Agility can help us not only in crises, as we are currently experiencing. Agile management offers companies numerous different advantages. But the current situation is very different from the problems that we, as a whole society, normally face. In times of COVID-19, the world as we know it seems fragile and scary. Everyone is asking themselves how to go on, we hope to give you some possible answers to this question today.
What is a crisis?
According to Duden, a crisis is defined as a critical situation. On the website of the bpb (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung) you can find a detailed definition by Klaus Schubert and Martina Klein: Das Politiklexikon:
“Crisis [Greek] refers to a massive disruption of the social, political or economic system over a certain (longer) period of time. At the same time, crises also hold the chance for (actively seeking qualitative) improvement”.
Our current situation
We have been in an exceptional situation for some time now. Despite some loosening of contact restrictions, the opening of restaurants, and the approval of some events, the crisis has not yet been overcome. This is shown above all by the current outbreak of COVID-19 at the Tönnies slaughterhouse in Germany. There are forecasts that the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to a global recession, German exports are at their lowest level since World War II. Besides, there is a threat to health, the emergence of conspiracy theories and questionable world views, political unrest, increasing numbers of domestic violence, and isolation of people. Although in some nations the strict contact restrictions are being relaxed again and there is a prospect of reasonably everyday life, it is not certain how long we will feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In other nations the situation does not look any better, due to the global lockdown, the demand for oil has fallen massively, for Saudi Arabia this has resulted in a deficit of 112 billion dollars.
How companies manage crises
How can such a situation be managed? This question has been driving people around for months. What some of you have in common is that you have shown flexibility, adaptability and creativity within the bounds of your possibilities to avert or minimize the damage of the crisis. Thus, some companies are re-equipping and converting their production to disinfectant dispensers, respirators, breathing masks or disinfectants. This rapid reaction to opportunities or risks can be described as agile corporate management. Companies that can quickly adapt to new situations and are not afraid to learn new things can function much better in crisis situations. Since it is never possible to predict exactly when the next crisis will occur and what consequences it will have, it is important to be prepared.
How can agility be integrated into companies?
In the past, we have already published an article on the topic of agile Corporate Management in German. This article explains the principle of agility and how to use it for the tasks of corporate management. For those who have never had any contact with the term agility before, a short description follows.
What does agility mean?
According to the Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon, agility is defined as “the dexterity, agility or mobility of organizations and persons or in structures and processes. In contrast to reactive flexibility, agile action is understood as proactive. The goal is to react to changes as early as possible and to align the company to them.
From software development to management
Before the term agility found its way into management, it had a significant impact on software development. To understand what agile management means, agile software development should be considered first.
The core objective of agile software development is to manage with little bureaucracy and rules and to adapt quickly to changes without increasing the risk of errors. Agile software development relies on a transparent development process with continuous close coordination with the customer. The primary goal of agile software development is to achieve better results faster. Agility is therefore often described as iterative, i.e. repetitive, approaching a solution. In this way, errors or misunderstandings should be noticed and eliminated as early as possible.
However, this approach cannot only be applied to individual areas such as software development or project management. Companies can also be managed in an agile way and thus, for example, react faster to changes in the market, such as COVID-19.
If you want to lead your company more agile, the first step is to think more agile. This applies not only to managers but also to employees. For this you can use the principles of agile software development, from the so-called agile manifesto:
“We open up better ways to develop software by doing it ourselves and helping others to do it. Through this activity we have learned to appreciate these values:
Individuals and interactions are above processes and tools
Functioning software stands above comprehensive documentation
Cooperation with the customer is above contract negotiations
Reacting to change is more important than following a plan
This means that although we find the values on the right side important, we estimate the values on the left side to be higher.”
The last sentence of the quote refers to the enumeration of principles. The values on the left side (individuals and interactions, working software, working with the customer, responding to change) are more important to the signatories of the Agile Manifesto than the values on the right side (processes and tools, comprehensive documentation, contract negotiations and following a plan), but they are not completely irrelevant.
Processes and tools can be important for agile work, but the actual interaction with other individuals like employees, customers, etc. can be much more valuable and goal-oriented for development.
In the same way, functioning software is perceived as more important than comprehensive documentation or presentation of the process. The goal of agility is to work as closely as possible with the customer. The finished product/project should meet the (possibly changing) customer requirements as closely as possible. According to the agile manifesto, collaboration is crucial for success and is seen as more important than contract negotiations. The last point is quite self-explanatory, adaptability and flexibility are more important for agility than following a plan.
Agile leadership – how can that work?
What works in agile software development can also affect your company. You can use the principles of the Agile Manifesto as an opportunity to question your existing priorities and consider which behavioral and thought patterns will pass the acid test even in crises, or whether it is time to start things over again.
In general, people in leadership positions in agile management are responsible for creating the right conditions, for presenting employees with a goal and giving them room for self-organization. If problems arise, they are analyzed in interdisciplinary teams. These groups develop self-organized, self-responsible approaches to solutions. It is important to maintain an open error culture.
Agility and Crisis management
Now the question arises whether these premises can simply be applied to the current situation. Many companies, especially retailers and restaurants have not had the opportunity to adapt to this situation. They had to close their shops from one day to the next. Since the consequences for companies are very different, agility cannot be the solution for every company and every situation. But you can use agile methods to prepare for future crises and ward off the consequences.
Agile crisis management – What should you consider?
The extent to which you incorporate agility into your business depends on your capabilities, the circumstances within your company and your employees. Here are a few suggestions that you can implement to guide your company more agilely through crises.
Establish transparency in your company
Transparency is essential to act more agile. Be open and honest with your employees and colleagues, even when issues are unpleasant. This is the only way to communicate the urgency of action or the seriousness of the situation and motivate all employees to overcome the crisis
Think and act more flexibly
The more flexible you are, the better you can react to crises. Especially in uncertain times, it is good to have one or more alternatives in your backhand. Therefore, you should not wait until the next crisis comes, but prepare yourself in advance
Do not be afraid to enter the unclear territory, be open to new things, and also to setbacks. Establish an open error culture and involve your employees in the search for solutions and alternatives, not only in times of crisis.
The idea management of qmBase can support you in this.
Agility and quality management
Quality management, in particular, ISO 9001:2015 and comparable norms are characterized by a high degree of process orientation. Process orientation is about structuring and planning business processes as comprehensively as possible. The degree of freedom in the implementation of the processes is thereby strongly curtailed and there is little room to react according to the situation. Besides, process orientation and quality management also require a high degree of documentation. Quality management is therefore difficult to reconcile with the principles of the agile manifesto.
Agility is not about standardizing procedures and following predefined plans. Agility aims to achieve your goals through new approaches, innovations, and continuous adaptation to requirements. Regardless of whether it is a project completion or the overcoming of a crisis. In this article by the German Society for Quality, author Dr. Benedikt Sommerhoff sees the solution in the fact that both areas need to be developed and brought closer together and that agile quality management needs to be established in companies.
With the development of qmBase, we have set ourselves the goal of constantly improving our software and responding to your requirements and wishes. This is the only way we can provide you as our customers with continuous support. In addition to the advantages mentioned above, our software offers further functions that you can use for agile business management and crisis management. Furthermore, qmBase can help you to facilitate remote work and asynchronous communication in your company.
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