4 strategies for agile-from-anywhere success

Written by 
Jim Kalbach
May 13, 2021
“The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto

Work-from-anywhere (WFA) is poised to be a major post-pandemic trend (as detailed in our primer on hybrid work and guide to hybrid collaboration). Even more than fully remote or hybrid or flexible work environments, making work-from-anywhere work for you and your organization requires a high level of flexibility and willingness to adapt — especially as some join meetings from the office, others virtually from home, a coffee shop, or other location. 

While every team faces challenges in a work-from-anywhere environment, Agile product teams definitely have a unique set of issues to contend with. Case in point: the quote at the top of this article. Pretty much everything about Agile, from daily scrum to PI planning, centers around collaboration and teamwork — things that can be tricky in a WFA situation.

As companies adopt WFA policies, Agile product teams will need to adjust to new workstyles, adapting Agile ceremonies so they work for every team member, no matter where they are. Transitioning to this “Agile-from-anywhere” (AFA) environment takes some time and perseverance. However, a few strategies we’ve identified across our many years of working with (and employing) hybrid Agile product teams can help you make the shift as smoothly as possible. 

Work is something you do, not a place that you go.

Agile-from-anywhere strategy 1: Create a digital common space

Remember this informal slogan: If it isn’t digital, it didn’t happen. This is true for every hybrid or WFA team, and it is especially important for Agile product teams. To be effective, team members have to get on the same page and stay on the same page. They need to know who is doing what and when, and what the dependencies are. 

Let’s say you’re in the middle of a sprint planning session. Imagine some participants are in a conference room, and some are working from home. At a critical moment, video and audio cut out. In the conference room, stickies get added to a whiteboard, someone makes an important point to teammates sitting around the conference table, and a key date gets moved up …

And the remote teammates see and hear none of it. Yikes!

Before any Agile-from-anywhere ceremony, plan to make digital the default. In fact, it should be the default for everything. With sophisticated software like the MURAL platform, there’s no need to take photos of your whiteboard with your phone. Instead, go digital first from the beginning. Use a digital Agile template (more on that later) so that you have a shared, living document that can be accessed by everyone from anywhere.

More important than the form is the agreed-upon process for storing information. Every AFA product team needs formal “rules of engagement” when it comes to codifying digital-first policies and practices. You can’t have digital discipline without rules (sorry, rebellious product people).

What should be in these “rules,” you ask? One critical component is an agreement regarding which digital tools to use when. For example, you may decide to use JIRA for project updates, Slack for quick status check-ins, and Mural for brainstorming, retrospectives, or kanban

Facilitation is a fundamental pillar of any Agile strategy.

Agile-from-anywhere strategy 2: Uplevel your facilitation skills

Whether coming from the scrum leader (or scrum master) or the team, facilitation is one of the cornerstones of Agile. And facilitation is even more important in an AFA environment. In any given meeting or ceremony, the whole team could be digital, or all in-office, or a bit of both. This mix can change from sprint to sprint. That means facilitators must be highly flexible and ready to manage movement in and out of team shapes. 

Thankfully, there are plenty of resources for scrum leaders and other Agile facilitation roles. While becoming a professional facilitator takes years, every person on an Agile product team should have at least some education in this area. Invest in at least one training program that empowers your employees, no matter their experience level, to take charge of an Agile agenda. 

Start with the fundamentals. To make the most of your meeting time, assign prework if necessary, and be sure to set an agenda beforehand. Set time limits for each agenda item, and make sure each participant understands the expectations. If you need someone to take notes, act as co-facilitator for certain exercises. Let them know and help them prepare. 

Be prepared. In an AFA session, things can get a bit hectic. During our recent webinar on Agile practices in a hybrid environment, our guest Alice Merlino of Atlassian shared that a recent brainstorming session produced 10x more ideas than expected in a very short amount of time. Why? Because participants could simultaneously enter their thoughts into the digital template simultaneously. In a traditional meeting, they would have to take turns. Suddenly, the facilitator found themselves with an overflow of information (good information but overwhelming nonetheless). 

In situations like these, it’s helpful for facilitators and scrum leaders to have training to fall back on. And if necessary, the team can take a step back or switch gears to another task. 

Agile-from-anywhere strategy 3: Refresh your rituals and make templates work for you

Shared, digital templates are powerful tools for capturing ideas and information. MURAL offers a number of templates aimed at Agile product teams. Think of templates as starting points rather than rigid frameworks. Need to add or subtract sections? Go for it. What matters is that the template works for your Agile product team.

Agile product teams at Atlassian and Cprime are already modifying MURAL templates to meet their AFA needs. Last week, we held a webinar on staying Agile in a hybrid environment, and executives from both companies shared how they’re tailoring templates to better fit their specific priorities. For example, the Agile product team at Atlassian took the Expectations Workshop template and changed the categories on the left-hand column to reflect the departments they need to keep most informed, including marketing and customer support. The product team at Cprime took the SWOT Analysis template and added a number of sections and functionality, including a voting system for “in scope” and “out of scope.”

Currently, we have a number of Agile-focused templates available for use, with more added all the time. In our experience, the following are particularly helpful for the following Agile product team use cases:

Agile-from-anywhere strategy 4: Leverage the benefits of asynchronous teamwork

We’ve all been in in-person meetings where the most talkative, most high-ranking, and/or most charismatic teammate dominates the conversation. And we’ve all likely realized that the loudest voice isn’t always the correct one. 

One of the benefits of Agile-from-anywhere is that it allows individuals to participate in the way that’s most natural for them. More introverted employees can add their thoughts and ideas to the shared MURAL digital canvas rather than speaking them aloud. This can be particularly helpful for those who might not feel entirely comfortable sharing opinions that may go against those of their superiors. Again, having a digital-first aspect of AFA creates a common ground for everyone to participate and levels the playing field. 

Asynchronous communication is sometimes thought of as a challenge to overcome, when really it’s an opportunity to cater to various communication styles. It allows those team members who prefer to respond to a prompt after giving it some thought to do so. If you’re one of those people who has sudden bursts of inspiration at random moments, like while driving or getting ready for bed, you can add those creative thoughts at any time. You don’t need to wait until you’re in a meeting — assuming you even remember your idea. Instead, it gets captured and stored for the whole team to reference. Just remember: Making asynchronous work for your team requires a commitment for everyone involved.

How will your scrum team stay Agile-from-anywhere?

Are you ready to embrace Agile-from-anywhere? Visit our product team page to learn more about how teams like yours are using MURAL to drive collaboration from any location. And if you missed it, watch this webinar with Agile experts from Cprime and Atlassian:

About the authors

About the authors

Jim Kalbach

Jim Kalbach

Chief Evangelist
Jim is a noted author, speaker, and instructor in innovation, design, and the future of work. He is currently Chief Evangelist at Mural, the leading visual work platform.

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