TOOLS FOR THE DAILY STANDUP, FACE-TO-FACE MEETINGS AND THE TEAM RETROSPECTIVE
We prefer face-to-face interactions, but distributed teams don’t have that luxury. Fortunately, tools exist to help your agile team.
Editors’ note: This article was written by Lynn Winterboer and Katrina Starkweather. We have worked together since 1996 and been friends since 1994. The following post is a review of our joint experience working as a distributed team and working with other distributed teams.
In an agile environment, whether it’s in software development or business intelligence, we value individuals and interactions over processes and tools (Agile Manifesto). One of the most effective ways to communicate is face-to-face.
Psychologists and behavioral scientists tell us facial expressions, hand gestures, voice tone, etc. give listeners several clues – often more than the words themselves. The president, of the company where we both worked, said in a phone conversation once, “I wish we weren’t having this important conversation on the phone. It would help me if I could see your face.” Dr. Carlos Ferran, D.B.A., currently the assistant professor of Accounting and Management Information Systems at Governors State University in Chicago, specialized in research that develops a better understanding of how technology-mediated communications differ from face-to-face communications.
“It’s harder to follow cues such as expressions on people’s faces in two dimensions.
–Dr. Ferran, Wall Street Journal article
This is why, in agile, we value these face-to-face interactions.
The challenge for agile teams, however, is when the team members are distributed throughout a country or the world. Ironically, while we value individuals and interactions over processes and tools, sometimes we need the tools to help us achieve that more important value. Fortunately, there are many tools to support distributed agile teams with vital agile practices such as the daily scrum, face to face interaction and the retrospective.
Tools for The Daily Standup Meeting
The Daily Standup is a vital discipline on an agile team. Whether you’re delivering software, reports or products, meeting daily and reviewing what you’ve done, what you’re doing and what’s impeding your process is supreme to your team’s success. If you’re in the same office, this is easy. You plan the meeting time and location and your team shows up. However, if you’re working in Australia and another team member is in California while yet two more are in India, your team is going to struggle for a daily stand up meeting. There are a growing number of online tools that can help your team with the daily standup. Here are a couple to consider:
- Web Standup (www.webstandup.com)
This web-based tool allows you to run a standup meeting with a remote team. It offers multiple ways for participants to enter their status updates. You can log-in to the meeting and participate live or you can just email in your status prior to the meeting and, later, receive a meeting report via email. (Great if the meeting is every day at 9AM, but you’re in the opposite time zone and can’t make those meetings).
- iDoneThis (www.idonethis.com)
Aside from its misuse of grammar (which bugs both of us), iDoneThis is a nifty tool for distributed teams. It’s an email-based productivity log. Team members reply to a daily email asking them to list what they’ve done. The results are then displayed in digest form in an email that goes to all team members the following day. It also includes word clouds, visual graphs and export features. You can use it on your phone or desktop.
Web StandUp and IDoneThis are helpful tools for the Daily Standup. But, nothing is as good as a face2face meeting, so don’t rely on these tools without adding in some face time.
Face2Face Meeting Tools
Face2Face meetings are critical in agile. Again, when you’re in the same office – it’s easy. But on a large campus or over multiple continents, it gets difficult. Here are several tools that offer video conferencing to enable Face2Face meetings.
- Hipchat (www.hipchat.com)
This tool provides group and 1:1 chat with audio, video and screen sharing. You can integrate it with multiple platforms and products and use it on your phone, desktop or tablet. They also add a level of “serious fun” with custom emoticons and bots, animated GIFs, Instagram feeds and Twitter notifications. A thoughtful solution for companies trying to keep their work environment…well, hip.
- Skype (www.skype.com)
Skype is a software application that specializes in providing video chat and voice calls from computers, tablets and mobile devices via the Internet to other devices. We use Skype for free voice service and screen sharing.
- Google Hangout (plus.google.com/hangouts)
A hangout functions as a chat room or as a live video call. You can connect with team members across computers, Android and Apple devices. If you already have a Google + account, it’s an easy go-to solution for face2face agile communication. I (Katrina), have been using it with another agile client, Jeff Patton, on a regular basis. It’s his preferred face2face tool. It works well and we easily share our project updates, as well as our Trello board.
- Sqwiggle (www.sqwiggle.com)
This is an online collaboration tool for remote teams to work together throughout the day and “feel more connected.” Think: Hangouts or Skype. Except, Sqwiggle sends photo snapshots throughout the day to keep you connected to your team. (Does that mean it might snap a shot of me blowing my nose?) On the other hand, it’s always connected so you can jump on and have a meeting without the time needed to set up a Hangout or a Skype meeting. They don’t offer screensharing, so that’s a major bust, but they are working on it. When it’s ready, this might be the right tool for real agile communication because it supports, more than any other from what I have learned, that persistent presence and face to face communication we need on an agile team.
An agile team is as good as their honesty. An agile principle states: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” The retrospective allows us to pull together as a team and identify what went well and what did not go well. It’s a time to reflect and to learn. It’s imperative that a retrospective is done and it’s very helpful when done face2face. We think any of the video conferencing tools listed above will support a facetoface retrospective. However, you really want to add a whiteboard solution with stickies to help the process. There are some good retrospective tools out there:
- Twiddla (www.twiddla.com)
Use this no-setup, web-based meeting space (they call it a playground) for numerous agile activities, including a retrospective. It offers a whiteboard and sticky notes so everyone can jump on and participate. The downside of Twiddla for retrospectives is that it does not offer a visual of the team members, only voice chat. You might use Sqwiggle and Twiddla at the same time. We have used Twiddla for retrospectives, as well as for coffee chats with clients. It’s a fun product.
- Realtime Board (www.realtimeboard.com)
Like Twiddla, this service offers a whiteboard, but it appears to be more powerful. Just looking at the website gets the agilist in me excited! They tout a board called “Agile Task Manager” and they say on their website, “you will definitely enjoy an endless Kanban-like board.” For advanced users, you can have private boards, files, storage space, screen sharing, manual backups, as well as (this is important for agile) voice and video chat. If you’re using this tool, please shout out as we’d love to get some personal feedback.
- Innovation Games (www.innovationgames.com)
Using games in a clever format helps you and your team move forward in numerous important areas. Lynn uses the Product Box with her clients. Katrina recently used 20/20 Vision with one of her clients. Our colleague, Tammy Henderson, led us through our end-of-year retrospective with an Innovation Game, Cover Story, with great success. For retrospectives, take a look at Actions for Retrospectives.
Select the Best Agile Tool for the Job
There are numerous tools to help distributed agile teams connect and collaborate. Different teams will embrace the tool that works best for them. Again, we value the team and our interactions more than the tools and the processes; therefore, on a great agile team, you’ll select the tool that works for everyone on the team. And if there is no such tool, remember Occam’s Razor and select the simplest solution.
Help this Agile Community
In the comments below:
- Please share the tools you use in your distributed teams to help you stay agile.
- Which agile practice listed above is the toughest for your team?
Coming Soon to Lynn’s Blog:
- More Collaboration Tools and Tools for Estimating
- Management Tools that are Not Agile, and Why
- Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence Tools