When the global pandemic hit without warning, many companies and organizations were left stranded without a clear idea of how to respond. As entire countries were put into lockdown, businesses may as well have been hostages to the situation and had to adjust to a range of restrictions and regulations. However, in these grueling times, some companies seemed to be managing better than others. Being long-standing or new adepts of the agile management style, these companies were embracing change and dodging the incoming turmoil.
Unsurprisingly, the popularity of Agile management style is steady on the rise. According to the 2020 State of Agile report, 95% of companies already use it for software development ,and around 20% have it implemented for all teams across the board. Moreover, according to conducted PwC research Agile projects are 28% more successful than traditional projects which follow waterfall or any other non-Agile approach.
Unsurprisingly, others are following suit as the “new normal” pushes them to changes that they may not have seen as necessary otherwise. Agile can become their navigation in times of uncertainty and may as well stay for good after COVID-19 is over.
Agile vs. the traditional approach to change
The main difference that makes the Agile approach stand out is that it works on an assumption that everything is eventually going to change - you have to be able to respond quickly to any circumstance, no matter the industry you’re working in.
Traditionally, you would run your business by finding what works for you and sticking to it - you’ve got your “formula of success” so naturally you’d want to make the most of it. This is what they know, this is what’s comfortable.
However, that’s not how the market works. In these times of rapid change, by following the old ways you can risk getting wiped off by the next big shift in the market.
So instead of reacting in the moment and scraping for a quick fix, you need to embrace a proactive Agile approach and be able to adapt and adjust to what may come.
Adaptivity and flexibility over following 'the plan'
You’d think that the proper way of doing things is to have a plan and stick to it. However, this won’t work 100% of the time. There will be moments when a change comes and you won’t have a plan for it.
Agile makes you durable to such situations as changes are expected. In fact, they’re desired and encouraged. Agile implements a continuous feedback loop, the purpose of which is to always have the latest take on the state of your business and remain flexible to the fluctuating circumstances. On a project level, this happens on a regular basis, as the team is continuously implementing client feedback.
Rapid decision-making over bureaucracy
Bureaucracy is the bane of any company’s existence. If a company is rigid in its decision making, when the need for a change arises, by the time the request goes through all the circles in the company hierarchy, it may well be that the final decision is no longer needed or even relevant.
The point of Agile management is to respond to the changing circumstances as the change is happening. Such rapid decision-making is possible if you always keep a close eye on the trends, recognize and act on new possibilities.
Aligning leadership approach and actions over hectic c-suite decisions
Although Agile can be successfully implemented on any level and in pockets, it’s crucial to get the leadership on board if you want to get anywhere with your Agile transformation. Hectic decisions on the part of the executives don’t come from a good place. Laying off people, shifting teams and disturbing the processes all may seem like a “quick solution” but will come back to haunt you in the future.
The leadership team needs to evolve at the same pace with the entire organization. Moreover, they need to walk the walk and lead by example.
Transparent consistent communication over lack of communication
A traditional company heavily relies on a hierarchical structure which creates infinite loops of communication, making it nearly impossible to directly approach someone for input or feedback on the spot. What’s even more frustrating is that some companies keep a policy of “silence”, which hinders openly communicating both challenges and achievements.
On the contrary, Agile management practices are structured around consistent communication and transparency. The continuous information flow allows the team to be confident enough to take up more responsibilities and manage their workload and dependencies a lot more efficiently.
Always look for an opportunity to improve
When a company enjoys a stable growth and prosperity, they may sacrifice their sharp focus for a comfortable and often elusive stability. There are always new opportunities out there and you can bet that your competition is hawking down on them.
Be open for constructive feedback and seek to improve continuously - not for the sake of keeping up, but for how you can get ahead, discover new solutions and innovate.
Agile transformation roadmaps can be implemented to a different extent, from pockets to entire overhauls of the company’s organizational structure. When comparing it to the more traditional styles of tell and sell management, Agile requires everyone involved to be on board. Agile is a long-term commitment that creates a shift in the mindset and a positively different style of communication across the company.
Delegating and empowering people instead of taking full control
An Agile organization presupposes teams being largely self-managed - where every single individual is committed to the common goal and is able to assert responsibility for not only their part of the job, but the project overall. Furthermore, a good Agile leader knows when and how to delegate tasks or objectives to their teams. This not only lets the team immerse themselves in the project, but helps build trust and accountability.
Instead of dominating the process, Agile management principles allow room for independent thought and empower each and every member of the team to show initiative and do more than their part.
Risk management and strategic management
It would be a long shot to say that anything could have prepared for the current global health crisis. You want to prepare your organization for any unpredictable situations, but you won’t be able to plan ahead in every single instance.
Assessing possible risks and strategizing come as integral parts of any organizational management process, Agile or not. Still, a good way to face these challenges would be to remain flexible and be able to adapt to change. You should know your risks and threats all the while leaving enough leeway to be able to think and come up with solutions on the spot.
Digitalization and Agile transformation of all businesses
With COVID-19 forcing everyone to stay put and work remotely, companies needed to adapt and give the previously co-located team the right tools to continue their work uninterrupted. So, if before companies would use digital technologies to enhance their business practices, now this is strictly a necessity. The lockdown leveled the playing field for everyone, and this lead to extensively introducing digitalization to the way teams communicate and collaborate.
This is the point of Agile transformation, as it assists a business in escaping the sinkholes of silos and bureaucracy. It helps create the right mindset, adopt a new style of working and restructure the company in a way that makes it more responsive to the changing environment.
In this regard, Agile has all the prerequisites to help companies succeed in their digital transformation journey. Although thought to work best with co-located teams, the Agile approach has revealed all of its benefits are equally applicable in a remote setting.
The Agile approach doesn’t claim to be the solve-all solution; there will still be companies that prefer the old ways and will hesitate with drastic changes, and more power to them. When the situation gets tough, like it is now with the COVID-19, it may be just the thing to teach us how to respond adequately and remain level-headed even when it seems like all hell is breaking loose.