Does Agile Fare Better In A Pandemic?
The call for more agility is not new. Agile made the news with one success story after the next long before the pandemic. It now begs the question: Did agile organizations and teams indeed fare better during the pandemic? Were they really better equipped to address the myriad challenges?
We cannot conclusively answer the question at this point. We are sadly nowhere near the end of COVID-19 and its ripple effects. We are still trying to fully comprehend the changes and impact of the past few months and everything that is yet to come. It will take some time to compile and evaluate the empirical data needed to answer that question accurately.
However, there is certainly enough anecdotal evidence to illustrate the positive impact of Agile on an organization’s ability to deal with disruptive change and the sudden shock to the system.
Marie Y. Williams, the Associate Vice Chancellor for HR at NCSU, puts it this way:
“COVID-19 has certainly changed the way we look at the nature of our work, work schedules, and workspaces. Agile has definitely been a godsend to our division during these uncertain and unprecedented times, as we have had to pivot and prototype many different things quickly due to ever changing HR rules and policy guidelines.” (June 16, 2020)
It is not that agile organizations and teams are not affected by the pandemic. But their way of working and approaching challenges certainly helped them pivot much quicker and lean into the disruption.
There are many reasons why organizations are more adaptive and responsive than others. Here are our top three traits that make companies better equipped to deal with the disruption of the current pandemic:
1. See Change as Chance Not Threat
Change has always happened, but it used to occur once in a while. Something was no longer working or was no longer modern enough and needed addressing. It was more like an exception to an otherwise smooth operation. That made change somewhat of a disruption, a crisis of sorts. Hence, everyone in the organization had to do whatever it took to avoid the need for change; they had to make sure established processes and tools were running as well as possible for as long as possible.
That is no longer what change is. Change is happening at an accelerated pace and across all fronts: from emerging technological advances to stricter market requirements and new competitors with different business models to increased customer and employee expectations. Change is no longer the exception; it is the norm, and we cannot afford to slow down operations because we need to adjust.
Instead, change readiness needs to be embedded in the way we do things so that we can deal with them quickly and with minimal friction and disruption. Organizations need to develop a ‘change muscle’. It starts with having a positive attitude towards change because it brings new opportunities and possibilities if embraced.
2. Have A Solution Rather Than A Problem Mindset
We encounter problems – big or small – every day, but our attitudes to these problems may be very different.
We all like to think that we are positive, proactive, and solutions-oriented in our thinking. And still, sometimes problems can seem monstrous and feel overwhelming, and it is easy to get lost in them. Have you ever felt like you are having the same conversation over and over again or that there is a lot of talk and not much action? That is an indication of a team with a problem attitude, which leads to frustration and the inability to look beyond the problem.
On the other hand, a solution mindset means we are focusing on solving the problem and not getting stuck. It starts – this may seem contrary to our previous argument – by truly understanding the problem and especially what lies behind it, not just what is lurking on the surface. This step of ‘painstorming’ is not done to lament about a problem and turning it inside out and upside down until you are so lost that you can no longer make head or tail of it.
It is about capturing the real pain points so that you understand the problem and what benefits the end-user (be it your customer or employee) is hoping to gain.
That way, you will not only ensure that your solution will be of high value to your end-user, but it also allows you to break down problems and make them more manageable.
3. Invest in People Over Processes
Over the years, we have become enamored with processes and tools. They are the cornerstone for efficiency and an absolute necessity for organizations set up as a well-oiled machine. After all, processes and tools ensure the business runs like Swiss clockwork.
The machine metaphor has its roots in the first industrial revolution and is still deeply ingrained across all sectors. The core aspects of the machine are specialization, standardization, replaceability, and predictability made organizations great for a century. But the very same attributes will make it much harder to embrace fast and constant change because change-readiness and adaptability are not part of the machine setup.
To continue to survive and thrive, organizations will inevitably need to morph into adaptive ecosystems that are both flexible and resilient in the face of constant change. Processes and tools still have a place in ecosystems, but they no longer have the same range and importance, and individuals and interactions will be valued more than processes and tools.
At the end of the day, people are far more adaptive than processes. Organizations that want to continue to be successful need to be able to leverage the creativity, imagination, passion, social, and emotional intelligence, only people can bring to the table.
There are many more qualities that agile teams and organizations have that put them into a better spot to adapt in uncertain times. Here are some other traits that could easily be in the top three:
- Be creative and experimentative
- Fail and learn fast
- Utilize the power of collaboration
- Anticipate rather than react
- Empower self-organizing, autonomous teams
- Embrace diversity of thought
- Invest in talent enablement
- Accelerate not manage performance
Agility and adaptability are no longer a choice; they are a necessity. And we will need any advantage we can get to continue to navigate the critical waters that we are facing at all fronts.
Tell us: What makes you best equipped to deal with constant change?