Key points:

  • Now is not the time to pull back; the ability to pivot to changing markets and world events is more important now than ever.
  • The key is being able to determine the right directions to take and to marshal your resources to pursue those goals and as quickly as possible.
  • This is what lean and agile enable a company to do.  This is truly existential in nature for many companies and if they rely on their old ways to make decisions and execute on those decisions they will be behind the curve and left in the dust.

First things first: focus on immediate response needs

Cash flow and workforce

In the midst of the current global pandemic and near-term economic uncertainty, most companies’ focus right now is on cash flow and retaining their workforce. As these are competing priorities, they need creative solutions that will balance both. Lean and agile practitioners try to find a set-based approach to this problem. In this context, that means engaging as many people as possible in exploring solutions. Speed is imperative and is only achievable with information. Lean and agile organizations share information freely. It is about creating a shared consciousness that allows people to make decisions rapidly. For many organizations this will require a new level of trust to share information not normally shared.

Lean and agile leaders establish the vision (solution intent) and the guardrails for their desired outcomes and then empower their teams to explore the how. In this context, the teams are your business unit and department leaders who are the ones who will have to execute on the solutions imagined, so encourage those solutions to be their own. Give them space to explore their ideas with their employees. Your employees are your end users with whom to validate your ideas before implementing. You may be surprised by the ideas that flow from the workforce when they know their views are being considered and they have a voice in the solution. Lean and agile organizations share solutions freely, both vertically and horizontally, to maintain the shared consciousness.

Customers

The next business priority will be to retain as many customers as possible. This will include helping customers continue to operate through and after the pandemic. Retaining customers takes on a whole new meaning. This focus relates strongly to the cash flow and workforce priority, and should happen in parallel, but has a different audience: the customer. A lean agile approach encourages partnerships with customers rather than an order-taker relationship. Now is the time to truly collaborate with your customers at risk and help them stay in business and come out of this time as healthy as possible. Perhaps there are ways to extend payment terms or do work for future considerations, for example. Here, you also want to take a set-based approach to energize your teams. Encourage them to work with customers to identify creative solutions that work for both organizations. This will also require customers to be transparent with their vendors. Trust and transparency are core values of lean and agile enterprises. Once again, providing your teams with the key financials will enable good decisions.

After the crisis: rebound and reinvent

After the initial response to the pandemic, organizations will need to restart and reimagine how they succeed in a world that is permanently changed.  People will have discovered new ways of working. Some industries (such as airline and cruise) will have to reengineer their business models completely.  Companies must be prepared to discover new market opportunities and respond at speeds never before considered. I’ve hit this point before but it is worth repeating: sharing of information will be paramount to achieve this speed. A shared consciousness is what makes for a lean and agile enterprise. To achieve it, tools need to be reengineered or replaced to ensure a higher focus on sharing information across silos while continuing to protect confidential information.

Many companies will have to take a hard look at their existing systems and processes and even organization models given these new realities. Do their structures, processes and systems support rapid decision-making and risk taking? Do they enable and promote collaboration and sharing of resources across silos? Do incentive plans encourage leaders to work together and have a collaborative approach to pursuing opportunities? Existing hierarchical structures simply will not enable the new rhythm of business.

Building a networked organizational model

This is where looking to lean and agile practices can help organizations build the new network structures needed to deliver results. The good news is that you do not have to reorganize your current organizational hierarchy. Rather, you can build virtual networks around your value streams that map back to your existing structures. The network model provides clarity of roles and models of execution so people can focus on delivering results rather than their place in the hierarchy. Network models built around lean and agile allow you to eliminate delays by eliminating hand-offs and competing priorities. 

There is no time like the present

Many will argue that now is just not the time to make the transition to lean and agile, as it will be too disruptive, too risky. How can our lives be any more disrupted than they are now? In many ways, the time is ripe for transformation. People will be more ready to try new things in this environment. While it will require careful communication and strong change leadership, with the right training and support from people who have been there, the transition not only is possible, but necessary. It will enable you to weather the storm and come through it ready for whatever this new world brings us.

While this blog makes the case for why leaders should be embracing lean and agile now more than ever, my next post will provide a framework for taking action, such as enabling teams to pivot to agile in a newly virtual world. It will be an interesting road ahead, with a big challenge in front of us. All of us. I look forward to sharing more tools and ideas to help get there together.

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About this author

Picture of Philip van Sickel

Philip van Sickel

Director, Consulting Expert

Philip is an experienced agile transformation consultant to enterprises of all sizes and in several industries, including healthcare, manufacturing and financial services. He has led multiple transformations using the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) and is a SAFe Program Consultant Trainer. His focus is on building ...

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