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Living Agile in COVID Times

Nidhi Srivastava
Vice President & Global Head, Google Cloud Business, TCS

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is undeniably our closest encounter with a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) scenario. Leaders, workers, families and individuals must do a daily “Inspect and Adapt” to adjust their brace position as they weave their way through this uncharted territory.

As an Agilist, I find the four core values of Agile development are even more relevant today than they were before COVID-19. They provide guardrails to navigate through current times with resilience, while setting the stage for recovery, transformation and growth in the new normal that will, eventually, follow the pandemic.

The four core values of Agile as stated by the Agile Manifesto are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  • Working software over comprehensive documentation

  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

  • Responding to change over following a plan

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

This is the time to put people first, whether it’s your customer, employee or a partner in the ecosystem. The health and safety of all our stakeholders must be prioritized over short-term commercial gains. Enabling people to work from home or remotely in a secure manner becomes the priority. The CEO and the senior leadership team should communicate with the customers and employees in a transparent manner on a frequent basis, helping them understand the steps that are being taken to ensure business continuity as the situation unfolds in terms of travel bans, shutdowns and country lockdowns. The business continuity plan should ensure both the safety of the employees and security of the customer’s data.

Leaders can draw upon the “daily stand-up call” construct for their teams. Leadership engagement is essential to drive a pragmatic goal-oriented approach in these testing times – leaders need to communicate a clear vision and ensure appropriate alignment between virtual teams to help employees focus on the right things. The best leaders will be genuinely empathetic as they guide their team through personal and professional challenges in this unprecedented situation. The cascading effect of personal connection through a text, an email or a voice message goes a long way in creating team energy and bonding to position your business for growth post-COVID-19.

Volatility + Uncertainty + Complexity + Ambiguity = Anxiety in Humans

You must think both from your head and your heart in such a VUCA situation since WhatsApp, Twitter and newsfeeds updating the coronavirus statistics affect the mental health and sense of wellbeing of any normal person.


Working software over comprehensive documentation

Even “Contagion” fans could not have imagined the parallels between the 2011 film and the current situation, so there is little preparedness in the society to deal with a situation like this. This is where your inherent agility – the ability to sense and respond to a crisis – becomes critical.

Organizations are closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation and rapidly adapting their business strategy and stance as change becomes the new normal. There has never been a better opportunity for business partners to support clients by rapidly delivering to changing business needs and helping them succeed. Time is of the essence here – an agile approach will deliver working solutions. The faster you solve the problem with frequent feedback loops with the client, the sooner the client can move to the next problem set.

It is imperative to enable a Secure and Borderless Workspace to deliver on your client’s needs in an agile manner. This includes rapid deployment of collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams that enable integration and connection between teams across time zones. A quick primer on how to work effectively in a remote setting, along with company guidelines on how to be effective while training and facilitating over video, ensures the delivery of value to the customer.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

These days the best customer experiences very often tend to be the best digital customer experiences. Taking this analogy further – it is possible to deliver continuous value (while being remote) to the customer by being an empathetic partner and understanding their key priorities and pain areas. Be there for the client (video works just fine), listen to them, be decisive and take action to support them. Millennials are doing Happy Hours on apps such as Houseparty – a viral video chat app. You can also meet your customer at a Houseparty session with a glass of your favorite wine on a Thursday evening and take your relationship a notch higher.

Responding to change over following a plan

The current situation requires ruthless daily prioritization and a continual commitment to action. The situation is so volatile and dynamic that the cost of a delayed decision can affect many lives. In an evolving VUCA environment, the business challenges themselves ‘shape-shift’ much like the coronavirus itself. Business planning needs to evolve continuously to address changing scenarios. Leaders need to take a “digital twin” approach simulating the impact of changing environmental variables on the business to discover the appropriate response to potential shifts. An agile organization with a strong digital foundation could then dynamically rewire itself to focus on delivering that response.

By definition, decisive leaders make decisions

Decisive leadership has never been more important – whether it is a government, a firm or a team. Do not procrastinate your decision making to a post-COVID-19 horizon because it is not clear how long it will take for us to get there. A leadership that is open, transparent, committed to human values and decisive in clearing the backlog of decisions will provide a beacon of hope.

Agility as a mindset with a focus on people, early feedback loops, frequent focused communication, and regular course adjustments can help us pivot and navigate in extraordinary times – including this one.

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