ROWE: problems and benefits from the trial

Problem by r000pert
Problem by r00pert

There’s been a few things pop up over the last six weeks that I hadn’t anticipated and I thought it useful to blog these too.


There haven’t been any major problems thankfully. Most of what I’ve seen has centred around communication and I knew that ROWE and it’s potential for a distributed team, was going to take some getting used to. Most of the teams, however, claim that they communicate MORE than they did previously, which is great to hear. When you don’t have the luxury of just turning around and talking to a colleague behind you because he’s not there AND not on IM either, you make the times you can talk really count. It also means that the communication they do have is much higher quality. You need to cram in as much as possible and it makes for powerful, engaged conversations.

The only problem I am experiencing is a lack of rhythm. I need to get into a groove, find myself a pattern and stick to it for a while. I’m kind of doing odd hours and odd things, when really, I need to settle into a pattern and use it to get work done and get some gym time in too. I’ve been wanting to watch what happens at work and at home and this is the wrong thing for me. So, starting this week, I’m sticking to a schedule.

Perception is also a small problem, we’ve not had every sprint being successful (a failed sprint is classed as one in which the team didn’t deliver on all of their commitments (even if they deliver on 95%, it’s still deemed failed)) and this perception of a successful or failed sprint means people will attribute this to ROWE, but we had failed sprints pre-ROWE and we’re tracking acceptance rate, so we can really see what percentage of a sprint was failed. We’ve not tracked this before, so it’s enlightening AND alarming now we are tracking it!

I was also expecting there to be some fuzz on the line from elsewhere in the business. We’re not shouting about the ROWE trial, but we’re not keeping it a secret either – I expect people are waiting to see what the outcome is is before they do or say anything. Thankfully, there doesn’t seem to be any resentment from other departments – at least, none that I know of.


There are the obvious benefits, such as flexibility and trust that come with ROWE and the things I mentioned above about communication and productivity, but there are other, hidden benefits which I was kind of expecting, but really took me by surprise.

We’re using scrum here, which means the work that gets done is delivered by a team, meaning personal goals, results and accountability are harder to see and measure. To this end, I started using Rypple in order to setup some individual goals and objectives, based, primarily, around skills acquisition and the little bits and pieces that we need doing as a department which doesn’t make sense to put into a sprint. My team have really taken to this and I can really get a handle on how well individuals are performing (only with regards to personal stuff though) and even do some measure of performance evaluation if people want. Rypple also has the idea of social goals, and these are useful in driving the team to get stuff down outside of the regular sprints. When they commit to helping deliver on someone else’s objective, they are driven by the obligation to help.

A few guys in my team have also mentioned how much more relaxed they feel. They’ve mentioned that their partners and spouses have commented on how much more chilled out they are! Personally, I’ve only set my alarm about five times in six weeks. The other days, I wake up when my body says so (or, when my kids leap on me, usually this happens first). It’s nice to not be a slave to the tinkling of my iPhone at 5:30am.

I get to spend more time with my family and this is incredibly valuable, I had no idea how much I would enjoy this. I knew it would happen, I didn’t know how it would make me feel. It would be very hard to give this up.

So, it’s looking rosey now, the problems are few and easily surmountable, the benefits were unexpected and amazing, and I’m sure there are more coming. Long live ROWE!

2 thoughts on “ROWE: problems and benefits from the trial

  1. Hi Mike, this looks pretty radical. Would love to find out more about how you’ve gone about implementing ROWE. I’ve started reading up about it, and it looks really interesting.

    1. I am starting to read about ROWE and am also curious what change you put in place. Was it just accountability and expecting people to deliver on what they say they will…or is there more?

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