Effective Backlog Estimations With Your Distributed Team

According to Agile practice, teams should be co-located, working together face to face. In reality, however, many Agile teams are not sharing an office space, not even work in the same time zone. Some teams, due to the unplanned circumstances, are forced to turn into remote teams and adjust the way they work.

According to the State of Agile Report 2020, 81% of people who responded to the survey said their organization has Agile teams where the whole team or at least a few team members work remotely.

The same report says that team estimation as a practice is adopted by 60% of Agile Teams, just next to some other Agile techniques:

State of Agile Report Source: State of Agile report 2020

If you have ever worked remotely, being part of a team that is mostly co-located - you know how hard it is to participate in team meetings, be active, and always up-to-date and on the same page with other colleagues. Communication is simply not enough - you need a platform with the same access to knowledge and the same collaboration experience for all team members.

So, how to estimate your Backlog if you are part of a remote team? Well, it doesn’t need to be a road through hell. A proper set of tools, the right mindset, and the engaged team will make this process effective and convenient. Read on to find out how to achieve this.

Communication Is King - What Does It Mean In Practice?

Communication is named as the most important principle for effective remote collaboration, but we believe that the main rule should be - to engage all members on the same level and give them the same experience of collaboration.

The way you communicate with the co-located team versus the remote team is quite different. Applying the same approach and style for a distributed team will not be possible or simply will be not as effective as live conversations. Try to make your online meetings to the point and making sure all participants leave it knowing what was set and what to do next.

Here are some rules to keep in mind when communicating with remote team members during estimation meetings:

  • Make sure that all remote or distributed team members have access to Product Backlog;
  • Make sure to engage all team members in the discussion (by asking questions) and estimations process, especially working within a remote team you will not be able to spot team members' reactions, gestures and body language as easily;
  • If you estimate together, at the same time make sure those remote participants have their cameras on fo better discussion engagement;
  • Estimation meetings facilitators should drive the tone of the call, but limit their own talk time to include everyone’s voice and give a chance to have active involvement by each team member. After all, the goal is to reach the consensus and have a commitment to those estimations;
  • Remote estimations, as all other online meetings, need planned agendas because it is harder to keep everyone evenly focused;
  • Designate a session moderator who will make sure to keep the discussion on the right rails.

The Right Mindset…Is It Not The Same As Effective Communication?

Well, you’re in for the win if the remote team has an open mind and a can-do attitude. But clearly, the communication will not be effective if the team’s mindset is not set correctly. Properly set communication through different channels (Slack, Skype, video calls) can make the situation easier for the remote team members. You can solve many issues with clear messaging, but you will never correct the remote team's mindset needed for estimations only via communication.

We support approach when the basic rule is not to let remote teammates behind, to engage people evenly, and set clear expectations towards all participants.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Remote teams require more effort to keep them in line with the business objectives and stakeholders expectations;
  • Practice and teach other team members the art of active listening so that everyone is focussed and engaged during estimation meetings;
  • Chose a suitable estimation method by the team upfront and make sure the ‘rules of the game’ are known by all team members;
  • Always focus your team’s mindset, on the value they bring with each User Story.

Reliable tools for remote experience? Not a problem anymore

Tools are secondary in Scrum estimations - probably in small teams, all you need is a video conferencing app and your team ready to estimate. As the project becomes more complex, you have more stakeholders to keep in line, and your Product Backlog becomes more extensive - you need a set of tools not only to communicate efficiently but also to have a place you can openly share knowledge, with the equal access by all team members.

In this article, I want to focus briefly on three areas that we believe are crucial for remote teams during the estimation meetings.

Video conferencing

No worries, I won’t be listing all the great tools for video calls as you probably have one picked already. Instead, I will try to cover some best practices to use video conference tools together with your Product Backlog and tool for estimating your Backlog Item working remotely.

  • Pick one tool for running your video calls, with screen sharing option available to make sure all your team members follow the conversation and are on the same page;
  • Ask all participants to switch on their cameras so you can all see each other’s reactions and involvement;
  • Choose a session moderator who will keep the meeting on the right rails.
  • It can be difficult for remote team members to know if they meet the expectations. If you’re not in an office together, they don’t always get this quick feedback like “Well done”, “Great job”- make sure you provide the opportunity to address it even during the estimation session.

Product Backlog

Creating and managing Product Backlog can be done on various platforms like Jira or Azure Dev Ops, and many more you can choose from. Here, at Spartez Software, we use Jira, so for the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on Product Backlog in Jira.

Jira allows remote and co-located teams to organize projects, manage shifting priorities, and get work done in an equitable way. The Backlog gives you a place to organize your sprints in a very practical way, where you can see the progress of work in each item. You can create new issues like Tasks, Bugs, New Feature to name just a few, organize your backlog, create versions, organize via epics, and start sprints.

Remote or Distributed Teams should have the same access to all information for each Product Backlog Item.

Make sure your team has all information needed to estimate the Backlog Items available for the estimation session. Thanks to that, distributed or remote teams are able to estimate in the same way as co-located teams do.

Access to Product Backlog and full sync with your estimations results.

With Agile Poker you have a full synchronization completed, as you can edit, update, and insert estimation results into Backlog Items right in Agile Poker during the estimation session, giving the visibility of all inputs to your remote teammates and the whole organization.

Estimation Tools

On the market, you can find stand-alone apps, mobile apps, the website for estimation meetings, and in Jira or Azure DevOps built-in apps for estimation. Most of the apps are using Planning Poker as the main estimation method for the team’s estimations. The most important is the connection between your Product Backlog and the estimation tool itself. Using Jira for managing your Product Backlog and Agile Poker for Jira as your estimation tool is a perfect match.

Agile Poker gives you a set of flexible tools for quick and convenient backlog estimations for distributed and co-located Scrum teams. It supports Team Managers and Scrum Masters to facilitate accurate and convenient backlog estimations by the teams.

How Agile Poker for Jira can help you with Remote Estimations

Asynchronous estimation mode available in Agile Poker is designed for teams that can't or don't want to estimate simultaneously, but also it is widely used by teams who want all members to check out estimation scope and put questions before the joint team estimation. The flow for asynchronous sessions is inspired by the Wideband Delphi estimation method:

  1. The session moderator selects issues to estimate and people that will participate in the session.
  2. The session link is shared with all the participants.
  3. Participants estimate issues in the scope of the estimation session whenever they find it convenient, optionally putting down their comments, questions, and concerns to support the estimation.
  4. Moderator closes the session.
  5. Session moderator saves estimates for issues in scope based on the estimation result or proceeds with further discussion interactively.

Asynchronous Session

4 Estimation modes to your disposal

With Agile Poker you can adjust or change estimation method anytime you think it is more related to the kind of estimation that is most suitable for the team. Using the same Backlog Item you can estimate it using 4 different methods with customization option to tweak it to your team’s particular needs at the time. Asynchronous mode is remote teams' favorite but Agile Poker gives you the flexibility to choose the preferred method to support your team's estimations.

Plan the agenda and set routines

Remote estimations need routines and planned agenda because it is harder to maintain the focus. Agile Poker for Jira helps your distributed team to conduct an estimation session in an effective way. Using functionalities like Timer you will be able to organize your estimation session with a remote team and focus all team members on the meeting.

Customize your estimations to your team needs

There is no golden rule, no ‘one-size-fits-all’ estimation value that will fit all teams, with Agile Poker you can adjust and use multiple methodologies with your distributed teams variances to meet your needs based on lessons learned from your previous estimations. Save and share your customized estimations values and allow other teams to use the same approach for their estimations sessions.

Estimation results are updated in Product Backlog

All your estimations will be added to your Product Backlog right when you finish your estimation and shared it with every team member instantly.

Wrap up

I hope that this article made you more aware of the connection between good communication, the right mindset with the help of specialized tools that will make your remote estimations effective.

You can learn more about the product here or just try it for free by yourself.

And if you’d like to share your experience or perhaps might have some tips for other teams to improve their estimations drop us a line at hello@spartez-software.com and we’ll be happy to hear from you.

Find this blog post useful? How about diving into some other related blog posts?

Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Choose Agile Poker (over other tools) For Your Backlog Estimations

Remote Teams Tools Checklist: Top 10 Apps to Run Your Projects Online

How To Estimate Issues Asynchronously In Remote Teams In Jira

How to Perform Planning and Estimation in Distributed Teams