We at CivicDataLab(CDL) are a team of Civic Tech enthusiasts working remotely from different parts of India. If you work remotely or are aware of the remote working concept, you must know the variety of challenges one needs to tackle in this adventure. We rely on the concept of Scrum(Ji) to help make remote work for us, where one of us every month takes this responsibility of being the anchor of the team. We use a simple round-robin process here (whoever joins the team becomes a part of the process in the order of joining). Although we don’t necessarily follow the end-to-end scrum process this is just a fancy title we give our team members (as they take the mantle of having a detailed oversight of our monthly workflow) with all due respect. This post is a log of my experience as the ScrumJi and how do we manage it remotely.
I have been a part of CDL for the past 8 months now and January 2019 was my turn to hold the title for the first time. A short journey full of some experiments and a lot of housekeeping for myself. On the last day came the feedback (resulting in a feeling of content :-)) with a request to log the experience. Thus, I am hereby taking the opportunity to share that journey and sharing our procedure along the way.
(Source: Wallpapercave.com https://wallpapercave.com/wp/wp1924335.jpg)
Apoorv, the previous ScrumJi broke the ice and gave a brief on the process. It happened over a phone call and also marked the beginning of my series of experiments. Since there was no formal process of handing over, I came up with the idea of a Wiki — where we can put the information required for a ScrumJi to take over the responsibility. The purpose was to avoid repetitive correspondence and also make the process of handover a little formal. With the Wiki, also came the idea of a dedicated Project Board (we use Taiga) for ScrumJi. This board is actually a Scrum board where a ScrumJi can track their management tasks and set reminders to self.
The ScrumJi needs to do a little housekeeping apart from their regular work. They remind everyone to update their task cards on project boards, schedule standups & other discussions, manage Taiga boards, moderate team discussions, take meeting notes etc. This doesn’t seem like much work if you look at it from the lens of the complexity of the task. Sure, but when you know that all these little things are important for smooth conduct of the team, you start paying more attention. That is the point when it starts to take a considerable amount of your time. So don’t underestimate the work of a ScrumJi!
More than routine housekeeping, there is a whole lot our ScrumJi needs to take care of. They look after our hiring pipeline and remind people to keep on track and respond in time(that’s vital as we don’t want to look cold to the outside world who’s interested in joining us). They encourage people to write blog posts and help them stick to the timeline for it. They sometimes also wear multiple hats(if the cycle has it), like organize Civic Days — our quarterly team offsite, I’ll write a separate piece for it as it’s our life at CDL. (PS: don’t go for the term, it’s not at all like a traditional team offsite and I’ll tell why). And sometimes they become the Grant Manager, to help us fill research grants smoothly and in time; well we are still trying to do that.
They also play a vital role in formalizing our processes. Every month a new ScrumJi picks up the responsibility, they try to observe what our shortcomings are and how we can mitigate them. They invest considerable time in researching and suggesting new processes to adapt as solutions for us to better collaborate as a team. All thanks to this ScrumJi experiment that we as a team are not a complete mess (if a little). Apart from this, the ScrumJi also keep track of cards of conduct. Yes, we have “Cards of Conduct”!!
Join us and you’ll know ;-).
No, I’m not asking you to. It’s about our regular standups. (Sorry for the lame joke :-P).
I’m careful not to give it a time interval here as we actually haven’t finalized on the appropriate frequency yet. We usually try to have it at least once per week.
The purpose is to get the team on the same page every week and it is literally about getting each one of us on the same page about everything. We discuss the gist of all the projects’ (whether it involves everyone or not) statuses. We brainstorm our potential partners and how we can work to better co-create with them. This really helps the team connect better, given we are a fully remote team.
Though we are still debating on whether we should bombard everyone with the extraneous details of every project but for the time being it’s there in place. Anddd, we also discuss our team’s whereabouts — who is working out of which fancy location and their gastronomes, just to temp each other for our next CivicDays destination.
RECALL THE JOURNEY
To be honest I, at first, was quite reluctant to take this responsibility. As the round-robin turn came to me, I anxiously told myself, “How am I going to manage given I’m just barely 3 months old here and haven’t done such a thing in my past gigs?”
Well, whether I wanted to or not, the responsibility was assigned and I had to proceed. So did I. Although it turned out to be very exciting a job and I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed it all the way.
I am hesitant to write a long journal hence won’t write every detail and daily activities etc, instead, just share the key takeaways here.
Managing a team is a tedious task:
Why do I say that?
Well not because the team is disorganized or the work is too much to handle. Not at all! But it is difficult to find the right balance between getting things done on stretch and giving the team a necessary space to breathe.
I especially was very much concerned about the latter and had to give special attention to manage that. I did work hard for it and at the end, felt relieved when I didn’t end up messing around.
The trick was easy as I figured out. You don’t need to be afraid of experimenting but just be aware that you don’t ask them to do a lot on top of their regular work. It could be as small as asking them to update their task boards regularly and reminding them before the stand-up or as big as pushing them to write their due blog posts (which could be due for months :-P ).
Moderation is another difficult task:
You must already know it. One risks losing the merit of deep conversations at the cost of timely wrap-up. The stand-ups were the battleground for this trade. We used to have a lot to discuss and not enough time to cover it all. One hour, that was it. The ScrumJi board was a big helping hand here through which we could keep track of the things to discuss in upcoming stand-ups. This solved the problem to some extent but still, there are discussions which just run long and we can’t do anything about them.
Well, a little trick here is to follow the discussion and just give fillers every now and then to keep people on track, so as to wrap it up as timely as possible.
> “Hey it seems people are losing track here, can we cover the details over chat?”
> “Hey ‘X’ can we have a separate discussion for this ‘Y’ topic that you are detailing here.
> “It seems we need a vote here.”
And keep trying whatever you find helpful and document your learning.
We religiously follow our calendars!
We all have our calendars shared with the whole team which makes it easy for the ScrumJi to schedule discussions. We recently added a channel in our chat (guess who?: Rocket!) for just confirming meeting times and availability of members. This idea actually came from a ScrumJi’s complaint of the team not being responsive to their meeting pings. See, we are an evolving team and the ScrumJi is our beacon of guiding light :-)
Don’t be the Nodding dummy to everything:
Yes, I somehow was that and recently got nice feedback on it. I needed to say no to the requests of change in plans or processes that could have been done with. I was unnecessarily lenient and that somehow negatively affected the outcomes we were expecting.
So, now I know that I have to say No!
So here was a short (or long) log of the ScrumJi Experiment. I look forward to the journey ahead here with more learning to come. As we keep holding the baton one by one, we’ll keep sharing our experiences with you. Stay tuned!!