- Businesses face uncertain and changing times as the world responds to COVID-19.
- Adapting quickly to what comes their way will help companies recover and excel.
- Agile concepts are uniquely suited to this unpredictability, and can be implemented at various levels.
The benefits of an Agile organisation is something that PwC, and Digital Pulse, have been espousing for a long time now. The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the march towards digitalisation had already driven seismic shifts in the business landscape. The old ways of competing were no longer working and businesses found themselves in an ever quickening race to stay ahead.
In the world we now find ourselves in, at varying stages of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the advantages of being Agile have become even more apparent.
Even if an organisation is not (fully) operating in an Agile way, there is much to be learnt from those that are during this time. The following are four agile concepts that businesses can implement to better respond to COVID-19’s effects.
1. Structure for
People can get overwhelmed quickly when things are uncertain. It’s easy to get distracted and lose focus when plans and priorities are changing daily, and a distracted team could take a hit to their productivity.
While businesses should be mindful of people’s emotions and understanding of decreased output as employees find their footing in a new working reality, providing a clear, distraction-proof structure to work to will help to minimise disruption.
In Agile, meetings and timed cadences bring structure and help teams to focus. No matter how fast the world is changing, teams take time at the beginning of a block of work (in Agile terms, this is called a ‘sprint’) to define what still needs to be done (the ‘backlog’), have daily check-ins with the team, and review ways of working that could be adapted for the next bit of work.
It’s a simple rhythm that ensures teams regularly align and that each member has the opportunity to flag concerns or difficulties (professional as well as personal).
2. Fast decision
In high-pressure moments, organisations are faced with a multitude of decisions that need to be made — fast. There is often no time for bureaucratic decision-making processes, multiple handoffs or complex sign-offs. At the same time, it’s also important that leaders don’t stifle the autonomy of their teams by pushing decisions from the top down.
Agile organisations trust their employees to make decisions. These businesses know that getting through a crisis situation is not a job for one person alone, it requires effort from the full organisation.
In turn, Agile teams are empowered to make decisions within the boundaries of their responsibilities. And they are helped in their decision-making by virtue of working in cross-functional teams. This means that they have responsibility for a specific part of the offering and can act alone without creating issues for other parts of the product or business.
3. Stepping away from
It is impossible to predict how the COVID-19 pandemic will unfold or how long it will take for the world to find a new normal. Mid- to long-term response and recovery plans are difficult to make, especially if they aren’t flexible or focus on only one possible future.
Teams that are used to both planning and delivering projects incrementally are not afraid to fail on their way to a great product. For them, each change is a new challenge to improve it. By producing bit by bit, and constantly adapting as they go, they are not afraid to fail on the way to greatness and are set up so that changing direction doesn’t mean a return to the drawing board.
As teams want to deliver value to their customers quickly, they need to step away from perfectionism — secure in the knowledge that they can still trust the process to provide exactly what the customer needs. In a similar way, to successfully navigate the current reality, both leaders and teams will find that stepping away from perfectionism and shifting to incremental, flexible, progress will allow them to satisfy customers without getting stalled in the details.
4. Keeping up with
Customer needs are changing in the face of the pandemic.
Both directly and indirectly, COVID-19 has affected customer buying. Demand for specific products and services is peaking in some areas and falling in others. Customers are also prioritising differently given the uncertainty of the future, and it would come as no surprise to find flexibility, for example, was high on the list of desired attributes when making purchasing decisions. Companies need to be able to roll with these changes, provide what customers need, and do it with a good experience.
Customer satisfaction is key in an Agile organisation. Indeed, the first principle of the Agile Manifesto states: “our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.” While the manifesto was talking about software development, the principle also applies in Agile’s broader use — bringing value to customers early is what makes the difference.
Agile teams are customer-focused and act fast to serve their audience. They involve the customer during the design of a product or service and get their feedback on working prototypes. Agile organisations also observe their customers while using their products in the market to further respond to their needs.
If an entire agile transformation is on the cards, but needs to wait until things are a little more stable, don’t worry, because you can still take your first steps — businesses can benefit from the underlying principles of Agile to help in the here and now.
The above four Agile concepts are ones that we have found to be immensely useful for our own work during these last few weeks and months. Whether it’s customer-focus, structure, decision-making or a step away from perfectionism, there are Agile adjustments that can be implemented in a way that works for your business, reorients upended employees and provides the best outcomes for customers.
Which will benefit your agility?
For more information on becoming an agile organisation, visit PwC Australia’s Agile Advisory practice.