The Covid-19 global crisis triggered a huge change in the way we work and operate as organisations. With uncertainty at an all time high, the response of many organisations in those early days was to take stock and batten down the hatches and hope there was something to go back to when all of this was over. This meant leadership teams paused or de-prioritise some significant programs. The focus moved on to core functions, strengthening remote capabilities and launching task forces to put in place controls with the aim of ensuring their people were safe, as well reducing business exposure and risk.
Whilst a pause in some programs may have been a business imperative to survive those initial uncertain times, the impact is yet to be seen and may be felt for many months to come as some of those decisions also had some unintended negative side effects as agility was thrown out the window , teams were disbanded and the benefits of long-lived agile teams were lost.
To survive through this, organisations will need to think and respond differently to change and make sure we learn and adapt to our new world and ways of working. Remote working will be integrated into how we do things and have mainstream acceptance. Big up front planning will be out and pivoting to respond to change will be the new normal.
Time to rebuild and startegise to restart
We are now starting to see a lessening of restrictions which is encouraging organisations to reconsider the status of those programs that were put on hold. Leaders are tentatively strategising for their return to a new normal however some are now facing compounded difficulties in re-starting their programs.
A program restart will now likely involve re-building teams from a reduced workforce and the workers they let go only a handful of weeks ago may no longer be available and may have moved on to new positions. Not only will organisations be potentially starting from scratch going to market to look for good people with the right skill sets and cultural fit for their teams, it is likely they will also be onboarding people and building their new teams in a 100% remote environment.
Big Upfront Planning is Out
Further to this, It could take a long time for the programs to regain momentum, particularly when an organisation traditionally undertakes big strategic planning cycles, up-front analysis and design activities, lengthy change control processes and product deliverables locked in. Budget contingencies may be rapidly consumed with money sunk into additional analysis and planning activities of that were not part of the initial plan. While these practices occur under the guise of reducing risk, the reality is that risk is increased as they reduce business agility.
With the likelihood of a second wave of outbreaks, many organisations are disinclined to recommence programs due to concerns that they may need to be halted again. These are legitimate concerns for organisations with traditional governance when there is a high likelihood that organisations will be faced with another wave of changes just around the corner.
If the last 2 months have taught us anything, it is that big upfront planning is wasteful in a dynamic, changing environment and best way to cope with complexity and uncertainty is to adopt an agile approach to strategic planning and look at smaller more frequent planning horizons to get faster feedback loops on market value and be ready to pivot if not meeting customer needs and expectations.
Ability to pivot will be the new normal
When taking programs off hold, consider focusing the reboot wave of planning and analysis activities on enabling responsiveness to change as the “new normal”. Rather than re-scoping and re-scheduling entire programs of work, significantly reduce up front planning lead time by implementing contemporary agile governance practices. Replace both the time hungry change control processes, and the time and budget about to be consumed by re-work with agile governance. Agile governance practices allow decentralised decision making and faster response time and delivery to market.
The need for executive agility to be able to rapidly respond and pivot to changing priorities will be a key factor in determining which organisations are able to adapt to the new normal where change and uncertainty is a a constant. Programs that will be able to respond to change have a lower risk, greater stability and predictability in delivery and productivity. Pivot in priorities and keep high performing teams together rather than the old project view of spinining up teams when a new project emerges. Give new work to an existing to a cross functional agile team that has proven track record for working together and performing.
Communicating in uncertain times.
The ‘communication comfort zone’ for many organisations is to keep radio silence until 100 % certainty, and then share information that is static and will not change. In our rapidly changing world, silence is not an option.
Adopting agile principles, practices and agile governance will enable your organisation to adapt to change while still progressing to your vision.
While we are building business agility In uncertain times, communication strategies benefit from focusing less on black and white definites, and more on providing employees and your customers alike with the comfort that there is an overarching vision and a way forward that enables your organisation to rapidly pivot with new knowledge, new expectations, and changing world.
Pivoting to ‘Respond to change’ is In
Organisations have had to successfully pivot to new priorities and lead remote agile teams, even as those same teams transitioned to remote ways of working. The organisations that adopted an agile approach well before this crisis are now finding they are well placed to take advantage of opportunities as they emerge and have been resilient and robust during this transition. Responding to change will be the new normal for your programs.