Podcast Ep. 86: Has COVID-19 Accelerated Agile?

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Episode Description:

In this week’s episode, Dan Neumann is joined by frequent guest of the show, Quincy Jordan, a principal transformation consultant and agile competency lead at AgileThought. Together, they are exploring COVID-19 as an agile accelerator.

In the agile space, there has been a long-time myth that face-to-face is synonymous with colocation, and that you cannot have effective agile teams if they are not collocated. However, in the past year or so, many companies have begun to consider moving to a hybrid remote model. But when COVID-19 hit, their 12-month transition plans quickly become one-week transition plans. And though this has been very difficult for many, this acceleration due to COVID-19 has actually been a good thing in many cases.

Dan and Quincy will discuss the following: What has been accelerated; beliefs about agility that got challenged due to COVID-19; what the “new normal” post-COVID-19 may look like; and how these changes will be made to be sustainable moving forward.

Listen on Google Play Music

Key Takeaways

  • Beliefs about agility that got challenged due to COVID-19:
    • The people in the agile space that were especially adamant that you cannot have effective remote agile teams were shown that it is possible
    • Some people believed that doing training in a distributed way would bring the quality down however, the quality of training that is being delivered has not gone down since going remote
  • What COVID-19 has accelerated:
    • When pressed, many people are able to do very impressive things and accomplish more than they thought possible
    • It accelerated ingenuity and creativity
    • It accelerated the decisions to collaborate with one another as teammates and to quickly come together on a situation to figure out the most effective solution
    • It helped accelerate clarity on what was truly important to accomplish
    • It has driven companies to really start embracing business agility more
    • Agility went from a concept that companies only thought about to a concrete concept that they embraced
    • Organizations have been focusing on value more due to embracing the agile mindset (and COVID-19 has been pushing this to further bounds)
    • It has helped push organizations to further their alignment on business agility and focus on the problems that need to be solved
    • COVID-19 has also accelerated businesses beyond those in software (it permeated into all facets)
  • Challenges regarding COVID-19 and the acceleration it has brought:
    • How do we maintain alignment between business and IT in this remote world? (How often do we need to meet? What do we need to be aligned on?)
    • Video conference fatigue
    • How do we ensure that the right problems are being solved, that the vision is clear, that the business objectives at hand are clear, and that the teams know how to tie their work to meaningful outcomes for the business?
    • People don’t adapt as fast as technology
    • What might the “new normal” look like post-COVID-19?
    • There most likely will be more remote work and more emphasis on collaborating remotely
    • There may be a bigger demand for remote tools (such as digital whiteboards) and they will become even more efficient going forward
    • People will most likely be more intentional about how they are showing up to video conferences with clearer goals in mind

Mentioned in this Episode

Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and not completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar]

Intro: [00:03] Welcome to Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought, the podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host coach and agile expert, Dan Neumann.

Dan Neumann: [00:16] Welcome to the Agile Coaches’ Corner. I’m Dan Neumann and happy to be joined today by one of my colleagues and, and frequent podcast participant, Quincy Jordan.

Quincy Jordan: [00:27] Yes. Thank you, Dan. As always such a pleasure to be here, I’m always happy to share. Yeah. Always happy to have the dialogue. Uh, so yeah, looking forward to this podcast today.

Dan Neumann: [00:39] That’s awesome. And for, you know, we’ve been working at home for so long that in my head still, when you were talking about, Oh, you know, I’m working with client X and, and you know, the yada yada in my head, I was like, Oh, I hope he has a quiet spot to record from there. And it just, I don’t know, for some reason my brain actually had you going somewhere and in the old days, I guess.

Quincy Jordan: [00:59] Right here in the home office.

Dan Neumann: [01:03] Yeah. You and me both watching the squirrels in the front yard.

Quincy Jordan: [01:06] Yeah. You, me and, you know, in the rest of, uh, corporate America.

Dan Neumann: [01:10] Oh yeah. And I was excited. I thought July was going to be the day I’d get to hop back in my Delta airplane and Florida, man. I wanted to get Florida, but they don’t seem to be handling this very well. We can’t handle freedom.

Quincy Jordan: [01:26] There’s um, yeah, there’ve been some things that I have, uh, sped that whole thing along of working remote and working from home. And, uh, all of that is there’s some things that have sped that along.

Dan Neumann: [01:39] Yeah. Well, and that’s kind of tying back into our topic today, which is exploring COVID as a type of an agile accelerator.

Quincy Jordan: [01:50] Yeah. It’s so it’s, it’s been an interesting thing, you know, obviously there have been, um, plenty of, you know, very disturbing things around COVID-19. Um, it has completely disrupted, um, the world, uh, like nothing else has in our lifetime so far. Um, even more so than I used to say, nothing had done that more than Y2K and you know, now, you know, nothing is done that more than COVID-19. Um, and so, you know, there are a lot of different companies, clients that I’ve spoken with. Um, other companies that I’ve observed where, you know, in the agile space, there was this long time myth. I’ll call it at this point of well colocation, Oh, I’m sorry. Face to face was synonymous with colocation and that, uh, you really could not have effective agile teams if they were not colocated it. And, and I had my own personal kind of pet peeve with that only because I worked with remote teams. I mean, literally all over the past 20 years. And I’ve been able to see, you know, teams that have been very effective and I’ve been able to see teams that were not so effective. Uh, and so over the past, I would say year, maybe year and a half, as technology continues to evolve and change, you know, and so forth that there were a lot of companies that were considering going to at least a partial, you know, like a hybrid remote model. Um, and there was a lot of conversations around, you know, maybe two days a week or maybe we alternate weeks. Um, but we’re going to have to ease into it. We can’t just do it all at one time because that’s going to be too disruptive, uh, to, you know, our businesses and to our teams and boom COVID-19 hit. And then all of a sudden, all these things that, you know, were going to be in some cases, 12 month, you know, transition plans to kind of see how it would go, uh, became one week transition plans a couple of days, you know, in some instances, um, there’s one company that, yeah, they literally have been planning Uh, I want to say, I think it was maybe like a six month transition plan. And within, I wanna say like less than a week, they had team members with laptops who didn’t have laptops before. Cause they only had desktops, you know, in the office. Um, and you know, and they reacted very quickly. Um, and so in that sense, I felt like it was extremely accelerated, um, because of COVID-19, which in some ways was a good thing, you know? And, and we’ll, you know, I guess we can also, you know, I was thinking about, we could talk about along these lines, uh, well, what types of things got accelerated that will probably become sustainable? You know, that we’ll keep in this new model.

Dan Neumann: [05:28] Agreed. So there was that, that, Oh gosh, if we want to stay a going concern in business, we have to make this thing work. Um, in, in a, in a way it was, it was obviously a defensive, uh, type of move, but it makes me wonder what keeps organizations from offensively, doing similar things when they see an opportunity in the market, moving that quickly, as opposed to, well, let’s come up with the business case and detailed estimates and yeah, yeah. Maybe we’ll deliver it in sprints, but it’s still not fast. There’s still not real speed to market there. They might do agile. They might subscribe to one of the scaling frameworks, but they’re still not moving fast. And, um, obviously it’s like, Oh shoot. If we want people to actually work on the business, we have to make this happen, but I don’t, I don’t see that kind of focus and certainty with darn near anything else. And I think that’s that to me was the eyeopener where things might get piloted this year and rolled out next year. They did it literally in weeks.

Quincy Jordan: [06:35] Yeah. And I really think it’s actually one kind of a Testament to, you know, the human spirit, you know, in some ways that when pressed, we can do, uh, you know, very impressive things, you know, when we, we can do things that we thought that we couldn’t do, um, we can push past, you know, beliefs that we thought we couldn’t push past. Um, you know, I mean there were, there were folks that were just absolutely adamant in the agile space that you cannot, you absolutely cannot have effective agile teams that are remote. You just can’t do it. Uh, and I think, um, I think some of those folks are now selling workshops on.

Dan Neumann: [07:30] Yeah. And it reminds me I should reach out to Mark Kilby. At some point he had a, he and Joanna Rothman had a book about distributed teams and different flavors of distributed teams. I’ll be kind of curious to see, um, maybe reach out to them and see if they’ll do a re uh, um, a part two to their podcast. So that’s me thinking out loud. So, Hey, we’ll, uh, we’ll look to see if Mark and Joanna can join again for, for exploring some of the remote teams. One of my beliefs that got challenged with COVID, I think was around doing training in a distributed way. Cause I was, and still do see a ton of value in being in the same room, seeing people’s faces, being able to interact at break times and lunchtimes, and, you know, maybe there’s a happy hour afterwards or those types of things, but I’ve been really pleasantly surprised with the quality of training that’s been able to be delivered. So I think and just to touch on the professional scrum classes through scrum.org have, have really revamped. They’ve gone from PowerPoint and activity centric to these really interactive murals online. And that paired with video, it’s still been a really compelling, valuable experiences, the feedback we’re getting.

Quincy Jordan: [08:48] Yeah. And you know, so years ago, I would say somewhere between maybe about five to eight years ago, um, I did a significant number of remote trainings and through a company of mine. And one of the one I learned then and saw then how effective those trainings could be remote. Um, I learned a lot of, uh, these are the things that you need to do to, to help them be remote, obviously, stable internet connection, uh, videos on, uh, a lot of thinking ahead, maybe a little bit more than what you have to do for traditional class. There’s a lot more set up as let’s say, as a trainer or as a facilitator for a workshop, um, that you would have to do. But one of the things that I think is, is different now versus seven, eight years ago, um, are things like applications like mural and, you know, other digital whiteboard type applications that you can use where you have collaborative spaces, uh, that were not as available before, or, you know, maybe they weren’t as robust as they are now. Uh, neither was the bandwidth as well, just in general. So, so there are a number of things that when I look at it, the accelerator that COVID-19 has been, was pleasantly matched by technology that was not available. Had this happen 10 years ago, this would have been a very different situation 10 years ago.

Dan Neumann: [10:42] Agreed. I think, you know, especially as I reflect on the speed at which the healthcare industry seems to be progressing towards potential vaccines, you know, obviously nothing solved it, the computing power, the technology that compare with it, the collaboration technology is a massive enabler. And we see that with cloud services like Microsoft’s Azure cloud. We don’t have to wait for rack servers to be shipped across the country, dropped on the loading dock, put into racks, installed by humans, et cetera, et cetera. It’s literally a script that spins up your new infrastructure. Um, and that’s, that’s pretty amazing as well that the tech as an enabler.

Quincy Jordan: [11:26] Yeah. I mean, even if you think about, uh, what we’re doing right now, so podcasts are not new, you know, um, I don’t know the exact dates on how long podcasts have been around. Um, but what I do know is what we’re doing now. It wasn’t that long ago that we would have had to have been colocated. We would’ve had to have been in the same physical space, you know, there’d be, you know, a setup with the microphones and so forth. And when even you, when that wasn’t a requirement, the technology still wasn’t as good as it is now to where we can do this remote. And the fact of the matter is, you know, we can do this with anyone anywhere in the world, you know, um, as long as we have the proper technology, you know, to, to help us. So, uh, so I think that accelerator, um, like I said, it was a pleasantly match, um, by technology that we didn’t have before, uh, you know, yes, it’s, it’s pushing zoom and teams, you know, to the max it’s in any of the shortcomings that were there, you know, have begun to get exploited, you know, whether it’s zoom bombing or whatever the case, uh, you know, but, but that’s also part of, you know, and an evolutionary tale, you know, that that’s part of how things get better. I mean, that’s what agile as a mindset is heavily about, you know, it’s iterative development, it’s feedback, uh, and then taking that feedback and improving. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing is just that, uh, we did it in a, instead of two week Sprints, I think we were doing, you know, maybe two hours Sprints, uh, you know, in that first week, uh, you know, there were folks at our company at other companies that were talking almost around the clock, trying to figure things out, you know, because this was something that we never faced in in that time, uh, just accelerated our ingenuity. It accelerated our, uh, creativity. It accelerated our, uh, decisions to collaborate with one another as teammates and to quickly come together and, and quite frankly, swarm on a situation to try to figure out, um, how can we be effective with our clients, uh, given the current state of things.

Dan Neumann: [14:19] There became a real clarity of what was the important thing to make out of it now. I feel like organizations pay lip service to that typically. Well, this is, these are the high priority items. These are medium, these are lower priority. What COVID forced was, this is number one right now. Yes, it has to happen. And I hope in a way that we can keep that clarity of focus and use that when we are not in the, a pandemic response mode. I suspect, I suspect it won’t be as sticky, as valuable as valuably sticky. I’m not even sure that’s a word, but, you know, we don’t want people running around with like headless chickens. That’s not the goal. We don’t want unsustainable pace. And I know there was a lot of midnight oil burned as organizations tried to figure out what to do with all the organization and health uncertainty, but at the same time that that clarity, this is what is important to do right now.

Quincy Jordan: [15:21] And, and that, I believe that also in from the things that I’m saying, um, that has driven companies to really start embracing business agility a lot more than I, I felt like it was more a concept that companies were considering when it came to business agility. I think at this point, because of that focus, it has turned into, this is no longer just a concept. This is something that we really need to figure out how to do. We need to figure out how can we be agile, uh, in our business dealings, how can we be agile in how we do our day to day work? Not just, not just in IT, but, uh, in our full enterprise, across all business units within, within an organization. And that has also in my assessment that has also caused the business side to almost start being forced into focusing on value a bit more in not just the business side, really actually the IT side as well, um, to focus on business value more, you know, which is again, what, what the whole agile mindset is all about is helping to really get towards business value and have things to be sustainable. Uh, but I think that, that the COVID-19 being an accelerator has pushed at, um, you know, to not to the limits, but to some bounds that, uh, that we did not necessarily, you know, expect.

Dan Neumann: [17:18] Right. You think of, of business agility in that move to work from home and all the different groups, its obviously involved in that human resources involved in that, um, marketing, marketing, compliance, sales, all those different information, risk, whatever groups, those are all had to do something and instead kind of pre-pandemic that would have, I think I can say this most organizations that would have, well, let’s talk about work from home this year and maybe we’ll do a pilot with some people next year because you know, gosh, what about, what about policy a, B or C? Um, I, you know what, gosh are people going to actually work if they’re not here in the building to watch and just all the hand-wringing that would have happened, um, went out the door and businesses say here’s the problem we have to solve and it got solved.

Quincy Jordan: [18:16] Yes. And you know, in along those lines, keeping business and IT align, uh, I mean that’s, that’s been a challenge, you know, long before COVID-19, that’s been one of the things that, uh, those who have embraced the agile space have, uh, I believe fared better at than those who are still in, you know, traditional spaces. Uh, and you know, with that, you really do have to think through we’re all remote. How do we maintain alignment, uh, between the business and IT in this remote world? Um, what things do we even need to stay aligned on? How often do we need to meet, uh, or are we needing to be on zoom all day long? Right? Because that has his own effect and there’s no zoom fatigue or, or maybe I shouldn’t say zoom fatigue cause that’s specific, but video fatigue or video conference fatigue, you know, has, has begun to wear on people. Uh, but you have to think through that, you have to think through how are we going to maintain this alignment, you know, with business and make sure that the right problems are being solved, ensure that from leadership all the way down to the team, that the vision is very clear that the object business objectives at hand, you know, that those things are clear, uh, that the teams know how to tie their work to meaningful outcomes. Um, for the business, not just, you know, cranking out code for the sake of cranking out code, but you know, this code is really helping to produce this particular outcome. So, you know, those are things that, uh, that I see as, uh, things that need to be considered and things that have been accelerated in that consideration, um, across several organizations.

Dan Neumann: [20:29] Up till now, Quincy, we were talking about, Hey, COVID, it has been an accelerator for us. It created a lot of, a lot of focus for organizations. The, the alignment and business agility on what’s really important to do right now, uh, focus on what problem is to solve, whether it’s remote workers or financial institutions that were trying to figure out what this new payment protection program was that rolled out, uh, restaurants by us. I live in Indiana. Um, the state changed alcohol laws. So restaurants could basically sell to go liquor. I mean, business agility, wasn’t just a software thing. It permeated, um, all facets of what we are doing. And there was a real driver, you know, the burning platform email. Um, I know I was, I was at a place when one of those came out from the CEO. So COVID created a bit of a burning platform and a real need to change stuff. Um, there’s been a bit of a downside, like you said, people don’t adapt as fast as technology. So I get tired of sitting in this chair and staring at the computer, you know, and I started blocking out noon to one for lunch because when I didn’t, someone was like, Oh, Hey, look, you’re available noon to one. And I’m like, Oh dear God. I would like to, I would like to step away from my desk now. And then the question becomes when this, you know, knock on wood, a pandemic thing ebs and we get back to something that looks more like what it was back in December and every year prior to that in the U S anyway, um, what, how do we keep some of the value, the good parts of, of the transition. I, I’m not going to, I hate the term new normal, but like when, when things change again, which they will, you know, how do we, how do we keep some of those things is what it would be good to explore?

Quincy Jordan: [22:26] Yeah. Well, one, let me just say in, in, just in my opinion, and I keep up with this quite a bit, just as far as what’s going on with the government and in the bars and all that stuff. Uh, I, I think that the accelerator, uh, is going to slow down in terms of accelerating, COVID-19 being an accelerator for the work from home model, um, or the remote model. I do think that is going to slow down. However, I don’t know that things are going to go back to how they were, um, in this past December or September, uh, anytime soon, uh, at some point it might, but just like anything else, if it takes so long for that to happen, then new habits, new behaviors, new expectations, um, begin to form and the memory of how things used to be, uh, become just that, you know, there, there is somewhat of a faint memory and, you know, we tend to remember many of the more, more recent things than we do, you know, how something was two or three years ago. Uh, so, so I don’t know that, that I really believe that we’re going to go back to how that was in the near future. I think it literally will probably be closer to another 12 to 18 months, you know, before that will happen. Uh, so in my mind, what that translates into is, you know, there will be a new, normal established, um, it’s, it’s happening now, you know, as we speak, uh, you know, I was talking with someone yesterday, uh, about, about hurricanes in Florida and you know, how that kind of thing happens in. And so I use that analogy to relate it back to my, my impression of what I think with the COVID-19 being accelerated, that, you know, the first time someone probably moves to Florida that first hurricane hits and, you know, they’re like, Oh, we have got to evacuate, we’ve got to get outta here. They load up the car, they have all their gas cans and they hit the road and they’re gone, you know, and then maybe it’s like the next time. They’re like, you know what, I think we’re just going to board up and we’ll just shut in for awhile. Uh, and it has less impact, you know, that’s how I believe that is what, what is going to take place, uh, with the COVID-19 stuff. You know, of course you’re talking about a second wave and all those things, and that almost seems inevitable, you know, at this point. Um, so does that mean it will be the same accelerator in the work from home model that it was before? I don’t think so because we’re already doing it, so it’s not going to have the same impact now we’re figuring out, um, even better ways to, to be more productive, uh, in this work from home model. So some of the things that I think that we will carry forward with us are, uh, how to collaborate, you know, in a remote world, like how to use some of the tools, collaboration, tools, whiteboard, digital whiteboards. I think all those things we’re going to carry forward with this and not only care of them forward, there’s probably going to be an even bigger demand for those tools becoming, uh, even more efficient and better than what they are now. You know, I’ve been saying for, for years, you know, I’m looking forward to that hologram becoming a, you know, a, a practical, you know, every day thing like video conferencing is now. Uh, so there’ll be new things, you know, to come, you know, from all this and we will carry some of those things forward, um, with this.

Dan Neumann: [26:26] Yeah, the, the remote model certainly feels like it could be sticky. I think if I owned a bunch of commercial real estate, I’d be sweating right now because I think a lot of companies are gonna realize that they don’t need this big glass tower, or they need half of the space in the tower or a third of the space.

Quincy Jordan: [26:47] As I said, I keep up with a lot of that stuff and that is kind of the next shoe to drop.

Dan Neumann: [26:52] It’ll be a long tail, right? I mean, you can’t exit lease easily, but at least most commercial leases quickly, but boy, that, uh, how much glass do we need? How much commuting do we need? It’ll be, that’ll be very interesting. Um, and then really, you know, hopefully we keep that alignment on these are the important things and limiting work in process. That for me, I think is, is a game changer and so hard to do in a when there isn’t some compelling reason, some obviously compelling reason to do it. The, the, the notion that, Oh yeah, well, we could get better through, but if we limited our work and process, that seems really conceptual and hard for people to appreciate until they do it. And they’re like, wow, we just did something massive in a week or two weeks or a month. Um, and so hopefully for me, that’s what I’m hoping sticks is that ruthless prioritization.

Quincy Jordan: [27:47] Yeah. Along those lines, one of the things that, that I have noticed as well is I think in, in these video conferences, people seem to be a lot more, uh, you know, obviously video conferences. I mean, it’s been around for a while, so it’s not like as a new thing, but, um, up until COVID-19, it had always been more of a hybrid model. You have some people in the room, some people on video, some people, you know, just on audio, you know, those kinds of things. And one of the things that I have taken note of is I believe people are a lot more, uh, not critical, but they’re a lot more intentional about, alright, why are we meeting? What are we supposed to be talking about? What is the agenda? What is the intent, uh, what do we hope to accomplish in this meeting? I’ve seen that addressed a lot better in this instance, uh, with video conferencing over people walking into the room. Like I, I remember, and I would see people just walk into the room. They had no idea what the meeting was about, like at all. And they would just walk in and, you know, put the coffee down and just kind of started talking. And, you know, that goes on for like 10 minutes and Oh, now we’re going to figure out why we’re here. So that I see less, less of that happening now. And people are a lot more focused and it may be a trickle down effect from what, what you said that there was, maybe there’s more focus coming into it of, this is the important thing. This is what we need to focus on. This is what we need to solve.

Dan Neumann: [29:36] I love the concept of focus and maybe that’s a good spot to tie it up less we lose focus and put their coffee cups down and stay in here. So thank you for exploring COVID as a bit of an accelerator for, for business agility. That’s awesome. Absolutely. Have you found time to read anything besides I’m kind of trying to keep up on world changing things?

Quincy Jordan: [29:58] I have not found much time to sleep, let alone, uh, I’m joking. I do make time.

Dan Neumann: [30:06] I found more time for naps, I have found that I don’t know if it’s because of the work from home or because of the, uh, the, uh, endurance training, the running that I’ve been doing. But yeah, boy.

Quincy Jordan: [30:16] It’s really just, it’s mainly, uh, with, uh, one of, one of my new clients that we’ve been making some major changes, rolling out a completely new program and several new, uh, teams and so forth. So, you know, at the beginning of any initiative and effort like that, uh, it calls on you quite a bit. So any downtime has not been spent catching up or understood.

Dan Neumann: [30:47] I use part of my car time to start listening to it. It’s apparently only an audio book, so it’s not really an audio book. It’s just audio. Cause there’s no book that goes with it. But, uh, Kevin Hart has a book, an ebook called the decision overcoming today’s BS for tomorrow’s success. So Kevin Hart’s apparently gone all motivational speaker now. So, um, I don’t know. It’s it’s um, it’s not anything maybe that hasn’t been said to somewhere else, but you know, it’s Kevin Hart, so it’s kinda got a different tone to it. So that’s a little bit fun. I dunno, you know, the, uh, the Zig Ziglar sales guy or some of these other, they don’t drop nearly as many F bombs as Kevin Hart does in the book. So we’ll see it’s, it’s entertaining and maybe there’s some value in it too.

Quincy Jordan: [31:33] I don’t know that they leave you in stitches either.

Dan Neumann: [31:35] He’s pretty funny. It’s pretty good. Pretty good thing. So I don’t know for what it’s worth. It’s kind of fun.

Quincy Jordan: [31:43] I’ll have to check that out.

Dan Neumann: [31:45] Well, thank you again, Quincy for taking some time to share.

Quincy Jordan: [31:49] Absolutely. Thanks Dan. Thanks for having me always a pleasure to be on the show.

Outro: [31:54] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought. The views, opinions and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips for this episode and other episodes at agilethought.com/podcast.

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