Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Agile: Walls Dysfunction & People

A comment made at the recent GRTesters meetup meeting left me with a hard choice. I could jump on that and lead us further down a rabbit hole we were already in, and well off the topic of the evening, or I could make a note to myself and revisit my thoughts later.

This is "later."

We were discussing team dynamics in a macro sense - how teams function, the interactions between team members, how they interacted with other teams and the like. Specifically, we were looking, briefly, at the difference in relationship between software testing specialists who were embedded with development & delivery teams and who were in external teams.

The apparently "classic" case of "OK, our code is done, now we give it to the test team."

The problem is, by pulling testing specialists farther away from collaboration with the people specializing in creating and writing the production facing code, the testing specialists become "others" - not part of the actual development team.

The idea of pulling people into a team and having them work together is great. If you allow for teams to build trust and get to work together.

So there we were, talking about teams and silos and how divisions between teams can lead to huge dysfunction for the organization. Then one person said, "I've seen these kinds of problems everywhere. But if you really want to see huge problems with silos and Us vs Them, look at how most companies do 'Agile.' Teams don't cooperate with each other. Teams don't help each other. Teams barely talk to each other."

Most of us stopped and blinked. I had some thoughts on that, particularly as he had just described what I had seen at many organizations.

To Begin

First, some considerations on Scrum and Agile.

While there are certainly proponents of both who will be happy to tell you that delivery will be faster and quality will be better, I am not certain these are universal guarantees. I know this flies in the face of the statements and pitches made by sales people of "Agile" and Scrum and various certification programs.

What I tell people, much to the chagrin of certain "leaders" is that Scrum will almost certainly identify problem areas very quickly.

You will get very fast "returns." These returns may not be what you expected.

For example, if you have an organization with many development teams. Randomly relabeling them as "Scrum Teams" is rather counter to the point of Scrum, and certainly counter tothe Agile Manifesto itself.

Then, targeting a poorly functioning team as the Proof of Concept group, as many organizations do I have seen, might not give the shining results hoped for.

A team that is troubled in delivery, with low quality product, might not be the ideal group to "demonstrate" the benefits of "Agile." Likely it will be a trainwreck. This trainwreck, as happened with early steam trains, can put people in other teams and other parts of the organization completely off the "new" concept.

The problems are not in Agile or Scrum - or any other method or framework associated with Agile. The problems exist in themselves. Using a team with problems as the prototype simply highlights the problems the team already has.

 Did "Agile" Cause This?

No. Not at all.

The "transition" to Agile - any type, form or flavor - simply exposed this issue. The problems existed. People working with the team, oftentimes people ON the team, are fully aware of the problems.

The team lead or manager might be aware. They may be working to make it better. They might be trying to address the problem.However, if the issue is chronic and sustained, there is a strong likelihood they will not improve things.


The largest single problem in any organization is not the technology. It is not the tech stack. It is not the language used for development or testing. It is not the development models and methodologies in use.

The largest single problem, is People.

Gerry Weinberg wrote (and said) "No matter how it looks at first, it's always a people problem." (Find that in Secrets of Consulting, 1985.)

What does that have to do with this situation? Loads.

The team lead or manager might BE the problem. OR, there might be a person (or two) who are engaging in damaging, if not destructive, behavior.

The Problem?

There are loads of other possibilities. The issue might not be with people on the team. If people on other teams have "issues" with people on the troubles team, a wee bit of animosity can go a long way. This can point to broader issues within the organization.

My favorite issue, still a "people problem" is Byzantine processes and methodologies around software. Everything from multiple levels of approvals before software can be moved from one environment to another to mandated control measures to "protect" the production environment.

The less clear the process to be followed, the greater the odds of dysfunction. 

These exist whether the organization is "Agile" or not. A mandated decision to "do Agile" might just make these problems more obvious - the light can be shown on them and make them clear.

The Response?

This varies. Often times we see this as a "Fragile" implementation. People (that word again) focus on the forms, ceremonies and rituals around Agile and not on the purpose.

Many, many organizations ignore the Principles behind the Agile Manifesto and focus only on these rituals. The problems are not addressed. The challenges remain.

Except, now they get blamed on "Agile."

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Fellowship is Formed

This is the seventh part of the story which began here. The second is here.
The third is here. The fourth is here. The fifth is here.  The sixth is here.
This saga continues below.
This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their
quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great.*

Gandalf was silent. The Four Travelers shuffled their feet and looked around the room as if they were looking for an escape from his gaze. There was none. They felt like he was testing everyone in the room, but them in particular.

Then one noticed Galadriel was sitting quietly, next to Elrond. She looked at them and smiled a gentle smile, as if to reassure all of them that things would work out. She relaxed immediately.

It was then Gandalf spoke.

“Elrond has spoken of the past, the distant past some might say, of how electronic computers and software came to this point. Faramier, Gimly and Legolas have spoken with words of warning in their hearts. You yourselves, all of you, have seen the growing trends of late. The changes in wind and water. The unsettled energy all around us.

“Most of you here have been witness to great shifts though you may not have recognized them as such. The shift toward a regulated and controlled method of creating software has been subtle. Even among those who call out for more “flexibility” they are implementing greater controls than existed before.

“The idea of teams being ‘self-organizing’ is a threat to some organizations. They demand strict compliance. They demand fierce loyalty and they expect each worker to reject anything other than what they are told to do. Because the “Company” knows best. 

“We have heard these things before. The slave of Sauron and Saurumann spoke ever thus. The Haradrim or Southrons spoke thus. Though we defeated Sarumann and Sauron, we did not defeat all of the evil they drew upon and fed. There is still darkness here. Our challenge is to be diligent in searching it out, identifying it and destroying it. 

“The proud and fell Easterlings are still present. The Haradim still live. They reach out and corrupt ideas by twisting words to fit their purpose. Beware of them! Beware of the words spoken as reasonable people speak that run counter to what others might say.

“Beware those who belittle and demean others because they have different ideas. They will insist those ideas are false and must be overturned. They will speak from emotion rather than fact and truth. Remember, to the crooked eye, truth can wear a wry face.

“Their words will be comforting, as were Sarumann’s words. They will seem reasonable and draw you in to wish to appear reasonable as well. This is their trap.

“Beware those who tell you you speak wrongly or ill. They will find ways to undermine your heart and spirit. They will tear down how you communicate with others and insist their words are the only true words. If you question them you will face their wrath.

“You fear them. But you do not fear them enough. They can bend and twist your words around you then deny they are doing it. When they finish, you will be worn down and vulnerable. Then no one will understand your words when you speak.

“When you explain your new truth, you will become the outside to them. You will become the outlander who threatens all.

“Make no mistake, you will threaten them. You will threaten the ones who dwell in comfort and accept their lot. You will threaten their masters who hold them in thrall. You will threaten the order imposed from above. You will threaten their models and justifications. You will threaten all that they have built up, which others see as strong and powerful and ‘right’.”

Gandalf stopped and looked directly at the Four Travelers. Then he continued.

“This challenge is nothing more than the challenge taken on themselves by Meriadic Brandybuck, Perigrin Took, Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins. They journeyed with great purpose, with people in this very room, to do a great task. They accomplished it. It was only on their return home they realised their hardship, suffering, challenges and loss prepared them for the great task no one could ask them to do.

“They arrived home and found it disordered and disturbed. Violence was present in ways it had never been before. The very values that were cherished by everyone in the Shire had been upended and tossed away.

“No person told them they must do this thing. They told themselves they must do this thing. Everything they had seen and done prepared them for the doing.” 

Then, looking around the room, Gandalf said “You four from the Shire, and all others here who would see a better world have the same challenge. Find a way to make your world better, or accept all as it is and be still.  No wizards can aid you. No elves or dwarves can help you. Our time is past.” 

With that he sat down. The room was silent. The Travelers looked at each other. They looked around the room. Most people in the room were looking lost, deep in thought. Some were frightened by Gandalf’s words. 

Then Galadriel spoke.

“All of you, heed the words of Gandalf, Elrond and the others who have spoken. I have words for you as well. Gandalf gives words of warning. Words to help you avoid traps and snares that will capture the unwary. These traps are not of the sort that you might think. But they are present nonetheless. Remember how comforting things seemed at first, the words and instructions you were given? Remember the result of following them? Remember what advice was given by those who advocated, then pushed, then demanded they be followed?

“We elves can see some outcomes. We do not know which actions lead to which outcomes. Our power is fading. Now is the time for those who believe they have no power to discover theirs. Now is the time for each of you, all of you, to consider in your hearts what it is you would have done and what kind of world you, your colleagues and your children will live in, work in and grow in.

“Many long lives of Men we have lived here in Rivendell. Many things have we seen start well then fade. Many things have blossomed unexpectedly and grown and flourished, when nothing was anticipated. This decision is on each and every one of you.”

Then she sat and looked to the center of the room and said no more.

For a long time no one spoke. Most looked down at the floor in front of them. Some were deep in thought. Even Gandalf and Elrond look uneasy. A stirring began inside one of the Four Travelers. She looked up. First at her companions then around the room. She felt herself rise silently. Everyone looked to her.

“I will take these words and ideas and warnings. I will go back to The Shire and spread them as my father spread the soil  from your garden you gave him long ago, great lady. I do not know what shall happen. I do not know what will come of it. But I will go and I will try.”

Then she sat down. Her companions looked amazed at her. She herself looked amazed the words came from her.

Gandalf looked on her with a soft smile, as if remembering deeds long past. Elrond looked at her with great pity. Then Elrond said, “Once, long ago by your reckoning, I told your father’s companion that no one could place the burden he was taking on him. No one could order him to take up his great task. Indeed, your father was hiding in that dark corner of this very chamber, behind that very plant.” 

The young woman looked where Elrond indicated, and was amazed. She had heard the tale but had not quite believed it. Then Elrond spoke again.

“No one can place this burden on you either, Eleanor Gamgee. If you take it up of your own free will, then so be it. This is a task that will bring hard labor and likely hard words. Your Father, Samwise and your mother Rose, have prepared you as best they can for any challenge. Choose companions who would do well and who can help and support you.

“As I said all those years ago, again, this is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great. You have greatness in you. Use that greatness for good to overcome the greatness which is aiding ill.”

With that, Eleanor smiled. Her companions stood and embraced her. One by one, they pledged to work to make testing and all software creation better. Not with threats and intimidation and whips and cruelty. But with wisdom and compassion.

Wisdom and mercy in their proper measures, with determination and a will to succeed will do more than threats and fear ever could.

The others in the room looked at each other and nodded. Many murmured assent. All pledged to take up the challenge in the path shown by Eleanor, daughter of Rose and Samwise, and return to their homes with the same task.


*JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, ©JRR Tolkien, 1954, renewed 1982, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, Boston, 2014, p. 264

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

At the Council of Elrond

This is the sixth part of the story which began here. The second is here.
 The third is here. The fourth is here. The fifth is here. 
This saga continues below.

In Rivendell

After a few hours walking they came to a beautiful city in a valley more lovely than any they had ever heard of or seen. The elf, Erestor brought them to a massive gate which opened at his approach. They found themselves entering a great hall. Seated at one end was two tall, noble elves. One was Elrond. The other was Galadriel, of whom so many songs were sung.

They were made welcome and told the next morning there would be a council that would be of interest to them and their quest. Until then, they could refresh themselves and wash away the dirt and weariness of travel. A feast was being made ready for that evening where they would meet others and make merry as they saw fit. So, they joined in, celebrating with wine or the heady mead the elves liked to drink. A few dwarves were drinking heavy ales and a couple of the travelers switched to that, being their preference. A very few other humans were there as well.

The next morning the travelers were awoken by a tall man in their room, even though they locked the door the night before. He was wearing white robes with a white hat and long flowing beard. He carried a long staff and appeared to have a sword hanging from his belt.

“Wake up, foolish testers! Wake up! You barely have time to wash your faces and get dressed and get to the Council Chamber. The bell has already rung for people to attend. You have come this far, now move! Quickly!”

Without another word he left. They looked around and realized their clothing had been washed and folded. They jumped up, washed their faces in the basins provided and threw on their clean clothes. They grabbed a bun and a piece of fruit each that had been laid out for them and walked quickly down the hallway.

Following the sound of voices, they found a large chamber where a multitude of people sat in a large circle, taking up most of the room. They find four empty seats waiting for them and sit down. Looking around the room they saw a variety of elves and dwarves, human men and women. Some were dressed richly, some as if coming from long travel. Some openly carried swords or large axes. Some were wearing chainmail, and some were wearing silk.

Elrond stood and looked around the room. “Well met,” he began. “The Purpose for which we are called hither. Called I say, though I have not called you to me, strangers from distant lands. You have come and are here met. Believe also, that we who sit here, and none others, must find counsel for the Peril of the World.”*

“Never has there been a gathering like this, save when the Halflings brought Sauron's One Ring forth and journeyed to Mordor to destroy it at the end of the Third Age. It is impossible to tell now, in this age, what may come of this gathering. The future is unknowable. All we can do is make the best choices we can make with what we know now.

“Most of you know the recent history of how we arrived to this point in software development. The older history might be unfamiliar to you, save by rumor. I remember well how the first programmers were women. They worked hard understanding the connectivity required for the first electronic computers to work and how they could be made more flexible. I remember how they were pushed aside when Men found their work and discoveries more interesting, and likely more lucrative, than what they did.

“I remember how languages were developed to make use of these advances. How the people working to make them better worked side by side. I remember how rank and position was set aside for most. I also remember how people were slighted and relegated to “less important” and glamorous roles because of outward looks.

“I was saddened to see Men presume that because Sauron was defeated, they no longer needed to listen to the wisdom of other races who had long ago deemed such differences to be irrelevant.

“Still, I saw hopeful signs that they might learn to be equals. People set aside job titles and specific roles and worked to make technology do amazing things. Many of the Elves thought the time had come for us to finally go to the Havens and cross the Sea. We few stayed because we saw evil at work again and thought to counter it, if we could. Even without the power of the Three Rings, we thought we might give counsel one more time before leaving at long last. 

“And here we are gathered.” 

A dwarf stood and looked at Elrond and the man in white robes. "Forgive me Master Elrond. All you say is true. Dwarves remember well how these things came to pass. We feared that the Race of Men might falter even though the Evil of Sauron was removed. We hoped that the King, Aragorn, might order all things differently. Alas for our times. It would seem the hopes of Dain in this have not come to pass. We will aid this, however we can. If you or Gandalf can guide us a little longer, we would not replace one Evil with another."

Two Elves stood. One was Erestor, the other dressed in more simple, green clothing. “Gimli, son of Gloin, we know your worth and see your concerns. A better companion no elf could ask for. We know these threats have existed in the race of Men from the early times. Through the Dark Years they slumbered. While your request is heartfelt, I fear this falls on the Race of Men to address. Our time is over. We elves will fade. We have little influence except in rare people.”

“Legolas Greenleaf, you speak for me as well,” said Erestor. "We can offer some amount of counsel to Men. But, only those willing to hear it will act. We cannot change them, no matter our good intent.”

All sat and looked downcast. Gimli most of all. Elrond looked around the room. “Faramir, Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithelen, speak now. You have thoughts on this.”

A tall, noble looking man in white and green livery bearing a silver tree wrought by some craft the travelers did not know, stood and looked around the room. His gaze landed on the four travelers and he spoke.

“Let us remember the words of Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, King under the Mountain and predecessor of Dain. Thorin at the time of his parting, regretted that so many valued wealth and hoarded gold and jewels over companionship, good food, shared experiences and happy memories. Since the decision to make Software an asset to be created or manufactured, Men have longed to control the making of it.

“Indeed, much of the ill will that exists in the making of software comes from those who would assert control over the making and testing of software. All would control that which cannot be controlled. It might be discovered, but controlling how it is discovered in folly. All attempts to do so lead to bitter division and rancor.

“People come forth from time to time with the “best ways” to make software. They speak of ideal ways that software can be crafted - dreamed, designed and created. They put forth their methods over all other methods and fail to see the folly they bring.

“This is common among all men. They see only that which they would. Even those of the Race of Numenor can be deceived by their own visions, as my father was ere the end.”

The man robed in White looked thoughtfully at Faramir as he sat down. Elrond smiled and said “Now Gandalf, let us hear you. Your wisdom is great and you have seen much of the world. Your long struggle against Sauron and his minions have taught you much about Men as well. Speak now and do not be silent.”

Gandalf, for verily it was Gandalf the White who stood before them now, looked at the gathered assembly who seemed ill at ease. His eyes fell on the Four Travelers.

The Noon bell chimed. Still, silence filled the room and no one made to move. The Four Travelers shifted uneasily in their seats.

The Story continues here.
* JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, ©JRR Tolkien, 1954, renewed 1982, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, Boston, 2014, p. 236

Monday, April 20, 2020

The Road to Rivendell

This is the fifth part of the story which began here. The second is here.
The third is here. The fourth is here. This saga continues below.

On the Road

The travelers left Bree the next morning. All the residents of Bree and the surrounding country turned out to watch them leave. Not because of any sense of wonder, but mostly making sure they did not trespass on any of their property or work domains.

Because they wanted to be certain that the travelers didn’t do anything without the proper sign-offs.

They followed the road a fair distance, making sure no one could see them from Bree. They also made sure there was no one else watching them, monitoring their progress and gathering measurements that could be misused or interpreted inappropriately.

After what seemed a very long time, they turned off the road and headed cross country. Cutting through bracken and furze. They found a swamp that needed to be skirted as best they could. At one point they found themselves moving in circles as they really had no guidance nor sure idea where they were.

After several days of wandering aimlessly with no significant adventures of interest to us, and no dangers along the road save the inconvenience not finding a conveniently located inn, they heard horses hooves. Looking through the undergrowth they saw a fine white horse. Mounted on the horse was an elf who appeared to be looking for them.

They held their breath, afraid of what might happen. That is, until one of them whispered “Why are we hiding? This is an elf! Not something evil like an Orc, or Troll or Manager!”

The elf heard the whisper. He laughed and said, “You have no reason to fear me. Indeed! Word of your quest reached Elrond at Rivendell. He sent riders out in the directions you were likely to travel that we might find you. Will you hide or wander forever or will you come with me to speak with Elrond at fair Imladris, or Rivendell as it is now called?”

They came out from their hiding spot and looked in wonder. They had never met an elf before. Indeed, they thought elves and such to be long vanished if they ever existed at all.

He dismounted from his horse and walked toward them “Greetings! I am called Erestor. You look weary and perhaps a bit dazed. Wandering in the wild without a guide can be challenging if not dangerous. I can walk with you and bring you to a camp where I have some companions preparing food, expecting me to find you today. The way is not far. There you can rest and refresh yourselves before we journey to Rivendell. It is not far, but will be full night before we arrive there.”

With that, the travelers happily joined Erestor and went with him. A short distance only they walked, less than a mile. Still they would not have found the camp at all, save for Erestor leading them. They also found the road they had been searching for. The elves's camp was right near it.

The next morning, the travelers woke to find a delightful breakfast of fresh baked bread with butter, fruits, nuts and honey waiting for them. They ate this gladly, then went with Erestor, walking with him as he told many tales and stories from the past.

But any information about testing or software he would not share. “Such things are not for me to talk with you about. Elrond should be the one who can speak with you on these matters.” 

The story continues here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

We Are Right

I see it all the time.

I bet you do, too.

People have a different view than us.
They see things differently.
They must be wrong.
Because we are right.

We shut out people with different opinions than us.
Or we shout them down until they go away.

What we have left are people who all agree with us.

We are right.

They are not.

We are well reasoned and considered.

They are blinded by charlatans or sheltered from the hard thinking we have had to do.
They don't know about the choices that really matter.
We have thought those things through and made the hard choices.

Anyone who does not agree with us is wrong.

They are foolish.
They are misled.
They might be stupid or idiots.

Or sheep.

I'm talking about software testing.
What did you think I was talking about?

Thursday, March 26, 2020

At Bree

This is the fourth part of the story which began here. The second is here.
The third is here. This saga continues below.

All that is said among us is that far away,
over many hills and rivers,
live the halfling folk
that dwell in holes and sand-dune...*

Four brave testers, related to the Tooks and Brandybucks, looked around them and began thinking about how things were. They began thinking about how things might be. They began thinking about how things could be better.

These testers looked around and wondered what they might do. They kept seeing problems come up even when they followed the rules. They worked hard to make sure the rules were strictly followed and there were still problems.

They asked for help and were told they must not have been doing something “right.” They showed what they had done to plan for testing. They showed how they had done the testing. They showed the bugs they found in testing. And they showed what bugs were found in production. They asked what they should have done to know something like those bugs might happen.

Answers were not helpful. “Work smarter.” The testers drinking their beer at The Green Dragon, in Bywater (nice place if you ever go there) talked quietly amongst themselves. They compared results with each other. They compared the responses they received.

Then they very quietly began talking about other things. They began wondering why it was that the “experts” were not able to give them guidance or even suggestions on how to do things better. They wondered why, no matter how hard they tried, they still had problems.

Then they began wondering.

They wondered if other people had similar experiences. They began quietly asking others if they ran into things as they had. They wondered if they had gotten any better help in how they should work from the experts.

They got answers along the lines of “Well, the experts told us we needed to try harder and make sure we did not misunderstand anything. They also said we must have misunderstood something because there were bugs in production.

But we don’t know how we could have misunderstood anything because we always asked the developers to make sure we understood the same things.”

So the testers decided they needed other sources of information. Other ideas they could try to make their testing better.

The four of them decided to head to Bree. 

None of them had been there before, but they heard there might be other testers who could help them. They might encounter people with different ideas and different experiences. They might find the solution to the problems they had. 

They might figure out why the testing rules they were supposed to follow did not eliminate the bugs found in production.

After some adventures, they indeed met people with different views.

“Testers out of the Shire! Strange.This hasn’t happened in a long time!” 

Still, it was good for them to get out. What they found was that many people found testers to be imaginative. They met testers from Bree and other wanderers. There were people who sat quietly and listened to the conversation. They did not join in the stories. They did not sing along with any songs. They simply observed. And watched.

Some of the Bree testers warned them that doing things “against the rules” wasn’t natural. Bad things would come of it. They were cautioned about taking up outlandish ideas. They were warned against taking up with strangers and wanderers who did not seem to follow any rules but their own.

What they found was that many were so comfortable, so convinced of the “rightness” of what they were told, even when they thought something was amiss, any fault lay with themselves.

To the four travelers, these seemed predictable yet sad. They knew something was not right and were determined to seek out what it was, or at the least, a better way. 

They continued from Bree, looking for signs and portents and reading and talking with people. They talked with wandering Elves and Bombadill (Iarwainn Ben-adar, Orald.) They knew things were wrong. They knew things needed setting right.

They knew they needed something. 

* JRR Tolkien, The Two Towers, ©JRR Tolkien, 1954, renewed 1982, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, Boston, 2014, p 544. 

The Story continues here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Virtual Pipe Band Rehearsal Tips

At Home Band Rehearsal Tips

Part of the fun of playing in a pipe band is getting together with bandmates at rehearsal, work hard, come out sounding better at the end than when you went in, and having a bevvy and a laugh after. The challenge comes when the band hall is closed or unavailable thanks to storms, snowfall or highly infectious pandemics.

Here's a few ideas to keep your playing sharp and keep everything in shape so you can hit the ground running the next time you can physically get together.

Tip 1 - Remember, you Practice at home and Rehearse with the Band.
The PM/Lead Tip may chose to work on music and break things down while sitting around a table with chanters and pads. Unless you were handed the music THAT DAY, a diligent musician will have worked on in and come in prepared to play it with the group. Practice at home. Get it as close to "street legal" as you can on your own. Then bring it in for a reality check. 

Tip 2 - Getting Street Legal.
Most people practice and thing "OK, that wasn't too bad" or "hmm, that could be better." What is hard is concentrating on what you are doing, and listening for HOW you are doing it. I know from my own experience that I like to delude myself in this way. How do I fix it?  Same way I suggest to everyone now (and not just when "isolated" or "quarantined".) Record yourself playing. Play it back and listen. Listen critically. Listen for mistakes, listen for ornaments with "cheating" parts in them - like not getting "quite all the little" notes in, or choked moves. Listen for rolls not quite being carried through to the end. Listen for the little wavers in tempo. Listen for the BIG wavers in tempo. Do it again until you can't hear it yourself.

Tip 3 - Getting more street legal.
Now for the harder part. Get a metronome going. Set it a couple beats per minute SLOWER than the PM says he wants the tunes played. For example, if something is to be played at 76 beats per minute (bpm) in competition or performance, set the metronome to 74 bpm. Play it at that speed and record it. It will likely feel unnaturally slow. Listen to the result. How are the ornaments? Relaxed? Clean? Consistent? Or are they still kind of choppy? Is one "fine" and the next a trainwreck? Repeat this process until every ornament, every move, every embellishment is consistent and identical to every other embellishment of that type. Then, set the metronome to the "performance speed" and play the tunes through again. While recording. Play it back and listen critically AGAIN. Are the ornaments still good? or are the fuzzy and icky? Slow it down and play the tune until you have no choice but to play it right. Then speed it up again and listen again. (piping/drumming version of 'shampoo, rinse, repeat.)

Tip 4 - Reality check.
When you have the tunes at the correct tempo, and you cannot hear any more problems or mistakes, make one more recording and send it to the PM or Lead Tip. Ask THEM to listen to it. Ask THEM to critique it.

Tip 5 - For PM/DS.
Make recordings at performance speed, with a metronome in the background, getting played the way YOU want the music played. (Better make sure your stuff is spot in as well!) Then send it/share it with your respective corps, and the band as a whole! That way, the individual drummers can play along with the PM's recording and hear how their playing fits with the pipes. Individual pipers can play along with the DS and hear how their playing fits with the drums. 

This won't replace in person rehearsal completely. However, it WILL help your playing overall, so when you get together in person, for real, you can work together more easily.

Just one more thing.
You can do this any time. You don't need to wait for a blizzard or a massive pandemic to practice this way. You can do this all during the off-season and be even more awesome come performance/competition season.