Was your business agile enough to respond to 2020?

Hello again! 

I can’t believe it’s October – the beginning of the fall season here in the northern hemisphere. I can’t believe time went by so quickly. It feels as if it were only yesterday when we had to go into lock-down to respond to the pandemic.

One thing that seems to be pervasive this past 2020 is that we couldn’t make any detailed, long term plans. For example, I had to give up two major bucket-list trips this year that I was researching and planning for as far back as the latter half of 2019. I’ve had to sense and adapt to the ever-changing landscape constantly. I only planned as far as a month at most. Preparing for an entire year that’s always changing due to the pandemic was a waste of time.

For my trips, I had paid for certain things in advance. One reason for doing this early was to lock-in on fairly reasonable (cheap) airline ticket prices for premium economy. The other was to amortize my payments, since paying it in one big payment was very painful on the pocket. Moreover, I also purchased travel insurance, just in case, given the potential uncertainty of a trip 8 to 12 months far out into the future.

The (Mostly) Silver Lining

By the time the pandemic hit in March, I had already paid fully for my first trip since it was happening in April. Thankfully, I was able to get a full refund on the hotels that I had booked. However, I couldn’t get the airline ticket refunded. Instead, I got an extension by the airline to use the booking for a future trip. 

For my second major trip, I had only spent about 30% of the cost. I was lucky to get all the money back. I even got my airline ticket refunded for the 2nd trip. I also got my money back from the trip insurance I paid for since it no longer applied. 


I got about 90% of my money back. The remaining 10% was from the airline (who shall remain nameless here). Which now brings me to the point of this newsletter: except for that one airline, all the other businesses were able to respond very nimbly to the ever-changing conditions brought about by the pandemic. As a result, they were able to preserve goodwill to customers (me, in particular). Yes, these companies were impacted. But they were still able to elicit positive outcomes for themselves and their customers. How come the other airline could not? As a customer, I would go back and do business with all except for that one airline. I’ve since put that airline in my “Do not fly unless you have no options” list.

Is your organization nimble enough?

Upon reflecting on the vents of the last 5-6 months of the pandemic, was your department or organization agile enough to pivot in the pandemic quickly?

When people think about Agile, they usually think about applying Scrum and Kanban to their delivery teams. Limiting your thinking to this scope constrains your transformation prematurely. People neglect to look at the big picture – their entire organization – and it’s ability to turn on a dime, especially with unforeseen circumstances (like this pandemic). 

Business Agility implies that you and your entire business – not just delivery teams – can quickly respond and adapt to whatever is happening. Not only your engineering teams – but other areas of your company, like Finance, Sales, Customer Support, or HR, etc. – need to adapt, adjust, and deliver fast. 

In my trip example, all the other businesses I had dealt with were able to adapt to the pandemic, except for the one airline (who couldn’t give me a refund). That fact tells me that this airline had a very brittle organization that couldn’t respond well to the new pandemic landscape. 

I also tried to be as agile about my finances by amortizing the second trip’s expense at regular intervals. I didn’t pay everything upfront in one shebang. Notice how similar this kind of thinking is similar to iterative product development. I’m just applying it in the financial context.

Seeing the lack of Business Agility first hand

I was one of the coaches at a large company (about 25,000+ people), helping roll out Agile to the enterprise, the first of it’s kind back in the early- to mid-2000s. I started seeing how this lack of agility in other areas of the company impacted Scrum or Kanban delivery teams. The pain point for engineering was trying to deliver new products and services, and yet a 3-month (average) procurement process from Finance hampered them from releasing things in time. This pain became very evident, especially when a particular service or feature became viral. During these scenarios, engineering needed extra hardware or software quickly to scale up. Imagine what could have happened had the procurement occurred in a month instead of three.

How does one affect change in other parts of the organization, so that you don’t hamper your delivery teams? I’ve already written a couple of posts about performance reviews, for example, that address the lack of agility in the HR arena. In the next few newsletters, I’ll highlight some specific examples in other company areas that I’ve encountered. I’ll recount some of the approaches I did to make them a little more agile. Hopefully, the next few newsletters will give you some ideas on how to build a bit of business agility in your company.

In anticipation of my next newsletter, I’d love to hear from you. I’d like you to think about the paradoxical situations you’ve encountered between your Agile delivery teams and the organization areas that impact their agility. Drop me a note – I might highlight it as an example, and how I solved it (or something similar) in my upcoming newsletters on overall business agility.

Hasta luego,



A Lightweight Template for Monthly Performance Discussions

In my series of newsletters on preparing for your performance review, I mentioned a template you can use when talking with your manager during your one-on-one meetings (1:1s). A colleague and I have also mentioned this template in our talks on performance assessments, rewards and recognition systems, and how to make them more supportive of Agile. Several people have requested the template, and I’m sharing it here.

I have used this template (or variations of it) in at least four companies I’ve worked in already. I use it when I meet my manager during my 1:1s, or with my direct reports when I have 1:1s with them. I do have some guidelines, so feel free to use, modify, or even add to them.

1:1 Performance Review Template ImagePerformance Review Template

Usage Guidelines

  • Use the template once each month during your 1:1 with your manager (or direct report). The idea behind the template is to get performance feedback early and often, as opposed to once a year, when HR calls on the entire company to do their performance appraisals and reviews. (And if you don’t have regular 1:1s with your manager, you should consider starting the discussion from there.)
  • The idea behind the template is that it is lightweight. You don’t need to fill in every line or go into the minutia of the details. You want the right amount of discussion, and add those as highlights to capture the key points about your performance – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Most often, the good stuff – even the regular, day-to-day wins or the win of the week, aren’t brought up. People then forget these when the yearly performance review cycle comes around. And as for the bad stuff, you usually get it right away. And it can linger and follow you for ages. As Mark Anthony said in his eulogy to Caesar in Shakespeare’s play Julius Ceasar, “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.”
  • Tailor the template to your needs. Modify the template depending on your context. For example, I’ve modified it to conform to an Objective and Key Results (OKRs) style at one company where I was working. You can do the same if your company uses Management by Objectives (MBOs) or something similar.
  • Highlight outcomes and impacts, not outputs. People often write outputs on their performance reviews – like “refactored the architecture for our product.” Yeah – we all know you reworked and coded this, but what was the impact of that effort? Did your team get to release the product faster, positively impacting customers who were about to churn? (And mind you, this is great to bring up in your resume – recruiters and hiring managers love to see these outcomes and impacts.)
  • Always move forward. The goal is performance discussions is to grow yourself – whether it’s learning new skills like become a team lead or using new technologies. It’s about learning from mistakes – how you and the team can mitigate issues that came up, or how you all can improve and become more Agile.
  • And lastly, highlight yourself AND your team. Most performance reviews typically highlight the individual. Agile emphasizes team collaboration. Don’t just talk about yourself. Talk about how you and your team get together or do things together to amplify successful outcomes – not just for you but for the team and the company.

When you do these things, you will end up with 12 templates filled out – one for each month. And guess what happens when HR sends out that email informing everyone about the upcoming performance review cycle? You’ll be very prepared to fill out your performance assessment.

Having these monthly filled-out documents, joyously made it easy for me to fill out my assessment (or my direct reports’ assessments). I didn’t have to stress out remembering what I accomplished the past 12 months. I mostly ended up copying and pasting what I had written, with maybe a little bit of wordsmithing, to fit the assessment outlines provided by HR.

I do hope you find value in this template. I would love to know how you modified it to fit your context. I’d love your feedback on your experience using it – the good, the bad, and the ugly of it. I’d love to hear from you.