Applying Agile Principles to Business Continuity

June 9, 2020

As businesses reflect on the last few months and plan for recovery, business continuity is top of mind. Many are identifying what policies to adopt for recovery and to be prepared for the next disruptive event, but existing Agile frameworks in many organizations are easily adapted for broader business continuity outside of software development. The need of the hour is to bring the two together in such a way that there is a balance, achieving the right level of resiliency and maintaining higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness.

Agile Adapts in the Absence of Forecasts

One of the biggest challenges businesses face post-COVID is that forecasting circumstances have become more difficult if not impossible, and companies must focus on being more agile (small a) where they once relied on thorough planning. Agile methodology, at its core, is a set of principles and values that aligns work with business needs so that projects are consistent, customer-focused and encouraging feedback at every level. The focus on consistency and extensive feedback in particular support continuity in the face of environmental adversity...

Today, it makes even more sense to apply Agile practices to Business Continuity, especially when it is not possible to forecast events or plans for the future. It is not just a mindset. It is about implementing tried-and-true agile practices throughout the organization to build teams that are more nimble and more attuned to the market forces and customer needs. Conservative planning methods make it easy to lose sight of this goal by getting bogged down by process and tools, comprehensive documentation, and the “analysis paralysis” of trying to get the perfect plan.

Using Agile, we can define the main objective and then work on breaking it down into smaller, more manageable deliverables that ultimately lead to the desired outcome. By applying this principle to general organizational planning, businesses are in a better position to adapt to circumstances that can’t be predicted two weeks from now, much less a quarter or a year.

In uncertain times, this really helps to maintain perspective, deliver incremental value, and provide a mechanism for receiving feedback along the way. This feedback enables you to make the adjustments needed to hit the mark, so you are prepared and have a way forward.

Applying Agile to the Organization

First and foremost, the team leading business continuity planning and implementation should be multidisciplinary and function in an Agile manner. Specifically, this would be connecting daily, however briefly, and evaluating what is done, what is outstanding, and what needs to happen across the business over the next 1-2 weeks - in a more sprint-like fashion.

The team lead will need to build relationships with staff and department heads from the various business lines so that cross-functional teams can be formed to self-organize and bring different perspectives into the mix. In adverse situations, you need a holistic approach, and being too focused on only one aspect or market segment may not get you the desired outcome. For example, if we look at the market situation today, we are all in different reopening stages, and the market scale and scenario have changed dramatically for everyone.

Organizations such as Zoom, Microsoft, and GoToMeeting have collaboration/meeting products that are being used more and more to help companies and their employees, customers, suppliers, clients, etc.  stay connected since lockdown restrictions prevent physical meetings.

One thing these organizations have in common is that they have adaptive, nimble teams that consist of employees from different departments. These cross-functional teams can tackle problems from a multitude of perspectives, step-by-step, so that after each iteration, the solution/product can be assessed and validated to guide the path further forward. This approach provides a big-picture view of the situation as more ideas are entertained and researched and helps plan for uncertainties.

Secondly, since the business environment is dynamic and fluid, very detailed and specific task-level plans may not be helpful. It would be more appropriate to develop business continuity plans at a functional level instead, indicating roles and responsibilities instead of itemizing specific tasks for each person on a team to carry out.

Identifying key people and backups associated with these roles, however, is important here. Build plans around a more agile, responsive decision-making framework, identifying and including key contact and backup personnel lists, inventories, and communication protocols for the organization to fall-back on. It ensures business continuity remains operational when key personnel is not available.

Prepare Your People

Not to forget, a vital link in managing continuity of the business is the employees. If you fail to identify the “people” asset as a fundamental part of your business continuity exercise, the entire strategy could fall flat when it comes to the crunch. It means assessing the skills gap in the organization, training employees on digital practice, building infrastructure, and culture to support distributed and remote work. The result is improved business continuity and agility, increased flexibility and sustainability, reduced operational costs, stronger employee morale, and a positive reputation in the community.

The Agile approach is all about staying close to what a business requires to help it achieve its strategic objectives and what users need to be able to do their jobs well. It translates into how plans and processes should be defined for the maximum positive effect considering that the business environment is always changing.

The incremental Agile approach allows cross-functional teams to start working on business continuity plans and preparations and building in the business process's flexibility, organizational culture and structure, communication, and transparency. The Business Continuity program exists for the value it brings to the organization.

Written by
Namita Duggal

Namita Duggal is a Program Director for Van Allen Strategies. She has led technical projects for over 20 years across a variety of industries, and is an expert in Agile methodologies.

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