TL; DR: Results of a Virtual Strategy Session for Scrum Masters Regarding Remote Work
Last week, 30-plus participants in the 23rd Hands-on Agile meetup had a virtual strategy session where they explored Liberating Structures’ Critical Uncertainties microstructure. They identified robust and hedging strategies for Scrum Masters and agile coaches regarding the challenges of remote work and distributed agile teams.
Read on to learn more about wildest dreams, overconfident teams, and Scrum Masters to the rescue.
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Liberating Structures’ Critical Uncertainties
To learn how to cope with uncertainty, we chose one of the advanced Liberating Structures microstructures — Critical Uncertainties:
What is made possible? You can help a diverse group quickly test the viability of current strategies and build its capacity to respond quickly to future challenges. This Liberating Structure prepares a group for strategy making. It does not produce a plan to be implemented as designed but rather builds resilience: the capacity to actively shape the system and be prepared to respond to surprise. This means being better able to see different futures unfolding, better prepared to act in a distributed fashion, and more ready to absorb disruptions resiliently. (Source .)
This microstructure is compelling yet challenging simultaneously, particularly with diverse groups that do not share a common background, for example, working for the same organization. On top of this, we all attended a virtual meetup that would only allow for a reduced level of communication compared to face-to-face meetups. Nevertheless, the advantages seemed to be more beneficial than corresponding risks.
Note: Whenever you read ‘Scrum Master’ in the following post, include other roles like the agile coach in that term.
The Steps of the Virtual Strategy Session with Critical Uncertainties
We followed the subsequent steps—directly taken from the skript—to accomplish the task:
- What factors are impossible to predict or to control regarding the effect of remote work for Scrum Masters? In silence: List 3 factors that are either critical or uncertain regarding the effect of remote work for Scrum Masters. Add those to the respective columns of the Fun Retro.io board. (We collected the factors in the board to vote on them to rank them accordingly.)
- Merge similar cards: As a team, merge those factors that are listed multiple times to remove redundancies from the board.
- Ranking of previously identified critical and uncertain factors: Rank the previously identified critical and uncertain factors by voting. You have six votes you can allocate in any form.
- Choose the most critical and the most uncertain factors to label the matrix: Let’s label the axes of the matrix with the most critical and most uncertain factor.
- Create four groups—one for each quadrant of the matrix—via breakout rooms.
- Name the quadrants and create a scenario: Each of the four groups now creatively names and writes a thumbnail scenario for their quadrant.
- Scenario sharing: Share your scenario with the whole group. (Two minutes per group.)
- Brainstorming strategies: Each group brainstorms three strategies that would help Scrum Masters operate successfully in the respective scenario.
- Strategy sharing: Share your strategies with the whole group. (Two minutes per group.)
- Identification of robust and hedging strategies: The whole group sifts through results to identify which strategies are: a) robust (strategies that can succeed in multiple quadrants) or b) hedging. (Strategies that can succeed in only one scenario but protect you from a plausible calamity.)
The whole exercise with a short debriefing/retrospective took about 2.5 hours, including a break. The number of participants peaked about half an hour into our virtual strategy session. (36 out of 116 who RSVPed.) At the end of the exercise, 22 peers were still onboard.
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Quo Vadis, Scrum Master — The Outcome of the Meetup
The purpose of the meetup was two-fold:
- Come up with some ideas on how to cope as a Scrum Master or agile coach with the current situation of working with distributed teams.
- Experience an advanced Liberating Structures microstructure with a large group of participants in a virtual set-up.
The group managed to deliver a suitable outcome for both of them:
Virtual Strategy Session: Identified Scenarios and Strategies for Scrum Masters for Dealing with Distributed Teams
The group identified the following four scenarios for Scrum Masters to deal with remote work and distributed teams:
- Wildest Dream (Q1): It is featured by good team health and a high perceived value of the Scrum Master/agile coach. Most promising strategy: Taking the initiative to develop and innovate the role within the organization.
- Scrum Master to the Rescue (Q2): It is featured by low team health and a high perceived value of the Scrum Master/agile coach. Most promising strategy: Make growth (of the team) happen.
- Invisible Scrum Master (Q3): It is featured by low team health and a low perceived value of the Scrum Master/agile coach. Most promising strategy: Prove the value of the Scrum Master by helping the team to become healthier.
- Overconfident Team (Q4): It is featured by good team health and a low perceived value of the Scrum Master/agile coach. Most promising strategy: Create trust between the Team and the Scrum Master.
For more details on the scenarios, please refer to the graphic above.
Lessons Learned from Running Liberating Structures’ Critical Uncertainties Virtually
We identified the following challenges when running Critical Uncertainties in a virtual set-up:
- Merging “similar” tickets results sometimes in different topics being squeezed into one suggestion. (To avoid this, consider revisiting all suggestions at the end, which requires additional time.)
- Selecting the factors for the axes is not straight forward; here, the group discussed how those are to be interpreted. (Allocate sufficient time for this process.)
- Before working on the matrix, introducing the concept with a simple example would have been beneficial. (By now, I would suggest running a preparatory session in advance of the main Critical Uncertainties workshop to introduce the microstructure to the participants. Do not expect that all participants prepare themselves in advance even if the previous communication pointed at that necessity.)
- The labeling of the axes caused confusion and or an additional cognitive load as some participants expected the “best” quadrant—here: Q1, see above—to be in the upper-right corner and the “worst” quadrant (Q3) in the lower-left corner of the matrix.
A Virtual Strategy Session — Conclusions
Even though the road to the outcome was sometimes bumpy, the 23rd Hands-on Agile meetup did explore how Liberating Structures’ Critical Uncertainties microstructure successfully. It can be used to identify robust and hedging strategies for Scrum Masters and agile coaches facing challenges working with distributed teams — even in a virtual set-up.
Have you tried Critical Uncertainties in a virtual set-up? If so, what have you observed? Please share it with us in the comments.
📺 Remote Agile: Practices and Tools [Replay of a Live Virtual Class]
At the end of March, we ran a Remote Agile Practices & Tools live virtual class with about 30 participants from all over Europe, the Eastern Seaboard, and Canada. The participants agreed on recording it and make it available to the agile community. We edited the recording slightly; for example, we removed the waiting time during the exercise timeboxes. Otherwise, the video accurately reflects how one way of collaborating with a distributed team using Zoom breakout rooms may work.
Except for three teaching blocks of about 20 minutes in total, the whole Remote Agile Practices & Tools class of 2:45 hours comprised of interactive work:
If you have any questions regarding the class, please let me know via the comments, or contact me in the Hands-on Agile Slack community.
If the video snippet does not play, please watch the video on Youtube: Remote Agile (1) Replay: Practices and Tools for Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches, and Product Owners .
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Remote Agile (Part 1): Practices & Tools for Scrum Masters & Agile Coaches .
Remote Agile (Part 4): Anti-Patterns — Pitfalls Successful Distributed Teams Avoid .
Liberating Structures for Scrum (5): Strategy .
Download the Scrum Anti-Patterns Guide: 160-plus ways to improve your way of Scrum .
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