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Using agile to navigate from crisis to sustained success  

Authored by Evan Jago, Principal, ADAPTOVATE

COVID-19 has disrupted business to its core.  


As the situation has rapidly evolvedit has created an unpredictable and volatile environment for business to operate in. Companies are facing unprecedented challenges having to adapt business models, product and service offerings, and, ways of working quickly in order to survive.  

In a high-stakes, fluid and dynamic situation, how do you chart a course to turnaround a business or project? Traditional approaches of command and control, hierarchy and centralised decision making can be slow, inflexible and trapped in mindsets developed in times of stability 

Increasingly, teams are looking to approaches that allow for the ability to rapidly respond and adapt in order to survive and thrive.  

The agile approach is specifically built for when the speed to turnaround is critical and value needs to be delivered immediately. Agile isn’t new and is grounded in common sense principles 

We used agile processes and principles to drive break even within two months 

As an example, we applied agile principles to business turnaround: 

It was 2002 and a colleague and had been parachuted into a warehousing and transport business that was making a multi-million-dollar loss and we had been told to “turn the business around or shut it down”.   

It had started with some fundamental operational issues that made its customers unhappy. Management teams had been brought in in using traditional techniques to attempt to reverse their fortunes. One of the first teams began cost-cuttingbut inadvertently as a result the number of issues increased 

A subsequent team took another tack, throwing more and more people at every new operational problem that was uncovered.  However, the issues remained and now the cost-base increased significantly and at the same time the business lost a major customer worth over 25% of revenue. We became the fifth management team to come into the business. 

Senior management was now out of patience with the lack of progress and we had little time to prove that we could turn the business around. We had to not only show immediate progress but deliver tangible business outcomes as quickly as possible 

We used agile processes and principles to drive break even within two months of the start of the turn-aroundearn profit within twelve months with the business continuing to operate and over one hundred people employed. 

We took a four-step approach to deliver value, fast: 

  1.  Test and learn to rapidly iterate.  Oour first day, we spoke to staff, prior management and observed operations. This rapid analysis allowed us to identify nine potential initiatives that would contribute to the bottom line, determining that that they would move us in the right direction. The approach meant we didn’t get stuck in weeks of analysis. We tried out each initiative to test how well it worked and gained insight into what we needed to do to make them as successful as possible. We also used test and learn to determine optimal levels of shift staffing and resourcing.
  2. Build a backlog to start delivering. Wused our list of nine initiatives that would move us in the right direction and prioritised them for highest dollar impact and speed of implementation. We broke the first initiative down into actions and immediately began rolling out those actions to deliver ongoing results across fortnightly cycles of work which we know as sprintsWe didn’t write a project plan, communications plan, or any other heavyweight project documents. Our approach led to fast, impactful results as we reduced annualised costs by over $500K in the first and second fortnights, and by $300K in the third fortnight for a total $1.6m reduction in six weeks.
  3. Meaningful interactions to foster alignment. We held cross-functional daily meetings (stand-ups) with all the key site staff to ensure work was getting done and to synchronise on priorities. On Monday mornings we held a longer meeting to plan the week (sprint planning), to agree on weekly priorities and plan for emerging issues. 
  4. Regular demonstration of progress to receive timely feedback. We arranged a fortnightly meeting with senior management to discuss results and ongoing plans. We used this meeting to highlight the progress and successes of the past fortnight, demonstrate the saving in the P&L and our next actions.  

It served as our sprint review or showcase, acting as a forum to to ensure alignment with senior management and giving them confidence in our ability to deliverIt between, it gave us space to get work done without fielding endless queries on progress and plans. It also meant we didn’t require multiple signoffs on our plan or proposed actions, so we could be more nimble. 

As a result of these techniques we had our first break-even week within two months of the start of the turn-around and consistently broke even after six months. After twelve months the business started to earn a profit, continued to operate and over one hundred people kept their jobs. 

We used these practices not because they were part of a particular framework, but because they were the appropriate business practices designed to deliver measurable value as quickly as possible. These practices are as relevant as ever in the current climate as businesses adapt to the new normal.


Find more ADAPTOVATE perspectives at  





How OKRs (Objective and Key Results) have helped in driving alignment in a not-for-profit organisation.

In our latest podcast episode of The Backlog we speak with Jo McConnell.  Jo is the CEO of GOMO Foundation, providing education to girls in Africa.

What’s that got to do with AGILE you ask?

Well ADAPTOVATE recently had the priveledge to assist GOMO (through our Pledge 1% commitment) to establish and focus in on OKR’s (Objective and Key Results) for their upcoming year. Defining OKRS is a part of Agile methodology.

Jo McConnell came out of a 25 year corporate career in People and Culture working with the likes of BHP and Latitude Financial.   Her career shift saw her set up The People Collective consulting business and become the CEO of GOMO Foundation which focuses on accelerating girls education in Africa.

Gomo Foundation

Jo explains “GOMO is four years old, set up to meet the potential of girls through education in Africa.   We are at the transition of startup to scaleup.  We now need to achieve scale and a broader sustainable revenue base and offering going forward.

So we are now working on a refresh of the strategy which outlines a clear ambition both of impact to the girls and impact to the communities it would make  in Africa.”

However the impact of COVID-19 is significant. Jo says “we are facing into that reality now. We  need to be more disciplined and sharper with our efforts.”

Pledge1% is a global movement to create a new normal which giving back is part of the DNA of organisations.   ADAPTOVATE (as part of our commitment to pledging 1% of our resources) supported GOMO in creating their OKR to help guide the organisation into their next phase.

Whether it’s large organisations or not-for-profit, every organisation has it’s high level ambition and strategy.  Jo says “Where the rubber really hits the road is transitioning that strategy into real actions to achieve the strategy.

We know that education of girls in Africa, will make sustained change in communities in Africa.  However, we need to fully understand the actual steps we need to take to achieve that goal.” She explains.

So ADAPTOVATE helped the high-level strategy into a detailed roadmap with dedicated sprints using Agile methodology.

Jo says “We are a fully volunteer team, so when you are engaging people who are passionate and aligned, you need to be even more organised and planned.  Which is where the  OKR session really helped focus.”

What are the benefits of having clear OKRs for GOMO Foundation?

Jo explained that the team was able to really sharpen the strategy down to 3 key OKR groups.  1. Enabling the girls – education, communication.  2. Revenue Growth – everything is linkedto how much we can bring through the door.  3. Strong Foundations and operation process

Jo says “It helped us simplify the work and actually remove less important actions that aren’t aligned with our core 3 pillars.  It forces the discipline around what would you see – what would the measure of success look like?”

Jo says that a lot of organisations provide financial support – however there are many organisations that can support with cabilities and expertise instead.  That’s what is sometimes needed.


Zimbabwe is a country challenged by many things,  infrastructure, stable government, corruption.  So as far as giving perspective, it does give perspective as to how fortunate we are to live in Australia in these times.

The situation on the ground in Zimbabwe and the girls GOMO sponsor is difficult now due to COVID.

The country has been in nominal shutdown for a month or so.  The girls have been out of school back with families.

Jo explains “It’s a rural and remote part of Zimbabwe we work with , there’s certainly no online learning or books to be able to take home with them.  So their education is paused.  The real challenge will for us will be to bring them back to school, from their families and villages.”

We are only yet seeing the impact of the virus in Zimbabwe and broader Africa.    The impact of our donor base here in Australia – people losing their jobs, the income levels dropping –  is also making it harder for people to donate.


“Which is why we have developed the OKR’s” Jo says, “we need to really focus”.

She continues “The OKRs provide the clarity on what we are doing, which is even more important in virtual and remote working.

While most organisations by now are fine with remote working,  not many organisations have the experience around some of the productivity habits and methodology like OKRS, but also the platforms you need to use to enable that

While most organisations by now are fine with remote working, not many organisations have the experience around some of the productivity habits and methodology like OKRS, but also the platforms you need to use to enable that Click To Tweet.

Jo says “My opinion is the next wave of focus for organisations is ‘we can all use zoom now, we know how to work remotely etc’, but how do we drive productivity through platforms, methodologies, and importantly through leadership and culture?

Do you need assistance moving to this next wave of focus for organisations?

ADAPTOVATE was very fortunate to provide this level of experience to GOMO, all done virtually over video.   Please reach out to us if you’d like ADAPTOVATE to do the same for your team, department or ogranisation.

You can listen to the whole interview on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts.