Article

What are the most useful agile team ceremonies for remote working?

October 19, 2022

This article was co-written in collaboration with the Pluralsight Engineering team leads including:

Jae Pil Kim, Team Lead, Software Engineering

Timothy Kinnane, Principal Software Engineer

Gabriel Mérida, Engineering Team Lead

Irina Levotchkina, Team Lead, Software Engineering

Keerthi Nidadavolu, Director, Software Engineering

Shaun Tirubeni, Team Lead, Software Engineering

 

Attracting top talent is no longer localized to a particular region. It’s a competition on a global scale. Having sound practices to support a remote-first professional environment is key to drawing people to your company and setting up teams for sustained success.

At Pluralsight, we strive to build content, training materials, and best practices for software teams across every organization and it starts internally. Pluralsight’s Cloud Engineering teams are either hybrid or remote first, meaning we drink our own champagne in this area. We posed the following question to our leaders to get their perspective:

“What is the most useful team ceremony or activity in the era of remote working?”

 

Their responses indicated it may be an act of balancing tried and tested agile practices to drive operational efficiency while reinforcing culture and teamwork with new remote-friendly ceremonies. The simple answer might be that there is no singular, simple answer but these are the ways Pluralsight’s team has built an agile workforce with a strong culture of communication and collaboration.

Socializing to build team bonds

A ritual adopted by most Pluralsight engineering teams over the last couple of years has been to drop work for an hour a week and play some online games. Keerth Nidadavolui, A Pluralsight Director of Software Engineering, shared her team’s favorites, being: Drawbattle, Tetris, and Gartic Phone.

Finding time to get to know each other in a setting that isn’t always delivery related has been great for the overall success and collaboration within the team. It’s an opportunity for some non-work-related banter. It brings out the fun, competitive side of team members and bonds us in a way we don’t get to do as much anymore. Shaun, Mobile Team lead says:

Agile quote

 

 

Daily stand-ups to sharpen focus

Irina Levotchkina, a Software Engineering Team Lead, put forward her experience with this cornerstone agile practice:

“My first introduction to Agile started with daily stand-ups and immediately I noticed that it added structure to my day. I also started having a better picture about what my teammates were up to. To this day as soon as I hear the word Agile I immediately think of stand-ups.”

When we first went remote, it was slightly challenging to adjust and some teams decided to run stand-up twice a day to stay connected and give support to each other. It may seem simple, but it’s a connective practice that seeds so many collaborative opportunities.

Stand-up defines focus for the day. We hear what other people are working on and get context for tickets we’re interested in. It’s an opportunity to ask for help and discuss pairing options, make any announcements, share critical news and sometimes just chat about the weekend!

 

Empowering teams to make decisions 

When it comes to making decisions for the team, we try to instill trust and autonomy. This helps assure that we’re not always deferring to leads, especially when they may not always be available. Our Engagement Team created a rather simple process to eliminate this bottleneck. Team lead Jae Pil Kim explains:

“We’ve instilled a Three-Way Decision process which allows my team to move quickly as decisions could be made promptly. The rest of the team members can then catch up any time that is convenient for them. Another bonus is that we can reference past decisions to realign our focus, when the inevitable derailing hits the team.”

The rules are pretty simple. When you have a decision to make, invite any two additional members of the team to discuss and decide. Then capture the background and decision in the team's decision log Slack channel. This solution may not work for every team but with a mature team culture it can boost confidence and trust.

 

Retrospective meetings

Appropriately, the last item to share is a retrospective. These health check meetings inform our teams if everything we’re doing is actually working. This is critical for any team irrespective of industry or remote work, as one of our principal engineers, Tim Kinnane suggested:

“With all rituals there is a risk that the way you conduct it can be broken or missing the point in some way. Without retros you might never discover those gaps or identify actions to address them.”

Retros are a time for checking in with your  team to support positive culture and common accountability. When conducted well, they can address a lot of the disconnect in remote teams. It can be a place to interrogate and evolve the in-office processes that no longer apply.

If your retros allow space to expand beyond work in progress, it can be the best opportunity a remote worker has to come across the incidental “hallway” conversation and connections they’d otherwise miss out on.

The new normal of hybrid and remote work has forced organizations to constantly evolve. Being agile means something different for every team but at the core, agile teams are empowered to act quickly, adjust on the fly, and make decisions. These factors have helped pluralsight’s engineering teams build an internal culture of trust and collaboration while also driving improved productivity as a whole.

 

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