It goes without saying that we are in unprecedented times; not many organizations would have included a pandemic in their PESTLE analysis when constructing their business plan. It’s still unclear what the long-term impact of this disaster will be. However, as an agile practitioner, and working closely with our clients through this challenging period, I feel that businesses that embrace organizational agility will cope better with disruption than those that retain the traditional waterfall approach – both now and in the future.
Why might agile organizations be better equipped during the crisis?
In times of disruption, why can agile organizations be nimble and react quickly to changing market conditions? The answer is a shift in values and mindset:
- Agile teams demand and thrive on primary means of communication, and typically overcommunicate. Even during almost 100% remote working, this thirst to talk won’t diminish.
- Agile organizations self-manage, and are not depending on a command and control leadership style to do their jobs.
- Their teams constantly learn, evolve and adapt to meet the current challenges and environment in which they operate.
- Employees are used to pivoting at relatively short notice; a blend of rolling wave planning, PI planning, sprint planning and daily stand-ups means agile teams can quickly change, recalibrate and adapt.
- There is a focus on delivery in short cycles, which helps maintain motivation, momentum and velocity.
- Agile teams are well versed in removing blockers and impediments to their progress, and have a dedicated role in a Scrum Master whose purpose is to clear the runway for the delivery teams to realize constant flow.
Key takeaways for the future
As we prepare ourselves for the significant economic fallout of this pandemic (which will likely make the 2008 banking crisis look like the loss of some spare change down the back of the sofa), I believe that organizations that embrace this mindset will be better equipped to survive the inevitable economic downturn. Here are five key agile lessons your business can implement now to prepare for the future.
Look for early release value
Instead of investing a lot of money upfront in a project or a new initiative, look for early release of value and benefit, and add iterative value thereafter. Not only will this drive results when they are most needed, but it will also allow you to quickly stop any projects with minimal impact to the bottom line – don’t fall foul of the sunk cost fallacy.
Similarly, ensure you are prioritizing your activities to drive out early release of value in preparation for when the pandemic subsides and economic conditions become more challenging. For example, rather than planning a product with 30 features, think about one with two great features that generates early income.
Operate at a fixed capacity of resources
Cost control is going to be vital in the coming months. Establishing a fixed capacity model will not only force prioritization to deliver things of the greatest value (10 people can only do 10 people’s work – if you have work for 15 people, something has to give) but will also ensure you have full predictability of delivery costs. This helps planning and budgeting, and reassures your employees of their longevity in these uncertain times.
As we recover from this pandemic, we’ll be talking to our clients about a drive towards automation. Right now, you should be identifying all human and manual single points of failure that occurred as a result of COVID-19. If they wouldn’t have been impacted as automated tasks, look at ways to optimize them.
Accelerate adoption of collaboration tools
Agile organizations will already be adopting solutions like Jira, Office 365, virtual whiteboards and virtual sticky notes to support their agile ceremonies and help people collaborate during remote working. By following their example, your business will find it easier to pivot if a crisis hits again.
Not all organizations can, or should, become fully agile during this uncertain period. However, I believe that with the right mindset, every business can learn from the agile way of working to successfully survive and even thrive in the coming months and years.
Shaun has been at Infosys Consulting since 2012, heading up our Agile European Center of Enablement and our Agile Transformation horizontal practice. Over his 30 years of experience in financial services, he has led large-scale organizational agility and change management projects for prominent businesses – most notably a global cards and payments provider and a leading UK retail bank.