Lessons we can learn from a Pandemic #2 – Adapt
Updated: Apr 27
Synopsis - The COVID-19 pandemic highlights there is no better time than crisis to focus on transformation efforts and to look beyond the current horizon. This post explains the importance of Enterprise Agility and suggests what you can do to improve your adaptiveness in the short, medium and long term.
Over three years ago, I created the first meetup group and conference in the world focussing on Enterprise Agility.
Back then, the focus for most organisations was on agile delivery of software, not the frequent delivery of value in the context of the goals and objectives of the enterprise.
With the help of some forward thinking friends and colleagues such as Barry O’Reilly, Joanne Molesky, Jon Smart and Daniel Terhorst-North, we defined Enterprise Agility in a way that we felt was most relevant to the rapidly changing and complex world we find ourselves in.
After some interesting discussions I settled on using Dan’s description of Enterprise Agility which is as follows:
The goal of an organisational system is to:
"enable the flow of value quickly, safely and sustainably through the organisation"
In this context, Enterprise Agility can be described as:
"the speed and effectiveness with which the whole enterprise can align to adapt to new information"
Three conferences and thirty plus meetups later we are now nearing the end of a fourth week of Coronavirus lockdown and Enterprise Agility has never been more important.
It’s not difficult to see evidence of quite how important it is by taking a look at outcomes of the Covid-19 Pandemic:
Steering clear of politics, acknowledging the disclaimer around data accuracy and in a sombre spirit, my point is simply this.
Every country had access to the same information relating to the threat and risks of a Pandemic.
Every country had access to the same information relating to how events were unfolding in China.
Yet despite the financial wealth of the US, UK and parts of mainland Europe, the fact is these countries are some of the worst impacted.
How we react to new information and how quickly we can react makes an enormous difference.
And the same is true in the corporate world.
A report published by Accenture in 2019 highlights that $1 Trillion has been spent on Digital Transformation by banks in the last 3 years with little to show for it.
Many large scale enterprises have struggled with the burden of legacy technology, old school leadership and organisation structures not aligned to the enterprise mission. Threats in the form of new start-ups without these constraints have existed for some time now. But the economic threat and uncertainty the Coronavirus Pandemic presents us with is unprecedented.
Many organisations have no choice but to slash budgets in order to survive. Many of these enterprises will apply traditional cost accounting approaches to achieve their ‘numbers’ and find themselves retracting, accepting hard times are to follow. There will be other, larger, enterprises who don’t have to do this but will choose to because they don’t know or are unwilling to find a better way.
However, there are other people and organisations who are aware of better ways of working and will seize this opportunity to transform into being truly purpose driven and embrace enterprise agility.
To be frank, if organisations are not prepared to use the situation we are all in as a catalyst for change, they never will.
One essential characteristic required for any enterprise is to be willing to take a step back from the current situation and focus on the short, medium and longer term horizons. Clearly things can change rapidly so the effort invested in these viewpoints will vary accordingly, with greater emphasis placed on the short term and less with further horizons.
The good news is that in many profitable enterprises there is often huge amounts of waste in the system which is forgotten about, simply because the overall operation is profitable.
Without a widespread collective sense of purpose, a lot of employees do not feel motivated to do anything beyond what’s been asked of them by their managers, so more things slip through the gaps such as paying for third party services when they are not being used by anyone.
And because there is often little appreciation for the “systems” as a whole, expensive projects get the go ahead even if there is no benefit to customers. I have seen this time and time again.
With that in mind, the following are some examples of activities you might want to look at in this context:
The Short Term View (e.g 0-3 Months)
The number one priority for any business is to ensure they can run their services safely and securely. If market conditions had an impact on the services you provide then addressing these problems needs to happen before anything else otherwise whatever trust and goodwill you have will vanish if the systems fail if/when this happens again.
Focus on value
Ensure you have a clear set of OKR’s (Objectives and Key Results) which are well understood and communicated. Look across your portfolio of work and re-evaluate their value to your customers. This may result in closing down workstreams and re-directing teams to value add activities.
Be open and transparent as to what your priorities are, invite people to question your thinking and make it easy for new ideas to surface. The more people feel connected to a purpose the more invested they will feel in the outcomes.
Address low hanging fruit
· Implement schedulers to automatically shutdown cloud instances when not in use
· Check your cloud infrastructure utilisation and reduce your compute and storage requirements if possible
· Close any paid for services or subscriptions which are no longer needed
· Speak to your suppliers and try and negotiate new terms – You may be surprised how many are prepared to help you
· Trust your teams – Cancel the contracts with those companies who provide software which look at false indicators of productivity
The Medium Term View (e.g 3-12 Months)
Articulate the type of culture the organisation would like to have, surface the gaps and what’s needed to close them.
Identify people and teams who recognise and can champion entrepreneurial ways of working.
Educate your internal community of champions if need be. Define experiments which are designed to validate the flow of value to customers at the earliest opportunity.
Focus technology efforts on automaton to facilitate the agility required to react to rapidly changing environments.
Give employees the necessary training to help them succeed.
The Long Term View (e.g >= 1 Year)
Evaluate the structure of the organisation and, where possible, change it in a way that encourages entrepreneurial thinking and continual transformation, specific to your context.
In summary, for many of us the choice to adopt better ways of working is now or never.
One of the things I have learnt along my way, is that our lives are made up of a series of events which begin by chance. It’s the cumulative impact of our choices and adjustments which define us and can act as a guide towards outcomes that we want, no matter how unattainable they may seem.
Whether you choose to do something or do nothing having read this blog post is just an example of this 😊.