“Who’s not working agile right now?” Due to the current situation with Corona (Covid 19), the agile way of working becomes more and more relevant. Home office, phone conferences etc. will probably be voted the words of the year 2020 – it is obvious that the “Agile Manifesto” will also be used increasingly often when the question is raised: “How do we want to work now?”
Also we at P3 lean on the manifesto, when we consult our customers during these dynamic times in the best possible way. However, we wouldn’t be P3 if we didn’t look at the principles from a different perspective, or if we wouldn’t take them to the next level straight away.
For example, the sixth agile principle declares: “The most efficient and effective way to convey information to and within a development team is face-to-face communication.” But nowhere is written that this must happen exclusively in a real world scenario or physically in a room – who says that this cannot also happen online?
And lo and behold – with our customers & our P3rspective we created success stories even in times of social distancing. I would like to illustrate this using an example from the previous weeks: We managed to carry out a complete, two-day long Program Increment (PI) Planning with over 50 completely dislocated participants (= 50 locations!) online. Without any drastic losses and that without a colleague standing physically in front of a “real” whiteboard or flipchart.
PI-Planning is a term used in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and represents a two-day large scale planning process where all teams and stakeholders involved in the development of a specific product come together to plan the top requirements for the next 8-12 weeks.
In order to realize this setting remotely, we basically only needed two tools: Microsoft Teams und DEON.
DEON provided us a virtual world with different rooms where our participants could meet at any time, leave notes and documents, prepare material for other team members and collaborate in real time. There were several rooms for this PI planning created. The room “Plenum” was our central meeting point, just like the big room, with many chairs, which we use in the “real” onsite situation (see pictures above). There, the results of team breakout sessions were consolidated and (interim) results were presented. Further rooms were designed for specific team sessions. In addition, there was a “collaboration room” for the purpose of enabling the respective teams to exchange information and work together, depending on the focused topic -just like in the real world and coordinated by moderators.
From our experience, I would like to share a few key success factors of such remote PI plannings, in terms of “methodology” and “technology & tools”:
To orchestrate these large online events, we have introduced the role “online director“(comparable with a theatre director), who takes over the moderation in the “virtual plenum” and ensures that the team-to-team coordination needs are met. He is also available during the event as the main contact person for questions on methodology and tools. It is also recommended to have additional online moderators for the team breakout sessions as support for the Scrum masters and to be able to quickly clarify tool questions within the teams as well. In addition, for the duration of the event, a tech support (“online inspector”) should be available, who can intervene immediately, if tech/IT/tool problems occur that cannot be solved immediately by the online director.
Prior to the event great importance should be attached to the preparation of the virtual workspaces (plenum, breakout sessions, etc.). It is not enough, to make these rooms available in principle, they should, and this is even more important than in an “onsite setting”, be set up meticulously. This includes spatial planning in the sense of “where can I find what”, on what parts of the “virtual board” is being worked on together and where is information available . This also includes the preliminary creation of templates and examples to visualize the work (features, enablers, team planning board, risk matrix, dependency board, confidence voting etc.)
The new “remote setting”, which may be unfamiliar to everyone, should be explained in a briefing for all participants (including a briefing document sent out in advance). It is recommended to do an “extra briefing session” with the Scrum Masters. PI-Plannings demand a lot from Scrum Masters and the “surprise effect” of the remote setting should be minimized for them.
If focus and alignment is important in PI plannings, it is even more so in the remote case: The shared understanding of all participants as to what the top features are and what the minimum set of features is for the next “Program Increment” is essential. Especially in the case of the first remote PI planning, stakeholders’ and business owners’ expectations need to be managed in advance with regard to remote planning.
It is essential to plan enough breaks (approx. every 90 minutes) and it is recommended to stretch the PI planning over 3 days rather than burdening the participants online for 8 hours per day. The “timeboxes” must be adhered to even more strictly in the online scenario.
# TECHNOLOGY & TOOLS
It is highly recommended to perform a short dry run with all (or at least many) of the later participants to test the “real case” in general and different access options, especially for external users. The dry run with many participants also serves as a stress test for the tools to verify, if they can withstand the load/use of many users. This test should take place a few days before the event.
All (and especially guest) participants need simple, proven, reliable instructions for all essential activities from the user’s or customer’s point of view for primary and secondary tools (e.g. team dial-in for external stakeholders, which also explains the selection of web access)
Clear emergency plans (Plan B and C) and procedures should be in place in case of technical failure. Including a communication chain: “Who informs whom via which channel?” Ideally, the criteria for switching from the primary tool to the secondary tool should also be defined.
“Suitable” tools are to be selected that are concrete and realistic for the specific use case and are applicable with this group of people and at this time. For example, we do not recommend to use a well-proven collaboration tool, if stakeholders of certain companies (due to their IT, or other reasons) cannot access it.
And finally, connectivity must be ensured. All participants should be made aware in advance that it is best to use a LAN connection and have an LTE connection via smartphone as a “plan B”.
This PI Planning is an example and neither the first nor the last remote event that we set up and perform. Full of verve and in a very short time our team has managed in the last few weeks to successfully perform online and without connectivity issues:
- SAFe Inspect&Adapt Workshops
- Various Product Owner and Product Management Trainings
- Jira & Confluence Trainings
For us it is not adequate to provide information passively. We help our customers to keep their “normal world” also running in a “virtual world”, so that active and transparent communication is possible at any time.
This is not to say that personal face-2-face communication can or should be completely replaced in every scenario, but with courage, confidence and the appropriate know-how we can meet our communication needs even in times of “social distancing”.
If you are curious about how we conduct remote events, you can register for our online SAFe trainings in May/June on the following dates and experience firsthand what it’s like to explore the new digital world with P3, “business as unusual”.