For the first time in their careers, many people have been thrust into a situation where they must learn how to rapidly change the way they work in response to a worldwide crisis. Organizations are trying to figure out how they can still execute on complex projects requiring cross-functional teams when the entire workforce is working remotely and the future still holds an incredible amount of uncertainty.
While there are many avenues for navigating these challenges, organizations should consider adopting some principles from the Agile methodology of project management. According to Project Management Institute President and CEO Sunil Prashara, “Agile is particularly useful in situations where there are many unknowns or where project specs change frequently.” He recommends companies “double down on Agile” during this time because this method is well-suited to rapidly changing times of uncertainty.
Adopting an entirely new way of working might not be realistic for you and your organization right now, but you don’t have to change everything to get the benefits of Agile. By implementing just a few Agile principles, you can overcome the challenges posed by remote working and uncertainty to get your projects back on track to completion.
Utilize Collaboration Like Never Before
Collaboration is one of the cornerstones of the Agile methodology (it’s Principle #4 of the Agile Manifesto) and the good news is that you are probably already doing some level of collaboration. In the Agile methodology, collaboration is taken seriously, and team members work very closely on projects. Collaboration also means daily in-person (or virtual) meetings and communication. Accomplishing collaboration when employees are working remotely will require some level of technology, but there are many low-cost and free options that allow people to connect.
You might not know where to start with collaboration and that’s totally okay. Collaboration is a tool that can help teams generate ideas, solve problems and even finish work more quickly. With that in mind, what projects or teams could use any one of those? Now put aside time for those involved to collaborate. You will be amazed at what even thirty minutes of collaboration can produce, and workers will likely enjoy it too. Collaboration offers them the connection to colleagues they haven’t experienced since working remotely which helps them maintain and further develop professional relationships. But to be clear, we’re not advocating for constant meetings to work on projects collaboratively (unless that’s a good fit for your business). We recommend starting small with several short meetings a week or one long meeting weekly. You can then scale up or down as needed.
Divide Your Time
Another helpful principle of the Agile methodology is the use of timeboxing. Timeboxing is when you allocate a fixed amount of time for a specific project or type of work. Timeboxing in the Agile methodology is often referred to as a “Sprint” and can vary in length from a couple weeks to a couple months (although most Sprints are kept on the shorter side). During a Sprint, all team members work toward the same goal which could be the completion of a certain project. This helps ensure the project get finished, but also allows for organizations to frequently change their priorities to new demands because each Sprint has a new focus. Sprints provide the flexibility needed in uncertain times to move forward in small increments while still being able to pivot if needed.
For some teams, it may be impossible to devote their time entirely to the Sprint goal and this is okay. If employees have run the business tasks that need to be taken care of, they can still do so, but any additional availability should be put toward the Sprint goal. You may be tempted to add more than one Sprint goal, but this would defeat the purpose of working in Sprints and dilute its benefits.
Rely on Your Champions
As we have iterated many times in other posts, employees are an organization’s greatest asset. If your organization needs a crutch to lean on right now, look no further than your most motivated employees. They want to fight to keep the organization healthy and this is extremely powerful. The Agile methodology suggests building projects around these champions and making sure they have the support they need to do their work. The champions in your company may be seasoned professionals with many years of experience with your organization, but we would encourage you to look further to find other people that are also highly motivated.
When you identify these highly motivated champions, put your trust in them. They likely already have well-developed relationships with colleagues and a firm grasp of their coworkers’ skills which can help them organize projects. However, even if this is not the case, your champions probably also have a penchant for problem solving (motivated people often do). They will work out any obstacles in pursuit of their goals. Your organization may not be used to putting so much trust in champions and releasing the control that it requires, but unusual times call for unusual measures.
Tailor Agile to Fit Your Needs
The Agile methodology has led to the creation of many different Agile frameworks for project management, some very extensive and others more lean. Agile works best when it’s tailored to fit your organization, teams and projects. Going all in on a new Agile framework might not make sense for your company and an extremely strict adherence to an Agile framework could actually hinder progress. The Agile methodology praises simplicity (defined by the Agile Manifesto as the “art of maximizing the amount of work not done”) and recommends regular reflection on what is and what is not working and adjusting accordingly. So when you begin to think about adding Agile principles into your organization, just make sure you have an “Agile as needed” mentality. Do what’s right for your teams and be open to continually adapting to make the process even better.