Your Team Has to Work Remotely. Scrum Master: Time to Step Up!

Help your team and organisation through these hard times

Willem-Jan Ageling
Mar 18 · 5 min read

Are you a Scrum Master in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis? Do you and your colleagues suddenly have to work from home? Then you may ask yourself if you can be effective in the coming weeks or months. The answer is Yes! You will have your work cut out for you.

Sure, the highest priority is to flatten the curve. But life will resume to normal eventually. Meanwhile, it’s all hands on deck. As a servant leader, your responsibilities are the same whether your team is remote or co-located. On the other hand, in this New Normal, how you fulfil those responsibilities differs. This article will help to embrace your role during these hard times.

Finger pushing the telephone app icon
Finger pushing the telephone app icon
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Service to the Development Team — facilitation

Facilitation will probably not be your main concern. If it is, your team may work flawlessly. Chances are though that you aren’t focusing on what matters most. Still, the article isn’t complete without mentioning facilitation. You need to help ensure that all events continue flawlessly. You can find plenty of reading material on the Internet on the topic of online meeting practices and tools. Here is a good article to start:

Service to the Development Team — team and individuals

Unfortunately, these are times of uncertainty and anxiety. This can have a huge impact on your Scrum Team. On top of that, many will have to work from home with their partner and kids ever-present. You can’t expect people to work similarly as before.

Scrum Teams embrace the Scrum Values Commitment, Courage, Focus, Openness and Respect. You can translate this to the current situation. Scrum Team members have the courage to be open about their issues in dealing with the situation. They are open on how they can commit to the team goals and how to focus on the work at hand. They respect each other’s challenges and limitations in dealing with the crisis.

A team needs to continue its informal contact. They are more than a group of people working together to create a product. To enable this, you should plan these informal contacts, as contradictory as it may seem. Your ‘Remote Working Agreement’ can consider things like:

  • Create a space to chat about non-work related topics. For example, if you use Slack, create a #water-cooler channel and make it public to everyone.
  • Check-in with your team every morning. This allows all team members to share their experiences and thoughts.
  • Start meetings with a check-in where everyone can express their mindset. An example is ‘Mad/Sad/Glad/Afraid’.
  • Plan an hour a day where everyone is connected with the video switched on if possible.
  • Arrange virtual coffee breaks to allow informal chatting. As an example, schedule a 15-minute call with your team at 11 AM every day.

Service to the Development Team — self-organisation

A Scrum Master coaches teams in self-organisation. Moving away from co-location, self-organisation may be impeded. You can help the team get up to speed with best practices on the topic. For this, I recommend this article from Paddy Corry:

With your team fully remote you can’t walk the floor for informal chats. Here are some alternatives:

  • Have an eye on the teams’ chat group.
  • Have regular chats with the team members.
  • Attend the Daily Scrums.
  • Look for patterns that are brought forward at the Sprint Retrospective.

Once you have identified the issues, you are set to help the team with improvement suggestions. Apart from communications means, this part is similar to working from the office.

Service to the Product Owner

Product Owners need to align with the Development Team and stakeholders to maximise the value of the product. While Scrum Teams may be accustomed to working remotely, it often is new to stakeholders.

Here’s where the Scrum Master comes into play identifying the needs and helping to find suitable solutions. This is not limited to the Sprint Review. It can also apply to other engagements between the Product Owner and stakeholders.

You can also consider having a daily check-in with your Product Owner, similar to the one you have with your Development Team.

Service to the Organisation

The Scrum Masters can help the organisation with new modus operandi by proposing tools, techniques and best practices.

Then there’s the topic of working with Scrum in a different setting than usual. It’s a Scrum Masters’ job to ensure that the organisation understands what it means to engage with a Scrum team, regardless of the working location.

To streamline communication with the Development Team you can set up an ‘intake’ channel. You can instruct all stakeholders to send requests for the team to that channel and instruct all team members to redirect direct requests there. This can help control interruptions in remote teams.

Artifact Transparency

One of the jobs of the Scrum Master is to ensure that Artifacts (Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog and Increment) are transparent. This may be impacted too. A Scrum Master needs to be extra mindful to detect incomplete Artifact Transparency and help the Scrum Team to resolve issues.

Addressing impediments

With everyone working at a different location, a Scrum Master may be impeded to act upon impediments. At our company, our semiweekly impediment wall sessions are impacted.

We decided to create a virtual wall in Trello and conduct remote sessions. The impediment wall already has been a great way to foster collaboration in improving the organisation. Now it has proven itself even more. The impediment sessions bring people together.

Conclusion

These days, Scrum Teams and their stakeholders have to deal with many sudden changes that impact daily work. These changes may impede teams to work effectively.

As a Scrum Master, you have to step up. You can help teams to optimise self-organisation, collaboration, transparency and resolving impediments. With that, you lead your team out of this crisis as best as can be.

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Thank you, Paddy Corry and Anshul Kapoor, for bringing up great practices helping me to make this article better.

Serious Scrum

Content by and for serious scrum practitioners.

Thanks to Paddy Corry, Rohit Ratan Mani, Maarten Dalmijn, and Anshul Kapoor

Willem-Jan Ageling

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Interested in ways to work better together. I love the discussion with open-minded people.

Serious Scrum

Content by and for serious scrum practitioners.

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