by Hristina Efinska
Two weeks ago we decided to address an ongoing issue in the IT community. The issue is with the remote agile teams. Many experts on the subject would say that the term “remote agile teams” is a bit contradictory, as the Agile Methodology was created for teams that share the same physical space. Therefore, can we make Agile work in the new normal? Yes, we can. By providing dedicated teams for our clients, commonly known as staff augmentation. We have more than ten years of experience in shaping remote agile teams. Furthermore, we asked our colleague Maja Dimitrovska, who is an important part of the Bookmark team, how she succeeds on a daily basis with the aforementioned issue.
As mentioned, these are strange and challenging times to lead agile teams. Can you tell us your secret? How do you manage to keep track of everybody’s tasks on Bookmark?
We are often told to confront unexpected changes, that we need to be agile and resilient. This is most accurate, as we try to respond to the changes brought by the coronavirus pandemic. As our world turns upside down, most companies are reacting rather than responding. In times like these, business agility provides stability, a way to manage change and respond productively.
Agile is a framework that approves professionals and companies through developing high performing teams. In an Agile environment, changes are welcome; the client is the epicenter of the work and development is aligned with business needs. Company owners need to work on “enabling the best in their employees, rather than commanding it from them”. Leaders should empower employees to be self-organized.
Remote working entails many challenges, one of which is knowing how to always be connected with other colleagues on your team, how to maintain an overall team culture, morale and motivation, how to run engaging meetings, how to track and communicate progress within the team, how to exchange ideas and share experiences (good and bad) and, last but not least, how to help the team focus on priorities. By communicating a clear vision, encouraging frequent communication and providing clear boundaries, team members feel better connected and remain focused and productive.
No one said that leading remote agile teams was going to be easy, and just like many other leaders faced with the sudden change to virtual team environments, we are also reorganizing our activities and the way we work. Some of our activities during these challenging times are:
- Following the team’s principles
- Clear team delegation and prioritization of tasks
- Communication, communication, communication
- Daily standups with the team via collaboration tools, such as Slack or Zoom
- Random chats (one-on-one) and co-working tools (Trello, Jira)
- Short-term goals
- Ensuring qualitative results
Even though the working environment has changed, the quality and quantity of our deliverables have not. Frequently sharing our achievements with the team and further improving are our regular activities.
During this crisis, leaders need to learn new ways to care for their people. Connect with them to detect unforeseen issues, respect and value team skills, personal needs and differences, encourage them to do their work remotely with less supervision. This is the beginning of a new way of leading.
According to you, what are the benefits of using Trello for project management in an agile environment?
Task management is the core and soul of every project. First, we divide the project into smaller pieces, then decide what needs to get done and which team member to do it. Trello excels at task management and it is considered as one of the platforms that employees can learn the quickest. Tasks and projects are systematized by using a three-part hierarchy: Boards, Lists, and Cards. You can create and organize these elements in any way you want. By assigning cards to specific users, due dates and files. Trello is a fantastic Scrum and Agile solution. It’s easy to use and it works like a traditional whiteboard, in digital form.
Boards: The flexibility of Trello boards is perfectly aligned with the Scrum framework; it gives you full visibility into project stages, roles, deadlines and assignments. After you sign up on Trello, you can create multiple boards within your personal or team workspace.
Lists: Boards contain lists, which are grouped tasks. You can choose to rename or reorder any of the lists to match your team’s current needs for the project you are working on.
Cards: The same goes for cards. You can also move the cards from one list to another with just one click. Each card may contain a description, a checklist with subtasks, additional attachments, assignees, due dates and labels. Furthermore, team members can discuss aspects of the task by commenting. Every new person added to one of the cards gets access to previous discussions.
Power-ups: You can use Trello’s power-ups to connect to the card applications like Slack, Github, Jira, Google Drive, and many more. There are many items on the list of power-ups, and this only guarantees that Trello is a tool that easily integrates into one’s workflow.
Notifications: You will never miss important developments from the tasks that you are included in; you will be updated regularly by receiving a notification.
These capabilities make Trello great in terms of flexibility and how intuitive it is to use. Trello is distinct from other tools, thanks to its simplicity. Trello project management makes a great tool, whether you need to organize a whole team’s work or just your activities.
What other project management software do you prefer?
Project management software tools have become widely popular in recent years; there are plenty of options to choose from. Some of those tools are free to use with limited features, while others with advanced copy have more functions. Some require payment after a few days of the trial period. Choosing which tool to use can be quite challenging and also engaging.
Whether you want to find a simple way to organize tasks or need a powerful, enterprise-grade system, there is a PM tool for everyone. The project management software helps project managers and teams to collaborate and meet goals on time while managing resources and costs. Functions may include task distribution, time tracking, budgeting, resource planning, team collaboration, and many more.
Choosing the right approach for managing a project is crucial for successful project delivery. The way that managers manage work is defined by techniques that you use, tools that they use, and project scope activities on which they are working.
The process of leading Agile teams can be challenging at times because there are countless moving parts and evolving processes to manage. However, it is especially difficult if you do not have the right software behind you. Project managers should choose a project management tool that best suits their management style. Choosing the right tool for managing the Agile development team has not always been an easy decision. Certain factors must be evaluated as you’re assessing/shopping for different tools:
- Agile Framework Preferences
- Collaboration Features
- Team Size
- Project Type
Some of the best agile project management tools available on the market are Trello, Jira, Asana, Monday, ClickUp, Smart sheet, etc. I have worked with different project tools during the past years and I can say that when choosing the right tool, you need to make sure that the options that the toll provides are the best fit for your team and future project plans.
Currently, we are using Trello, but we are open and exploring possible solutions on the market. To organize and achieve better integration, alignment with other company teams, and cover future planned project activities, we are also considering starting using Jira. Jira is a platform that allows teams to handle issues throughout the life cycle of the problem. Jira can be tailored to fit different organizational structures and is highly customizable. Jira also works great for smaller teams, as well as larger ones. The reasons why we are considering to switch to Jira are the following main features:
- User Experience
- Cost management
- Custom Workflow
- Knowledge management
In the end, no matter which project management solution you are going for, agile tools are sure to improve the way you streamline your workflow and team productivity.
In the end, quick question (that provokes a long answer): Kanban or Scrum? Or maybe Scrumban?
Agile is an enormous umbrella term that covers several different approaches, two of which are Scrum and Kanban. Scrum and Kanban apply agile principles in their own way to empower effective delivery cycles. Scrumban is a term for a hybrid approach making use of both Scrum and Kanban principles.
Agile is all about experimentation. Scrum, Kanban or Scrumban are not competitors; they can be experiments every team should run to find their best fit. The goal of using an agile approach is to deliver more value for the business in the quickest way possible. I think it is always a good thing to experiment and implement new processes that will enhance the way the team works and how project activities are organized.
From my experience with managing teams, I would say that Scrum is great for any team that can work on incremental delivery: a product, reporting, hardware, etc. Out of the three methodologies, Scrum is probably the hardest to adopt and the most complex and strict methodology. Scrum sprints can set clear goals and deadlines, thus giving full-control to the project manager. The Scrum framework is appropriate for experienced teams working on a product or a project which is longer than a year.
Kanban gives more freedom at the start. It is the most simple and most comfortable to adopt the method. It uses a Kanban board on which it visualizes the work and the work process, ensuring that everyone in the team is on the same page. It also reveals who are the bottlenecks in the workflow without losing its flexibility in production. Kanban is a good fit for supporting and maintaining teams. I love Kanban’s way of thinking to stop starting and start finishing.
Our team is using Scrumban. It combines the benefits of both Scrum and Kanban methodologies by using Kanban’s visualization and Scrum’s systematization while not introducing extra complexity. Scrumban is flexible in production and functions pretty good in large projects. It allows teams to have the agility of Scrum and the simplicity of Kanban while requiring no role updates.
Scrumban is a good fit for smaller teams, startups and loyal teams bringing more efficiency and freedom, teams who manage projects and work alongside keeping the business operational. Like in the process of choosing the right tool to manage the project team activities, the same approach should be used for adopting new agile methods or implementing changes in current that are used. Research each agile method, rescan the processes and bottlenecks in the team activities and then decide what you will implement as a new process for the Team. Strategies need to be revised and will be a matter of change until the best fit for the team is defined.
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