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COVID-19’s Impact on Agile Operations

Earlier this year, the rapid spread of COVID-19 had an immediate impact on most Agile teams. In the span of a few days, business-as-usual, in-person operations quickly transitioned to stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions. Many were suddenly faced with the challenge of juggling sprint priorities with the distractions of working from home. Everyone had to quickly adapt in order to keep their momentums and continue delivering value.   

Having face-to-face conversations – which the principles of the Agile Manifesto describe as “the most efficient and effective method of conveying information” – in the same room were suddenly out of the question. Established team norms no longer applied or didn’t quite address a remote working model. Priorities quickly shifted, causing the need for roadmaps and backlogs to be revisited in a very short amount of time. In some cases, command-and-control management styles inherent to Waterfall methodologies reared their ugly heads. 

Agile Values

It may be easy to dismiss the effectiveness of Agile based upon the guidelines of a framework or norms refined over the course of many months or even years. But the core values of Agile are perfect for the world we now find ourselves in! 

Moving Forward

How to keep moving forward in a virtual world needs to be figured out by the team. Keep in mind, however, that none of this is unprecedented. Distributed Agile teams are nothing new! Many learnings can be found from Agile teams that have never or rarely operate in the same physical location: 

  • Establish new team norms –Chances are good that many team norms agreed upon prior to the pandemic no longer apply. Hold a one-off retrospective session to decide which norms should remain, which need to go, and which should be adopted in order to continue working together effectively. 
  • Adopt a virtual whiteboarding tool – One of the perks of having a shared working space is being able to collaborate and brainstorm with sticky notes. Digital tools, such as PowerPoint, can work but are clunky and cumbersome. If your organization’s security policies allow, consider adopting a virtual whiteboarding tool such as Miro or Stormboard.
  • Be mindful and flexible with scheduling – An unfortunate side effect of distributed working is that informal, face-to-face conversations have turned into scheduled meetings. Many default to a chat tool, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, for simple conversations. If a meeting is required, don’t schedule it for a full 30- or 60-minute interval unless necessary. Give people an opportunity to take a break rather than spending their entire days dialing into one meeting after another! 
  • Keep building team camaraderie –Working in different places doesn’t have to feel disconnected. Allow for time that isn’t about work. Schedule a weekly virtual happy hour, or keep the conversation going on a #random channel on Slack. 

Many teams may not realize it, but they were already well-equipped to handle this pandemic. Because value has always been placed on individuals and interactions, figuring out new ways of collaborating virtually as a team is a simple task. Frequently delivering business value can continue unabated. Finding time with customers and business stakeholders may be more challenging, but creative solutions have always existed to include their feedback. Responding to change, albeit perhaps not this much at once, is something that Agile teams are equipped to do anyway. 

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