Close this search box.
Close this search box.
Close this search box.

COVID-19 and Agile


A fresh perspective on uncertainty, complexity, empiricism, and flow and what to do about it.

The COVID-19 pandemic gives us plenty of opportunities to think about uncertainty, and complexity, and how to deal with those using Empiricism.

When it comes to our work in Agile teams and organizations, the first thing we need to acknowledge is that the first thing that happened to most of us is that we tumbled all the way down from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs top levels down to the bottom – to our physiological needs. At the time we’re hoarding Toilet paper is probably not the right time to talk about Self-actualization and esteem or Mastery and Purpose if you want to use Dan Pink’s intrinsic motivation model.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs - Wikipedia

In parallel to this tumble, many of us were still expected to continue with the business as usual of running Sprints and Program Increments. Some of us were even expected to adjust courses to help our organizations deal with the impact of COVID-19. After all – this is what business agility is about isn’t it?

When I ask my students, clients, and friends in the agile community, the majority say that the importance of agility has gone up significantly, while actually being agile has become harder due to the physical distancing we’re all facing combined with additional responsibilities at home we have to juggle.

I find that the first step towards dealing with this new reality is acknowledging it. A tool I like to use to acknowledge uncertainty and complexity around WHAT we should build and HOW to do it is the Stacey Matrix.

Current times bring to the front a somewhat neglected axis of the model – WHO are the people on our team/group and what kind of interactions are they having? If the WHAT/HOW dimensions range from simple/known all the way to uncertainty and lack of agreement, when we look at the WHO aspect it’s about how effective are the interactions between the people. You could look at it as how far along the Tuckman model (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing) they are. Drawing the three-axis it kind of looks like an uncertainty spider/radar.

Many of my clients are facing increased uncertainty around WHAT to build. All of them are facing teams, groups, and ARTs that are back to Storming or even Forming from a team/group dynamics perspective because so much has changed in how they collaborate.

Moving from in-person interactions when you can have a certain level of focus throughout the work day to the limited communication bandwidth we’re getting when physically distant from our teammates combined with some challenges focusing, mean our implicit/explicit rules of engagement/working agreements aren’t necessarily working well for us anymore.

So what can we do? You can start by making this reality transparent. Talk about the uncertainty spider and its dimensions with your team. Self-assess where you were before the pandemic and where you are right now. Start a discussion about what to do about the differences/changes you’re facing.

Some concrete steps I’m seeing teams take are to run a team health self-assessment, discuss adjusted working agreements for a work-from-home environment, re-evaluate forecasts/commitments – e.g. by taking another confidence vote with the entire team (or Agile Release Train) and replan as appropriate.

Generally, historical velocity is even less predictive during this significant shift in how we work. YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) definitely applies. Some teams take on less work into their Sprint and pull in more work if they see they’re doing ok.

Some teams see so much volatility in their Product Backlog that they shorten their Sprint Length because planning too far in advance doesn’t make sense.

Other teams focus on Goals for their Sprint rather than a detailed Sprint Backlog. (Teams I’m working with that are leveraging Kanban/Flow practices are more likely to think this way by the way).

Teams aware of their WIP (Work in Process) are starting to see the bigger picture of everything that is in the process – not just the work on the team but also whatever’s going on at home and in life in general. When they do that they realize that it might make sense to reduce the WIP because we’re suddenly juggling more things while working.

The Daily Scrum becomes more important for many teams because they’re not sitting next to each other anymore and they lack the natural osmosis that happens in a team space. Some teams have multiple Scrums a day. Other teams set up an ongoing live video conference while they’re working individually which reduces the overhead of reaching out to team members and allows for a fun vibe of togetherness. Other teams use real-time chat rooms like Slack or MS Teams for this. Virtual Happy Hours. Watercooler Zooms.

Are all of these good ideas? Many of them will probably turn out to be good practices in the right context.

The important thing is that these agile practitioners acknowledge that things are different and that even during these stressful times and maybe especially during these times it is important to use an empiric process of seeing what works, and what doesn’t, inspecting and adapting while keeping the spirit of collaboration, transparency, empiricism, and flow in mind.

Subscribe for Email Updates:



Portfolio for Jira
Story Slicing
Business Agility
Lean Budgeting
Risk-aware Product Development
Lean-Agile Budgeting
Continuous Improvement
Applying Agile Methodology
An Appreciative Retrospective
Nexus and SAFe
Continuous Integration
Legacy Code
Kanban Basics
Manage Budget Creation
Hybrid Work
Agile Exercises
Software Development
Change Management
Risk Management in Kanban
Team Flow
Scrum Primer
Product Management
Certified SAFe
Artificial Intelligence
Sprint Iteration
Acceptance Test-Driven Development
Development Value Streams
Engineering Practices
Software Development Estimation
System Integration Environments
Lean-Agile Software Development
Pomodoro Technique
Agile Community
Nexus vs SAFe
System Archetypes
Lean Agile Organization
speed at scale
User stories
Agile Outsourcing
Kanban Game
Scaled Agile Framework
Scrum Master Role
Introduction to Test Driven Development
Release Train Engineer
Agile and DevOps Journey
Scrum Guide
Enterprise DevOps
Program Increment
Agile Project
The Kanban Method
PI Planning
Sprint Retrospectives
Agile for Embedded Systems
Implementing SAFe
Scrum With Kanban
Lean Software Development
Continuous Planning
ALM Tools
Process Improvement
Agile Release Planning
Lean and Agile Techniques
Lean Agile
System Team
Operational Value Stream
Large Scale Scrum
Reading List
Agile Israel Events
Kanban 101
What Is Kanban
Accelerate Value Delivery At Scale
lean agile change management
Coaching Agile Teams
Quality Assurance
Entrepreneurial Operating System®
Games and Exercises
Systems Thinking
Agile Assembly Architecture
Sprint Planning
Introduction to ATDD
Limiting Work in Progress
Agile Basics
Keith Sawyer
Agile Release Management
Agile Marketing
Test Driven Development
Elastic Leadership
Agile Games
Lean Startup
PI Objectives
Agile Product Ownership
Agile Games and Exercises
Jira Plans
Agile India
Nexus and Kanban
Agile Development
Daily Scrum
Lean Agile Management
Lean Agile Leadership
Jira admin
speed @ scale
AI Artificial Intelligence
Product Ownership
Managing Projects
IT Operations
Agile Contracts Best Practices
Implementation of Lean and Agile
Lean Agile Basics
SAFe Release Planning
Scrum Values
Managing Risk on Agile Projects
Continuous Delivery
Rapid RTC
Achieve Business Agility
Continuous Deployment
Agile Risk Management
Agile Techniques
The Agile Coach
Nexus Integration Team
Professional Scrum Product Owner
Perfection Game
Kanban Kickstart Example
Iterative Incremental Development
Lean Risk Management
Built-In Quality
Scrum and XP
Agile Delivery
Kaizen Workshop
A Kanban System for Software Engineering
Effective Agile Retrospectives
Jira Cloud
Agile Product Development
Professional Scrum Master
Agile in the Enterprise
Legacy Enterprise
Releases Using Lean
Principles of Lean-Agile Leadership
Advanced Roadmaps
Risk Management on Agile Projects
Professional Scrum with Kanban
Agile Project Management
Agile Israel
Agile Testing Practices
Agile Program
Value Streams
Agile Mindset
ART Success
Scrum Master
RTE Role
SAFe DevOps
Lean and Agile Principles and Practices
ScrumMaster Tales
Enable registration in settings - general

Contact Us

Request for additional information and prices

AgileSparks Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter, and stay updated on the latest Agile news and events

This website uses Cookies to provide a better experience
Shopping cart