In this new article on the future of work we are going to talk about an essential subject if, once again, we consider that what counts is the content of work and not only the cosmetic and peripheral elements: agility.
And as usual we will look at it through the major trends that impact the future of work.
During the pandemic, many businesses and professions did agile without knowing it.
After the shock of such a sudden and generalized lockdown, it was necessary to keep the business running in a context of great uncertainty.
For some businesses this meant continually adapting their operations to continue to function in this new context. They quickly tried things out, saw what worked and what didn’t, corrected…
For others it was more profound. Sometimes it was simply no longer possible to carry on their business, to manufacture or distribute their products. They had to “pivot”, temporarily or permanently. Or some sectors suddenly modified their production lines to contribute to the collective effort by starting, for example, to manufacture hydroalcoholic gel.
The common point: to constantly adapt to the context, to the demand, to try things quickly, to implement them, and to readapt a few weeks or months later once the context has changed.
If this is not agility stricto sensu, it bears the seeds of it: put the market, the internal or external customer’s need, the context at the center, abandon any idea of long-term certainty, proceed by short iterations.
Unfortunately, with the return to normalcy, few businesses have drawn the consequences and tried to capitalize on these exceptional practices that they had implemented and that, seemingly, worked.
No impact here. Although…. When you see the number of people using solutions like Trello for their personal needs, even outside of a real structured agile approach, you can say that the foundations are beginning to be laid for things to change little by little in the business.
If agile working is enabled and supported by a large number of solutions available on the market it will not help a business that does not make the decision to become agile. It’ s all about the culture before the technology.
That said, the technology world has a role to play. It is becoming an increasingly important part of the business, and even non-IT businesses are increasingly dependent on an industry that has massively embraced agility.
IT service providers have become agile, CIOs have become agile, and their customers in marketing, HR, and throughout the business have been exposed to agile. They had to learn the basics in order to work with their providers.
They have been able to understand the benefits and, as we can see, this is beginning to inspire them for their own operations.
The evolution of economy and society
Even if I’m going to break an open door, we are in a world that goes faster and faster and is more and more uncertain. It is often referred to by the acronym VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.
So I know that with the shock that accompanied the pandemic an epidemic of good conscience spread with a kind of collective promise to change everything to a less globalized, slower world… and I am not at all surprised to see that today this is not the case and that, probably, it will never happen.
The stupefaction that follows the onset of such crises often leads to overreacting and making a ton of good resolutions, but, like the person who promises not to drink any more alcohol when he wakes up with a hangover the day after a drunken party, we know very well what happens to these resolutions.
In this world where everything is accelerating, where technological evolution is fast, where the customer changes faster than businesses can understand, the long term does not exist. Five-year plans are obsolete from the first day of their implementation. You can’t wait 1 year for a project to be completed: not only do you risk realizing that it no longer meets a need that has evolved in the meantime, but you also want to start reaping the benefits as soon as possible, even if it means starting with something minimalist (the famous MVP) that you improve and refine over time.
Agility in the organization of work, in this context, is not a matter of preference or taste but a necessity. And not only for developers and IT departments.
The transformation of service activities and knowledge work
As we have already said, agility is a necessity today and it has entered the business through IT departments and, to some extent, through their customers who have been exposed to it in a more or less uncomfortable way.
Unlike the People Centric Operations part, we are talking about something that has already started and is there, that businesses know about for some of their activities and that is starting to inspire people beyond the IT sphere.
The issue is no longer to bring agility into the business but to spread it beyond the IT professions.
Agility corresponds to a real need in a world where everything is accelerating, where uncertainty is the norm and where the needs of the user/customer are put at the center of concerns.
It is already a reality in the IT professions but others are trying to understand how it can be applied to them, like HR.
It’s a structuring work that is anything but easy. It’s not just a matter of putting ceremonies in place in the daily life of employees, but really asking what the principles of agility mean for a business, for a team, and then translating them into concrete initiatives both with regard to their internal or external customers and to the internal functioning of the team.
The idea is not to make the existing system more agile but almost to start from scratch which is a good thing because it leads to ask good questions and to question bad habits (you know the famous “we have always done it this way”).
This is why, when thinking about the future of work, it is important to ask the question of the meaning of agility as soon as a project is launched, as soon as a team is built, and even as early as the recruitment phase, in order to hire people who are culturally comfortable with the subject and who have already practiced it.
This reflection must also apply to management, right to the top of the pyramid, which cannot afford to move and make decisions more slowly than operations.
And agility offers a final, little-known benefit. It is commonly accepted that in today’s business world change is the new normal. But how do you make change happen in a team that is so busy with the day-to-day that they can’t afford to take charge of their own change and keep putting off change and improvement until tomorrow?
For example by making change or continuous improvement exist in the form of an agile stream, in the form of sprints monopolizing little time but allowing to deliver incremental improvements.
But, once again, in the future of work, and especially in the future of work content, because that’s what counts, agility must be neither a local initiative, nor a cosmetic device that is added to what already exists, but the result of a global and structural reflection on how the business operates.