Written by: Marisa Silva, the Lucky PM, Senior Consultant, Wellingtone Project Management, United Kingdom/Portugal
Suddenly, the world changed. BC and AC got a new meaning - before and after Coronavirus – and we were forced to gain new habits overnight. “Keep social distance”, “wear a mask” or “wash your hands” are the new rules of engagement. Also the business world was impacted and we now have millions working from home and going from meeting to meeting (Zoom fatigue, anyone?) while dogs bark in the garden and kids play in the room next door. The long-advocated digital transformation is finally here, whether you were prepared for it or not.
A common thread can be found in all these changes: our ability, from a human and organizational perspective, to quickly adapt to new circumstances and to make our way through uncertainty with pragmatism and some hope in the future.
Sure, you have probably heard that the ability to adapt is paramount in a VUCA world – volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. However, it is fair to say that the Covid-19 pandemic raised the bar or, at least, live up to the expectation of what VUCA is about. Covid-19 brought us many consequences but one of them was certainly the discovery (or re-assurance, to some) of our personal agility.
Simplistically put, personal agility refers to our dynamic ability to welcome change and respond to unexpected events in a timely, resilient, and often resourceful, way. Sounds like a useful competence to hold in times like this, right? For further guidance, I highly suggest a read of Raji Sivaraman and Michal Raczka’s book “Discoveries Through Personal Agility” (2020) and their holistic Personal Agility Lighthouse (PALHTM) model, which presents personal agility through seven lenses, listed below.
“OK but how do these perspectives apply in practice?”, you might be asking. It is in the granularity and nuances of practice that theories prove themselves so let me share some examples from the world of project management consulting and training, my area of specialism:
- Educational Agility: are we open to think critically and assess our bias and ideas? Being an educator and a researcher myself, this means challenging pre-existing concepts, seeking new approaches and exploring the latest trends, as well as investing in my personal development as a way of validating my knowledge and expand it by many means including putting on another’s shoes. Also, it means having the courage to challenge a certain sponsor about a certain pet project in the organization, in this way encouraging self-reflection and re-evaluating the “why” for the project. The PALHTM model stipulates that when one gains insight into the pain points of another, this agility helps transcend from an individual agility all the way to organizational agility.
- Change Agility: how quick can we change from one state to the other? Project management is all about change since it often means introducing new ways of working, a new product, or a new service. But does change stick or do we return to the old habits? A project post-implementation review or a self-assessment are great ways of evaluating the result of such endeavour but to enhance that result you can also put yourself forward as a change champions and trial the change with a small group.
- Political Agility: whether we like it or not, much of project management is about navigating the political panorama of the project, understanding who calls the shots and who influences who, and managing the expectations of the different project stakeholders. You can build a perfect stakeholder register and matrix but remember that the project is not static, and neither are your stakeholders. Political agility is therefore required to accommodate different (and sometimes even conflicting) priorities and demands as well as the games of power that often take place.
- Emotional Agility: if you are a project manager you need to be emotional intelligent, that is, being aware of your own emotions as well as the emotions of others and you will need to be a master of relationships. However, that is not enough. In a blink of an eye, your project can go from a bright green to a dark red-get-me-out-of-here status report. In such scenario, having the agility to respond to the feelings and moods of the project team and project board, amongst others, is fundamental to drive the project energy in the right direction.
- Cerebral Agility: by definition, a project aims to address a business problem or opportunity by delivering something new. Such endeavour often carries complexity of technical level, demanding cerebral agility to find the most suitable solution in the given constraints of quality, time, budget, and resources. Sometimes there is absolutely no time to ponder and the resolution needs to spring to mind on the spot. An example of this situation is when the project team must translate the stakeholder requirements – a moving target in itself - into a working solution within certain parameters and needs to complete an option analysis to identify the optimal option. Can you keep up with all the changing priorities?
- Learning Agility: building a learning organization is a dream to many but for that to be possible each of us needs to show learning agility too. A classic example is the project’s lessons learned – how often are they just documented rather than actually learned? Being able to learn and, more importantly, re-learn is a crucial piece of the organizational jigsaw, but it is also a necessity for your career development. The world of project management is continuously evolving, with new tools, techniques and methods emerging all the time. To make the best use of such rich world, you need to learn with (and about) agility.
- Outcomes Agility: projects are not an end in themselves but a mean to something else – outcomes. In the same way as the project should deliver a defined lasting outcome, the same applies to us as individuals: what legacy do we want to leave behind? Consider that question every time you start a new project but allow for enough flexibility to accommodate more than one path. Trust me, there is always more than one path, you just need the ability to quickly follow a different one should your circumstances chance. Let’s be creative and call it agility.
Finally, my 2 cents on the topic, with not just two but three tips on how to develop “the magnificent SEVEN of the PALH Model”
- Be curious: you will not be able to adapt quickly if you do not possess some curiosity about what is happening around you. This means to not just seek new knowledge but also engage and network with people for fields different from yours. You will be surprised by how much a different “hat” can make a difference in your thinking toolbox!
- Be brave: it is normal to be afraid in light of the unknown, however, this should not prevent you from progressing in your journey of agility, speciality if you are leading others, as they will look up to you in search of steering. Proceed with care but do not loose your sense of direction. There is a path to be uncovered behind the fog.
- Be vulnerable: to learn fast and respond faster you will need to fail fast too. In fact, failure is always an opportunity for learning. Thus, it is fine to fail and to acknowledge failure. Showing vulnerability strengthens trust and, more important, means you are human. Make no mistake: in times like these, that is what we need the most from our leaders: humanity.
At the end of the day, we can no longer afford NOT to be agile. So, what are you doing to work on your agility?