Business Agility: What Leaders Learned from COVID-19

Aug 20, 2020

Business agility is an increasingly important focal point for companies across all industries. It’s a necessity for survival, and this was true long before 2020. But now, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, business agility is more important than it ever has been. If you want to stay ahead of your competition, then your entire organization must know how to adapt and innovate quickly when producing solutions at scale.

Before we discuss what you need to know about business agility in the time of COVID-19, this is the most important thing for you to keep in mind:

Leadership is the greatest enabler or barrier to successful Agile transformation.

According to a 2018 McKinsey study, 76% of executives cited ‘transforming the culture’ as their top challenge during agile transformation. This statistic speaks for the need for effective partcipatory (not delegatory) leadership. The C-suite, executives, and other leaders are ultimately responsible for how a cultural transition plays out. Just like your teams, you and the rest of your leadership must participate and get trained in order to understand the context and be successful. The training should teach you to lead differently, think differently, and to take an active role in employee development.

With the importance of participatory leadership in mind, here are a few things for you to consider when contemplating business agility in the time of COVID-19.

Consumers Have Already Moved to Digital

Agile implementation in 2020 and beyond will emphasize digital processes and the streamlining of projects via remote contribution. While it is important to consider digital transformation internally, make sure that your customers are central in that consideration. Consumers amid the pandemic have moved even deeper into the digital space. Existing trends toward online engagement and purchasing have sped up, and this will become the new normal.

To allow for quick and efficient digital delivery to consumers, leaders need to implement and continuously improve business agility practices with a special focus on design thinking. Understanding your customers’ needs is central to innovation. Having business agility will allow you to innovate quickly and pivot relentlessly to where the customers are going.

There’s an Opportunity to Revamp Financial Practices

One of the key principles of business agility is adaptability, a willingness to change with purpose. This should be applied to your company’s financial practices, much in the same way people approach their personal finances. In the uncertain environment of COVID-19, people (including your employees) are exploring what financial options they have. Many are making changes to give themselves a sense of control over their finances, including boosting emergency funds, reworking budgets, and prioritizing debt. Exploratory and innovative ‘pivots’ allow minimal investment until customer validation. This lowers the investment, maximizes the customer validation, and ultimately allows for better financial returns.

A business embracing agile in this time of turmoil should consider taking similar steps. Reassessing your budgeting practices and streamlining funding will be beneficial. If you haven’t already, consider Lean Portfolio Management. Funding practices ultimately dictate business outcomes, and this Lean-Agile approach to funding and delivery helps companies connect strategy to execution, while validating the strategy and improving portfolio visibility and decision making.

It’s Time to Empower Employees

COVID-19 is radically and immediately changing employer-employee relationships as people adjust to remote contact. In many cases, entire project management systems have had to change, and fostering employee productivity has been difficult. Many leaders are looking for ways to make remote work as productive as ordinary work, and to do so quickly.

The best place to start is by empowering your employees, your very best asset. Welcome feedback and collaboration. Establish a culture of psychological safety, giving people the ability to question, push back and offer alternative paths. Listen and respond to their remote needs. Do not dictate new conditions, but work together to come up with manageable and productive practices. Open and honest collaboration is critical to a healthy Lean-Agile culture.

Agile practices typically offer significant productivity gains because employees are more engaged. Agile practices also focus on business outcomes rather than traditional ‘work lists’ that often lead to delivering where the customers were, rather than where they are currently.

For a detailed example of how to achieve your business goals by empowering your employees, check out the 3-part series Empiricism in the Age of COVID-19 by Travis Reed. He describes how he and his teams embraced the agile mindset, using experimentation and empiricism to come up with a remote system for SAFe® PI Planning that worked for them.


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Act Now Before it’s Too Late!

Now that you know what needs to be done to achieve business agility in the time of COVID-19, it is time to act. The best place to start?

Get coaching!

Many companies mistakenly think that training is enough. Even if very smart people take the time to learn about this new way of working, the information disseminated in training will not translate to knowledge until it is applied, sometimes with mistakes. True learning comes from successes AND failures, and coaching can ensure that the teams and individuals maximize learning. Plus, anti-patterns are likely to emerge, which can blunt or derail your efforts. Prevent a backslide by getting a business agility coach who is well-versed in the Lean-Agile mindset. He or she will be quick to point out what can be improved, what’s missing, and what’s working. If you want to lead a sustainable business agility transformation, then you need the reinforcement of an experienced coach and change agent.


Need a business agility coach? We have a wide network of experienced coaches and can match you up with the right person within a few days.


Written by Regina Frost and Alyssa Hamilton