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. 

Contortionists

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,

-JF

 

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