Agility during times of crisis: Lessons from the trenches

In a May 2021 digital roundtables event, Softtek moderators Stephanie Moore and Federico Ferreres were joined by Texas-based technology leaders for conversations around embracing a culture of agility and innovation. Leaders at the event represented large businesses and conglomerates across various industries, including education, financial services, industrial, retail, and food & beverage.

This post features perspectives from the event focusing on lessons learned in pursuit of a more agile, resilient organization, and what lies ahead in a volatile world.

Continue to empower your people 

In parallel with the increased focus on building customer-centric organizations comes the shift toward building people-centric organizations. More than ever, leaders focus on facilitating the tools and culture for collaboration, engagement, and empowerment as keys to attracting and retaining their organizations’ top performers.

Leverage digital collaboration tools

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Although event participants reminisced about having meetings with big whiteboards or Kanban boards spanning the glass walls, many were surprised by the productivity remote collaboration tools have brought since the pandemic. Since most work for large or multinational companies, most will continue to leverage the tools because they:

  • Enable distributed and offshore teams to work closely together despite their proximity
  • Expedite meetings, planning, and file sharing

Cut costs that don’t impact agility and profit

Everyone wants to cut costs, however doing so in a way that negatively impacts employees is a clear no-no. As a reminder of this, an event participant from a multinational industrial conglomerate noted how the shift to remote caused a dramatic escalation of workstation licenses for features the users didn't need. Switching to Mac or Linux workstations would have been a cost-effective solution for this company and would not have impacted the flow of work, but the pandemic did not allow time for that. The main takeaway is that thinking and evolving before a situation forces a change can have positive side effects. Another roundtable participant mentioned how having enabled curbside pickup before the pandemic hit has helped them thrive as indoor dining was considered a safety risk.

Moving past project management buzzwords

Ever hear a topic repeated so much it starts to lose meaning? For leaders at the event (and surely many others), project management methodologies might be that topic. Everybody wants innovative, agile, and resilient businesses, but frameworks are so full of grey areas that it’s hard to ever know what’s working. Technology leaders have embraced Agile practices and been working with their digitally empowered teams and business units in innovative ways to close the gap.

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Think vertically

IT is a key driver of innovation across the enterprise; however, as a tech leader for a multinational steel company noted, to move and shape the way IT serves the business requires consideration beyond budget. Instead, he suggests guiding IT strategy based on a vertical slice of the organization, noting, “From senior management to shipping … it was amazing how many pearls of wisdom I was getting from all levels of the organization.” Another leader cited similar success from having a broader IT steering committee, not only for the platforms she oversees but all platforms, governed by a centralized project management office (PMO).

There’s plenty of room to blend project management approaches

Agile frameworks are a hot topic in the development sphere and are in use within virtually all types of teams. This has led to the long-lived waterfall model being vilified in some cases, even when it’s the best choice. Many event participants had a point of view about using the right methods for the right situations, converging on a few important takeaways:


  • Since different business units vary in complexity and requirements, a project manager, Scrum Master, or PMO should assess the effort and decide what kind of methodology to use.
  • Agile is often used incorrectly and as a scapegoat for undisciplined software engineering. However, Agile does not mean lack of documentation, lack of release date commitments, or careless coding; on the contrary, it demands more rigorous processes.
  • Refusing to follow any methodology can lead to project failure. Being methodology agnostic can help determine the best methodology.
  • Waterfall can still be very valuable for some processes and projects, especially when requirements are clear, sequential, or not very likely to change and evolve.
  • It is not a black and white world. For example, one leader mentioned a successful SAP implementation that followed waterfall during blueprint creation and Agile for rollout and change management.

Accelerate with Agile Pods

Organizations ready to embrace Agile can assemble small cross-functional teams, either internally sourced or made up of external resources, to drive transactional-level prioritization and delivery. As a technology leader for a multinational automotive manufacturing company pointed out, the benefit is being able to assemble and plugin self-sufficient teams as demand occurs for faster time to value.

People, processes, and the pursuit of resilience

As organizations continue to transform toward resilience, they must consider not only investments in digital transformation, but also time—time spent nurturing, listening, training, and adapting so that digitally empowered people and processes can propel the organization forward.

 

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