In this challenging unprecedented time teams that have been co-located in team rooms are now adapting to being fully remote, at least for the time being. So a big question a lot of agile teams are facing is how do we follow the agile principles while remote. In particular the idea of co-location and the specific agile principle

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation

Here at Coveros, we have always been a virtual-first company since our inception 12+ years ago. We are constantly leveraging remote collaboration tools to ensure that we maintain alignment and ensure visibility across our teams. Many of our training courses are not only delivered in person, but also remotely. In my role as an agile coach I routinely facilitate all sorts of meetings, both agile ceremonies and otherwise using remote tools.

In this series of blogs I want to cover how you can get the most out of collaboration tools to effectively facilitate agile ceremonies. In this post I will cover the basics of remote facilitation and in the next few posts I will cover the details of how to remotely facilitate the typical scrum ceremonies.

Use video conferencing technology. If you tend to use voice-only conference calls look into using videoconferencing technology. There are many free or virtually free options out there if budgets are tight. Many companies these days, including Coveros, use Google’s G-Suite for email and document management. If you use G-Suite already then you also have Hangouts Meet. Hangouts Meet is a no-frills but very simple to use tool that allows both video conferencing, dial-in, and chat. It is perfect for small teams and one-on-one calls though its biggest missing feature is the ability to record meetings. Other tools I’ve used very successfully for team meetings are Zoom and Uberconference. Both have limited free tiers but their paid tiers start at aroundt $20/mo so for small teams they can be quite cost-effective. Check the free tier limits first as they may still work for your team, depending on your needs. If your company uses Slack, there is an integrated video chat capability which is really good for ad-hoc conversations. It isn’t as good for regularly planned and scheduled meetings. For larger events and meetings you may need to go to a more sophisticated platform like GotoMeeting or WebEx where you will certainly incur additional costs.

Turn on your webcam. Now that you’ve got a video conferencing solution, USE IT! 🙂 Make webcams mandatory. It can take some getting used to at first, but trust me, team-members and meeting attendees are more likely to be engaged if they can see the others on the call. It also gives us a reason to clean up our home office and look mildly presentable every day. And professional coaches will tell you it is important when you work from home to try to keep your routine as if you are going to an office

Be prepared to be a very active facilitator. When facilitating in-person meetings you can often get away with asking a question of the group and then have them police their own discussions. In a remote meeting, even with webcams, discussions can quickly descend into chaos as people start talking over each other. You will often need to ask a question and then call on individuals or do a round-robin to solicit answers from everyone in the group. You will also often have to cut in and actively redirect conversations. 

Define a team working agreement. Engage your team in designing a working agreement that everyone can follow. Agree as a team on how to work in remote sessions. Some of the topics to include could be: rules for webcam usage, how long you expect to wait for late arrivals, will you implement discussion timeboxes, and what other chat tools to use.

Ramp up and use other online collaboration tools. As you get used to videoconferencing and facilitating remote discussions, look to branch out to other cloud-based collaboration tools. I will talk about some of these in future posts but there are online whiteboards, planning poker tools, mind-mapping tools, and other project management tools such as Jira and Trello that can all help teams follow agile principles and be productive in a remote setting.

So those are my top recommendations for facilitating remote meetings. Stay tuned to my next few blog posts where I will go into more detail on some of these high-level topics and dive into facilitating specific agile ceremonies such as the daily scrum, sprint planning, sprint reviews, and retrospectives. Stay tuned and stay safe out there!

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