The 80/20 async split for Agile teams

Written by 
Jim Kalbach
 and 
Bryan Kitch
  —  
July 12, 2022
People working on laptops.
The 80/20 async split for Agile teams
Written by 
Jim Kalbach
 and 
Bryan Kitch
  —  
July 12, 2022

Too often, meetings can be more like monologues. But they shouldn’t be

When done right, however, meetings aren't only necessary, but the perfect complement to asynchronous collaboration (and, dare we say, even… fun). 

This is especially true for Agile teams. While face-to-face interactions and the success of ceremonies like sprint planning, sprint review, and retrospectives does depend on meeting with your colleagues, you can make these moments even more meaningful by knowing how and when to incorporate asynchronous work

But, how do you strike the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous work within your team?

What does 80/20 async split mean?

Trying to split everything equally between asynchronous communications and synchronous meetings is likely not the most efficient option. That’s why we recommend going heavier on ‌asynchronous work — more like an 80% async vs. 20% synchronous, to be more specific — and adjusting from there.

Related: ​​6 essential steps for building an async-first culture

How do you find the right async balance?

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. You should adjust your approach based on the specific characteristics and qualities of your team. For example, if you have a lot of new employees, it can be beneficial to have more synchronous meetings to begin, and then gradually adjust to more asynchronous work. 

Conversely, if you have a widely distributed team, then you can take a lot of the stress out of collaboration by erring on the asynchronous side — that way, you can make sure that everyone can participate within their normal working hours. 

How does 80/20 async work for Agile teams?

Async offers a lot of benefits for Agile teams. It’s conducive to a variety of work styles, allows time for reflection and random moments of inspiration, and makes it easier to work together as a distributed team. 

Nevertheless, the async meeting method isn't the answer to everything. Some things do, in fact, require meeting in real time. 

Here’s the good news: When you save your synchronous communications for when they’re truly necessary, your meetings — and your team — will be much more productive. 

Working this way, async can help you get the most out of the time you spend working together in real time with your team. In this way, less can definitely be more.

So, to determine what to make asynchronous, you first need to figure out what work must be done synchronously.

To sync or not to sync

How do you determine which processes should have a synchronous component? Generally, any aspect of your work that could be described by one of these criteria could benefit from face-to-face time:

  1. Are expectations clear? If there’s a lot of ambiguity in what you’re working on, it’s time to schedule up a meeting and establish clarity. 
  2. Are there knowledge gaps or experience differences that could lead to confusion? If so, then you’ll likely need to bring everyone together (at least at the outset of your project) to help make sure you’re working with a shared understanding.
  3. Is the subject matter complex? Effective teams, whether hybrid or in-person, make sure everyone is on the same page. If a project is especially complicated or requires specialized knowledge, it’s worth going through the details as a team.
Related: How async collaboration can solve your meeting problem

Using async to make the most of sync 

If you’re only spending around a fifth of your time on synchronous communications, you want to make sure it counts. Luckily, getting some tasks completed asynchronously can help you maximize together time. 

Here are a few general tips for using async to drive sync success that we’ve discovered over a decade or so of working with Agile teams:

Plan, plan, and plan some more

Not only does this mean having a detailed agenda, it means thinking through every aspect of the time spent together, including different experiences for in-person and remote attendees. Facilitation skills are key here, both for the “official” facilitator and for participants. 

Related: 5 actionable tips to improve meeting engagement

Assign pre-work (and deadlines for it)

No one should come into a meeting unprepared. Whenever possible, assign pre-work that can be completed, anywhere, anytime before the specified deadline. Bear in mind the time needed (and consider how you’re creating asynchronous debt). 

Having pre-work done beforehand will let you focus on what truly requires real-time discussion. 

Provide updates

Have you ever been to a daily standup that just turned into a list of updates? Us, too. To avoid that situation, do this part asynchronously. Before standup, have participants add updates to a shared doc or template (...or mural). Or, to make it even more personal (and fun), embrace asynchronous video meetings by making updates using a screen recorder like Loom.

Quality over quantity

When it comes to meetings, good things come in shorter (and more focused) packages. By making the most of meetings and only holding them in real time when they’re absolutely necessary, you might find that they’re not so bad after all. 

As you continue to find the right balance between traditional and async meetings for your team, you may even start looking forward to what you can accomplish.  

Mural makes it possible for enterprises to implement and scale Agile methodologies in a visual, collaborative way that facilitates asynchronous work. Contact our Sales team to learn more about how Mural powers enterprise collaboration.

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.
Bryan Kitch

Bryan Kitch

Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.