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The Applicability of Scrum to Remote Work

By: Phil Murgatroyd


For most organizations, attempting a full-fledged Scrum implementation remotely would be unduly disruptive, but there are key elements of the Scrum framework that can help teams of all kinds adapt to remote work.

According to the most recent figures from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 46 million American workers — roughly a quarter of the total workforce — could work from home. As a result of the shelter-in-place and social distancing mandates issued by various governmental authorities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as of late March 2020, a significant majority of these workers are working from home — and will continue to do so for the immediate future.

This sudden — and, to be clear, absolutely necessary — shift in how so many of us go about our work has left leadership teams wondering, “How do we keep our teams motivated and engaged and our critical projects on track?” Over the first month of the pandemic, one of the clearest answers to emerge is, “Practice the Agile framework known as Scrum.”

Originally conceived to address some of the shortcomings of the traditional waterfall approach to software development, Scrum has become a popular way for organizations of all kinds to break down silos, foster collaboration, increase transparency and team accountability, and achieve results quickly. In short, the Scrum framework gives organizational leaders a mechanism with which to engage their teams and ensure they are always working on the highest-priority projects at any given time.

Drawing on Scrum Best Practices Without a Full Implementation

In a previous article, I covered six tips for successful Scrum deployment — (1) foster leadership buy-in, (2) adjust the Scrum framework as necessary, (3) deal with specialized roles head-on, (4) manage team capacity, (5) train everyone, and (6) be open and ready to change — and these tips remain as relevant as ever.

That said, the fact of the matter is that most organizations that were not using Scrum before the pandemic necessitated widespread remote work should probably steer clear of attempting to implement the full framework right now. Ensuring teams adjust to the sudden shift to remote work is a monumental change management lift unto itself, and introducing another major change in the shape of the Scrum framework could result in change overload. Fortunately, these organizations can pick and choose certain elements of the Scrum framework and leverage them to great effect without causing undue disruptions to their teams’ workflows.

For instance, implementing digital Kanban boards and daily stand-up meetings can help leaders maintain a clear, accurate overview of projects’ statuses and keep their teams motivated and engaged. Taken together, these common Scrum elements amount to a powerful planning mechanism that provides transparency into what teams are working on, increased productivity and accountability, and blocker identification and remediation. In other words, they give team leaders a good idea of what their teams did yesterday, what they are doing today, and what, if anything, is standing in the way of their doing more tomorrow.

Making a concerted effort to inject a little fun into this process is also a proven way to boost team engagement — one that is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic. For many people, working from home with children or other dependents can be incredibly stressful and distracting, and exacerbating these challenges helps no one. Leaders will likely need to do some experimentation to pinpoint the kind of enlivening elements that work well with their organization’s culture and the types of personalities that make up their teams, but finding ways to ensure that remote work does not unnecessarily become a burden on employees is of the utmost importance.

Adaptive Solutions for Unpredictable Times

As my colleagues have articulated elsewhere, SEI is committed to helping our clients adapt to — and mitigate the ramifications of — working in the highly unpredictable business landscape created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Across all our capabilities, we have the requisite expertise to evolve our traditional best practices to speak to the unique demands of this unprecedented moment.

We have collectively spent decades helping organizations plan and execute Scrum (and other Agile) implementations, leaving us well-equipped to work with both seasoned Scrum teams and teams that are simply looking to draw on several key elements of the Scrum framework to optimize their suddenly remote operations.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to learn more about how SEI can help your organization navigate these tumultuous times.

Learn more about how SEI is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Phil Murgatroyd


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