But it’s not the same as “crunch,” which carries a lot of negative baggage. Instead, sprinting is a planned burst of high productivity, scheduled for a limited amount of time. It achieves the same benefits of a short-term crunch, but it’s structured in a way to protect the work/life balance of everyone involved.
A successful sprint relies on the sharing, refining, and testing of ideas. Usually, teams sprint to start a project, or workshop through an obstacle, or make a tough deadline. But in each of those instances, collaboration is perhaps the most important aspect of sprinting.
So how do you plan a successful sprint if your team is working remote? Scattered across multiple time zones? Working through the distractions (kids at home, barking dogs, chatty baristas, etc.)?
Is sprinting even feasible for remote teams?
Yes. And as we continue settling into our “new normal,” it’s important for teams to rediscover the “sprint” mindset to keep projects on track.
Inspire More Collaboration
An organized sprint relies heavily on frequent and clear communication. That mindset is something that would bring a lot of benefits to any team, but particularly a remote one.
Daily standups provide an opportunity for team members to talk about what they’re working on, what obstacles they see coming, and even provide feedback for each other. It’s as much about accountability as providing visibility across the whole team.
You can easily see how that mindset can apply to a remote team. One of the biggest challenges for remote team members is a lack of connectedness, or even a perceived difficulty getting in touch with each other. But standing meetings establish a platform to break this habit, while also sparking collaborative conversations about current tasks.
Focus On Smaller Goals
One trick for keeping up productivity (on a remote work team) is to set smaller goals. That doesn’t necessarily mean “lower your expectations” — instead, break up a larger project into smaller goals.
Achieving goals is a force multiplier. On one hand, crossing something off a list feels great, regardless of how difficult or complex the task is. But research shows that completing a task can actually increase our short-term productivity, allowing people to transfer motivation to the next to-do list item. (We have dopamine to thank for that.)
Goal-setting is another part of the “sprint” mindset that you can incorporate into your daily project management. In fact, HubSpot recommends the “SMART” model:
Specific: Build goals on top of numbers and deadlines.
Measurable: Check progress against those numbers/deadlines.
Attainable: Goals should be achievable within that framework.
Realistic: Take workload and capacity into account when goal-setting.
Time-bound: Stick to the schedule, even if it’s not a “hard” deadline.
Use that structure for your remote teams, and you’ll start to reap the benefits of a “sprint” mindset without the stress of an actual sprint.
Share Your Sprint Board
Sprint boards (also known as “scrum boards” or “Kanban boards”) may be a project management tool you mastered years ago. But sharing that information is another way to increase collaboration across a team, especially if everyone is working remote.
It’s also most effective as a way to show important metrics, notes, and other details that can help team members understand the deliverables they’re responsible for. More importantly, it gives everyone a sense of shared ownership and accountability on those specific goals.
You probably already have a roadmap and a dozen different spreadsheets for your current project. Think about ways to share that information with your team by condensing it to the most relevant goals and targets.
An added bonus is sharing your goals with the team. Sometimes, looping team members into your personal process will open better lines of communication in the future.
Review Progress Often
Status updates and sprint reviews are second nature for project managers, but they’re things that can apply to any other week for remote teams. As we addressed early on, a main obstacle for remote team members is the knowledge or sense of connection.
In an office environment, a designer might find an issue, walk over to a programmer’s desk, swap ideas, and find an easy solution (or compromise). But simply being “out of sight, out of mind” in a remote environment makes every single piece of that process a little more difficult.
There’s an innate fear of inconveniencing someone when you can’t make eye contact. And that’s because eye contact and non-verbal communication play an important role in how we approach potential conflict.
As a project manager, your job is facilitating collaboration. And while creating a routine around regular meetings and updates might seem like a hassle this will actually improve the healthiness of relationships across the team. (Remember: No one wants another meeting on their calendar, so make sure each one feels worthwhile.)
Keeping your team up to date with weekly reviews can help maintain the sprint mindset, even without the comfort of in-person communication.
That also creates a link between all of the things outlined above. Daily standups, smarter goal-setting, and transparency around scope all lend themselves to needing a weekly or biweekly review session. And as you develop those lines of communication, you’re also nurturing a sense of the collaboration we generally associate with in-person work environments.
While project sprints can drive teams to higher productivity, it’s the mindset behind it — the frequent conversations and obvious metrics — that really enables people to boost their productivity.
The fact that you can get those same, repeatable benefits on a remote team is just the sort of success story that project managers dream of. And now you’ve got the tools to do exactly that.
Drew Gula is the copywriter at Soundstripe, a company that provides businesses with resources like uncopyrighted music and royalty free piano music.