8 tips for you as freelancer

November 20th is the day that my company Agile Strides turns two years old! Actually, I wanted to found my company on the 23rd of November. For some reason, however, it had to be done on a Friday. Don’t ask…

As I look back at it today, I will never go back to being employed again. (Yeah, I know, this remark can bite me in the tail in a few years…) I really like my way of living. Yes, it is a way of living. That is how I see it. For some time now, people have been asking me for tips. They ask me what they should or shouldn’t do when they become a freelancer. Note that I am always willing to help people and join them for a (virtual) coffee. However, I also realize that not everyone likes coffee or lives in my time zone. Therefore, here are my tips to become a successful freelancer.

The first tip is to decide what kind of freelancer you want to be? Do you want to do many different assignments or do you want to commit to more long-term assignments? Personally, I am looking to do many different jobs. I prefer not to work for two years for customer A on end, and then go to customer B for another two years. I am looking to help a large group of different customers and learn from them. In my opinion, that is an entrepreneurial mindset. Both preferences are OK, specializing or getting to know many different businesses, but it really makes a difference in how you do things. If you go for the latter option, the more entrepreneurial mindset, keep reading. Also realize that this choice can be a bit more challenging. You will need to find more assignments and look for more potential customers. I find it to be more rewarding. Really decide on what kind of freelancer you want to be.

Secondly, believe in Karma. Yes, I know, it is a bit vague, especially coming from me, but I really believe in this. Don’t ask money for everything you do, if you are kind and generous to people, they will be kind and generous to you. If you share assignments with other people, they will also think of you when they have to pass on assignments. Depending on your expertise, just do an assignment for free every now and then. I sometimes do a new workshop for free, just to try things out.

Let’s make it more practical. The third tip is to build and keep building your network. One of my old managers, Erik Jaspers, told me once to go out, to meet people, to visit conferences, etc. This has been one of the most valuable tips I ever got in my career. By doing this, I built up a network, met all kinds of people. I found assignments in The Netherlands but also got many assignments abroad. (I don’t mind traveling for business). So, drink coffee with people, meet with them and connect to them.

Fourthly, have at least one day a week where you do not schedule any work. One day a week without customer projects. You will need this day always to build out your network, to do marketing, do sales, admin stuff, write blogs. You will discover that you already have to do many things in the evening hours. If you don’t block one day for yourself, you will work every evening and weekend. A friend of mine has CEO-Monday, the day she does all her bookkeeping and stuff a CEO should do in a company. Keep at least one day per week free in your agenda.

Be seen and be present, the fifth tip. Start writing blog posts, speak at conferences, record podcasts, share things on the internet that are related to your expertise, be active on social media. I share many interesting articles, and I know some people consider it spam :). If people see you on social media, they will remember you when they are looking for someone. Work won’t just show up at your doorstep, at least not for me. Be visible to the outside world.

Sixth: find business friends. Find people with whom you can work together. Make sure you can work together physically or virtually by co-working. Also work on new ideas together with other people. It is more fun now and then to develop new business ideas jointly, the world is big enough to have enough projects for the both of you. In short, partner up.

Seventh: accept that you can’t win all possible leads. You will lose some leads, nothing to worry about. You can’t do everything and at least you were in the race for the assignment! Keep true to your personal values, don’t sell yourself short. As long as you win half of the leads, you are often doing pretty well. It is OK not to win all opportunities.

The eight tip is about your software: get as many things as possible in the cloud. Make sure you are able to work from anywhere, with any laptop or device. I use Acumulus for bookkeeping, Evernote to store ALL information, Google Drive for working together, Dropbox for storing my files, Hubspot for CRM, Gmail and Google Calendar and last but not least Zapier to automate as much as possible.  Get organized in the cloud and work anywhere.

In my opinion, the most important thing is to realize that being a freelancer really is a way of living. There will be days that you worry about money, new projects, too little work, too much work, etc. Things that make you wonder why did I ever choose for this career? And there will also be days where you will be so proud of yourself because all of the success is because of you! You did it yourself, everything that you did is the result of your own hard work! It probably won’t make you rich, a bit perhaps. Yes you have freedom, but realize that if you are not working you also don’t have an income. So the freedom maybe a bit relative. Nevertheless, love your job.

As I said, I am really happy with my life as an entrepreneur. I would not like to be employed at this moment. You never know what the future brings, but at this moment I am very happy. Hope my tips are useful for you and or can help you in making the decision to become a freelancer yes or no.

Looking forward to that coffee!

40 ideas to spice up your retrospective

In this blog post, I want to share some ideas for hosting agile retrospectives, including some ideas on how to make a retrospective visual more attractive.

People who have worked with me, know how important I believe retrospectives are. Retrospectives are the backbone of every team, project, and organization. We can have a lot of discussion about Agile and what it stands for, but for me, when you have no regular retrospectives, things are definitely not Agile.

I am not going to explain in depth how you should organize a retrospective. I really recommend, and I mean really recommend, that you read the book Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Diana Larsen and Esther Derby. It is a must read if you want to learn more about retrospectives.

In this book, the authors explain a retrospective as having the following steps:

  • Set the Stage: make sure everyone feels safe and is in in the retro
  • Gather The Data: what happened, make sure everyone has the same picture
  • Generate Insights: analyze the data to find root causes
  • Decide What To Do: what are experiments that could help us to improve 1% a day
  • Closing: don’t just walk away but close the retro with an activity

For every step you can use an activity. For example, for the Gather-The-Data step, you could use “What Went Well and What Went Wrong.”

Now I hear you think… you know that activity! Good point! Many Scrum Masters, or facilitators, always use the same activities during the retrospective. Worst case, people already come in with their findings written on a sticky note to put it on the board as soon as they enter the room. When you talk to those teams, they often complain that the retrospectives are not interesting anymore, they are boring, not productive, and are considered as just another mandatory tiresome meeting.

OMG… Retrospective Hell created by a facilitator who doesn’t know how to create Retrospective Heaven… A retrospective should be fun, energetic, surprising, and people should love it!

I am not going to describe how to act as a facilitator here. I will just share the activities to make your retrospective fun and how to make things visual. To make it fun, it should be visual and colorful.

Note that most activities come from Retromat, some from the book mentioned earlier Fun Retrospectives, some I found using Google and some of them I created myself.

I always said I can’t draw, I am bad at drawing pictures, really. However, I just do it… and people seem to like it OK. As I said, retrospectives (any meeting) should be colorful.

Set the Stage

In this step, we establish the focus for the retrospective, share the plan for the meeting, establish or re-purpose work agreements, and get every person in the room in the meeting. The activities described below are for getting people to speak out. As soon as you have said something, it will be easier to say something again. You connect people to the meeting.

Visualization Example Description
prime directive

Prime Directive

Before we start the first activity, I always show this flip chart. Always, and I always read it out loud. If I have the feeling something conflicts with Prime Directive of Retrospectives, there is a major issue. An issue I need to discuss with the manager or with the team, depending on the maturity level of the team.

Set-the-stage-1-word-to-describe

One Word

Ask people to describe the last iteration with just one word. Simple and effective, everyone has to speak out. You could ask people to explain their one word. Ask the team if they a pattern or something they want to discuss.

  Set-the-stage-Draw-the-sprint

Draw The Sprint

A bit the same like the previous one. However, you ask the people to draw the iteration on a sticky note. Make sure you got stickies. Ask them to explain their drawing. The title of the flip chart is “Draw The Sprint”, hard to read. Maybe it was a bit too creative 😉

Set-the-stage-ESVP

ESVP

Activity from the book Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great.

Explain the first categories:

  1. Explorer, exciting to be in the retro and eager to discover and learn new things.
  2. Shopper, happy to be in the retro and open to learn new things.
  3. Vacationer, glad to be away from his desk.
  4. Prisoner, totally doesn’t like the retro and it is punishment (s)he needs to be here.

Ask people to write down their feeling on a sticky note. An E, S, V or P will do. Ask them to fold the papers. As the facilitator, mark the score on the flip chart. Make sure you put the sticky notes back in your pocket, keep it anonymous and throw them away afterwards.

Discuss the results, in case you got all prisoners; I would advise you to improvise and talk about why they feel like a prisoner.

Set-the-stage-How-did-you-feel-about-last-sprint

Weather

Ask people to put a sticky note on the weather that represents for them the last iteration. The drawing bottom right is not sunny side up… but the sun.

Discuss the results and especially when there are some people feeling Sunny and some are feeling like Rain.

Set-the-stage-How-do-you-feel-about-the-sprint

How Do You Feel

Ask people to put a sticky note on how they feel, or how they experienced the last iteration.

Some people will ask what does this emoticon mean? Just say whatever you think it means.

Ask them to explain why they put a sticky note on a certain emoticon. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what they think the emoticon is; they need to explain it anyways.

Set-the-stage-How-satisfied-about-team-workSet-the-stage-How-satisfied-about-team-work

How satisfied are you about

Ask people to write down how they feel about team. Again make sure you do it anonymous. Mark the score, and discuss the results. You can use of course change the description or rank other things you want the team to rank.

Set-the-stage-Looking-back-with-Lego

Lego Looking Back

No further explanation needed I guess… make sure you got enough Lego 🙂

Set-the-stage-Pick-a-card-that-visualizes-the-sprint-and-explain-why

Improve Cards

Ask people to select an Improv Card that represents how they feel about the last iteration.

You can use any set of cards, as long as it triggers the ideas of people.

Set-the-stage-Your-Super-Power

Your Superpower

This is an activity you can use in a retro with Superheroes as theme. The first question is, what is your superpower? Which skill or competence do you bring with you to the team?

Ask the people to write their superpower on a sticky note and in short explain it when necessary.

Set-the-stage-Which-season-describes-your-feeling-about-the-last-sprint

Seasons

Ask people how they felt about last sprint or a maybe a specific topic.

Winter refers to cozy, cold, inside, slow. Spring is related to new, grow, fresh, light. Summer stands for happy, hot, outside, cheerful and Autumn refers to change, colorful, windy and getting darker.

Set-the-stage-How-perfect-was-the-last-iteration

Diamond or Charcoal

Ask people how they felt about last sprint or a maybe a specific topic.

Did they think it was perfect, a Diamant, or far from perfect, charcoal?

Gather The Data

In this stage you create a shared pool of data. Try to get facts on the table, not opinions. If you discuss a specific topic, make sure the data is related to the topic. I often combine Gather The Data with the next step Generate Insights.

Visualization Example Description
Gather-the-data-Celebration-Grid

Celebration Grid

This is a practice from Management 3.0, the Celebration Grid.

It is what you celebrate, do you celebrate failure or success? Neither, you should celebrate learning. The green areas are the areas you celebrate, and there is nothing wrong to celebrate now and then you use best practices.

Ask the team members to write down the things happened in the last iteration and put them on the flipchart. Explain to them the category is not even that important, as long as the item is on the flip chart.

Be warned, this activity works great with some teams, but some teams also have no idea what to write down when they see the Celebration Grid or where to put their sticky note.

Gather-the-data-Glad-Sad-Mad-and-Kudo-Cards

Glad, Sad, Mad and Kudo

Straightforward activity. What made people feel Glad, Sad or Mad the last iteration? Which events?

Additionally, put a set of Kudo cards on the table and challenge the people to give each other a Kudo card. As always, lead by example and give the first Kudo card yourself. This could also be the start of your team Kudo Card wall.

Gather-the-data-Happy-Surprised-Puzzled-and-Sad

Four Emoticons

Ask people to write down things that happened and to put them on the flip chart where they think the item should be.

The most interesting sticky notes are when people categorize the same events/facts in different areas.

Gather-the-data-Health-Check-Model

Health Check

This is a more complex activity. The activity is described here, it is inspired by Spotify.

I do this activity every three/four months.  I call it the Improvement Score Board.  Spotify calls it the Squad Health Check.

Gather-the-data-Histogram-five-topics

Radar

A tool to get insights on several areas at once. In this case, we talked about topics described on the flip chart. However, feel free to pick your own topics.

Make forms where you explain in more detail what the topics are, ask people to give scores on the form. In this case 0..10. Collect the forms and mark the scores on the graph or ask people to do it themselves. Depends maybe on the topics you want to discuss.

Discuss the results with the team.

Gather-the-data-Lean-Coffee

Lean Coffee

Organize a lean coffee to collect data during the retrospective. The lean coffee is explained on the flip chart or you can read more about it here.

This is a free format discussion, so you just have to see which topics the team will bring up.

Gather-the-data-Liked-Learned-Lacked-and-Longed-For""

Liked, Learned, Lacked and Longer For

Another straightforward to collect data. Ask people to write down the things that happened during the last iteration and put them in the specific category. The categories are Liked, Learned, Lacked and Longed For.

Ask the team to group the cards them, don’t do it yourself. Make your life easy as facilitator.

Gather-the-data-Scrum-How-Happy-RolesGather-the-data-Scrum-How-Happy-ArtifactsGather-the-data-Scrum-How-Happy-Meetings

Wow, Wondering or Worried

This activity is related to Scrum and can be used to evaluate how happy the team is about the different Scrum elements.

Three flip charts related to the roles, artifacts, and events of Scrum.

Just ask them to put sticky notes on the flip chart how they feel about the different items.

Next step is to discuss the outcome. Why do they think Wow it is great, or Wondering if it is OK, or are Worried about something?

You can use the three W of course for every item you would like to review with the team.

Gather-the-data-Team-Radar-5-symptons-of-disfunctional-teamGather-the-data-Team-Radar-5-symptons-of-disfunctional-team

Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Yes, indeed a typo in the title of the flip chart.

An example how you can discuss and make visual how the team thinks about the five dysfunctions of a team. First, create the team Radar, and next step is to discuss the score using also the pyramid.

I used the questions from the book to collect the data. I would advise you to read the book first before playing this activity.

Gather-the-data-What-happened-in-the-last-sprint-As-preparation-post-the-PBI-Items-as-stick-notes-on-the-flipchart

What happened?

I can’t make it more straight forward, just ask people to write down what happened in the iteration, ask them to group the things and discuss them.

Gather-the-data-What-went-Super-Bad-Was-Strange-and-Dare-to-next-Sprint

Superhero

Another activity to collect data. What do you think was super? What do you think was strange? What do you think was bad? What didn’t you dare to do?

Yes, I know Batman is written with an t.

This is basically the same activity as for example Liked, Learned, Longed For, but by using different terms, pictures you challenge the team and keep it fun.

ather-the-data-What-Went-Well-What-Worries-You

Well & Worries

A simple activity where people pair up and write down what went well and what worried them.

Make groups of two people and ask them to fill in this form: What Went Well – What Worries You – Form – A3.

After the first step, one person of every group goes to a next group, one team members stays with the form. By rotating people, they will see items of the other groups and this will generate new insights.

After the second step, discuss the results with the whole team.

Gather-the-data-We-Do-and-We-Value

We Do & We Value

In this case I reviewed the Definition Of Done. I first asked the people to pair with someone else. Rank the items of the DoD in order which one we always do. The second-ranking was which DoD items do we  value most.

Next step was splitting the team, every team again creating the both rankings. The final step was to make a final ranking. The pair who was closest by the final ranking won a small price.I used this form to collect the data: We Do – We Value form.

The last step was to discuss the ranking. Are there items that we can skip, or items that we value but don’t give enough focus?

Gather-the-data-What-went-well-What-did-we-lean-What-would-we-like-to-do-differently-and-what-puzzles-us

Well, Learned, Different and Puzzle

An activity like Liked, Learned, Lacked and Longer For of Superhero. By using different words and different drawing you challenge and surprise people again.

Generate Insights

In this stage, you try to discover root causes, patterns, create shared awareness. I often combine Gather the Data with Generate Insights. Therefore, I only have one example in this category.

Visualization Example Description
Generate-insights-Build-one-or-more-solutions-using-Lego

Lego

As it says on the flipchart :).

Ask people to build something with Lego bricks, which represents a possible next step for the team. This will make people think about issues and possible solutions.

Discuss the creations, ask people to explain their solution.

Decide What To Do

Finding root causes is already difficult but defining actionable items is even more difficult for some team members. Read my blog post about how to create actionable items. I don’t have that many different activities for this stage. It is the role of the facilitator to challenge the team to come up with actionable items.

Visualization Example Description
Decide-on-next-action-Actions-linked-to-Goal-Who-What-and-When

Next Action

Just write the what, who and when on a sticky note and put it on the paper. If possible you can group them per theme or goal.

Decide-on-next-action-Actions-Who-What-and-When

Who What When

Almost the same as the previous activity. However, this time without goals. Write down who will do the action, what the action is, and when the action needs to be done.

Identify action is one thing, make sure they are visible for the team and the team is disciplined to execute the actions.

Decide-on-next-action-SMART-actions

SMART Actions

Another flip chart that describes how the team can define their actions. Just another format.

In this case, you can use the template at the bottom of the flip chart to help the team define SMART actions.

Closing

The final stage of a retrospective, you review the retro, show appreciation to each other, and make also apply a short retro on the retro itself. Some of the closing retrospectives can also be used as starting activity.

Visualization Example Description
Closing-How-much-energy-do-you-have-for-the-next-sprint

Energy Level Next Sprint

Ask the people to put a sticky note on the energy level that represents their eagerness for the next iteration. If the energy levels are low… there is work to do.

Closing-How-value-was-the-retro

Value

Ask the attendees to put a sticky note on the drawing that represents the value of the retrospective for them. If they all say it was low… there is again work to do.

Closing-Kudo-Cards-Wall

Kudo Card Wall

Ask people to write a Kudo card. This could be the start of a Kudo card Wall in your team. Lead by Example, make sure you also give one or more Kudo cards.

Closing-One-Final-Word

One Final Word

Ask attendees to write just one final word on a sticky note. Ask them to explain the word. Ask them to write a word related to retro, you could also look forward and them to write a word related to the future.

Be careful, the retro is done but this could start a new discussion.

Closing-Provide-feedback-using-colored-Lego-bricks

Lego Feedback

Ask the team to be creative with Lego bricks and build something that provides feedback to you. The colors will show how much they valued the retro.

Closing-Retro-Dart

Retro Dart

Ask the attendees to play “darts” with sticky note. A quick way of getting feedback. Depending on the score… there is again work to do.

Closing-ROT

ROTI

An activity from the book of Esther and Diana. What is the Return Of Time Invested in the retro. Explain it should be about how they feel at this moment. The actions are not executed, but how do they feel at this moment about the time invested?

Closing-Team-Super-Power

Team Super Powers

Ask the team to write down what they think is the superpower of the team. A positive closing of the retrospective.

Closing-What-surprised-you-during-the-retro-and-what-made-you-think-OMG-durign-the-retro

Wow or Happy

You can ask the team to write what surprised them during the retro and/or what made them feel good. You can also just ask the team to put a sticky note on one of the emoticons when they leave the room.

A quick way of getting feedback about a topic. You can use this also at the end of a meeting.

Closing-What-would-you-like-to-share-via-Twitter-about-the-last-sprint-or-this-retrospective

Twitter

Create your own twitter wall. Ask the attendees to write in maximum 140 characters what they would like to say about the retrospective.

Closing-Two-Closing-Questions

Simple Question

Ask people to answer one of the question, one thing they learned or a thank you to someone. A positive closure of the retrospective. By having two questions you give people the opportunity to chose, but you could also decide to just have one question of course.

To close this blog post some general tips about using flip charts during the retrospective.

Don’t use regular white board markers to create your flipcharts. Buy quality markers, from example Neuland. As my dad as carpenter always says, when having the right tools, the work is already half done.

Always use sticky notes on the flip charts. This will make it very easy to reuse the flipcharts. You will build up your own personal library of activities. There is nothing wrong using the same activity, but not every retrospective the same activity.

Just start experimenting, just do it. The first flip chart you will draw will maybe look bad, but you will improve every retrospective.

Distributed Teams: Hell-to-Make Decisions!

I am part of a distributed team: Happy Melly One. We have ten people in our team and we are distributed over five different time zones. We work with freelancers. Most of us also have other projects that they work on. We are responsible for Management 3.0 and Happy Melly. Like every organization, we need to experiment, make decisions and adapt when necessary.

Some decisions are easy to make. If necessary, you inform the people concerned and you are done. When I need to order new items for the web shop, I just order the new supplies. When I decide to merge some files into a new folder on our team share, I just do it. Life can be easy, sometimes…

There are experiments that we would like to run that affect many people, customers, commitments, etc. Experiments that you would like to discuss first with as many people as possible in the team. If possible, you want to talk about it with all team members. Remember I said life is easy? Well, discussing these kinds of experiments in our team is not so easy. Reasons are the time zones, other projects, other obligations, and sometimes team members are also enjoying holidays.

How to solve this?

First, let’s take a quick and brief look at holacracy:

A holacracy is a governance structure characterized by a distribution of power among self-organizing groups, rather than the top-down authority in the typical hierarchical corporate culture model.

One of the meetings described in Holacracy is the Governance meeting. In a governance meeting, a circle can change the roles of the circle, it can change policies of the circle and/or elect people to the elected core roles of the circle. More information about governance meetings can be found here.

I looked at the structure of the governance meeting and realized it could help us in making decisions. Time to run an experiment in our team. So, I created a Google Docs template, called the proposal document template. I know, sometimes it is hard to be original.

Let me explain our process, inspired by the governance meeting structure.

As soon as someone would like to make a decision, propose something, run an experiment, they will create a new proposal document.

The first section is the proposal. What are they proposing? What would someone like to change and why? For example, someone would like to change the logo of Happy Melly One to a huge purple square. In the proposal, they can then describe the what and the why. They can explain why a huge purple square is better than our current logo.

The person concerned will then share the document on Slack. If necessary, they can tag people to make sure they will be triggered to look into it. People can read the proposal and ask questions to the proposer. Questions that will clarify the proposal.

The proposer will make sure everyone will either ask a question or that they say “no further questions” (or something similar). If the proposer does not chase people for this info, there is probably no urgent need for the proposal, and it will just fade away. For example, why choose a huge purple square instead of an enormous yellow square? Or how did you get this idea in your head? I love the current logo, if you change the logo then I am out of the team.

As soon as all people have asked questions or made remarks, the proposer can answer the questions. In the section Amend & Clarify the proposer can provide the information or even change the proposal if necessary. In this example, the proposer could change the proposal to a huge yellow square, or they can explain that it is proven that the color purple attracts more people according to research. Or they can just leave the proposal as it is.

Again, all team members should then provide input. This is the final step. Does anyone have objections to this proposal? The answer can only be yes or no. If no, a reason would be nice but it is not necessary. If there is someone who objects, the proposal is not accepted. In this case, I am sure the proposal for a new logo will be rejected, so the proposer should come up with a new proposal or discuss it in a meeting.

One thing is very important. You are only allowed to object if you think the proposal will hurt the organization. In this example, if you just don’t like purple, bad luck. Run the experiment, learn and adapt.

In the last weeks, we made two big decisions based on two such proposals. Thanks to the small process, all team members were able to provide input. What is more important, we were able to make the decisions in a week where it otherwise would have cost us weeks to get everyone in a meeting. Another advantage, we are keeping track of our decisions, our decision-making process and most important: we document the why.

Excuse me? Oh, so you are a level 4: Certified Holacracy Master Coach and you are telling me that this is totally not as it should be according to Holacracy? OK, well no problem. I was inspired by the governance meeting and we adapted it to our team. We made it work for our team.

Feel free to create your own proposal document template and use this idea in your (distributed) team. I would love to hear your experiences!

If you want to learn more about how to make fast decisions on remote teams, also listen to this podcast from Lisette Sutherland.

Scrum and Distributed teams? Hand in hand

Let me jump directly to the conclusion: nowhere in the Scrum guide, it says that a team should be co-located. Additionally, nowhere in the Agile Manifesto it says that a team should be co-located. Focus on building relations and interactions between team members and make sure they have the right tools and hardware!

Teams will work distributed more and more: it is hard to find the right people locally, people work from home because of horrible commutes, because they want a healthy work-life balance, etc.

With that being said, why do so many people say that Scrum is only possible when a team is co-located? I think there are several reasons. Let me try to explain some of their arguments. The arguments that I hear most often.

You can’t communicate when you are not in the same room? Huh… where did they live the last ten years? OK, I agree that most every Skype call still starts with the infamous words: “Can you hear me?” One of my team members at the Happy Melly team, however, is working in Sudan at the moment. She has a great internet connection. I therefore assume that most everyone can have a good high-bandwidth internet connection. Tools like Skype, Slack, Zoom, Sococo, Trello, Retrium, I Done This, Teams, Fun Retro, Lino, etc. all these tools provide the facilities you need to communicate within a Scrum team. So communication should not be an issue in my opinion.

But wait, in the Agile Manifesto it is stated: “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” Yes, and I totally agree with that. This is the reason why I will always use a webcam in meetings or even record meetings so other team members can watch the meeting when they are online.

You can’t use sticky notes when the team is not co-located. Err, why not? Depending on your team setup,  you can work with a buddy who keeps physical boards in sync. You can make pictures of boards and share them via the tools described above. Or you can use Trello or LeanKit for example, in combination with a (huge) touchscreen. Is not being able to use sticky notes really an argument? Don’ t think so.

Then, a more tricky argument… “How do I know they are really working?” If you have doubts whether your team members are actually working, well you may have a completely different problem… Don’t like it, but let me answer with a counter question: How do you know today that all co-located team members are working? Are you not fooling yourself if you think that simply because people share the same room, they never doze off? It is about the results, not about the time people spend in their office chair. You should know when people are not contributing to the results: it should not be connected to their location to be aware of this.

I worked with many Scrum teams, and many of them were distributed teams. Some teams were even located in three different time zones. Some of the teams performed better than others: I will be honest about that. The teams that performed well had one thing in common: the teams really were a team. They would do everything for each other, everything to realize their goal. Everything to be successful as a team!

Tools solve most of the problems that remote working team members encounter. However, there is one team characteristic that tools can’t solve: team camaraderie. Building the team, making sure they act as a team is important. When you have a team that will rely on each other to do a good job, it doesn’t matter where they work. The organisation should make sure they do everything to build a great team. A team where members trust each other. Where they can rely on each other.

There are many practices to build great teams, think about defining team values, making personal maps, do shuttle diplomacy, define clear work agreements, etc. Beside good tools, you need to invest in team relations and you need to continue investing.

The agile manifesto states: “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.” This for me is one of the most important principles.

Nowhere in the Scrum guide, it says that a team should be co-located. Additionally, nowhere in the Agile Manifesto it says that a team should be co-located. Focus on building relations and interactions between team members and make sure they have the right tools and hardware to get the job done!

What do you think about distributed Scrum teams?

Context is Everything!

Scrum versus Waterfall. Management 1.0 versus Management 3.0. Automated Testing versus Manual Testing. Estimation versus No Estimations. SAFe versus LeSS.

So many different opinions on all kind of topics and it seems like people always want you to choose between left or right, up or down, etc.

McDonald’s is a restaurant. You maybe don’t like the food or have other ideas about the definition of a restaurant. But is a fact, McDonald’s is a restaurant. My daughter is 14, within two years she is allowed to work at McDonald’s. She could work in the kitchen, prepare my food. I love her, and she has great talents, but I did not yet see the talent of cooking food. Still, she will be allowed to work in a kitchen in two years. (Update: her talent for baking cakes is developing well)

I believe in Management 3.0. I think it can help you manage complex adaptive systems, or in other words organizations. However, the kitchen of McDonald’s is not managed using a Management 3.0 approach. It is about order, rules, and checklists. And I am very happy it is not a Management 3.0 organization, taking into account that my daughter will be able to work at McDonald’s in two years :).

De Librije is a restaurant in The Netherland and has three Michelin stars. I just checked.., they are almost fully booked for the rest of the year. I have seen a documentary about this restaurant, and their kitchen is nothing like McDonald’s (yeah duh… you think). The management style in their kitchen is Management 3.0. It is about creativity, experiments and taking responsibility, on every level.

McDonald’s with Management 3.0 would fail, De Librije with Management 1.0 would fail.

When I ask people for Management 1.0 examples, people often mention the army. But is that really true? I disagree with the statement that the military is completely and always Management 1.0. Imagine you would be send into battle with a team, and you have to ask permission for every decision you want to make to the commander in HQ. The same for him, he has to ask permission from his commander. You would lose the battle. However, when the battle is over, things will go back to Management 1.0. Based on the situation, a management style is decided.

An important meeting within Scrum is the daily standup. Most Scrum Master will tell you, that when you don’t do a daily standup, you don’t do Scrum. But is that really true? When my team is sitting in one room, including the Product Owner, and they have extensive communication during the day, I don’t mind if they skip the daily standup. I know they will communicate about progress and impediments. They don’t need that safety net. It will be different when I coach a new distributed team. In that case, I strongly advise the team to have a daily standup.

You can have the same discussions on the topics I mentioned at the start of this blog post. Yes, sometimes SAFe will be a good approach, but also sometimes LeSS will be a good approach. There will be projects where a waterfall approach can help you but also projects where Scrum will give you most value.

Always look at the context, what could work? Don’t judge any method, framework or whatever upfront. Most approaches can give you value when you use them in the right context.