Agile as an Effective Solution in Uncertain Times

Alonso Alvarez

Alonso Alvarez

Agile as an Effective Solution in Uncertain Times
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When Winston Churchill said, Never let a good crisis go to waste. He was right! Crises are unforeseen events that appear without warning to destroy our expectations. Even though a crisis can shake us to our core, test our resilience, and put us at risk, it also forces us to adapt our capacities and resourcefulness to overcome and even walk away better than before. 

Crises, small or large, can quickly bring us back to reality by showing the true value of our plans. Fortunately, only a few reach the wingspan of a black swan. These events are severe and test entire societies; they have the ability to gauge a society’s fragility, or robustness. Or better yet, force the discovery of who has a rare and prized quality called anti-fragility. 

Fragile, robust, and anti-fragile. Objects, relationships, organizations, etc. are fragile when they cannot resist changes; and they are considered robust when they do. But what happens to those who actually improve when faced with a crisis and/or change? According to Nassin Taleb, they are endowed with anti-fragility, a quality that goes beyond survival and includes learning and adaptation, in order to be reinforced in circumstances that normally test us. 

Mindset is the Best Response Strategy

Crises are manifested in facts but are defined by the way we interpret those facts and determine the narrative of our response. The appropriate mindset will help us adopt the best strategy for the tools we have on hand. Of course, if we have them and are ready to use them.

Developing the right mindset is a decisive asset to help us get out of a crisis. What mentality is best? To start, you should be inclined to change and adapt, to help redefine plans as well as innovate to discover new plans. The right mindset will require living with variability and keeping options open. You will seek simplicity, not simple-mindedness. You will assume that crises are complex, as are the problems caused by an equally complex world. Finally, this mindset will allow us to deal with a constant lack of definition and assumption of uncertainty.

The Agile Universe as a Business Solution

It may seem that the proper attitude to survive a crisis is that of an explorer. Yes, but it is not necessary to be heroic. Don’t forget existing and proven solutions that have helped organizations in the past. Under the broad umbrella of Agility or Agile, there are many techniques, practices, tools, and methods. However, tools are nothing without the right mindset, principles, and attitude – this is truly the differentiating factor of Agility.

Agile helps to keep options open, to be prepared and ready for change, and to understand change not as a drawback, but as a path to the adaptation we need.

  • Risk reduction: simplify, eliminate unnecessary noise, express anticipation, and increase transparency to help avoid loss of information and context.
  • Continuous improvement: implement feedback cycles to help us understand the impact of our actions and correct them.
  • Orientation around value: put value at the center by applying empathy to define and detect it. Leave processes, master plans, and everything else that puts the ability to offer maximum value at risk in the background.
  • Responsibility and commitment: actively involve the people in the organization. Give them autonomy and the capabilities to win heads and not just hands.
  • Empiricism: supporting decisions based on objective data, and not on wishes, opinions, or intuitions.

And above all, find an inclination towards generating learning, without fear of being wrong if it results in a growth of our knowledge.

The transformation is people, not technologies. I’d be willing to bet that a virus has done more for digital transformation than all the consultants and gurus in the world. Transformation is not the adoption of technologies or tools, but the training and growth of the people who are going to apply them. One is useless without the other.

Agile Practices to the Rescue 

Practices, techniques, and methods are the visible face of agility. But how can Agile help us in times of uncertainty?

The concept of sprints can create a rhythm and cadence to help reduce risk and uncertainty by focusing on what really matters. Agile practices help reduce variability by working with predefined blocks of time.

The same benefits occur with how we define work to be completed. Agile methods seek to reduce risk by organizing the work into smaller, more manageable tasks, with less variability and uncertainty. This way of working allows you to maintain focus instead of dispersing effort without the ability to concretize.

Agile focuses on people and their contribution and, therefore, on their growth. A foundation of Agile is having capable and competent teams who contribute their skills and creativity and deliver commitment in exchange for trust. Teams that truly apply agile principles, and not just some of the cosmetic practices, maintain an essential creative tension needed to get ahead in times of crisis.

The goal is to learn by translating the organization’s actions into data, feedback, and new insights that impact future steps. Generating, interpreting, disseminating, and, above all, reacting to this learning is one of the key points that differentiate Agile from other ways of organizing work.

Scrum, Kanban, SAFe, Lean Startup, Nexus, DSDM and any of the other forms of Agile are structured around generating learning, which is the best way to face uncertainty that is exacerbated by a crisis.

Agile in the Time of COVID

I’ve already said that Agile practices are only a hollow shell without the proper mindset. However, this mindset also requires the support of methods and techniques that allow organizations to align their full potential to their crisis response.

Agility is not magic, but sometimes when applied correctly in a difficult circumstance, it can seem like it. When faced with the current challenges imposed by the COVID crisis, and those crises that will follow, my primary recommendation is to keep options open. This means having the right mindset, culture, and structure in place to see variability as an advantage, accept multiple perspectives, and have the flexibility to adapt in a changing and confusing environment.

Some people understand “agile” as a synonym for “fast”. However, think about what is more agile: a high-speed train at 190 miles per hour or a scooter at less than 15 miles per hour? If an obstacle suddenly appears in front of you, would you rather be on the train or the scooter?

Agility is the tool that allows you to achieve the greatest flexibility while also maintaining the ability to accelerate. Agility in an organization is how to achieve speed and keep options open.

Let’s go back to the words of Churchill that opened this article: “Never let a good crisis to go waste.” A crisis is not something we desire or wish to occur. But, as we’ve all recently seen, it is unavoidable. Don’t let it be a huge waste; learn something from it.


If you need help turning the COVID crisis into something of value for your organization, take a look at our new Transformation Takeout. This workshop-based solution was designed specifically to help organizations and teams find a way to move forward by addressing a challenge and walking away with a tangible, custom ‘takeout’ that can be implemented immediately.

Gracias,

Alonso

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About the Author

Alonso Alvarez

Alonso Alvarez

Alonso Alvarez, Netmind Lead Expert in Enterprise Agility, has over 25 years of experience and a successful track record of increasing personal and team productivity through agile methods. His knowledge spans agile related methods of Scrum, Kanban, DevOps, SAFe, Management 3.0, and Lean into software engineer areas such as cloud, video, and content management. and has played many roles in the software industry, including Developer, Consultant, QA, Project Manager and Department Manager. As an instructor, his objective is to help students gaining new skills and knowledges; as coach and mentor, he helps them overcome challenges and difficulties by putting in practice new ways of working and organizing. He is passionate about innovation, future forecasting, and overall agile philosophy, frameworks, and methods. Alonso is certified and experienced Scrum Master, Product Owner and Agile Coach. Author of two books and several articles about Agile methods and practices. Mountain bike, nature, cinema, traveling and photography are his other passions. Connect with Alonso on LinkedIn.

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