Blog

Here AND There: Agile Development in the Age of Coronavirus

Typically, our IT and Engineering teams work together each day in the office – whether at their desks, meeting rooms, scrum walls or kitchen, our collaborative teams are used to being face-to-face.  

So, before we left the office and enacted our business continuity plan to work remotely, I gathered the entire team together to talk about next steps. We were going into unchartered territory, and yet there wasn’t a sense of fear. There was a combined sense of wanting to know what to do, what they could do to prepare themselves and their teams to be as productive as possible.

They knew what I knew: our innovation cannot slow because of the pandemic. We have to keep this ship running, and it’s essential that everyone is functioning at 100%.

In our industry, perhaps more than others, this is crucial. Existing clinical trials need to support their patients – through financial reimbursements and travel arrangements, and research sites need to be paid. Also, our clients are dependent on us for new product capability. We’re utilizing this time to drive innovation across the clinical trial financial lifecycle.

The Coronavirus is certainly impacting the whole world right now, and we need to make sure that we’re serving our clients in their time of need. But we’re also preparing for when a sense of normalcy returns and being able to deliver on new key solutions to help drive process efficiency, transparency and value for all clinical trial stakeholders.

How can we do that?

Communication

In this virtual work environment, I believe there is added pressure on middle managers to know what’s happening with their teams and projects. However, without being able to swivel and turn around and let your manager know something, it is up to employees to take additional ownership for communicating (and perhaps over-communicating) to ensure you you’re tightly connected. We can’t expect managers to know everything if we aren’t together as a team, so being proactive is essential.

Tools

We use many systems (listed below) on an everyday basis, but the truth is, 90% of these tools aren’t new.

  • Slack - quick q&a
  • Gmail - longer explanations / requests for action
  • JIRA - scrum development boards
  • Zoom & Mural (we are testing both out) - white boarding
  • Google Hangouts – group meetings
  • Vonage - soft phones

While it’s true that our agile development process is centered around our scrum walls, we always maintained virtual scrum boards also. The physical scrum walls are for comradery and team building. So today, we have the exact same scrum teams still using virtual scrum boards.

One new tool that we’ve implemented to help us with story mapping is Zoom white boarding. We do heavy whiteboarding and it has usually been done in person. However, our remote team abroad had been using this and now we’ve started using it as well. It was a “lessons learned” from another department that has come in especially useful now – helping to keep the same touch and feel from our in-person brainstorms.

 

remote_team_photo_revised

Preparation

When you’re working from home, it’s especially important to ensure that you have conference calls set up, a defined agenda and have taken the time to think through the goals of your meetings.

When you’re remote, there are bound to be distractions – be it pets, kids, or other things, so making sure you’re as dialed in as possible to keep the development process moving along smoothly. I’ve also found that you have do make sure that you pay attention to details when on remote conference calls – putting on your videocam so people can see you, and trying to make sure that you aren’t all talking over each other so you are productive.

#ClinTech at Greenphire: Together Throughout it All

I’m proud of the IT team at Greenphire as well as the entire organization and how they’ve responded to the shift in work environment and priorities. We’ve queried the challenges that patients, sites, sponsors and CROs face amid the pandemic, and are working to help meet their immediate needs in this difficult and fluid situation. Although we’ve been working well together remotely, I for one will be looking forward to seeing everyone in the office – hopefully sooner rather than later.

 

David Wallace
Written by David Wallace