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Agile tools can significantly boost collaboration, communication and transparency in agile teams – no matter whether used in a collocated or remote setup.
Adopting agile methods such as Scrum and DevOps has been proven beneficial for agile teams: They enhance their ability to respond to changing business needs, increase project visibility, improve team morale, and enhance productivity, to name a few.
Equipping the team with the right tools can even enhance these benefits further. Dedicated agile tools support adhering to agile principles and practices, facilitate team communication and collaboration, hold all relevant information available, and help reduce manual process steps. While agile tools might be imperative for remote teams, they also hold strong benefits for collocated agile teams.
In particular agile tools can be applied in six use cases
- Instant Team Communication
- Remote Workshops and Meetings
- Live Collaboration
- Remote Editing
- Agile Task Management
- Workflow Automation
Instant Team Communication
Open communication is one of the cornerstones of agile. Traditionally agile teams were encouraged to work collocated to keep communication ways direct and short. Team communication tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams adhere to this principle. They provide dedicated team spaces and organize conversations in topic-related channels. Team members can join and leave as needed. Relevant team members can be tagged directly, and conversation can be continued in separate threads if only relevant for a few team members. Overall, this makes communication much more focused and responsive than traditional email-based alignments. Moreover, these tools support ad-hoc sharing of files, screen sharing and team conferences.
Remote Workshops and Meetings
In onsite workshops and meetings, body language and facial expressions unveil unspoken words which then can be directly addressed. In a distributed environment, however, it might be challenging to read subtle signals and involve everyone in the discussion.
Seeing each other while conferencing makes distributed workshops much more engaging. Remote conferencing solutions such as integrated in Microsoft Teams or provided by Google Hangouts provide video conferencing and document sharing capabilities. Although the maximum number of participants may depend on the license plan subscribed, these tools should fully satisfy the meeting needs of small agile teams.
Specific event hosting solutions such as Microsoft Teams Live Events can also accommodate large all-hands meetings in scaled environments with enhanced control over video and audio interaction. Alternative solutions such as Livestorm or Zoom can be setup even faster, but should be carefully vetted from a security standpoint before used in sensitive environments. All these solutions provide additional features such Q+A support and polls.
A challenge in remote meetings of agile teams is live collaboration. How to create the magic of being in the same room and letting creativity flow? More important, how to give everyone a chance to speak out and capture the results?
Integrating dedicated live collaboration tools in remote meetings helps here. With Whiteboards Microsoft Teams provides an integrated whiteboarding solution which allows sketching ideas remotely and collaboratively. Alternatively, freehand design tools such the InVision whiteboard can be used for remote ideation and design exploration. MIRO is a web-based tool which allows agile teams to collaborate in a shared space in real-time by adding notes, stickers and comments using pre-defined templates, uploading own documents or starting with a blanc whiteboard. More specific solutions such a Mentimeter, Kahoot or Poll Everywhere allow for enhancing remote meetings with polls, quizzes and word clouds and can be used for idea generation or feedback collection in retrospective meetings.
Emailing documents back and forth when collaboratively editing documents is highly ineffective and can quickly lead to versioning conflicts and knowledge silos.
Lightweight solutions such as Dropbox Paper or Google Docs specifically support concurrent editing and commenting in shared documents, making changes visible to team member immediately. Microsoft Office 365 documents – when hosted in shared locations such as SharePoint or OneDrive – also allow for concurrent editing, tracking of changes and automatic version control. Even though the experience is not yet as smooth as in Dropbox Paper and Google Docs, this might be the preferred approach for all team documents when a Microsoft Teams environment (and an associated SharePoint) is already in place. The team can still rely on Dropbox Paper or Google Docs for specific collaboration scenarios.
Agile Task Management
A key task for agile teams is day-to-day management of tasks required to achieve the sprint goal and to “burn down” the backlog.
Lightweight remote task management boards are provided by Trello or Microsoft Planner. Both allow for visually capturing tasks in tiles, organizing those in different categories (such Kanban buckets) and assigning them to team members. Changes are immediately visible and thus the solutions are well suited not only for daily standups conducted onsite, but also fully satisfy remote setups. Microsoft Planner integrates well with other Microsoft products such Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Todo. Trello on the other hand can be integrated with Slack, Jira and various other 3rd-party tools.
In more advanced agile scenarios and especially in setups that require advanced DevOps support, you want to consider using dedicated DevOps environments such as Azure DevOps or Jira. Both solutions also provide sprint boards, but moreover enable strong integration with version control systems, test management, and automated deployment support. Also, they provide strategic product backlog and roadmap planning features as well as integration of multiple agile teams in scaled environments. Eventually, they offer sophisticated dashboard capabilities that make sprint progress and agile KPIs visible from everywhere.
Recurring manual routine tasks can be time consuming and can distract agile teams from their actual tasks. Modern automation solutions such a Zapier or Microsoft Power Automate help to automate workflows of agile teams.
Both are setup as “low-code” solutions allowing to create automation flows in visual environments by combining pre-defined triggers, controls, and actions. Power Automate is especially strong in scenarios that combine different Microsoft products (e.g. SharePoint, Planner, OneDrive) whereas Zapier offers a rich portfolio of third-party tools (e.g. Dropbox, Trello, Slack, Google Docs) for integration.
In any case, both tools provide extensive support for automating workflow scenarios such informing the team when new tasks have been created, automatically adding new tasks to team boards or processing results that have been submitted in forms. Integration of AI components in these flows opens up even more advanced scenarios.
Agile Team Tools – Bottom Line
No matter whether your agile teams are collocated or distributed, agile tools can significantly boost efficiency, enhance collaboration, and increase transparency on current work progress and achieved results. In a corporate context and especially when you already rely on Microsoft products, you want to further explore its suite of agile tools such Microsoft Teams, Planner, Azure DevOps and only consider 3rd-party tools in addition for specific use case (e.g. Mentimeter for polls). Microsoft provides solid integration among its tools and may better satisfy corporate security requirements than alternative tools. If you rather pursue a “best of breed” strategy, then there is plenty of highly functional and user-friendly alternatives available such as Slack, Trello or Zapier.
In any case, your agile tool strategy should accompany your agile adoption journey, but not precede it. Exploiting the potential of agile tools requires establishing a certain agile foundation before you can move on.
Reach out to us in case of questions or for additional suggestions to the tool selection that we discussed here.
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