Transitioning to Remote Ways of Working

ZXM helped a large government agency transition over 50 teams across 6 major programs to remote ways of working and set up remote support guidance checklists within a 2 week timeframe

The Situation

ZXM has been providing coaching capability at the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). With the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolving in early March 2020, priorities of work for some agile teams changed. Teams needed to quickly respond to this change and shift the focus of their effort. At the same time, teams needed to adjust and enable everyone to work from home.

Some teams were already used to distributed working with team members spread across Australia and/or offshore. Other teams who were used to being co-located, were concerned about the impact of transitioning to remote working on their ability to deliver, but also worried about losing team connectedness. On top of that, the ATO also anticipated technical risks around supporting remote working at scale, including the availability of communication and collaboration tooling and network bandwidth.

The coaching team anticipated some teams would need more coaching and support than others. The ATO had to ensure agile teams continued to be productive, grow their agile maturity and utilise agile practices to help them ensure delivery wasn’t put at risk.

The Solution

ATO had to prepare and support programs and agile teams to transition from working (semi) co-located to working fully remotely. The ZXM coaches collaborated with the internal coaching team to quickly bring together relevant advice and develop a Remote Working Guide, within 48 hours. The guide provided practical information and recommendations on how to effectively facilitate agile delivery in a fully distributed environment.

The remote working guide included guidelines, suggested tools and resources for:

  • Remote meeting participation and ‘nettiquette’
  • Remote team charter and working agreement
  • Online scrum and delivery events (daily scrum, sprint planning, sprint review, sprint retrospective, backlog refinement)
  • Program coordination and enablement events (Scrum of Scrums, PO Sync, PMG events)
  • Preparing and running virtual Program Increment planning
  • Practical suggestions on dealing with tooling and bandwidth issues.

The Remote Working Guide was published in a central location on the intranet and distributed to all programs and agile teams. Together with the Remote Working Guide, the coaching team also worked on checklists to support each of the scrum events so Scrum Masters could use these as required.

It became clear that teams with the mature agile practice were well placed in terms of responding to this change and in maintaining continuity of delivery in a remote working environment. With a baseline understanding of each team’s agile maturity, we were able to anticipate which teams would need more assistance with the transition.

The ZXM coaches primarily focused on coaching and supporting the teams more at risk for remote working. Some practical solutions and activities included:

  • Attending online scrum events and debriefing with the Scrum Master during and immediately afterwards
  • Sprint Retrospectives dedicated time to reviewing remote working, with improvement suggestions implemented in the following sprint.
  • Teams ran experiments on team connectedness like organising virtual lunches and always keeping a team chat open.
  • Emphasis was placed on creating and increasing transparency of work. Teams were already using digital tools to track work and increased commitment to keeping work items updated in the tools.
  • Deliberate communication and doubling down on communication using various communication channels.
  • Backup tooling and connectivity options, including back channels in the case of technical disruption

From working with and across multiple teams, we identified common successful patterns and shared these with other agile teams.

The Results

Within 2 weeks remote guides were developed and provided to agile teams as they started to transition to working from home. ZXM coaches identified which teams would need coaching support based on Agile IQ assessment of key indicators of team’s effectivness to work remotely. These teams were given additonal support from leadership and coaches during the transition period. 

The agile teams were able to pivot to the changes and stay productive delivering in their sprints and Program Increment. They have become more deliberate in their communication using appropriate tooling and practices. There is more commitment to backlog refinement to ensure alignment on expectations of the work. Teams have become more diligent in keeping work items up-to-date to enhance transparency of their work. They continued strengthening team bonds and connectedness, through working together through these challenges remotely.

Maintained productivity

Teams remained effective and productive in delivering when working remotely

At risk teams supported

Using Agile IQ allow us to identify and support teams who had potential to struggle during this transition to WFH

Successful transition to virtual events

Teams were able to be effective in staying connected and running their Scrum events remotely including virtual PI planning

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