Staying Agile in a Time of Crisis

Insights | 21 April 2020

There’s a line in Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind that is more poignant today than ever:

“In order to change an existing imagined order, we must first believe in an alternative imagined order.”

Everywhere we look right now, the order of things is changing. Is that a challenging or even frightening realisation? Of course. But it’s important to remember the human race has thrived on imaginary frameworks that have enabled successful cooperation. We’ve seen it so many times before where large numbers of strangers have come together through belief in a common vision. This is no different.

Making the most of the current pandemic

In times of unprecedented volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, organisations – and business leaders, in particular – must respond efficiently and effectively. We need to learn how to respond to the changing order of things. This is critical for us to not only survive the pandemic lockdown, but to thrive in the post-pandemic world. And regardless of what’s going on around us, the fundamentals remain the same: to build responsive and resilient businesses.

Looking to the future, today

Just as our ancestors have done throughout the ages, we need to be responsive. Two things, in particular, are vital for businesses right now. We need to:

  1. Use this enforced slowdown to take stock and uncover what learnings will help us develop new business strategies once things return to normal.
  2. Envision how we will operate now and in the future. That means taking steps now to pivot our strategies for a changed business environment later.

A clear and shared vision must be the foundation, even if we start by exploring multiple scenarios and outcomes. What will your organisation look like three months from now? What about in 18 months? How will your products and services change – if at all? Will you have any new objectives or key drivers? What channels will you be harnessing to reach new markets? How will the needs of your clients change post-pandemic? Will business opportunities be rarer or more plentiful?

Answering the fundamental questions

These are difficult questions, but the smartest operators are already looking for the answers. Lockdown, quarantine or otherwise, business strategy should never stop evolving.

At PM-Partners, the three fundamental questions of portfolio management are still as relevant as ever – and they can be adapted to any industry or business type:

  1. Are we responding to the right things for our current and future environment?
  2. Are we deploying our strategies in the right way?
  3. Do we have the right capability to respond?

By using these questions as the building blocks of your post-pandemic operations, you will be in a much better – and more agile – position to react to whatever happens in the marketplace.

Looking inward is just as important as responding to external changes

Just like my work life, my personal life has changed significantly in recent weeks. My husband is no longer spending his waking hours playing squash, tennis, soccer and swimming – instead he gets to spend more time with me!

So with some extra time on our hands last weekend, we joined forces for a family workshop in the kitchen. We started by putting our imaginations to the test, basing our activities on that first fundamental question: are we responding to the right things?

The workshop kicked off with a creative drawing exercise: colouring a picture of our vision for life in 2022. Was it fun? Yes, especially interpreting each other’s drawings.

We quickly progressed to brain-dumping our to-do list. What did we need to do today to achieve our vision for 2022? Suffice it to say, our kitchen wall is now completely covered in orange post-it notes.

Kanban Board

Taking active steps forward

Having invested the time in developing our shared vision for the future, it’s now time to tackle those post-it notes. My husband is even espousing the benefits of our family Kanban – the foundation of our personal agility and resilience over this time.

Personally, I will be following a simple checklist to help me navigate work over the next few months, and it can be adapted to your life for a more productive time in lockdown. These six core behaviours of ‘Agile Portfolio Management’ are sure to serve you and your team well:

  1. Focus on the creation of value.
  2. Review the portfolio continuously.
  3. Involve the right people to share and manage the portfolio.
  4. Clearly and continuously demonstrate that the portfolio is delivering optimal value.
  5. Encourage innovation and creativity.
  6. Encourage collaboration and empowerment.

These six behaviours are critical as we seek to optimise our time working from home.

Now is the ideal time to revise the way your business works in order to be more agile. Speak to the experts at PM-Partners today about how we can help you deliver change better, faster and with less risk.

About The Author

Carolyn Gardiner-Hill, Senior Consultant - Advisory at PM-Partners

Carolyn is an experienced hands-on professional with a strong background working at an enterprise level in complex and large organisations. Carolyn has held a range of project, management advisory and product management, predominantly in services industries. With her blend of technical, commercial and management experience, she has successfully delivered new business services and improved capabilities in client-side and consulting-side roles. Carolyn has experience across government and commercial sectors both in NSW and WA.

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