Oct. 24, 2021

Scrum Teams Adapted Easier and Faster to Distributed and Hybrid Work

Scrum Teams Adapted Easier and Faster to Distributed and Hybrid Work

The whole world had to rapidly change as local and federal governments deemed certain parts of the economy essential or non-essential. Some teams adapted to remote work or variations of working remotely faster than others. Whether you work directly in the trades or project management, we learned and adapted as construction professionals. The idea of how teams complete construction projects today has permanently changed. We said goodbye to the belief that complete teams had to be physically in the same place at the same time to be productive. When teams worldwide had to go full or partial remote, I had a front-row seat to see the differences between Scrum and non-Scrum teams. Here are three big things I learned.


  1. Change is typically hard.
  2. People are rushing for normal.
  3. Change is still tricky.


Many design and construction Scrum teams improved productivity week one during the transitions of early 2020 and maintained the gains. Even if you aren't doing Scrum with your team, you can benefit from their actions and lessons.  After I learned about Scrum, my life was never the same again. During the early part of the pandemic, I became a Registered Scrum Trainer™ (RST) in a partnership with the Agile Education Program powered by Scrum Inc.™. I've continued my purpose of helping construction professionals through The EBFC Show podcast, Blogs, social media, interactive education programs, and conferences adopt easier and better ways of working. 


1. Change is typically hard.

Don't let a crisis go to waste. The pandemic abruptly forced teams to navigate new ideas about how and where work happens. One example was the boom in technology platforms like Zoom, MS Teams, Slack, Mural, Miro, Trello, and others for distributed team collaboration. People suddenly started joining calls with cameras on to keep a sense of connection or familiarity. Commuting hours by car or plane vanished, and subject matter experts became more engaged with otherwise remote project teams. Two years later, questions about what it takes for project teams and departments to do their best work are still not fully decided by companies.


Many non-Scrum teams didn't have a process to adapt and change before the pandemic. Much of their time went to figuring out who should make suggestions, decisions and who had to also approve of the new plans. Some teams didn't even get to plan but instead waited for direction from company leadership while deadlines lapsed. Scrum teams instead took to each change as just part of another day's work.


[Updated] Scrum Framework - How Scrum Works Today

Scrum is the most widely used Agile framework. If you're new to Scrum (or want a refresher), watch this short video above from my friends at Scrum Inc. to see the whole framework.


Scrum teams use the management framework to improve communication, systematically remove impediments/constraints, and prioritize work daily. One such Scrum team got word from management they would have to limit the number of team members in the project trailer to comply with social distancing requirements. Their Scrum Master immediately communicated that she would add an MS Teams location to all their meetings. She also posted a photo of their physical Scrum board in the MS Teams chat daily until they collectively decided what technology to shift their Scrum board sticky notes to among several candidates. Their Product Owner, also their director, encouraged the team to experiment with a few trials before committing since it was unknown how long the remote work would last. The team experimented with Mural, MS Planner, and Trello. When the pandemic restrictions changed, they elected to return to the office reverting to using stickies on a whiteboard again. I saw this change in near-real-time as the team shared their lessons across digital chat platforms for others on different projects to see their examples.


Agile is the ability to create and respond to change. Scrum teams use the Scrum Guide to operationalize Agile concepts into habits and experiments. You can read and download the guide for free here at https://scrumguides.org/. Non-Scrum teams lacked this adaptation change mindset, and many didn't have a team member with the Agile mindset to help them quickly pivot. Non-Scrum teams also lacked a visual way to see their work or know when to help others. When managers of these non-Scrum teams lost visual sight of subordinates, meetings and meeting durations soared. Not every change was positive. For example, non-existent commutes meant longer working days for many of these team members, which increased burnout for some.


2. People are rushing for normal.

While 2020 is in the completed work category, 2021 is still not business as usual despite vaccines and new COVID protocols. The lessons teams and organizations learned during the pandemic remain front and center. Leaders must capture insights from these experiences before they are lost. Scrum teams have a process for this at the end of each and every cycle of work, called Sprints. The meeting is called the Sprint Retrospective. It starts by asking each member what worked and what didn't work. Scrum teams practice having tough conversations and asking hard questions. Many Scrum teams shifted to hybrid work, a combination of working co-located and working remotely.


Non-Scrum teams went back to work, and organizations saw absenteeism increase. At the same time, employees left jobs in record numbers despite recommendations being widely available for transitioning to the new normal. Some reported never getting asked by management about their working from home vs. being in the office experiences. Talk with your teams, listen actively. Take notes and ask them what they'd like to see moving forward.


3. Change is still tricky.

Sometimes it enables better work and other times not so much. Feedback is just data. Perspective and experience allow us to make sense of it. Only you can make the most informed decisions about what workplace model works for your teams and organization. Scrum teams had an easier time deciding and processes to support the action. Non-Scrum teams eventually got by and adapted, but it took more effort and came with losses to engagement and job satisfaction. Fully remote for the foreseeable future and beyond or adopting a hybrid approach is on people's minds. Keeping your teams in limbo will only lead to more questions, anxiety, fear, and frustration.


"Often when people talk about great teams, they only talk about that transcendent sense of purpose. Just as critical, but perhaps less celebrated, is the freedom to do your job in the way that you think best—to have autonomy."

– Dr. Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of Scrum, founder of Scrum Inc., Agile Manifesto signatory


For all teams, Scum and non-Scrum, be aware of the danger that employees will set unsustainable schedules for themselves. Sustainable workloads are at levels far away from burnout but still productive and deliver to meet client needs. If you want to see a few case study examples and more priceless resources, check out this Scrum blog post Construction Scrum Case Studies that includes exponential productivity gains.


One of the positives from the pandemic has been time to pause, reflect, and adapt. No system or process is ever perfect. There is always more to learn. I encourage all teams to inspect, adapt, and improve daily. Today's way of working is evolving. People are hungry for better processes and for using resources in ways that drive results while respecting people. Let's keep learning from each other.

Are you working with Scrum to deliver more value with less effort and have more fun? Check out these Scrum training resources to help you and your team(s) achieve twice the work in half the time.


Using Mural to Start Construction Scrum

Registered Scrum Master Self-Paced Course