6 minute read

Agile leaders bridge the distance at Scrum Around the World

Tricia Whenham
Posted by Tricia Whenham on Jan 23, 2020 6:00:00 AM
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It was 8:55 a.m. in snowy Calgary, Canada. Agile practitioners, who had gathered at the city’s stunning new library, were taking off winter gear and settling in for a morning of learning from agile leaders.

Meanwhile, an ocean and eight time zones away, Scrum enthusiasts in Amsterdam had finished work and joined Jeff Sutherland, the father of Scrum, with the same goal.

In New York City and London, more groups were coming together to learn about distributed Scrum from the experts. Many others were logging in at laptops from their homes and offices.

It was time for Scrum Around the World to begin.

This in-person and virtual conference was a collaboration between Scrum@Scale and Nureva. It took place at four sites, which each hosted a room of participants and one speaker – including leading experts in agile and remote work. It was fully accessible to online participants.

And, thanks to collaboration solutions like Span™ Workspace and the Nureva™ Wall, it was also highly interactive. Exactly as Carol McEwan, CEO of Scrum@Scale, had intended when she coined the phrase Scrum Around the World many years ago.

“I’ve always wanted to do an event that would help people around the world solve problems together,” she explains. “But I didn’t want them to have to travel.” The concept had been on the back burner for Carol for awhile. After being introduced to Nureva products, she began to see how it could be brought to life.

Carol McEwan introduces Jeff Sutherland at Scrum Around the World

Distributed Scrum on the rise

A virtual event focused on scaling Scrum with distributed teams couldn’t have been more timely. Though remote employees were once a rarity in agile, advances in collaboration and communication tools, plus the realities of today’s global workforce, have made it more urgent than ever to help teams work together at a distance – without compromising the principles of Scrum.

“One of the big questions we always get is, can you really be successful with distributed teams?” says Carol. “So we thought what better way to answer that question than to work as a distributed team to put together a distributed conference to show people that it is possible to be successful with distributed teams.”

The event needed to be accessible to a broad range of people. So the team decided to host the event simultaneously at four locations in four countries – with a speaker and attendees at each site. For everyone else, it was easy to join virtually and miss none of the action.

“We wanted to make it affordable, too,” adds Carol. “Conferences can be costly and time consuming, And we wanted everybody to have the opportunity to not only hear from industry experts about achieving organizational agility with Scrum@Scale, but to get a glimpse into how to do it and be successful with distributed teams.” So the costs were kept low, and all proceeds went to Peace Through Prosperity.

A happy Scrum family

Planning began like every other successful agile endeavor – by tapping into the power of the team. In this case, a Scrum@Scale team and a Nureva team collaborated at a distance, using conference calls to communicate and Span Workspace and its QuickShare feature to share and visualize ideas.

“We first did a brainstorming session using QuickShare,” says Carol. “We all had these ideas, and we wanted to get them out of our heads.” With QuickShare, everyone could use phones and laptops to add notes to a digital canvas.

“We had a few grandiose ideas – 10,000 people!” laughs Carol. But as the team worked together, vague ideas began to crystallize into acceptance criteria that were both ambitious and achievable. “We wanted to do it very quickly – before the end of the year. Run the experiment. Prove the concept.”

The team had only two months – from conception to delivery – to pull off the event. It was a tall order, especially given that it was Scrum@Scale’s first virtual event. Luckily, it was just the type of situation Scrum was built for.

“We had eight one-week sprints,” explains Carol. “We delivered every sprint. We had a sprint planning session and a retrospective every week to see how we could get better.”

At the beginning, the task felt daunting, especially for those who had never used Scrum before. “It seemed overwhelming, because there was so much to do in eight weeks,” she says. “But as soon as we started breaking things down into smaller chunks and getting to Done, there was a sense of accomplishment.”

With virtual high fives to celebrate the end of each sprint, the team made steady progress. As one team member reported, “By the end of the eight weeks, we were like a happy family.”

Moderating questions using Span Workspace

QuickShare ups the engagement

When the day of the event arrived, the energy levels in the four locations were high. Every room had a Nureva Wall displaying a Span Workspace canvas, making it easy for everyone to see the presenter, the slides and more. Nureva’s HDL300 audio conferencing system plus video conferencing software kept everyone well connected.

The team was determined to not let the distance detract from participation or attendee interaction – something they knew could be a challenge. “It’s really difficult to engage with that many people in that many different places,” Carol says. “It’s hard to keep their energy up.”

But QuickShare was there to help, allowing every attendee to contribute notes and images to the canvas. Because no one needed to register or log in (you access QuickShare by scanning a QR code), there was no barrier to entry. And no one from Scrum@Scale or Nureva needed to do any extra prep work to use it.

At the beginning of the conference, attendees introduced themselves by adding a sticky note with their background and experience. “That allowed everyone to understand who they were and see the range of people that were in attendance.”

Then the four speakers – Jeff Sutherland, co-creator of Scrum; JJ Sutherland, CEO of Scrum Inc.; Daniel Mezick, formulator of the OpenSpace Agility method; and Michael Saunders, agile devops leader – had 40 minutes each to deliver their presentations to all attendees. In between the sessions, Carol kept things running smoothly from Calgary, tracking progress using a virtual scrum board in Span Workspace.

QuickShare was used again to post questions and comments during each session. Attendees could ask their questions as soon as they thought of them, without disrupting the speakers’ flow. Having the questions appear on the virtual canvas, visible to everyone, meant there was less repetition in what was asked – something Carol appreciated as moderator.

Carol is no stranger to virtual events, but she says that the engagement that QuickShare brought to Scrum Around the World was unique. “The interactivity kept people engaged. That was a differentiator.”

Participants in the Calgary location add feedback using QuickShare

Retrospectives at scale

As the session came to a close, the team needed one more thing – real feedback from attendees. Using QuickShare and a Span Workspace template, they ran a retrospective on a massive scale, with all 200-plus attendees.

Everyone could use a phone or laptop to comment on what worked and what could be improved. “We got lots of great feedback,” says Carol. “We knew what we as a team thought we would change, but now some of our assumptions have been validated and we know what our customers would like to see done differently.”

One thing the team found out – attendees valued the chance to interact with the presenters. “The question and answer sessions were the most well received. They loved them.” The team got actionable suggestions, as well, like voting on which questions got answered first or even extending the length of the Q&As. It was just what they needed.

Attendees were also asked for their biggest learnings. “The range of information was just so inspiring, because the comments spanned the entire event. People took away something from each talk.”

Scrum Around the World attendees listen to Jeff Sutherland

What’s next

When the event was over, the last attendee logged off, the tables and chairs put away, Carol and the team held their own retrospective. As they looked at the virtual canvas, seeing the positive feedback was gratifying – as was the strong net promoter score (NPS) the event received.

What was the secret to their success? “I think the biggest thing is that we collaborated,” says Carol. “We created an awesome cross-functional work team, and then we found other people who wanted to help make it successful. We pulled them in, and they delivered, too.”

Carol appreciates the role Span Workspace and the Nureva Wall played in making that collaboration happen – both during the planning and the event itself.

“I don’t think it would have been possible without Nureva. Other tools might have helped but not as seamlessly.” She was impressed by the flexibility. “We used the functionality and features that Span Workspace was developed for – and even some that it wasn’t. We adapted it to our situation. You have to be willing to experiment to deliver an awesome product. And that’s what we did.”

The event was just the beginning. Now that the group has proven the concept, the opportunities for growth are clear – whether the result is another virtual conference or something bigger. With the right processes, right team and right tools, stay tuned for what comes next.

Learn more about Achieving Business Agility with Scrum@Scale at scrumatscale.com.

Topics: Agile Remote Work Span Workspace Scaling Agile Scrum