Remote Agile teams, their problems and aha’s by Mingle Analytics

Natalie Nedre | 5 min read

What are the typical problems of remote agile teams? How can they be solved?
At RealtimeBoard, we are trying to find as many answers to these questions as possible. And our customers help us immensely by sharing their use cases. Today we are going to tell the story of Mingle Analytics.

Bobbie Manson works for Mingle Analytics, Inc., South Paris, Maine. She has been a developer for 20 years, mostly as a consultant, and would stray into Project Management over the years, but the issues surrounding a Waterfall methodology kept her in development. As Agile has grown, so has her passion for the process, and so more recently she has become a Scrum Master working with a remote agile team.

Bobbie Manson about Mingle Analytics workflow

Bobbie Manson - Scrum MasterAt Mingle Analytics, Inc., we are building a dashboard that our clients use to work through the process of submitting their PQRS (Physician Quality Reporting System) data to Medicare. We use internal tools to assist employees in loading and manipulating data sent to us from our clients. Also, we are working on adding the ability to receive data for PQRS submission in other formats that more directly draw from our client’s EHR systems.

What was recognized early on is that we would not be able to find the workforce we needed locally in South Paris Maine. So we went looking for talented developers wherever we could find them.

Currently, Mingle Analytics’ development team is a distributed team of 11 developers and 4 QA analysts, spread across time zones in the US, as well as in Poland. And the amount of collaboration activities varies from 30% to 75% of working hours, so finding technology that could help us collaborate remotely is paramount to our success as a team.  

About previous challenges of remote Agile team

As I mentioned, initially we were all co-located in South Paris Maine. But we needed to grow, and do it fast, we knew we needed tools to help us stay together.

Before RealtimeBoard, we were just using Skype for audio and video-chatting, and thought about possible whiteboarding solutions: a camera on a whiteboard, the whiteboard tool in Skype, or sharing a screen with PowerPoint presentation, etc.

But all those solutions had many disadvantages. Mostly, they didn’t solve the problem of remote collaboration. For example, we could not fully share artifacts like Kanban boards, burn down charts, definition of “done”, etc.

When we worked through a problem or had a design session, every participant of the meeting needed to access the whole board. But trying to use a real whiteboard viewed via a camera could never be seen very well, and the one in Skype was not robust enough and didn’t provide functionality for the collaboration we needed. Trying to have one person sharing a screen whether it was PowerPoint or Word, was fine for a visualization, but it’s not collaboration when only one person is the “driver”.

Another point of frustration was how to keep a feeling of culture and camaraderie in the workplace when we are all working remotely.

When we hired our QA Manager, one of the first things she did was find RealtimeBoard — the online whiteboarding tool, that allowed her to document application workflows. What we also discovered is that if filled a need we had for collaboration. We have used it for retrospectives, story pointing, design sessions and training.

Agile retrospective template

This is an image of a retrospective template where in the spirit of upcoming elections the team will be breaking into 4 groups (political parties) and will be coming up with manifestos for change.

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Online whiteboarding experience

Our remote agile team found it was very easy to start using RealtimeBoard! We liked the intuitive interface from the first session, and no special training was needed. Moreover, the price point was not a barrier to giving the tool a try. So we just invited people to boards, and they were able to get easily up to speed on using the tool.

And in just a couple of days, RealtimeBoard became an integral part of our retrospectives and story point meetings, solving many of our previous challenges. With RealtimeBoard we aren’t just sharing a screen, or sharing a whiteboard managed by one driver — we truly collaborate.

Agile retrospective template

This image shows a retrospective result where each person used Comment cards to create items they like, loved, longed for or learned in the iteration. Each person got 3 votes to place as they wish on item(s) they felt we should concentrate on. The comment card with the most votes was then used as the source for gathering possible action items to achieve this goal. Participants had 1 vote to determine which we would implement in the next iteration.

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RealtimeBoard allows our remote agile team to stay together on a board, where we create and see each other editing. We can import images we need, and have rich colors and shapes to interact on a given topic.

 

Pass Ball retrospective

This is a retrospective closing activity where we have a visual of us all sitting around a table. We pass the ball to someone and that person states something they learned in the iteration or something that someone did for them in the iteration. A person can take their turn then “pass” the ball to someone else. We’ve done other activities where you have to know who is to your left and who is to your right so this is a good visual when you aren’t actually there to imagine us all at a table.

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Favourite features

I have two favorite RealtimeBoard features.

The first one is importing spreadsheets as sticky notes in one click. Very much needed it and so happy to have stickers import in the toolbox now!

Another feature is Search on the board! There is a lot of information on some of our boards and being able to find certain text is great.

Story Pointing

Here we are story pointing. We put all of our stories in the “to be estimated” box, a participant grabs a story, puts it in the on deck box while they wait their turn. On their turn they move their story to the box above On Deck and discuss with the team the story points we should put on that story then moves it to the upper rows where that story fits in comparison to effort of others. This is why I have strongly requested the ability to import from somewhere else and have sticky notes get quickly created. It’s very time-saving!

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The impression after using online whiteboard

Mingle Analytics

For our business, our distributed team relies on frequent collaboration to keep up with an ever-changing Medicare process, and unique client needs. RealtimeBoard certainly helps us get there.

We also receive positive feedback from our partners. For example, Agile coach Ron Lichty has been all over the country in many different companies as an Agile coach not to mention other companies he worked directly for in the past. For him to witness and note the power of the tool in helping us work together as a distributed team, told me we were on the right track.

Personally, I’m always considering ways to pull our remote agile team together, and make us feel less isolated and more connected. The RealtimeBoard team is concerned about the same problems, and they solve it. Even little features like being able to see each other’s cursors, gives that sense of presence that is hard to come by remotely.

So RealtimeBoard is a fantastic tool for remote agile teams!

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  • seobyeongky

    Hi, thanks for the article. It helped me a lot. I know it is out of subject but Just curious, Did you abandon Skype? I wonder how your team communicate to each other except Realtime Board.

  • Scott Larsen – CTO MA, Inc.

    Hello, seobyeongky – We still use Skype for Business. SFB is great for one-on-one meetings, and for group presentations (department, team, company) where it is presentation-based, not collaboration focused. We use it for messaging each other for quick questions (IM) and we also use SFB with vendors and customers. RealTime Board is a very powerful tool in our set of remote communication tools that have really helped us build a strong (getting stronger) remote workforce.

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