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How to Perform Planning and Estimation in Distributed Teams

Ray Astafichev
Ray Astafichev
Feb 4th, 2020

How to perform planning and estimation in distributed teams.

For quite a while I observe how borders or distance become smaller and smaller obstacles to get your dream job. More and more people are working remotely, teams become more and more distributed, and more technology companies adopt distributed teams approach in their business processes.

Historically, first remote work was provided by NASA for its employees in 1972. Later on, this movement started rapidly growing, now becoming one of the biggest work-related trends or perks for the company. Even new term - #DigitalNomad was born - this is how people who work remotely called themselves.

Latest researches say, that :

And the greatest thing - being remote, or being a part of a distributed team is now available to so many professions - Software developers, QAs, Marketing, and Product owners, UX specialists, and Designers.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

There are obviously side effects of not being in the same office. It is much harder to coordinate and work as a team - if you google "Work remotely top challenges" or "Distributed teams top challenges” you'll get this in Top 3. Nevertheless tech companies are not staying idle - they are constantly trying to help #DigitalNomads and distributed teams to keep their freedom and resolve challenges.

Let's talk about Planning and Estimations.

Right now, in the Agile age, so many professions implemented Agile methodology, that pretty soon we would be able to call Agile a new tech religion. So many industries use at least some sort of planning and estimating in their daily job in order to get a clear understanding of their capacity, ability to deliver, and track overall success.

Some people think that only software developers do planning. But when working remotely or from the other office on the other side of the world, such initiatives are badly needed(and actively used) by Marketing, Product and Design professionals.

I would like to share a few stories from our Product Managers, who were working on our Agile Poker for Jira app. They were interviewing various clients from different professions, industries, all over the globe. Due to the legal aspects, we could not share exact companies' names or interviewee details, though we would like to share their stories. To us, our customers are heroes and since we value their privacy at the same time we decided to use names of heroes from a phenomenal game from late nineties called Heroes of Might & Magic.

Relative Estimation for Marketing and Design Teams

Crag Hack - Digital Marketing Professional from E-Commerce company with over 500 people working remotely all over the world.

Jira is fully adopted by the whole company. This is why Crag Hack is planning for both the Marketing and Design team, using Agile Poker, and specifically the "Relative Estimation" type of estimations.

Crag Hack, Heroes of Might and MagicPicture: screenshot from the Heroes of Might and Magic game.

Few quotes from him:

  • It was pretty tough to adopt Agile practices for Marketing guys, we are very dependant on tools for doing that at the start. Plus it is important to create a habit of plannings, and actually, Agile Poker helped us with both.
  • Usually, our Product Marketing team gathers together, and as a group estimating the task each of the team members would work with. Most of our guys are professionals, so estimations are pretty realistic
  • Our estimations later should be confirmed and approved by management, so we basically share with them our tickets, where the manager can see both agreed estimation and votes on it.
  • Our whole company works remotely, and was built with estimation culture in mind! Your tool was extremely handy and allowed us not to think about any 3rd party outside of Jira.
  • We divide tasks on A/B testing and Experiments, Design, Ads related, and Content. And estimate them separately.
  • We actually improved our results, using planning for Marketing! It is good not to be focused only on specific tasks for a specific period of time!

Planning for better retention

Our other user, Lord Haart, works in the Avionics Industry. His team is responsible for testing both hardware and software parts of the project.

The whole company works Agile and uses Jira, and they have few remote team members, which still can join team planning and estimation sessions via Agile Poker for Jira.

Picture of Lord Haart, Heroes® of Might & Magic®

Picture: screenshot from the Heroes of Might and Magic game.

Few quotes from him:

  • Well, that was pretty painful when the whole team was doing planning, and our remote folks were not involved. We even lost one of the strong engineers because of that, so we decided to take action. There were few solutions out there, though because we are deeply integrated with Jira, we decided to pick something from the Atlassian Marketplace. And after going through testing we decided to choose Agile Poker.
  • We were getting used to it for around a month, and now all our distributed teams are participating in the plannings, and I can bet - we won't be losing people because of the reason I mentioned before.
  • The great thing actually, is that you have an ability to run Asynchronous planning, giving the ability for the remote employees from different time zones(Like Bali, in our case) to not wake up very early, or to stay late to participate in the planning sessions.

Keeping distributed teams bounded

The third interviewee was with Valeska, she is a Product Designer in a giant Technology company. Those guys are not working remotely, though they have around 60 offices all over the world, and keeping distributed teams bounded together by different products. The whole company is using both Atlassian and Azure tools(btw, they use another of our products, TFS4JIRA to sync these two).

Valeska, Heroes® of Might & Magic®Picture: screenshot from the Heroes of Might and Magic game.

And a few quotes from her:

  • Well, my team follows the whole set of Agile ceremonies: daily standups, sprint planning, sprint playback, demo. The fact that most of the team is working from different offices does not make our life easier, especially when new people come on-board.
  • We are recording our sessions, as well as the decisions we make together. The whole team is distributed, so sometimes it is very easy to forget something
  • In our case for some departments(not mine), planning is not mandatory for the team, because leaders do that before the session. Though in my case my manager does the estimation himself, and then we use Agile Poker for Jira to vote as a team. This helps my manager to compare his expectations with team abilities and adjust the plan accordingly.

Wrapping up

So, summing up the challenges our Heroes had in their daily job before they found our Agile Poker for Jira:

  • Using Agile and proper planning when you either work remotely or being a part of a distributed team
  • Involving all team members, and taking into account their input on planning, despite different time zones or locations
  • Adopting Agile Planning practices for Marketing or Design teams might be hard, though tools like Agile Poker helps in this way, and helps in building the habit for the Agile Ceremonies.
  • Planning is helping to focus on a specific group of tasks in a specific period of time, which in the end leads to better results of the department.