Depending on where you live in the world, about a year ago your company may have decided to move most of its workers online. For a lot of managers, this was a scary moment. Will my personnel perform when they are not in my office together? This article explains how SCRUM can help you manage these issues.
For us, the authors of this article, there were no such worries when the pandemic started. We already had ample experience working remotely in international SCRUM teams, using cloud-based computer applications, both in our international NGO with volunteers in 7 different countries, and our software company in Kumasi (www.trinitysoftwarecenter.com) working remotely in teams with colleagues in the Netherlands every hour of the day. We have been using collaboration tools and videoconferencing for the last 5 years and all our archives are stored online, accessible for our teams from everywhere on any (mobile) device.
This sounds like a technological solution, but in fact, it is not. We have experienced that adopting the agile way of working and introducing the SCRUM framework into our organizations has helped us to work internationally and therefore remotely too. Our team members are professionals who are happy to work with us as they get a lot of responsibilities, but they are not left alone but helped by an entire team. Everyone’s opinion counts while expectations are also high, as we are expecting fast delivery and readiness to a changing environment.
When you manage a project with SCRUM, you use short iteration cycles where communication in the team is especially important. Of course, quality communication is still the best when you are meeting each other face to face physically. An important part of communication is still non-verbal, like body expressions and the environment a person is working in.
Just this week, one of us met in person with some team members in Kumasi who had joined the company during the pandemic during the year. It was a funny experience, as some of them looked quite different from their online version and made a different impression.
SCRUM is a framework that has various protocols to allow a team to work fast in short iterations of a certain product, and these prove to work very well to manage teamwork remotely:
- Sprints and their planning and wrap up: a project will be divided into short tracks or “sprints” of several weeks with a detailed list of deliverables and those who work on it. At the end of every sprint, the results are shown to stakeholders in a demo meeting by the team. This allows for a clear view of the progress of a project and gives a platform for feedback long before the final delivery of the entire project.
- Daily standups - every day meeting 15 minutes with the team to check what everyone has been doing, what they are planning today, and if there are any impediments. When everyone speaks openly and is ready to contribute, any problem occurring can be dealt with quickly.
- Online planning boards such as TRELLO allow a transparent online tracking of the progress of all parts of the work as contributions of the various team members. Everyone is able to see who works on what and how far that task has been completed.
- Finally, sprint retrospectives are evaluation sessions after every sprint, where a team sits down together to look back and see what parts of the work and collaboration may be improved in the next sprint. This allows a team to continuously improve itself and critically look at the share of each team member in the joint success.
You may think that a team with a joint responsibility is a soft and fluid way of working where people can hide away from their personal production responsibility in a “free rider” behavior, but that is not so with SCRUM. The short iterations, and tasks clearly assigned to a specific individual, will quickly show that one team member is “staying behind” on the planning board. This transparency helps the team to share the work in a fair way - a young team member who is still learning will be given a lighter task. But lazy people will face the truth quickly as they are being valued on their performance, not for on “staying in the office”.
Opportunities for young Africans to work outside without leaving
Professionals who have been working remotely for a year are craving for a time in the office with their colleagues. But they - and their superiors alike - also are equally convinced that it will not be advisable to return to the traditional way of working. In many organizations, HR policies are now being changed, allowing employees to work remotely on a full-time or part-time basis.
This has opened unexpected opportunities for young African professionals who were previously excluded from the job market in Europe or the US. It is now no longer necessary to obtain a visa to live outside. You can work for an international company comfortably from your home in Ghana. Our software company in Kumasi has indeed been able to double its numbers in the last 6 months while using SCRUM, as European companies no longer find it necessary for their personnel to be in the office. Part of the SCRUM team may as well be in West Africa!
Author: Diana van der Stelt is a social entrepreneur outsourcing SCRUM teams to the Netherlands at Trinity Software Center in Kumasi and the Co-founder of Maxim Nyansa IT solutions, an IT training center in Accra | Member, Institute of ICT Professionals Ghana. Elvin Assiam, agile SCRUM trainer and consultant with Maxim Nyansa IT solutions
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