Agile Virtual Reality

The Coming Virtual Reality Revolution for Agilists

It has been a difficult time for Agile coaches and agilists everywhere. Indeed, 2020 and COVID have forced many of our practices – much in-person – to become virtual. This creates many questions: how do we create connections? How do coaches build trust? How do you form agile teams that are high performing when everyone is at home in their pajamas?

Right now, traditional tools have helped: Mural, Muro, Teams, and Zoom. These are useful tools that help us do things together. We can see each other’s faces (cameras on!), and we can draw things (assumes some computer skills honestly). Indeed, I recently taught an innovation class for a week, and it was great (ask me for details).

These tools have one serious downside: they’re not interactive. Almost all agile folks have been to class have done some sort of arts and crafts. We create brochures, and we pass little golf balls around, and maybe even do the helium stick. All of these are great team-building and good metaphors, and fundamentally impossible using the traditional tools.

In the future, I’ll be posting articles on specifics, but for now, let me leave you with these few tidbits:

  • Engage software is currently my favorite when it comes to immersive online environments. It’s a University online. They need more content and better tools to create it, but the basics are there and at a very affordable price. Check them out at
  • Oculus Quest 2.0  has just been released by its parent company Facebook. Get this, this Quest is 100 dollars LESS than the original, with a better screen and other improvements. It’s clear what Facebook is trying to do here – make the Quest mainstream. Check out this video if you don’t believe me.
  • What happens when a $2T company enters the market? That’s what’s going to happen very soon. It’s been bubbling about for a while now, but it looks like Apple is getting into the game. A few years after Google’s challenging Glass experience, Apple is moving in with their own, probably with care to avoid similar difficulties. Those who pay attention know that Apple has been harping on their Augmented reality apps on their traditional devices for some time now. It’ll be game-changer if these are well-designed glasses that make the world pop without spending a fortune (I’m looking at you hololens!) 
  • Speaking of Microsoft – I wouldn’t sleep on those folks in Redmond at all. Check out this video about their education offering – amazing! Now, what can we do about that $3500 price tag?

Look, we all know this is going to happen, and its time. It’s past time. Virtual work is here to stay, and how can we call ourselves agilists without adapting to change? Admittedly, the “VR craze” has died a few times. but its a zombie – keeps coming back to life. I started using this tech way back in Second life and VRML (ahh, the days of rotating 3-d logo awe). What’s different this time? Well, thanks to Moore’s law and significant advances in display tech, we don’t need a unique computer, a massive pile of dollars or coding skills to create, sell, and enjoy immersive experiences.

I’m currently co-creating some amazing Agile VR experiences. Who’s with me? If you are, hit me up at


How do be Agile in a pandemic

There’s a great article by Forbes recently that I wanted to echo with my own sentiments. The title is How To Be Agile In Tough Times written by Jen Shroud.

At first her advice sounds like a normal post for agile transformation:

1. Set the right tone 

If an organization’s leaders believe in the importance of digital workflows in achieving agility, and if they demonstrate this by aligning resources to corresponding initiatives, this is a critical first step. 

Leaders must not give up on Agile during this time! It was news when Google offered each employee a $1000 bucks to set up their home environment. This is enablement!

2. Embrace design thinking

“Agility is a baked-in component of design thinking. By rapidly executing small experiments, ideas can quickly be made tangible.”

This is great but I wished she’d indicate that we could us: How might we question, a staple of Design Thinking, address Remote Agility. How might we feel that we’re all in the same office when we’re not? How might we build team dynamics? etc. etc.

 3. Empower employees 

The bottom line is that leaders who allow their employees to co-create their work experience will do better than those who don’t understand the power of employee choice. 

I love this comment. The 9-5 was notional at this point anyway, prior to COVID, so we need to let that expectation go. I work with folks from India to Argentina, from New York to Seattle, so I have to be up all the time and might take a walk or a nap during normal “working hours”. We’re not in the 1800s people!

Returning to a better way of working 

Are we willing to offer our employees more choices when it comes to how, where, and when they work? 

Ms. Stroud has an excellent set of points that wrap up the article, but this one really summed it up for me. We’re in the time where we can re-examine, nay we must reexamine our businesses. From restaurants to movies, all vertcals are looking at new ways of not simply reutrning to work, but how can we do it better, for employee, employer, and the customer.

I see this challenge laid bare for Agile coaches. We can’t anticipate when and where it’ll be permissible or business-smart to do 30 person agile workshops, nevermind the 125+ person Program Increments Plannings that SAFe requires. Fortunately the fine folks at SAFe have created many guides on how to do such things remotely. I think all Agilists can learn from that, be agile themselves, and pivot to the new future, that could even be better than before.


In-Person Work Gets Scrutiny

There is a deluge of articles coming from every corner of the Internet about when COVID “ends” what will resume and what will not. In this Forbes article, they say maybe never. While I never like to say never, Forbes has a point – in person is being over-romanticized in our current pandemic. Was it ever that great?

Corporate education, like higher education, was certainly heading in the direction of more online learning long before the Covid-19 disruption. But it was more of a plodding pace. The past two months, of course, there’s been no choice; everyone is online…The expense and time of bringing together groups of employees for in-person training is exorbitant in comparison to high-quality online versions. Air travel, hotels, windowless conference rooms and convention centers, the risk liability of group training events and, frankly, the poor quality and unmeasurable outcomes of in-person corporate training have always been complaints. 

Forbes, May, 2020

Cost-cutting will be a big deal as well….

It costs $22,000 a year to provide an office space to every worker. Companies who go remote will cut $20m of real estate expense every year.

Then, of course, there was the big news that Twitter announced that workers may not EVER have to come back to the office. This quote from Human Resources head Jennifer Christie was particularly interesting:

“…the company would “never probably be the same” in the structure of its work. “People who were reticent to work remotely will find that they really thrive that way,” Christie said. “Managers who didn’t think they could manage teams that were remote will have a different perspective. I do think we won’t go back.”

Buzzfeed Interview, May 2020

The idea that we’ll never meet in person is ridiculous. In-person conveys an intensity that no other media currently can. While advances in Virtual Reality are compelling and will do more to spur on this trend, in-person engagements will always have a warmth to them that is fundamental to the human experience. However, I doubt that in-person work will soon return to the dominant de facto standard of the butts-in-chairs, open-office plans that it was pre-COVID. This is doubly true for training.

Sunk costs are the primary variable. Big players such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook have sunk tons of money into very expensive perks for an in-person experience. Free everything, just stay in the office. How quickly will they abandon these investments depends on the market place. Free ice-cream and cappuccinos vs. a two-hour commute each way and exorbitant property costs – which will win? Experts say that elevators and mass transit are the worst places to be right now. Anyone that’s worked in big major cities knows that people aren’t shuffling up 75 flights of stairs to get to their cubical – its all elevators, and they get very crowded. Add to this the idea that COVID-19 might flare up time and again, causing rolling shutdowns, makes finding a strategy in dealing with pandemics in the same league as disaster recovery efforts that have existed for decades. (see Update below for more on this).

My guess is that we’ll see a hybrid for now. Those craving team experiences will rush to rejoin in-person work, others will lay back if their employer allows. Companies will then start hearing their employees and candidates, and start looking outside their zip code for remote talent. As an Agilist, I used to see this as a problem. You know, the Manifesto. But that document, like any human creation, has its time. While we don’t need to change the original manifesto, we need to start asking questions around how we can update our understanding, and how we can change our practices to fulfill the intent of the manifesto and match the current reality. There are benefits to the environment, people’s stress levels, and companies that can access larger pools of talent.

In the end, Twitter (and Facebook now) might have the first-mover advantage in the new hottest Silicon Valley perk: not being in Silicon Valley.

Update, May 21st: Facebook just announced that they are also allowing working from home options (with lower salaries). I do hope that this raises all boats. A developer in Cheapville, KS, should earn a better-than-average salary for Kansas, but not the megamillions that they need to survive in San Fransisco.


Remote work on HBR

Harvard Business Review had a great article on leadership ina virtual age. Leading and managing others can present some unique challenges. Check out quote:

“Last week, during a coaching call, a senior director lamented, “I’m stalled because I don’t know how to connect with my manager on the less formal stuff — the way I used to.” He’s not alone. Manager distancing is frustrating employees and stalling work.”

They go on to list six techniques to make work better remotely for those with direct reports.

My favorite is the first one: Bridge distance through frequent connections.

“Instead of simply asking his direct reports to get in touch with him as needed, Yuval proactively manages the frequency of connection. This way, he always has a finger on the pulse of his team, especially those directs hesitant to reach out and add more to their boss’s plate during a crisis.”

I’ll let you find the other five tips here – well worth your read.

Tips and Tricks

Welcome to Remote Agile Coaching!

Like all of you, I’m sheltered in place, hunkered down in my bunker in Seattle, waiting for things to get better. We’re fine and healthy and I’m grateful for that. And, like many others, I have the motivation to give back, so I’m going to start putting more stuff on this website about one of my biggest passions, Virtual Agile Coaching.

Socrates for the win

Back in 2017, when I registered this domain, I realized that we were on the cusp of a sea-change in the industry. connectivity and capability have been driving more and more industries to leverage remote work. Now it seems ever more timely.

Many of the people I’ve spoken to over the nearly two years I’ve been doing this fall into three distinct camps, at least before COVID-19.

Camp 1- Remote training sucks and coaching is nearly impossible. How do you read the room? Get engagement? Do the exercises?

Camp 2 – Remote is okay, in limited amounts, but the real work gets done in the office.

Camp 3 – Remote is the future! There are so many upsides that virtual work and work anywhere movements are the only way to operate in the 21st century.

I have moved sequentially through those camps: a skeptic, like any good Agilist, then a tolerant leader of those who wanted remote work, and now, full-throated support of such workstyles. No, it’s not for everyone, but remote work was here to stay before, and this type of work is center stage.

Remote work is getting tried at a scale never seen before. It’s a massive test of the networks, the abilities, and creativity of those who are executing the training. Remote learning requires patience at the learner’s end. It’s not the same, but it’s still effective. I personally have trained hundreds remotely and continue to support them with coaching.

I launched this blog at the outset of Agile 2019 in beautiful Washington DC on the topic of remote coaching. I’ll be pulling out lessons from that event, and reporting and sharing new tools as they pop up. We’re going to have a Cambrianesque explosion of tools and techniques with the advent of quarantines for the next month or so.

For now, let’s summarize what the crowd I had at Agile 2019 was saying about remote work before it was cool/necessary 🙂

  • Techniques – ceremony or deliverable specific ideas
    • Katrina T. – Interactive retros – example Playdoh – “build an image that describes the last sprint
    • Gisela M. – Measure happiness with the decisions they make at the beginning
    • Carlina A – We celebrate holidays with remote teams and share pictures
    • Melinda S. – Virtual Happy hour
    • Leslie K. – Remote ice breaker games
    • Gabriela V. – Have standup followed by core hours (15 min then 45)
    • Melinda S – Always use cameras for all meeting
    • Rebecca Wirfs-Brock – Review and start clear agenda before starting
    • SEB -Short segments, six trumps (Bowman), self-paced, individual and collaborative (this is from Training from the back of the room).
    • David K – I have had some success with web cames over physical boards.
    • Bill Wake – remote mob session – make sure tools ready before you begin
    • First 15 min for “Pets and babies” – this is the idea to show family members, either human or otherwise, in the first fifteen minutes of a meeting. (ed note: I love this one!)
  • Tools – a favorite topic
    • Carlina A – we use IdeaBoardz for backlog retrospectives for remote teams
    • Leslie K – Encourage video chats rather than voice, with Zoom or whatever is out there.
    • David K – tabletop board game simulators can be used to recreate some in-person exercises
    • Gabriela V – Slack Channel – Different topics one for sharing things outside of work and one for knowledge sharing
    • VR – This is a growing field and one is pursuing. Nothing to show…yet… 🙂
    • Joe F: check out Mural and other tools that allow for HUGE spaces for sticky notes and such.

  • Advice – general tips to get it done
    • Ellen – try to learn their language if possible (Ed note: I’d be terrible at this)
    • Rebecca Wirfs-Brock | Agile Alliance – Show and tell in remote training ( share other students work and discuss)
    • Shalini – Stop multitasking and focus on one task at a time – add commit time to review other people’s work
    • Leslie k. – Bring the team together 1-2 times during the engagement (ed note: when possible)
    • Jim C. – Train onsite coaches and use them as co-coaches we call them Agile Champion
    • Having remote teams together for 1 week. Ether at the start of the projector once a year for the ongoing team.
    • Dwight K – When you are on-site in-person spend as much time as needed to develop relationships and trust with individuals. #1 priority.
    • Gabriella – Take pictures of everyone smiling on a video call and send it on the slack channel
    • Elizabeth M – Small group experiments and present learnings back to the rest

Okay, that’s it for now. I hope you found these tips useful. I and a few other experienced coaches will be chiming in more frequently to get us all through this difficult time.

Keep it fun and positive and you and your teams will thrive!


Github Manifesto of Remote Work

Github, for those in the non-software world, is a hugely important resource for developers. On it, you can download builds, upload software, and do all sorts of geeky-nerdy things that keep the World Digital alive and running. I didn’t know, until recently, a GitHub Remote Manifesto.

Frankly, there are few entities that have been doing this longer. Remote software development is a core part of the open-source movement, which is responsible for many important “plumbing” elements of the Internet, from the Apache webserver to the Kubernetes configuration software that is taking the world by storm. Check them out here:

Don’t know what those things are? It doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that Remote is in these guys’ DNA.

The Remote Manifesto

All-remote work promotes:

  1. Hiring and working from all over the world instead of from a central location.
  2. Flexible working hours over set working hours.
  3. Writing down and recording knowledge over verbal explanations.
  4. Written down processes over on-the-job training.
  5. Public sharing of information over need-to-know access.
  6. Opening up every document for editing by anyone over top-down control of documents.
  7. Asynchronous communication over synchronous communication.
  8. The results of work over the hours put in.
  9. Formal communication channels over informal communication channels

This is modeled after the Agile manifesto. If you’re not familiar with how to read that, know that we all understand the things to the right, meaning after the over are still going to be used and have value, but we value the left item more. For example, #2 says Flexible working hours over set working hours. We all know that having some sort of overlap is good, and necessary sometimes, but we prefer the flexibility. This relates well to the #7. communication, if asynchronous, free us from being “there” together at the same time.

Check out the list and the link here. They’ve got tons of examples that everyone can use, not just software developers.

Stay safe out there!


Great content from Axis

I’ve been interested in more remote facilitation tools for workshops, so this tool has been highlighted to me.

I think the tooling for remote work has really begun to take off.

Where could this go?


Video and Whitepaper Are up

The artifacts are up from Agile 2019! I’m super happy with the quality.


Video (You have to be a member of the Agile Alliance for this) . Super fun!


Agile 2019 – Day 4

Day four was the big day for me – Talk Day! My talk on coaching remote, non-agile teams was a load of fun. What was super cool was that I went to the guy before me, a gentleman named Steve Adolph, who was speaking about remote work and “The sun never sets on the problem-solving workshop”. It supported many of the items that I was suggesting in my talk.

A Full Session!

My talk was super fun, and I’m pleased that it was a full session. The demand for help and tips for remote coaching is huge. As you can see on the front page, I got 28 great tips on doing remote work. Yet, remote work is complex and, like Agile, there is no silver bullet. Nothing that will “fix it” especially when considering lower levels of overlap time, etc. I’m pleased to say that Mark Kilby, an author on the topic of remote work, was in attendance. I hope to collaborate with him and Joanna Rothman in the future.

The folks at @AgileAlliance were practiced and professional, and I left there feeling like the talk went really well. The point of my talk, and many others is that remote work isn’t solved by practices or tools, but in mindset. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? 🙂 There’s a recording of my session coming up, but for now, if you’re a member you can see the whitepaper here.

I’m super pleased to have given away the hottest item of the conference, the SolutionsIQ water bottle. Those things went like wildfire! But the big winner was the Rosalie R., who won a timeular device! Thanks to the folks at Timeular for providing that give away. I’ll be holding a second give away here in the near future, so stay tuned!

The rest of the day was a blur.

In the afternoon block, I attended the interesting Adapting TBR for remote learning, by Shane Hastie and Shannon Ewan. Training from the Back of the Room is a book that I have only heard of and gotten some of their lessons through others. I was pleased to see the four C’s so well explained. However without being there, it’d be tough to explain the session, which was very workshoppy, so check out this link to find out more about the 4 Cs and 6 trumps.

After that, I went to my final session, Liberating Structures, by the entertaining Alex Sloley. We did the 4-6-2-1 exercise, a structure to share information verbally. I liked that he said don’t tell people you’re doing this thing, just do them, and notice how it works. It’ll be your little secret with yourself.

Meeting Carey in DC – Yay!

I was able to meet with a colleague from Accenture training, Carey, which was super fun. We spoke of VR-based training, my latest obsession.

Before I knew it, Agile 2019 was over and I was on the Accella train to NY to see my family for a mini-family reunion. It was a great week, and I’ll be distilling those lessons for some time to come. This is the fam – loved that I could connect work and play!

The NY Family

Agile 2019 – Day 3

Started the day with a great keynote from Lynne Cazaly, the author if Ish. She spoke, in a wonderful Australian accent, about the scourge of perfectionism. She referenced a few books. “The Lie that Perfectionists tell themselves.”

The perfectionist doesn’t get more recognition!

The problem with going for perfect. – Overthinking overworking reworking, sleeplessness, pain anxiety, depression. Increase levels of trust, deepen it.

Often you can’t launch because you think it needs to be perfect. For me, this is considered “ready”. I liked her notion of Satisficing – going for good enough. She was really funny. “Everyone Ished today. Who’s wearing jeans from yesterday?” It was very entertaining. The point is when to Ish and when not to Ish. Mentioned a few effects – Pratfall effect – showing mistakes and the perception is better. Spotlight effect – the spotlight effect is the phenomenon in which people tend to believe they are being noticed more than they really are. Finally Wabi-Sabi effect, which is the broken ceramiic made more valuable.

The irony of expertise, e.g. the collaboration expert who gets a divorce. What is ours? I have to think about that.

Good talk on Lean portfolio management by Christopher Pola (Rally) and Laureen Knudsen (Rally)

A lot of lean portfolio management at the conference this year. The presenters had a lot of practical experience. She said that projects generally become greener (more satisfactory) as time and reporting levels go on. They had a nice metaphor of using Kenny Rogers “The Gambler” theme. A lot of know when to fold up, know when to hold up, etc. 🙂 I like this question: “Do you honestly measure the success of outcomes?”. He pointed to WSJF aka Cost of Delay as a good way to make “a gamble” into what you fund in a project.

In the afternoon session, I started with Evening the Odds: The Monte Carlo Technique for Project Forecasting (Hunter Tammaro).

It was really informative, though I do wish there was a bit more theory, like the math behind monte Carlo, that was overcome by the great and bold step to actually use the spreadsheet in the session. Very practical. I have a copy of his spreadsheet now I can play with.

Planning is guessing

  • Don’t mistake math for certainty
  • Even if you’re 80% sure, you’re wrong 1 in 5 times
  • You need historical data
  • to take a few weeks to track if you need to gut estimate may get you over this hump.

Will work be completed at the same rate? – Keep the team clear of impediments and keep teams consistent

Will work items be the same size? Keep an eye on story splitting and estimation and discuss when work items are unusually large. Does the backlog we’re simulating adequately represent the project?
Build in a buffer of a nice to haves so you have features to trade out if you need to and adjust your projected backlog using historical data.

Easy to create and update, validates Agile concepts, replaces a datapoint with a conversation.

I was deciding on which session to go to and I saw a HUGE line 30 minutes before the next session. It was Jeff Sutherland’s topic on Flow metrics. This show – Flow – Why Process Efficiency is a Key Metric for High Performing Agile Teams (Jeff Sutherland, Jessica Larsen)
Definition of “Lean” – Process Efficiency > 25%. He asked if anyone in the room of 200 who knew what their process efficiency is. One person raised their hands. Amazon has 3300 scrum teams and has high process efficiency. They publish a total of 1 per minute I think he said.

So they’re saying to use this along with velocity as if the velocity was how fast the car could go, and the process eff. is the how efficient that engine is distributing power, friction, heat, etc.

Interestingly, Jeff takes that number and leverages story points, to keep people away from hours. To this, I breathed a sigh of relief. He told a great story about a hospital and how the surgeons were mistreating the cleaning lady. This is the core lesson – treat them as equals. Faster cleaning was part of the entire value stream of providing care.

He was pumping his upcoming Pattern book which sounds quite interesting (Actually I think its by JJ Sutherland) ..not out yet. The idea is that velocity

Jeff and Jessica were a great team on the stage and I found it very interesting, one of the best. I’m glad I followed the crowd on this one. I intend on trying the Process Efficiency metric when I get back 🙂 He asked for people

Shock therapy in scrum – “why isn’t the top story on the backlog not done yet?” Instead of the three questions. Interesting. Other notes – pair programming increases quality but leaves velocity untouched