Agile during Times of Chaos – such as the current COVID-19 situation

Agile frameworks are famous for its fast adopting and quickly creating customer value. These aspects of agility can be very useful especially during times as currently happening – the Corona crisis.

Business agility has been a major organizational trend during the last couple of years. It has become an overriding priority for many firms to develop and implement Agile within their business. Though a lot of them don’t do it the extra mile – ever heard of agile isles? – agility is no new topic for most organizations. Studies have shown that agile working firms are more easily adopting to problematic situations such as the current Corona crisis.

Why is that?

There are three simple reasons:

  1. Focused on customer value
  2. Working in small, self-organized teams
  3. Short cycles with inspect and adapt aspects

 

Focused on Customer Value

Well, it is kinda obvious why that is of advantage when you want to survive a crisis. By focusing on what the customer really wants and needs and how you could meet that customer demand quickly with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is crucial for survival. An MVP is the first version of your product you can bring onto the market and sell to the customer. It is not perfect yet, but you can more easily and quicker meet your customer needs. Not only, because you are faster on the market, but also due to quicker feedback since the product is already accessible to the customer. It should be qualitative and working though, otherwise you might trip yourself up.

 

Working in small, self-organized Teams

That is probably the most important one of the three reasons. Since agile teams work more independent than teams in Waterfall organizations they are not bound to some bureaucratic, authority-based structure. Hence, they are more flexible in how, where and what they work on. This allows for great flexibility, innovation and remote teamwork. Decentralized teams can more easily work through times of a crisis. They are used to work independently and maybe even used to working remote. But most importantly, they are not dependent on someone to decide or provide them with new projects, because they were free but accountable for their work anyway before the crisis.

 

Short Cycles with Inspect and Adapt Aspects

Learning and growth is often key to a lot of success stories. If you repeat doing the same thing but expecting another result… well we all probably know that sentence. Agile teams are used to inspect-and-adapt-cycles, retrospectives, and feedback sessions. Most agile teams – at least that’s how it should be – are not afraid to try and fail.  That is why you have short cycles of about two weeks within your work. Every two weeks you look back on how its been, how it is, and what’s coming up (briefly summarized – there is so much more to say about the retrospective and planning after a sprint).

If something is wrong, you discuss why that is the case, and try new ways of solving it – because in two weeks you going to plan again and adjust so what’s the worst case? Most of the time the worst scenarios aren’t actually that bad if you have cycles being that short and flexible.

Given these circumstances, having an agile team in place and people who are just to trial and error, making mistakes but learning from them to quickly get back to on track or even beyond, is beneficial in chaotic times.

 

Anyway, having agile teams in place and having these aspects given does not necessarily need the ‘Agile Label’. Agility has a lot to do with mindset as you can read in several of our articles. Having the right mindset in place is important no matter if you call your team agile or not and let’s face it: Especially in chaotic times you won’t start reorganizing into agile structures (because change itself is hard enough). But what you can do is to start thinking agile!

  1. Focus on what you customer REALLY needs and put these products first if you have limited resources
  2. Trust and listen to your people to be open for new opportunities and innovations. Crisis oftentimes force us to think into new directions which can yield great chances!
  3. Don’t be to harsh on your people Especially if most of your workforce has to work remote, start trusting them to work independently and maybe set up weekly or daily calls instead to quickly give each other a heads-up and discuss tasks ONLY IF NEEDED OR ASKED FOR BY YOUR EMPLOYEES.
  4. Be flexible with structures. That doesn’t mean forget all the official ways, but maybe add some extra rules or simply let loose a bit, so instead of fearing and pushing your people, give them extra credit and safety to try our new ideas during crisis times.

For example, the local cinema in Aachen opened up a car cinema on a big square. The square was normally booked for an annual fair which got cancelled. The cinema decided to book that place to show its movies which it was allowed to since people are more than 2m away from each other (governmental regulations).

In 23 years that’s the first time they ever did this. And they keep learning how to improve the experience, but how to learn what to improve if you never try?

 

Agility is very useful in fast paced environments. Crisis are definitively fast-paced and even if your team is not officially agile yet, you can learn and adapt the agile behaviour if you want to.

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