Working from Home in a disaster zone

How scrum kept us going

There are two things that can put a dubious look in the eyes of a Software Development manager: “we’re going agile!” and “working from home”, especially if he or she is prone to a bit of micro management.

WTF

This quite often can stem from a feeling of loss-of-control. Understandably, as some of the traditional control mechanisms like regulated hours, personal performance management, and activity metrics like lines-of-code are getting thrown out the window.

So, let me tell you a story from personal experience when I was a development team lead and the Christchurch earthquakes of 2011 hit.

Our building was, in the popular terminology of the time, MUNTED

munted

We managed to extract our computers and everyone in our small team of 10 developers/testers setup in our homes. Our development manager was a self-admitting over-manager when things got stressful and there was no way for us to meet face-to-face every day without wasting lots of time to travel around the red-zoned city centre. So, we had an all-staff meeting in a park on the the outskirts of the city to discuss how we could work going forward…

Let keep things simple. How about we get online together once a day and quickly review yesterday’s achievements and make a quick plan for what we’d like to achieve as a team for today. It needs to be a discussion rather than an email of bullet points so we can come to an agreement easily. 10 minutes on skype should do it.

In effect, a daily stand-up. We could synchronise as a team and focus on the next most important thing(s) without any more ceremony than agreeing upon a time.

What this resulted in was a focus on outputs and results rather than hours. Everyone recognised that working from home had its “distractions” from office life, however it became clear fairly quickly that productivity wasn’t really affected. Working this way emphasised that developers deliver the most value in discussing, thinking, and collaborating rather than in the time spent typing. We could allow some flexibility in hours as long as we were available during some mutually agreed common time to allow for discussions/design sessions/collaboration and even the odd pair(ish) programming session over skype.

With the simple stand-up I was happy as team lead that the team as a whole was usefully engaged while working at home, and provided a mechanism for our manager to keep tabs on progress and head-off any impending disasters.