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Scrum in times of the corona lockdown

 

How did we as a training and software development company handle our Scrum workshops and Scrum projects in times of the Corona Lockdown? This blog post should report on that.

The implementation of the Scrum methodology in Corona times has occupied us as a consulting and software development company in different ways. On the one hand, we held Scrum training courses and workshops for customers, which of course had to be held as remote workshops during the lockdown, and on the other hand, our software development projects for customers had to be continued.

The lesser challenge was the continuation of the development projects. As a company with branches in Germany, Austria and Slovakia, we have been specializing in project management with distributed teams for years and only use work equipment and tools that are compatible with working in remote teams.

We have also practiced the option of working from home right from the start, so all employees have a notebook, headset and a VPN connection to the company network that is secured by 2-factor authentication. So far so good. But how do we handle the Scrum Meetings?

As a long-standing customer of Jetbrains, we use Youtrack as an issue tracking tool. Youtrack has an excellent Scrum Board implementation that we use.

 

Figure 1 Youtrack Scrum Board of the Jetbrains dotTrace project

 

Youtrack uses modern technologies for server push, so that changes to the board are reflected in real time to all viewers of the board. Contrary to the recommendations of most Scrum coaches to use Scrum Boards as a physical board, we have always used electronic boards. In our opinion, the main arguments for electronic boards are:

  1. Suitable for distributed teams
  2. Possibility of archiving including full text search
  3. Integration of time recording
  4. Access to the electronic backlog
  5. Automatic calculation of burn-down charts
  6. Integration with build server (JetBrains Teamcity), development environment (IntelliJ IDEA) and code review tool (JetBrains Upsource)

 

We also use Skype and Zoom to hold meetings, as required.

So what did we have to do to adapt our way of working to lockdown? Nothing. We used all tools in the usual way.

But how can you hold Scrum training courses and workshops for customers in which the basic principles of Scrum are to be conveyed to the participants in an interactive way?

First step, the video conferencing software: Here we have switched to zoom. The functionality of Zoom in connection with really reliable and high-performance streaming technology is outstanding and, in our experience, way ahead of the competition.

In Scrum workshops it is important to use interactive exercises to convey the basic ideas of agile software project management. We usually do this in our workshops with Lego. The participants are given the task of designing and building a Lego building landscape using the Scrum method. You will be accompanied by a coach and can learn the working methods that you can then use in real projects.

Figure 2 Definition of a story point in Lego projects

How should we implement this really well-functioning exercise in remote training? We found what we were looking for with our children. Children and teenagers often use online games as a way to share adventures with friends, fight zombies, and create things. Aren't there games that resemble Lego in some way?

Yes of course - Minecraft. A game that has been on the market for a long time and has therefore already been played by most developers in their youth or together with the next generation, but still hip enough to inspire IT people who always want the latest.

So what was to be done:

  • Purchase of the corresponding Minecraft licenses - at € 24 even significantly cheaper than Lego
  • Establishment of a realm in which players can create worlds and buildings together
  • Creation of a short introduction to the Minecraft Creative mode (important so that the participants don't have to fight for Steve's survival as well, whereby parallels to reality could also be found here)
  • Setting up a starter world in which the landscape conditions are adapted to the task at hand

Voilà, that was it. And the participants were thrilled.

The fact that some participants were experienced Minecraft professionals, but others first had to develop their first skills, corresponded to the conditions in real projects. The vision of what the team would like to achieve, the fantastic worlds one dreams of as a minecrafter, all of this manifested itself in the backlog. The participants had little experience with the successful cooperation in Minecraft, they had to refine the process themselves in several iterations, for which they used the retrospectives between the ultra-short sprints. The planned snack bar became a multi-storey adventure restaurant including a park and playground.

Frank Bieser, who gave the first online Scrum training to us, on his experiences with Minecraft as a training tool:

“The decision to use Minecraft as a tool for a creative process in Scrum training was spot on. The participants were very enthusiastic about their work, showed behaviors that can also be observed in the face-to-face workshop, and displayed a truly agile mindset. For us, this combination of tools and methods is now an integral part of the training portfolio. "

 

Figure 3 Establishing a “snack bar” in Minecraft using agile methods

 

My personal summary: If building Lego worlds is a good vehicle to convey the basic ideas of Scrum and to practice the working methods, then one has to say that Minecraft has the potential to inspire and motivate even more.

Are there disadvantages if the participants and developers do not have to touch anything, do not feel the world of construction and understand it in the truest sense of the word? Not having a Scrum Board where work items are pinned to the pin board with pins?

Might be. But if that were so important to us, then we would probably have chosen the wrong profession, because after all we produce software, a virtual product.

 

Michael Schaffler-Glößl

08.06.2020