In the aftermath of national lockdowns and the economic fallout of Covid-19, businesses across sectors are facing a period of radical change and uncertainty, writes Darren Gorelick of Basalt Technology. Indeed, with the world entering a deep recession, business leaders are being forced to adapt and find ways to become resilient in the face of economic contraction coupled with the ongoing public health risks of the novel coronavirus.

More than ever before, businesses have to embrace the principles of agility – particularly given the fact that most enterprises will be shifting to remote working models (or a hybrid of on-site and distributed workforces). Arguably, business continuity will become one of the key priorities for leaders in the post-Covid-19 economy, and those that embrace the principles of agility will be best positioned to survive – and thrive – in the new normal.

But what does it really mean to be agile, and how is this approach embedded in a business and its teams?

High performing, autonomous and self-organised

The first step is to gain insight into the principles of agility, and how these translate into the day to day work of forward-thinking leaders and teams. Arguably, the principle of flow is the one which lays the foundation for high performing teams.

A business needs to establish autonomous and self-organised teams, strategically aligned to purpose and objectives, and built around end-to-end value streams. Importantly, these teams need to be constantly assessing and measuring flow in order to minimise delays, reduce variability, manage bottlenecks and reduce waste/overheads. By establishing flow-based metrics, the team can then scientifically identify improvement areas that will help it to fulfil the core agile principle: to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

An important aspect for every company (and the fundamental element of true agility) is to reduce the cost of change. Given the pace of innovation and disruption today, teams need adaptability, flexibility and balance. We refer to this ability as being ‘the APEX predator’. By balance, we refer to the ability to respond to change without losing momentum, and being able to ‘turn on a dime, for a dime’. With this critical capability, minimising ‘work in progress’ – coupled with a strong focus on constantly improving flow – will reduce the cost of change for your company.

The critical component of true agility is an embedded customer focus. Businesses have to be empowered at every level – operational delivery level and portfolio level – to optimise for the customer. Importantly, this means that how narrowly or broadly a company defines a product or value stream should be done from the customer’s perspective. This type of customer-centricity is going to be a key differentiator in the post Covid-19 economy, as customers become more attuned to value and cost effectiveness than ever before.

Core components to success

Once the principles of agility have been established, businesses have to implement and oversee very practical steps to ensure that they can adapt and deliver value to customers in an efficient way. Critically, businesses should pursue a simplified governance structure to support agile delivery – which is ideally optimised to boost productivity within the delivery team. In addition, leaders need to understand that ‘agile is not an island’, and a multi-pronged, organisation-wide approach is imperative.

Such an approach combines the efforts of the technical, engineering, design, development and project management expertise within the business – and of course, other specialisations as well. To incorporate these different spheres within the agile approach, leaders can use tools such as value stream mapping and then track the enterprise transformation with dashboards (spearheaded by a senior leader). We also recommend supporting teams with internal agile coaches, and an internal development programme to develop new coaches and nurture existing ones.

A hybrid-agile approach 

With these fundamentals in place, businesses can develop not only a more resilient and adaptable strategy, but they can position themselves to innovate more quickly and serve customers in a far more streamlined, impactful way.

Part of this approach takes into account the fact that we have entered a new way of doing business which calls for a new approach to how projects or initiatives are managed and how value is delivered.

Arguably, in this VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) era, the world demands delivery teams to be well-versed in agile development frameworks and practices such as scrum, Kanban, etc., and to have the following capabilities embedded or immediate access to the skills of business analysts, UX/ CI designers, accounts management, product management, data and security expertise.

Leaders and teams will need to take into account that not all organisations, and more specifically, projects, are ever fully agile. Many a leader has witnessed agile approaches being forced into a project whereby the attempted solution, corporate governance and compliance, and the human elements resources of the project are not agile-ready, let alone scalable and adaptable. Everyone needs to know that agility is a journey, and every team we work with will be at different points in their journey.

To account for this, we have adapted the standard agile approach and combined it with lean change – to really get the best out of customers’ envisioned MVP and future product releases – and without exhausting any of the key resources (human, intelligence, finance, time, etc).

Looking ahead, businesses that do not embrace agility – and ensure that this agility is part of the operational culture and purpose – will undoubtedly be vulnerable to disruption and will lose out to more nimble market competitors. Today’s highly uncertain, post Covid-19 economy calls for a new, contemporary operating model whereby teams harness skills and prioritise high value work and knowledge from a systems-thinking perspective to influence high value outcomes.

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