How to navigate the winds of change with Agility

Ben Breen, Managing Director, Asia Pacific and Head of Global Construction, Project Management Institute

The world has entered uncharted waters: COVID-19 has altered everything. Many of us have had to minimise physical interactions to live and work virtually. Companies and individuals have pivoted, reinvented, and transformed to meet the current demand.

COVID-19 is not over yet, and the need to be flexible and adapt to new situations as they arise in the future is of utmost importance. It’s challenging, but there are good things that come out of constant change. We need to embrace the opportunities to mitigate the risks. Above all, we need to look closely at everything that is happening and challenge any assumptions we hold. 

This has given rise to what we call a new work ecosystem. A framework helping companies and professionals to move beyond reactive measures, take a step back, and consider how to shape the ways in which work will be accomplished moving forward. 

For a new work ecosystem to flourish, reskilling and upskilling the existing workforce is imperative. What this means to practitioners and change-makers is a focus on developing additional skills needed to meet the evolving demands in the marketplace. But in doing so, it also means new opportunities to elevate individuals’ value as strategic partners in business success. 

In the professional reality of technological disruption, organisations need project leaders with an ability to learn and keep pace with technology. The ideal skill set is a combination of technical, leadership, and business management expertise — including human-centred “Power Skills” – that enable them to focus on more strategic, creative, and interpersonal sides of work.

Ultimately, professionals and organisations have to find ways to reinvent themselves to keep up with the winds of change.

The Skills We Need

The World Economic Forum (WEF) in its Future of Jobs 2020 report states that up to 50 per cent of the global workforce requires reskilling by 2025. It listed the following as the top 10 skills we need in the lead up to 2025:

  1. Analytical thinking and innovation
  2. Active learning and learning strategies
  3. Complex problem-solving
  4. Critical thinking and analysis
  5. Resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility
  6. Creativity, originality, and initiative
  7. Leadership and social influence
  8. Reasoning, problem-solving, and ideation
  9. Emotional intelligence
  10. Technology design and programming

It is clear that the skills that make a difference and create an impact go beyond just technical skills required in any field. They must be complemented by capabilities focused on working with people and leading teams.

We have seen this first-hand during the COVID-19 crisis as people came together quickly across organisational lines to quickly respond to various aspects of the crisis. A perfect example was when teams of researchers and scientists across the globe came together to develop a vaccine.

The need to respond rapidly to such disruptions only underscores the need for organisations to think and work in new ways – the need to be Agile.

Method to Madness

Agile is a concept originally from the technology world. It has been used successfully in business challenges across the enterprise, from software development to creative work like marketing and communications to finance and procurement.

At this point, the concept of Agile has been around for nearly two decades. It had time to mature, and a whole workforce has matured along with it, giving entire organisations time to understand the many ways that it can be used.

The more frequently that Agile is applied, the more we know that one size fits none. With a disciplined approach, teams and leaders understand that context (the end goals, the roadblocks, the team members’ individual talents) creates the foundation to optimise the workflow. That is a principle that can be applied to every business challenge. Agile isn’t about software anymore. It’s about agility for the entire enterprise.

Agile teams also focus on outcomes and strive to fulfill their customers’ needs, while Disciplined Agile (DA) teams take it a notch higher by striving to delight their customers, and as a result are better able to evolve their strategy along with changes in circumstances. By being willing to embrace change and explore new ways of working, such teams are also flexible and hence can be quick to adopt remote collaboration technologies.

Companies can have the most brilliant strategy in the world, but it will not amount to anything unless they have multidisciplinary teams with both technical know-how and upskilled with the crucial soft skills to carry out that vision – and yet be able to pivot quickly when conditions change or evolve.

Core Principles of Disciplined Agile

Fast and flexible is the name of the game in this new world. For organisations to pivot, teams must be agile and turn on a dime too. Ready-for-anything teams will excel by prioritising three core principles:

Agility Always: No matter the size of a team, it must be built with flexibility in mind. As roles and responsibilities are redefined, teams that embrace an all-for-one mentality will be best prepared to adjust on the fly.

Collaborate and Listen: Enterprise hierarchies are becoming a thing of the past – and the idea of an all-knowing, top-down leadership is fading fast. The onus is on leaders to build team trust and forge a collaborative pact. Emotional intelligence and strong communication can make the difference between a project that delivers and one that is dead on arrival.

Put the Customer First: Teams need to keep the user’s or customer’s needs in mind from the very start. Making consumer feedback the backbone of planning and execution will help teams stay on track to deliver meaningful value.

The Disciplined Agile Advantage

Businesses are being forced to adapt and transform faster than ever before so they can continue to meet evolving needs. In response, they are experimenting with agile ways of working. While teams are succeeding with Agile, when it comes to scaling it across the enterprise, organisations are not seeing as much success.

In such an environment, the strengths of Disciplined Agile comes to the fore. Disciplined Agile is not a framework, but rather a toolkit that focuses on helping teams understand the context-specific decisions they need to consider, the options available to them, and the trade-offs associated with these options.

It is a people-first, learning-oriented hybrid agile approach to value delivery which recognises that every organisation is different, and that within each organisation, teams will want to vary their approach based on the nature of work.

Change is the only constant. No matter where you are in your Agile journey, or what existing framework you are using, adopting Disciplined Agile will complement the work done. By being disciplined about Agile, organisations and professionals can leverage a mentality and methodology granting them control in steering their business or team through the winds of change.