The last twelve months have seen an unprecedented level of decentralisation and distribution of workforces, with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing about an unprecedented acceleration of digital transformation and remote/hybrid working patterns in businesses across the world.
As Agile working practices structure collaborations, what’s become clear for the millions more workers and teams adopting them throughout the pandemic is that, instead of people becoming disconnected, they have helped businesses and teams to remain strongly connected, despite being geographically scattered and no longer working in a shared office or workspace.
We’ve written a lot over the last few months about decentralised command and intent-based Agile leadership, and how Agile working practices are key to ensuring that collaboration remains constant, regardless of wherever you are working from. But what exactly have we learned over the last 12 months? And how can we make the best of what we’ve learnt and continue to use it to our advantage as companies, workers and teams slowly start to move back to ‘the new hybrid normal’?’
COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation
It’s clear that Agile working practices have enabled productive remote working for millions more workers worldwide throughout most of 2020 and the winter/spring of 2021, with last year’s 14th State of Agile report noting that Agile adoption is more important than ever in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Agile moves businesses and teams away from that old-school, traditional, almost-singular reliance on a leader or a project manager to make sure that everything is being done. Plus, let’s not forgot that, with Waterfall planning approaches, project managers are often given that mission-impossible task: to predict the delivery within an exact budget and timeframe, in a complex situation where there are so many moving parts that it is impossible to track.
On top of this, project managers are usually the single point of interaction for the entire project team. So, their job is to go around the team, figure out what is happening and try to cajole and coerce people into meeting the plan.
Teams have self-organised to meet the COVID-19 challenge
Instead, we see Agile teams self-report, self-manage and self-fix, because those teams have been and are working harder than ever before throughout the pandemic to overcome impediments and problems themselves. They are self-organising around those challenges, using Agile working practices to make this happen.
Ultimately, frameworks such as Scrum organise your interaction points. So, regardless of where you are, you can do a 15-minute stand-up in the morning and come up with a plan for the day, as well as coming up with impediments for the team to help with and overcome.
All of which keeps the momentum going for the team. Moreover, you have planning events every sprint or every couple of weeks, in which you focus on the next bitesize chunk of work. And what’s great about these kinds of events is that, because they are small, short and sharp, with the advent of online collaboration tech tools, you can do them using Microsoft Teams or in a hybrid fashion easier than ever before.
Collaboration events must remain constant
Teams can choose to mix and match more flexibly and easier than ever before. It no longer needs to be a situation of everybody working in the office, or everybody working at home. What remains constant throughout are these collaboration events.
As mentioned above, one thing we have learned is that antiquated, classical ways of working like Waterfall haven’t done at all well during the pandemic. That’s because that type of management tends to rely heavily on asynchronous forms of communication (such as email or spreadsheets), whereas Agile working practices focus people primarily on synchronous communication (high bandwidth, high information forms of communication such as face-to-face, Teams chats or telephone calls). And fixing problems on the spot by collaborating, day in and day out, in short, sharp chunks.
Agile working practices enable focused meetings that have clear outcomes, with everybody understanding the purpose of the event and what’s in it for them (the ‘how’). They also help teams to focus squarely on delivery. Delivery is everything, as we’ve previously explained. And accelerating delivery is the number one reason for firms going Agile, according to the most recent State of Agile report.
Three simple steps to embrace ‘the new hybrid normal’
What have we really learned over the last twelve months then? Agile working practices cope well with the decentralised nature of remote/hybrid working habits brought about by COVID-19, keeping teams on point and focused, ensuring productivity, as teams are not waiting for that ‘single leader’ figure to fix issues or tell them what to do. The power for teams to self-organise and self-manage is the real power of agility.
With people now starting to come back into the office, hybrid working practices are here to stay, for the long term. And Agile working gives teams a stable way of working, no matter how (or where) their colleagues and their wider teams are located or are working.
Ultimately, millions of workers and teams globally have had a 12 month-plus period of figuring out how Agile working practices best work for them. They’ve had to make them work, and now, as we exit lockdowns worldwide, they are able to carry that momentum on as they come back into the office, in whatever hybrid form that may take.
As Agile coaches, we would urge teams moving back into new hybrid forms of working to take the best learnings from the last year of the pandemic and follow these straightforward steps:
#1 Maintain the discipline – around the working practices that you’ve worked hard to put in place. Carry on doing the various events to make sure your collaboration is structured.
#2 Continue planning relentlessly – the planning events you’ve put in place over the last year are going to become more important than ever as teams start returning to hybrid and mixed-models of working. That’s because your delivery may well begin to suffer turbulence as people begin to readjust. Hence, planning and staying on that planning cadence every couple of weeks is going to help you to detect that. Are you on track? Are you not on track? What do you need to do to manage your valuable delivery?
#3 Remember to use a retrospective-driven approach – as you return to work and as you come up with new challenges around technology, people, working hours, working practices and so on, you are going to encounter problems. The biggest mistake we can make is thinking that we are going to come back, and everything is going to go back to ‘normal’. When we retrospect we learn what did and didn’t go well over the past two weeks.
How you cope with the inevitable ‘change fatigue’ as a team and as a group is going to be even more important than ever over the coming months, as we shape our future working practices together. Hopefully, those three simple steps outlined above will help you and the teams you are working with evolve forward into the new ‘hybrid normal’ that we are all facing, in a way that is appropriate for them, because, of course, every team will have its own particular challenges.
Jay is co-founder of Fractal Systems Consulting, an agile consultancy run by a group of Professional Scrum Trainers, change agents and agile delivery coaches who have deep experience and know-how in creating behavioural change, come and find us at Fractal Systems
Additionally, if you’re interested in learning in a fun application rich environment that focuses on real-world applied approaches, come along to one of our training sessions – Agile Scrum Training.