Are agile organisations better equipped to survive the COVID-19 crisis?

Now that the whole world is fighting against the impact of the COVID-19 virus, it is our professional assumption at Inspinity that organisations that are becoming quite mature in their continuous agile journey are better equipped to survive the crisis. Therefore we are researching this impact on agile organisations through a survey. Let me further elaborate on why we think agile organisations are better equipped.

Characteristics of an agile organisation are:

1.    Empowered teams are the heart of the organisation

2.    The least possible organizational layers between strategy and teams

3.    Strict structure of rhythms and routines

4.    Sparkling teams with people who will set the extra mile if needed

5.    Transparency on status in the complete organisation

Although not scientifically founded, I currently recognize some aspects in the way organisations nowadays behave that underpin my assumption.

I notice that organisations where agile multi-disciplined teams collaborate with each other do not have too much difficulty with an ‘online-only’ mode. Especially the teams that are used to handle the situation that the team is not co-located are doing fine in the situation that the team members are now working from home.

Their strict rhythms coming from Scrum already assure that there is frequent alignment within and between the teams (scrum-of-scrums).

If those teams are asked to switch to another valuation of backlog items as new features suddenly became extremely important, they are well equipped to handle such a situation. Think about the organisations in the public domain that all of a sudden have to facilitate new regulations to safeguard the society, like offering a minimal income guarantee for a while. But also financial institutions that have to deal with the situation that the credits granted to individuals (mortgages) or companies (corporate loans) cannot not be paid back immediately as contractual agreed upon.

The strict structure that comes with agile ways-of-working really help in distributed collaboration.

If there is a short communication line between the persons who define the new strategy and the teams that need to make it happen, it can be done pretty quickly.

A prerequisite for that is the least possible organizational layers between strategy and team implementation (‘from strategy to post-its on the wall’).

Existing scaling mechanisms like Obeya and quarterly alignment processes (at Inspinity we call that Aligned Autonomy Process) are well positioned to deal with that. There are numerous good examples for that regardless on which scaling mechanism the way of working is based (Spotify, SAFe, LESS etc.)

Existing scaling processes (as described in the power of autonomous teams) that are usually performed on a quarterly or PI basis, can be invoked at any time when there is an important reason for. And COVID-19 is certainly such a reason.

Using those mechanisms make it possible for leaders to clearly put forward their strategic priorities and the teams are well equipped to implement the best possible solution to that.

This requires mutual trust. Leadership towards the teams that their strategic priorities are used in the best way but also the other way around that teams need to trust that leaders make the best decisions, based on all relevant information.

But besides trust it also requires transparency. Transparency for the leaders to judge if their strategy is leading towards the intended performance. Obeya rooms are perfectly equipped for that.

Unfortunately this transparency is often blurred if too many organizational layers exist between strategy and the teams. Imagine the amount of waste if the teams have to spend a lot of their time in explaining towards managerial layers what the teams consider the best way forward. For the teams this is often crystal clear as it is their purpose to behave like that. But if too many managerial levels between strategy and teams have to become educated on that and act as source of misunderstanding towards the strategic level, a lot of energy is wasted.

I am even convinced of the fact that these type of organisations are able to quicker reach the post-COVID-19 situation. A situation where some fundamental shifts in the way the organisations behave will be made. Think about topics like the value of work, the value of partnerships in the product chain and the added value of some management layers.

Take part in our survey!

Henk Venema is an experienced consultant helping organizations in their transformation towards agile organizations. He combines his experience on Programme- and Portfolio Management with his experience on large scale agile transformations. Partner at Inspinity.

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