The Post-Pandemic World is More Agile

The global pandemic might have just taught us all some of the basics of the Agile Manifesto.

The values and principles enshrined in the Agile Manifesto 20 years ago have become more relevant today than ever. As Agile has been preaching all along - we're now actually more prone to responding to change rather than following a plan. We're putting individuals and interactions over processes or tools. We're motivating individuals by giving them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done. Let’s look at some of these in more detail, as they are some of the famous values and principles behind the Agile Manifesto.

Responding to change over following a plan

Forget “The Plan”. In the post-Covid world, it's all about responding to change over following “The Plan”. What's your timeframe of certainty today? How far ahead are you willing to plan? By current measures, even our governments are only confident about the next one to four weeks. It took more than two decades for Scrum Masters to preach this way of thinking. Now it's the default state of mind without the added effort of Scrum Masters.

With that said - planning is not forgotten. Eisenhower's saying that “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable” - has been reborn in the global pandemic context. Like many companies, Fidel has adopted the OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) framework for annual strategic planning. In fact, we did it for the first time in 2020 - right in the middle of the pandemic. Looking back at the OKRs of the Engineering and Product teams, it’s clear that the discussion around the objectives and their key results is valid. It fine-tuned our mindset and we've continued to refine the OKR planning framework in 2021.

Last year's experience added a touch of reality to our strategic planning. Our Engineering and Product key results experienced multiple thunderstorms, exacerbated by the pandemic. We had to refocus - enabling our existing customer base and providing custom solutions to some of our big strategic partners. In a nutshell, our key results were regularly changing in response to our customers’ shifting needs in light of the global pandemic.

Changing the key results during the year might not sound like a textbook approach. The global health crisis helped everyone to look at these decisions from a more grounded, down-to-earth and rational standpoint. We saw that remaining focussed on irrelevant key results was a greater risk than responding to change by adjusting our key results in flight. Equally, this has been the way for building great products by Agile teams - responding to change rather than following a plan. However, reality has helped us to scale this approach to the strategic planning level of Fidel.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

In response to the global lockdown, most industries have experimented and adopted some brand of online communication and collaboration tool. It doesn’t really matter which one, it’s always about enhancing interaction rather than the specific combination of processes or tools you’re using.

For example, we started to run the traditional Scrum events shortly before the lockdowns kicked in. However, their importance as a binding structure became apparent as the year progressed - people needed structure in their ‘work-from-home’ life. Structure provides predictability, which is subconsciously linked with the feeling of security and safety.

Our engineers know that after the current Sprint, there'll always be a Next Sprint. They know when we'll have a dedicated time to close this Sprint, discuss lessons learnt, and plan the next Sprint; engineers also know that the scope for the 2 weeks of the Sprint will be largely fixed; finally, everyone knows that we'll have a chance to discuss any obstacles for reaching the Sprint Goal during the Daily Standup calls. This predictability creates peace of mind - a feeling that one's work life is steady and structured. A feeling we all crave during these times.

Growing the company by 100% during the global pandemic has meant that we've had to add more interactions on top of the Agile structures - just to learn more about each other. I started to run short quizzes (two truths and a lie) before each Retrospective to help us learn more about each other. Many of our product teams started to run weekly coffee calls (20-30 min) with a single rule that you're not allowed to talk about work on that call. We set up a monthly engineering call to discuss the latest happenings, where they might be relevant to other Fidel teams.

Since many people at Fidel were hired during lockdown - most of us had never met in person. Therefore, additional opportunities to interact were important. On top of the weekly company-wide meetings, we introduced self-run Zoom fitness classes, game nights and a happy hour. Oh yes - we did fear death-by-too-many-meetings, so we agreed on a ‘no-meetings-Tuesday’ for product teams. Now, Tuesdays are reserved for focussed work without ANY calls.

Provide a supportive environment and trust

What do you do as a manager when all your employees are working from home? You learn to trust them. You have no other option but to completely trust them if you want to keep the lights on. You want to motivate them, support them in creating the online and offline environment they need to get the job done - entirely virtually.

Early on in the pandemic, Fidel supported employees in improving their work environment at home. We allowed everyone to bring any of their office equipment home, as well as a generous allowance to purchase any additional equipment for a productive work environment.

However, by now, we all learned that it's not just about the physical environment that is important for long-lasting high performance. It's also about psychological wellbeing and time to decompress and relax. Our CEO Dev spent significant time sharing his personal experiences managing his mental health. All the company received a subscription to the Headspace app. On the week of World Mental Health Day, we even took a mandatory day off for the entire company to rest busy minds.

More Agile Not Less

It's too early to talk about a post-Agile world. Before the global pandemic, we had a rather poor recognition of Agile values and principles outside the Engineering world. However, now it looks like 20 years of warming up - preparing the grounds for wider recognition of Agile values and principles.

The global pandemic has created conditions for a fantastic stress test to the resilience of Agile values, principles and structures. Agile not only passed this test but proved that it's more relevant to the wider audience than we had ever imagined. My hope is that the world’s desire to come back to “normal” after the global pandemic might just mean that we come to a “more Agile world” as the new default instead.

P.S. Tune into the Post Agile Panel on the next Aginext London 2021 conference on 17 March to hear other practitioners and me discuss Agile’s future.