Don’t let the speed from the crisis go to waste

When the coronavirus pandemic erupted, companies had to change. Many business-as-usual approaches to serving customers, working with suppliers, and collaborating with colleagues—or just getting anything done—would have failed. They had to increase the speed of decision making, while improving productivity, using technology and data in new ways, and accelerating the scope and scale of innovation. And it worked. Organizations in a wide range of sectors and geographies have accomplished difficult tasks and achieved positive results in record time.

At the heart of each of these examples is speed—getting things done fast, and well. Organizations have removed boundaries and have broken down silos in ways no one thought was possible. They have streamlined decisions and processes, empowered front line leaders, and suspended slow-moving hierarchies and bureaucracies. An organization designed for speed will see powerful outcomes, including greater customer responsiveness, enhanced capabilities, and better performance, in terms of cost efficiency, revenues, and return on capital.

Organizational successes forged during the crisis need to be hardwired into the new operating model for the longer term; and leaders must ensure their organizations do not revert to old behaviors and processes. That requires making structural changes that can sustain speed in ways that will inspire and engage employees.

Gone are the days of waiting around for best practices to emerge. Company leaders recognize the need to shift from adrenaline-based speed during COVID-19 to speed by design for the long run. The winners are experimenting now, and boldly. According to McKinsey, there are nine actions to unleash sustainable speed (exhibit).



Research by McKinsey and the Harvard Business School found that companies that had launched agile transformations pre-COVID-19 performed better and moved faster post-COVID-19 than those that had not. Agile organizations had an edge because they already had processes and structures available to them, such as cross-functional teams, quarterly business reviews, empowered front line teams, and clear data on outputs and outcomes, that proved critical to adapting to the COVID-19 crisis. They adjusted faster, and with less employee turmoil.


Having one fast, agile team is helpful, but having many of them across an enterprise, and enabling them with the right structures, processes, and culture, makes it possible for the entire system to move faster.


Now is the time

The coronavirus pandemic is the challenge of our times. The time for organizations to build for speed is now. This will be a long process and leaders must leap into the arena and recognize that many of their familiar organization constructs will need to be re-imagined.

Many companies think of the post pandemic return as an event; they would turn the lights on and go back to work just as they had done before. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that for many, returning to work will be a process that could take a year or more, and that they cannot go back to the way they were.

Don’t delay, let’s talk about how SAFe® helps to achieve and hard wire Business Agility that encapsulates all the benefits flagged in this article for the longer term.