Preparation, or the consolidation of team and structure
In the first report, we told you how in three days we had to take what should be a traditional Scrum Team, and turn it into a remote team, still bent on thinking Agile and using the Scrum framework. We made sure everybody had the equipment they needed, and elaborated guidelines for remote work in a domestic environment. We set up a daily working schedule and allowed for a fixed time for our Daily Scrum. We were ready to start preparing everything we needed to be ready for our first Sprint.
We prepared and planned all that was possible to do so. Choosing to go Agile, and Scrum specifically, meant that most decisions and processes would have to arise from consensus, if not completely organically over time. So, what would be our next step? We knew we’d want to start Sprint 1 in a week and a half. By then, everybody on the team should have at least some idea of what Scrum and Agile were about, what our product, market and client were about, and what the system architecture for the product would be. The Product Owner had to generate all the user stories for the Product Backlog, story points would have to be assigned to some of the items, and all the infrastructure would have to be ready.
We started with three remote educational sessions: one about the business itself, delivered by the Product Owner, one about the system architecture, delivered by the architect, and one about Agile and Scrum, delivered by the Scrum Master. We tried to do collective sessions, as much as possible, but made the allowance to make one-on-ones, when any member of the team was prevented from attending. They were all kept within reasonable time frames, with a lot of organic Q&A’s, and contributing clarifications from team members who already knew the subject. Now we had a common basis of work and language. We knew it was a lot of information to absorb in three days, and that there would be a lot of doubts rising in the minds of the newest members of the team.
Every time the work slowed down, there were online clarification sessions. We made sure that everybody was at ease to ask questions, whatever questions, at any time. In informal conversations, at any time, anything could be discussed. How rigid would be our working hours, what roles each one of us would have, how Agile and Scrum would determine our workflow and rhythm. We slowly integrated everyone and built a team culture and bonded, over our willingness to keep going, and to give everybody the best tools and support to do the work.
This had the immediate result of people getting emotionally invested in the project. It wasn´t just a question of making sure we all had jobs, once the storm had subsided, we were all having fun, while working our asses off. If nothing else, we all wanted to do the best we could for the team. Of course, in our case, the success of the team and the success of the organization both depended on the success of the project. And the fact that the overlap between team and organization was almost complete, meant that everybody was invested both in the success of the project and the organization.
The organization wasn’t starting from scratch, and the limited number of human resources available meant that, whenever the rest of the work of the organization got in the way, things had to be rearranged or rescheduled. Added to that, there were team members juggling work and kids. After almost two weeks of working together, even if in remote isolation, there was never a time where that constituted a real problem. We adjusted, worked on things that would have lower priority, if all went as expected. We educated ourselves, reading and watching videos, we leaned on each other for help when needed. By now, we knew our deadline for the end of this preparation stage wouldn´t be met, and that Sprint 1 would start later than expected. We were having difficulties in having the whole team available at the same time. And this was a phase that wouldn’t work without some key members of the team. And it was OK. Everybody knew what was going on, everybody understood the circumstances, so everybody took it in stride. The general attitude was that everybody was doing the best they could, so there were no failures to be chastised, no reprimands to be handed. No one would be left to fight alone, no one would be left behind.
There was an underlying premise that we were all adults, that we were all bringing our best to the table, that we all would take our individual different skills and put them to the service of the team and the project. Our boss, the man responsible for our pay checks, the main authority within the organization, was our Product Owner. And yet, although everybody was fully conscious of this, it was never an issue. In truly organic Agile fashion, he was able to create a relationship with the rest of the team that was always respectful of people, of skills and of personal idiosyncrasies, without any blatant display of “bossy” authority. He gracefully embraced his role as Product Owner, always asked for help when he needed it, always made everybody feel empowered in their own roles and their skills. There was never any feeling of the adversarial stance working relationships so often can take. Unassumingly, quietly and respectfully, he created an environment where everybody felt secure, in an extremely insecure exogenous context.
So, even though deadlines were missed, and plans thwarted, we still seemed to be on a good path. What would happen next?