September 1, 2020

Adaptability During Changing Times

Agile isn’t just a way to adapt. It’s a path forward to transformation.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the world is nothing if not unpredictable. Of course, we can’t predict when changes will happen or what those changes will look like. 2020 has been a breakneck course in how unforeseeable and dramatic forces collide with our best intentions.

Planning and action require adaptability. The more we build that adaptability into our personal and corporate DNA, the more we will thrive. When we take away those lessons during the hardest of times, the longer and stronger we can thrive during other unexpected blips in the market.

The True Meaning of Agile: Adaptation to Change

Before we accept statements like “Agile is dead” or “Agile is just a fad,” let’s first embrace that Agile is an active mindset that enables adaptation to change. For example, by creating minimum viable products (MVPs), we are actively making trade-offs, prioritizing, innovating, valuing people, and creating faster speed to market.

During COVID, we’ve seen some people and companies adapt quickly, some more slowly, and some not at all. When the dust settles, there are going to be lessons from the businesses that close permanently vs. those that were able not just to survive, but to thrive.

Since the pandemic started, I’ve been gathering examples of businesses that have made creative, and essential, pivots to keep the income steady. The following are some fun examples that, if nothing else, will give us some inspiration and a much needed morale boost.

Big Corporations Adapting in Big Ways

With national orders to create medical equipment, Ford and GMC adapted their production line to build ventilators instead of cars. Many folks around the world had to get creative when it came to personal protective equipment (PPE) and equipment shortages, like using scuba gear to substitute for ventilators in some healthcare facilities. SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk also instructed his factories to adapt the lines to manufacture ventilators.

Most of our workplaces, outside of essential roles, became virtual, too. This put a much greater emphasis on prioritizing what work needed to be done—one of the cornerstones of Agile. With more and more schools converting to 100% online and virtual environments, employers are adapting, becoming more empathetic to working parents who have to shift priorities and schedules.Corporate events came to a screeching halt during lockdown, and it was evident immediately which ones could find a way to serve their audience. For example, EMERgency24 hosted five unique webinars that showcased services and equipment such as CHeKT,, WAVE Electronics, BluePoint Alert Solutions, and M2M.

Of course, the U.S. government used its massive footprint to respond to the crisis. As it relates to Agile: The COVID response included a task force, which included members of the healthcare, logistics, epidemiology, and law enforcement sectors, and is the very definition of a cross-functional team. (The extent to which it was effective or not, well…we’ll stay out of that debate.)

Small Businesses Making Huge Pivots

Alongside education, there’s probably no other business sector that has been T-boned quite like the restaurant industry. The small, family-owned Gia’s Pizza in Illinois did not take the pandemic lying down. The restaurant made the critical decision to increase its delivery radius and convert waiters as drivers to keep its staff on the payroll. It also established a curbside pick-up area and increased its service portfolio to include orders from the local farmers market for its customers.I noticed a restaurant in a small town in Indiana set up online for its full menu in a matter of days. With personal hygiene equipment in notably short supply earlier in the spring, many local breweries started making hand sanitizer from the ingredients they already have in house.

Locally in the St. Louis region, New Day Gluten-Free Cafe now offers a different pick-up spot around town every day of the week to facilitate customers who can’t make the trip to the restaurant. National chain restaurants are doing what they can to encourage customers to stay loyal—for example, Red Lobster, which is offering triple loyalty points for customers who opt for curbside pick-up.

Personal trainers and yoga teachers took their courses online, like Laughing Buddha Hot Yoga in New Jersey. The owner started offering live classes seven days a week to get folks through the COVID outbreak. While we all thought that the milkman was a profession we’d never see again, as most of us remain in lockdown, the days of the novel coronavirus have reinvented the profession in the 21st century.

One of the most inspiring COVID pivot stories when it comes to surviving and thriving comes out of Brooklyn, New York. The popular and notoriously trendy hipster bar Fort Defiance was already struggling: Surging rents and other business costs pre-COVID were making it hard to operate a bar in one of the most costly spots in the U.S. When the pandemic hit, the owner reports, he tried to convert his menu and his cocktail offerings for delivery and curbside, but those products were not adaptable to the moment.

His surprise pivot? He converted a bar/restaurant into a neighborhood grocery and takeaway business, replete with his own rotisserie chicken. Here’s the quote from this article that really grabbed me:

“I couldn’t deny the feeling that we were doing something good again, something more significant than just surviving.”

“What Can I Do?”

When you examine your own work and home life, you’ve probably asked yourself this question many, many times over the past few months. The steps we take as individuals are often as impactful as those taken by large corporations, even if it’s not quite as obvious right away. I was personally touched when I read this story about a Boy Scout who used his 3D printer to design an ear guard for healthcare workers that had to wear facemasks all day.

Adaptability is happening all around us all the time. As we continue to merge home and work, we’re learning how to support each other in newer and more creative ways. Friends are spending more time talking on the phone instead of the occasional text. Zoom has become the new family reunion app. We’re learning how to socialize with masks and incorporate at least 6 feet of distance when we see each other in person.

Now may be the ideal time to notice where this is happening around you and think about how you can be more adaptive. If you’re a team leader, the best way to know what is best for your team is to ask them. Don’t be afraid to get personal occasionally.

Asking the right questions about how the workplace can adapt to meet the needs of your team is critical right now. It’s our job to check in with each other regularly, to disrupt the normal meeting workflows and day-to-day and find creative and inventive ways to improve what we do today and well into the future.

Hopefully, these examples give you hope and inspire you to examine your own opportunities to adapt. Maybe together, we can all emerge from this stronger, more resilient and, yes, adaptable.

Where have you seen more examples? How have you and your families and companies been adapting during the pandemic? Comment or contact us and let us know!

Tag(s): Agile , adaptability , agility

Steph Weisenbach

Other posts you might be interested in