The coronavirus pandemic forced most people at work to be more flexible. But how do you keep the power of agile project management working as the crisis drags on?X
The coronavirus crisis upended work. It pushed employees and some companies overnight to start "making decisions and acting with flexibility, speed, and agility never before experienced," said Darrell Rigby, partner of management consultant Bain.
To keep up, many companies use agile project management methods. Agile techniques trace their roots to software development projects. But other industries and business functions also shifting to these fast-moving, self-managing teams for innovation.
The question to ask, Rigby says, is "how can companies maintain their agility once a crisis is over?"
Agile Project Management: Make Teams Fun
Rigby says the best advice is: If the process of change is making you or your employees unhappy, stop it and alter your approach. "Substantial research shows that happiness and irrefutable innovation results are inextricably linked," he said.
You get there by ensuring agile teams are "self-governing because autonomy increases motivation and puts decisions in the hands of people closest to customers and operations," Rigby said. "This gives leaders time to focus on enterprise strategies that only they can do."
Keep Agile Teams Laser Focused
Agile teams are small. This streamlines communication and productivity, Rigby says. Rigby is also the co-author with Sarah Elk and Steve Berez of "Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos."
Further, teams using agile project management are dedicated to a single task. Why? "Multitasking makes people stupid, slows development cycles and increases work in process," he said.
Give Independent Thinking Oxygen In Agile Project Management
Effective teams using agile project management do not blindly follow rules.
"They understand why they are doing what they are doing, continually search for better ways to do it, and share their insights," Rigby said.
Learn From The Recent Past
Don't put the lessons of the coronavirus early response behind you, says Leonard Marcus. He co-wrote "You're It: Crisis, Change, and How to Lead When it Matters Most," with Eric McNulty, Joseph Henderson and Barry Dorn.
Marcus is the founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, where McNulty is associate director.
"Remember to think long-term resilience," Marcus said. If you think long term with agile project management, you're less likely to get tripped up. You'll be ready for any temporary setbacks "such as another round of social distance restrictions due to Covid-19 spikes or a new influenza."
McNulty adds "In today's world, every executive needs to prepare to be a crisis leader."
Take The Broad View Of Agile Project Management
Human nature, in some ways, works against you in a crisis. The prehistoric human brain evolved to narrow its focus when faced with danger, McNulty says.
But in the modern business context, "leaders need to intentionally pull back to see the bigger picture in all of its complexity," he says. "It helps keep them out of the weeds and focused on the larger, strategic issues they face."
Avoid Being A Prisoner Of The Moment
Executives are rewarded for quarter-by-quarter results. "This can over-emphasize short-term thinking and priorities especially in a crisis. 'Now' feels so compelling," McNulty said.
Effective crisis leaders balance short and long-term considerations. "Have a highly competent team working on today and assign another to focus primarily on the future," he says. "Get this latter team to build best, worst, and most likely scenarios to help you build your response back from the future."
Always tell the truth: In a crisis, a leader has two powerful tools, McNulty says: information and empathy. "If you want people to follow you, you have to be straight with them," he said. "We all have good B.S. sensors. Once you lose credibility as a leader, it is almost impossible to recover."
When people feel that you are all in it together and are being candid with them, "they will follow you through the most difficult circumstances," he said.
Stay Prepared Using Agile Project Management
Every company must run reliably and efficiently. Every company must also change quickly and effectively. This is especially true during a crisis. It's also part of agile project management.
Companies must be good at innovating, Rigby said. "Stable operations and flexible innovation are not enemies. They are complementary, interdependent, and mutually beneficial."
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