Agile methodologies were introduced to us around 10 years ago. In that time, we have seen technology advance at breakneck speed and faced many new challenges in the way we work; arguably, never more so than in 2020.
However, despite the abundance of change we have experienced, the core values of Agile have stood the test of time. Yes, Agile has been agile, adapting to fit our individual needs. But its values and principles are so strong that they ring true for each and every organization touched by this way of working.
It’s impossible not to mention 2020, and how Agile shifted and adapted to help us through this turbulent time. What did we notice? Well, much like the renewed gratification you feel for your automotive breakdown service when your car gives up the ghost for the first time in years, we noticed that the COVID-19 pandemic changed Agile in a different way: by providing renewed respect for the agile mindset.
What is the Agile Mindset?
When we talk about the agile mindset, we’re referring to the core values that combine to establish a set of attitudes held by those embracing agility. There are four of these core values: Make people awesome, deliver value continuously, make safety a prerequisite and experiment and learn rapidly.
All four values are of equal importance, but they each have a unique impact on the mindset. For example, making safety a prerequisite means providing employees with the confidence to experiment, innovate and not fear mistakes or failure – these are all natural on our path to achieving new things.
Additionally, delivering value frequently benefits both our customers and employees. It takes away the pressure of bouncing from one milestone to the next and adds value to a consistent level of delivery. Our customers are happy and grateful, seeing constant developments and improvements to what we provide them.
The final two values (make people awesome and experiment and learn rapidly) are those that were particularly important during the change and adversity of 2020. Let’s dive into them.
Making People Awesome!
Agile methodology is massively focused on people: both employees and customers. When we work in an agile way, we want to enrich our people and give them the freedom to express themselves and show off their skills. This, in turn, helps the entire organization to deliver excellent service to our customers.
With such a focus on people, the mandate for remote work brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic introduced an obstacle to agile ways of working. Our only human interaction with colleagues and customers was through a screen, which, let’s be honest, just isn’t the same as interacting in person.
Therefore, employee engagement has become more important than ever. Virtual interactions make it harder to truly see how somebody is feeling about work – whether they are happy or unhappy, motivated or unmotivated. It’s important to check in with everybody regularly; ask them directly how they’re doing and encourage honest answers. Keep the Agile team spirit alive by making an effort to break the screen barrier during meetings.
There are benefits of remote working for Agile, too. For example, it offers a fantastic work-life balance. When employees are less pressured by commuting or less exhausted by the constant energy of the office, they are happier. And happy employees make happy customers!
So, the value of Agile’s ‘Make people awesome’ tenet became even more important and respected in 2020. We realized that we must optimize our employees so that they can bring their best selves to work, even during uncertain times.
Experiment and Learn Rapidly
This been an incredibly important value, hasn’t it? For lots of us, remote working was a brand-new experience. Perhaps we’d spend the odd day working from the sofa to let the boiler engineer in, but five days a week from home – unprecedented!
Learning and innovating at speed has been key to being able to work effectively from home. We’ve been truly embracing this aspect of the Agile mindset. But how? Essential to agility is the ability to critically review how we operate. Almost half of businesses say they do this every quarter (43%) and 21% say they do this every six months.
Regularly reviewing and analyzing how we work helps us to identify areas of improvement, areas that we could experiment with innovation, and gaps in our knowledge. Without this, we’d be walking through our working life with a blindfold on, and likely not be able to pivot in the face of change and adversity.
A great example of the renewed respect given to the ‘experiment and learn rapidly’ value is the COVID-19 vaccine. It normally takes years to develop, test and roll out a vaccine, but we’ve seen this happen in just months.
You wouldn’t be mocked for not knowing that the vaccine was being developed way before the pandemic of 2020. In fact, scientists began preparing for ‘Disease X’ over four years ago. They analyzed the response to the Ebola outbreak of 2014 and recognized a need to develop a vaccine that could be used quickly, for an infection that did not yet exist.
Fast-forward to COVID-19, and while scientists still had lots of work to do to prepare a specific vaccine (designing; initiating the correct immune response; testing and more testing and roll out), their agility, started years ago, meant they had a strong foundation on which to build.
This value has definitely received more recognition in recent months. This is great, because it’s going to be vital for the continued response to our changing world. We must continue to analyze our response to new ways of working and adapt based on what we find. Are you already experimenting and learning to be ready for the new normal?
An Essential Mindset for Remote Teams
The core values of agility have had a huge part to play in our adaptation to the changes we saw in 2020. And many of us have embodied this agile mindset without even realizing – we’re calling this ‘unconscious agility.’
If you’ve tried something new in the face of remote working, made a conscious effort to deliver value continuously rather than in big chunks, checked in more regularly with your colleagues or relayed the message that mistakes and failure are a natural part of innovation, you’ve been working in an agile way. Even if your organization doesn’t consciously work agile, you can still embody this mindset.
And it’s going to be key for the new normal – we should already be looking ahead to that. We didn’t have time to prepare for what came in 2020 – it was somewhat of a surprise. But we do have time to prepare for what comes next, and the Agile mindset is key for tackling this successfully.