“Describe your typical day?” Very well: It’s half past eight in the morning and an exciting new week is about to start. As is the case for so many others in the workforce, for more than a year I have been working from home in response to the unusual circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Like every workday morning, I start the day by reviewing all pending tasks to be completed and those that are about to begin. In this post, I’m going to explain how we on the development team make it all work – even from home – through Agile and under the “Scaled Agile Framework” (SAFe) methodologies.
For those who may not already be familiar with Agile methodology, a few key terms words should serve to frame its basic description: User stories, Tasks, and Sprints. Analyzed and developed in detail by the Product Owner —together with the business analyst, the Tech Lead and the Scrum Master (in addition to other departments in the company)— user stories are units of work that have a description, a series of user acceptance criteria points (UACs) and, finally, a list of assumptions that define in detail what you expect to have after all the work is done. Tasks are just what they sound like. Sprints are grouped into Product Increments (PI), usually in blocks of 4. It is easy to identify those user stories that we have at stake in order to plan the daily work for the team, since all of them are grouped into sets of tasks to be carried out in the next three weeks.
There are two technical teams in charge of code development for each of our projects: The Core Team (or development team) and the Implementation Team, in charge of configuring the tool for the clients. The Core Team, where I work, is composed of colleagues from seven different nationalities (Russian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, American and Spanish). Although English is the vernacular language for our work, it is the second language for most of us and sometimes minor communication issues arise). As we are located in five offices in different countries (USA, Spain, Romania, Belarus and Ukraine), everyone is in different time zones and, in addition, has different skills to perform their prescribed roles. —e.g. Product Manager, Business Analyst, Scrum Master, Back-End and Front-End Developers, and QA Testers.
Back to our daily routine: Each morning, at a specific time agreed to by the team, we meet to review the tasks and status of each of the various components we are focusing on (with colleagues from the Implementation Team joining in as appropriate) to do a quick follow-up of the things that:
- We worked on the last working day
- We will be working on throughout the present day
- Amount to any type of stumbling block or potential impediment
This meeting is a custom that we have inherited from experiences on past projects and is part of the agile methodologies. They are called “daily stand-ups.” These should be daily and never be longer than 15 minutes. In practice, it is extremely useful as we not only catch up, but we avoid the feeling of working in isolation. It is important to create close relationships, not just one-on-one but in a group. Good humor reigns in these types of meetings, where we can also exchange our own perspective and offer comments.
When the sun rises in the U.S., it is lunch time in Spain and evening in Romania, Belarus and Ukraine. It is the perfect time to coordinate among the three groups, so we set end-of-day chats for that period. Every day we all see each other in two different meetings where we review all the stories together from the technical and the business perspective. Good humor plays a huge role, as well.