.
• Working from home can give a lot of flexibility – if the children need care in the afternoon, work in the evening.  However, this may make collaboration more difficult – speak about this in your team.  Do we keep to office hours?  Collaboration in the mornings?
• We have quite good experiences with Microsoft Teams – Microsoft are even offering it for free at the moment.  Experiment with it as a Scrum Master.  Make sure you are skilled at using it during meetings.
• Make a ‘random’ channel in Teams for informal chat – we’re still people who like to babble.
• If you use JIRA: the desktop app is often faster and gives more insight than the web-app.

Per Scrum Event

Sprint Planning

• Make sure, even more than usual, that the Product Backlog is organized.  Don’t waste time on a lot of small stuff.  Prepare by already making the next sprint and drag in items that you know the PO will want anyway.  That leaves more room for discussing whether this will fit in the sprint.
• Make sure you know the velocity of the previous sprints and that you know who will be away so you can forecast the sprint well.  It is quite conceivable that velocity will be 10-20% lower than when you are co-located.
• Do part 1 of Sprint Planning (when you pull items from the Product Backlog) with the entire team.
• Do part 2 of Sprint Planning (when you design and detail items) in small groups or individuals.  That can make the event shorter and more focussed.

Daily Scrum

• It may take longer than usual, be flexible with the 15 minute timebox in the beginning.
• Perhaps have more than one Daily Scrum if that helps.
• A check-in, where everyone says how they are doing, preceding the event, can be useful.
• Even more than usual, remember that this is a meeting to inspect and adapt the plan for the day, not a ’round-robin’.  “Who worked on item 1 yesterday, who will work on it today, are there impediments preventing it from being “Done”?”.  This prevents a lot of scrolling up and down in JIRA (or other backlog tool).  Now you can start at the top and work your way down.  This stimulates swarming and picking up the most valuable items first.  Read more about this practice here.

The Sprint

• As a Scrum Master, make sure there is still informal communication between team members – check chat/slack channels – is there enough communication, is everyone participating?
• If backlog items are being swarmed, set up a seperate chat/channel for this so that they have their own place to be communicated about.
• Let the technology do its work – use Git commit messages so you can see pull requests and your test automation tool to see failing tests.

Backlog Refinement

• Keep meetings shorter.  Choose a clear, small scope and refine only that.  Prefer more, smaller meetings over fewer, larger meetings.
• Use online sketching tools, I like Miro.com.
• Planning poker is possible from within Microsoft Teams chat – just type in your estimate.

Retrospective

• Perhaps do this more often – every week instead of every sprint – again keeping it short.
• Start with a check-in “How are you?”
• Begin the retro with a retro on working from home
• Give team building more attention than you already do.
• Make sure of a good vibe, the compliment shower is a good format.  Instead of only improving a process, make the question “how can we make the best of this?”.
• Collect items beforehand, that saves data gathering during the meeting.
• As always: find 1 or 2 concrete improvements for the next sprint.

Microsoft Teams (or other collaboration tool)

• If used properly, this can be your single mode of communication replacing email, Outlook meetings, Whatsapp etc.
• Teams integrates well with external applications like Git or your test tool reporting in separate channels.
• You can invite people in a channel for a meeting, automatically adding it to the team calendar.  This saves you having to invite people separately one-by-one.

Good luck! Any more ideas?

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