New Scrum: Working Remotely

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New Scrum: Working Remotely

As the world is becoming more dependent on global partners, teams are joining forces with employees from around the world. To keep pace with the rapidly changing industry, companies are utilizing management strategies like Scrum, DevOps, and DevSecOps to increase productivity and communication. This left many remote teams in the dark... until now. Meet the new “distributed scrum team.” At SEI, we are often separated by distance and occasionally time zones. In a conventional Scrum environment, we would all be in the same workspace--preferably an open room (without cubicle walls) to encourage transparency on all levels. There are many benefits to this working environment, but it is not ideal for companies with employees who are traveling or working outside of the office. At SEI, we are using the basic principles of Scrum while adapting to the new virtual/remote environment. Our hope is that, as long as the Scrum principles remain the same, we should achieve the same results working remotely as we would face-to-face.

In this post, I will briefly go over what Scrum is, why it is important, and how SEI is molding its principles to fit our remote working environment.


Basic Rules for Scrum

Scrum was developed by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland over twenty years ago in response to frustrations caused by delays in product development using the waterfall model. Depending on who you are talking to (see Principle 3 below), Scrum falls into the catchall buzzword ‘agile’--a word you have probably been exposed to at least once today. In essence, Scrum is an agile framework with a few more rules. Right now, it’s not worth splitting hairs about the differences between Scrum, Kanban, and Agile; they are all useful and overlap more often than not.

Here are three key principles to keep in mind as you integrate Scrum into your life and workplace:

  1. Transparency at all levels: Transparency is important to avoid bottlenecks. One proactive measure is the daily scrum meeting (sometimes called a “daily Scrum” or “stand up” where, in theory, everyone is standing to ensure a quick meeting of around fifteen minutes). In this meeting, the conversation revolves around the Scrum Board. A Scrum Board is a “task” list of the items needed to be completed in order to accomplish one or more projects. This is usually broken up into three categories: “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.” At your daily stand-up meetings, cards can be added and moved. At the beginning of each day, employees take on tasks in the “To Do” column (moved now to the “Doing” column) and voice concerns or offer suggestions. If I take on a task and another team member takes a task that might conflict, we figure out then how both can be accomplished. Likewise, if a team member takes on a task and I know a tribal shortcut, I will share it with them so they can grow their skills and accomplish the task more quickly.

  2. Supportive company culture: A work environment should be one of openness and positivity. There isn’t room for negativity; however, constructive criticism should be present and encouraged. Employees who try to gain ground by intimidation, fear, or negativity bring the whole team down, often slowing the pace and increasing errors. Since teams are self-organized, if an employee is shut down, the whole team feels it. At SEI, we have found that having a growth mindset is the best approach to a healthy company culture. Additionally, since we have an apprentice program, mistakes occur as part of the learning process. These are never seen as character flaws, but rather  opportunities to teach/learn a new skill.

  3. In Tune: It is important for everyone to be using the same definitions. This principle ensures calibration wherein a team (and hopefully a company) is “on the same page”. It sets a standard for quality, thereby reducing errors. A team in sync will have clear definition of expectations and goals. If you do not know these, bring this point up at your next daily Scrum meeting.

Keeping these principles in mind, we move forward. Although the environment changes, we keep Scrum’s best practices to ensure maximum productivity.


New Scrum Tools

The New Scrum Board

Replace the whiteboard and Post-It notes with a virtual Scrum Board. At SEI, we are using the web and mobile app Trello. Trello is a virtual board made up of lists. For Scrum, we have the simple three lists described before: “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.” Within each of these lists are “cards”. These cards are equivalent to Post-Its on conventional Scrum boards.

How it works: A backlog is created in the “To Do” list. Next, an SEI employee is assigned (or assigns themselves) to the task(s). When they start working on a card, they move it to the “Doing” list. When the task is completed, they move the card to the “Done” column. Everyone in the company has access to the virtual Scrum board to maintain transparency. This way we can see what others are working on and predict ahead of time if any conflicts will arise.


New Daily Scrum Meetings

When it comes to daily standup meetings and sprints, we are still working out the kinks. In a traditional Scrum team, every stakeholder (sometimes every team member) meets at the beginning of the day to discuss what they accomplished yesterday, what they are working on today, and what needs to be added to the backlog. At SEI, we are currently meeting on Skype and it has proven to be effective, but how effective is still to be seen. It is more effective than not meeting at all, and yet we are not functioning at the level of in-person daily standups. As we find a rhythm, though, we hope to find the sweet spot that works for us.


Transparency and Working in the Cloud

In order to maintain an environment of transparency, we use tools that allow us to edit and share information simultaneously. So far, Onenote is working well, as well as other applications in Office 365. If we need to make adjustments, we now have the model and the connection we need to make those decisions together.

Andy Ruth and I will keep you posted with our discoveries as we try out our new version of Scrum. In time, we will iron out the methods so we are able to run a successful remote Scrum team. At that point, we hope you will share in our success, and that this new take on Scrum will help you and your team improve as well.


Stay tuned!


Andrew J. Wilt

SEI Analyst

Apprenticeship Program