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Pivoting a team to working agile in lockdown: tips from experience

9 March 2021

Scouts have been developing Skills for Life – mostly outdoors – for more than a century. But lockdown forced us to find new ways to keep people Scouting, as well as pivot how we worked as a staff team.

Where we were

The Scouts programme is the suite of activities that Scouts do to achieve their badges, and has been evolving since our start in 1907. The programme as a whole is designed for leaders to support young people in their personal development, building new skills and experiences, empowering them to make a positive contribution to society. The Programme Team at HQ were responsible for taking that to the next logical step of putting the programme online: the website now hosts 1200 activities for some hundreds of badges, in a database to help leaders plan balanced programmes for young people, using high-quality ideas.

What lockdown meant for us

Lockdown meant that our 460,000 young people and 170,000 adult volunteers were no longer able to meet in person to do activities – camps were cancelled, hikes were halted and, for some, the very essence of what it meant to be a Scout was taken away. Our members take part in Scouts to get outside, to live out their Scouts values, and lockdown felt like that would no longer be possible.

Creating online solutions

We quickly created The Great Indoors Badge, a compendium of existing indoor and online activities to encourage our Members to keep Scouting. However, feedback told us these suggestions weren’t exactly what everyone needed. While some leaders could pivot easily, with virtual groups popping up and home-made activity videos being shared, others were not as technologically confident. Many struggled to envision how these activities – originally designed for their meeting places – could be done at home over Zoom. So we created more specific guidance, with step-by-step instructions on engaging young people online, and webinars on how these sessions still follow the Scouting method. Eventually, we created activities specifically designed for online or socially distanced, to support Scout Leaders to see that these new methods of Scouting could be something to add to their tool box.

Pivoting with a pilot to create an agile product team

The HQ Programme Team needed to respond to Member needs quicker, with new ideas specific to the unfolding issues, so we repositioned ourselves to trial a new way of working. Digital leaders Lara Burns and Rachel Davidson taught us the basics of working as an agile product team, so we could develop the existing database with new, relevant programme material. This means:

  • Myself and a HQ Volunteer became Product Owners, set the Programme vision for the team, and break it down into goals. The team take these goals and decide how they will meet them, in three-week sprints that we entrust them to design.
  • Instead of activities being written in one team, and then going through a series of checks, one team after another, the new Product team has a member from each team involved in creation from the start. Diverse and inclusive thinking at the design stage creates higher quality content.
  • We shifted our mindset to one that embraced releasing ‘minimum viable products’ – we cannot be perfect in a time when people need inspiration quickly. Being open to feedback and iterating our creations accordingly is more important.
  • New, less formal communication channels with our membership were created; we asked informal questions to online forums and in member meetings e.g. “what do you need to keep going right now? Ok, we’ve made this, does it help? No? What shall we change?” This opened up creative barriers, forced us to be brave and open, and demonstrated clearly to our membership that we were doing everything we could to figure out what was still possible in lockdown.

Through daily communication (product teams do daily 15 minute ‘stand-ups’ to update the team on progress) we’ve built intimacy and trust. Trusting collaboration then in turn creates an environment where highly productive, deep-thinking individuals produce high quality content at speed. To avoid burnout, we schedule a ‘firebreak’ where the team cool off and tinker with loose ends for a week. In the first four months of the team working in this way, they have produced over 200 brand new activities and content pages to support leaders to keep Scouts going in lockdown, with 40,000 views on activities most months.

Takeaway tips

  • Set clear goals
    The goals set in your agile strategy directly affect what your team’s tasks are on a sprintly basis. It sounds obvious, but it’s worth reiterating the power of getting this clear. Communication is strained enough in remote working, so be really clear with your team about what they need to do and where they’re going next. This was challenging for me at the start and I have had to actively work on my ability to develop long-term vision and goal-setting.

    Challenges come when priorities clash, but your vision can help you commit to it and help steer your team.

    Buy-in of your goals is vital: particularly in a values-led organisation, your team need to know they’re working towards something they believe in.
  • Survey your users throughout
    Like with most volunteer organisations, our membership vastly outnumbers the staff, and it is impossible (and unhelpful) to generalise or assume what they need. A fairly consistent feedback loop keeps work relevant and ensures users feel valued – and keeps a conscientious team motivated.
  • Don’t underestimate mind-set shift
    This way of working can be very different, it’s important to support each individual to adjust to new ways of working and being ok with the ever-changing nature of agile. In particular, adjusting to the benefits of delivering a minimum viable product: don’t let perfect get in the way of good, and don’t let your ambition get in the way of need. Create an environment of trust, and ‘freedom within a framework’ –providing clear goals empowers teams to create solutions that meet users’ actual needs.

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Image: Angelos Michalopoulos on Unsplash

Amy Butterworth

programme design manager, The Scout Association

Amy Butterworth is the programme design manager at The Scouts. Her background in pastoral post-16 care, Pupil Referral Units and youth coaching guides her programme development to benefit the young people who are furthest from opportunities. She believes in the potential of The Scouts to empower every young person in society, and is proud to work in such an authentically values-driven organisation.