Is your Agile organization agile enough for COVID?

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The very essence of Agile methodology is that it facilitates collaboration among cross-functional teams to streamline solutions development. In fact, offices have been rearranged and designed to facilitate Agile, with teams being clustered around whiteboards covered with sticky notes. So how does that translate to our current shift to remote work environments? Can we assume that all the Agile practices can be seamlessly continued while everyone works from home? The easy answer is yes, but there are three key things to keep in mind.

The evolution of Scrum and Scrum Guide

During the early 2000s, Agile-Scrum was designed for co-located teams. Over the next decade, the framework evolved and was redesigned to suit global teams and multi-location teams.

Originally, user stories were referenced by 3Cs. First, they were written on cards and the entire product backlog was posted on a wall. The team would have conversations and then confirmation of their understanding — hence, the 3Cs. Over time, Agile management tools evolved to connect the global teams seamlessly — for example, Microsoft TFS, Jira and Version One.

Daily stand-up meetings were named that because the entire team would stand up in a particular place for less than 15 minutes to plan for the day. Scrum.org renamed this event “Daily Scrum” to accommodate the Development team (now referred to as Developers in the new Scrum Guide) around the world. And as most workers became virtual, no one needed to stand during the daily meetings.

Agile Poker planning cards became popular to aid story point estimations. Online Agile Poker planning sites replaced the physical cards to enable globally distributed teams to collaborate and do the story point estimations. Agile training and coaching started happening in virtual class sessions.

Long before the current pandemic situation, Agile, Scrum and Nexus frameworks were ready for globally distributed teams; the location of the Scrum teams and any roles (accountabilities) did not really matter. The Agile framework evolved to accommodate work-from-home conditions without even calling it that in the Scrum Guide.

Agile in the time of COVID

Did the pandemic create any disruptions for the Agile implementation? The answer is “somewhat.” Based on what we have learned over the past year-plus during the pandemic, here are the three main things Agile organizations must look at immediately and in the near term.

1 – Inspect, adapt and be resilient — adding another perspective

Agile organizations embrace change then often inspect and adapt. This is not only about clients’ requirements, development and delivery. During the current crisis, Agile organizations need to embrace change and adapt to new ways of working in every aspect of their operations — from within and externally.

One example could be simplifying and streamlining the decision-making processes compared to the pre-COVID-19 era.

This resilience has helped many organizations overcome the challenges arising over the past year — and it needs to be continued consciously.

2 – Greater team empowerment by providing them with enabling technology and tools

Agile organizations put individuals and interactions first. Their teams are self-organized and self-managed. So, organizations need to support their teams in all possible ways to help them stay more focused on Product and Sprint goals. Consider these questions:

    • What additional support and tools can be provided to the teams to help them increase their focus? For example, “What new tools are required to increase their collaboration for faster decisions?”
    • Do they have the tools needed to sustain their pace sprint-on-sprint?
    • Does the current technology stack help the team deliver on their commitments to clients? What is required today and what might they need 3 years from now?

3 – Agile culture is the key — check for weak links

Agile mindset and Agile culture play a major role. There are several things organizations should remain mindful of in the current COVID-19 era. First is that they must ensure that an Agile culture is prevalent at all levels. For example, a major vulnerable area is when new employees join the Agile organization — either with or without prior Agile experience. Greater focus is required for effective onboarding with frequent reviews to ensure the new hire understands the Agile approach and does not create a weak link.

Agile implementation is no longer a “nice-to-have” aspect for an organization. It is now a “must-have” aspect to withstand COVID-19 era and beyond.

The core of Agile has proved to support the COVID-19 era need for a complete work-from-home workforce; however, to sustain it, Agile organizations need to work on the three things highlighted in this blog. In the true spirit of Agile, the list is not etched in stone; this, too, shall change — as change is the only constant. And to reinforce, remember the new mantra: Inspect, adapt and be resilient.

 

About the author

Sriram Krishnamurthy is the Agile Coach for the Gainwell Technologies Medicaid Management Solutions program, responsible for Agile implementation and Agile practices. He coaches, mentors and trains resources on Agile-Nexus-Scrum-Kanban practices to maintain an Agile Culture.