Like every business, we are charting a path through a highly uncertain time, trying to make sure we stay true to our values, keep a sense of humour and most importantly, look after our people.
We don’t have the magic recipe and only time will tell if we’ve got it right, but we wanted to share the principles we’ve followed and some of the techniques we applied. True to our agile roots, we know this is an iterative process – so we’ll continue to share how we are responding as the situation evolves.
We would be thrilled if our story is helpful to anyone else navigating these choppy waters – including our friends, our partners, our clients, and our community. We would also love to chat and exchange ideas or challenges as we all work through these unprecedented times.
Before it gets too COVID-y, we wanted to reiterate our Aginic values, not just because we’re a little bit proud of them, but also because they’re highly relevant to what comes next. You can read more about them here.
These values have guided our response at every step. They come up in our daily stand-ups, and they’re our litmus test for ideas and solutions. As a company whose success has come from the great work our team does for our clients and community, we really want our people to trust that we’re living these values even when times get tough – in fact, especially when times get tough.
We’re also a privately held business. Our Directors are our shareholders and are good mates. When deciding to forgo dividends or take a pay reduction, we don’t have to weigh complicated things like market sentiment. We can just look each other in the (virtual) eye and do the right thing for our people and the business.
Finally, we recognise that as professional services provider, we’re quite lucky because our core business can be adapted for digital and remote delivery. We know that there are many industries and businesses where this is much less feasible, including some of our clients who are going through an extremely rough time.
And so, in sharing our story, we’re not assuming that our approach or situation are applicable to others. We simply believe that at times like this, it’s worth hearing from all sorts of organisations – including a small-ish, young-ish and fairly techy one that is navigating its first big crisis, and hoping to grow into a stronger and more resilient company through the experience.
Our Response To COVID-19
Now, onto what we did and how we did it!
We began by outwardly acknowledging that the level of uncertainty caused by a pandemic can be a hugely stressful experience. Everyone has been dealing with this situation on both personal and professional levels, so we wanted to factor the “human” element into our response and communications. That includes being able to have a laugh at times – more on that later.
We decided to kick off with what we do best: planning and analysing using real data, being adaptive, and checking for value-alignment along the way. To make sure we were on the same page, we drafted these guiding principles.
Of course, we still found ourselves being influenced by the emotional rollercoaster of COVID. Some days we would be feeling filled with hope and others we’d be wracked by doubt. To give us some waypoints and have a bit of fun with it at the same time, and in true Aginic form, we came up with the Spectrum of Optimism. This gave us a common frame of reference to analyse and make sense of the rapidly-changing situation.
The alcohol theme was a reference to our annual winter / spring school tradition of popping a (large) bottle of champagne with everyone to celebrate another year of being together and delivering for our clients (Exhibit A below from 2019).
We imagined scenarios of how this would look in more austere times – and had some fun with it too. For us, giving quite serious situations some ridiculous names helped take some of the anxiety out of the situation. It helped us face down how we might respond in some pretty terrible circumstances, without becoming distressed by the situation.
The Spectrum of Optimism also gave us the starting point for more structured analysis. As an adaptive organisation, we focused on making incremental and transparent progress on our virtual wall with daily stand ups to stay aligned and on track. We broke into sub-groups to tackle complex areas and made sure that we took time to build the right models and analytics to guide our thinking, without trying to make things “perfect” or know “everything” (both obviously impossible).
Along the way, we used a bunch of facilitation and analysis techniques to make sure we were considering different angles, hearing from diverse voices, and not making decisions purely based on emotion or personal biases. For example, we used a digital jamboard for generating ideas, ran “war games” to debate different options, called out our own personal biases so they were in the open, and drew on models like David Rock’s SCARF to evaluate options based on cultural impact and psychological safety.
Our capabilities in BI and data analytics also came in handy as we created a model for our pipeline and cash flow, using probabilities to scenario plan the worst, moderate, and best-case scenarios. This involved data from a range of systems: payroll, finance, CRM and resourcing. We were also able to build a series of dashboards and forecasts for the period ahead, with 6-week utilisation forecasts becoming our leading indicator for what the future might have in store. Importantly, the forecasts were not restricted to the Director team, but were published on automatically-updated dashboards for the entire team to see.
By the end of all the debate and analysis, we came up with a five-category response plan, with clear conditions for each category based on our lead indicators and Spectrum of Optimism. It was designed to achieve the principles we outlined at the beginning: people-focus, business sustainability, transparency, fairness, and incremental steps.
Thanks to the quick response of the community, the support of our awesome clients, and the hard work of our team we’re happy to say that we’re only at category 1 at present. Even better, our data-driven forecasts are telling us this will remain the case for the near term. Of course, we’re all a long way from the sound of champagne corks popping, but we’re getting through this together with a sense of hope for the future.
This plan was shared at one of our weekly company-wide virtual meetings (after a few obligatory dad jokes to kick us off). It was then posted online on our company’s communications platform, where our team could ask questions, continue the conversation and provide feedback after digesting the information.
Of course, we don’t imagine that this is the last piece of COVID planning we’ll do. The situation will keep evolving, we’ll keep experimenting and learning, and we’ll continue to challenge ourselves to make our response the best it can be based on what we know. The Director team will keep running daily stand-ups to stay aligned and deal with changes as they arise, and we’re committing to keeping communication lines open within the company.
Adapting to Remote Work
In the meantime, our team is continuing to do what it does best: helping clients solve problems and achieve outcomes in a semi-new world of remote working.
We’re fairly lucky in that our people are used to working on their laptops from different locations – client sites, coffee shops, a comfy couch – so we haven’t needed major technological roll-outs to enable remote work. That said, we’ve been conscious about team health and wellbeing, so we’ve been trying different ideas – a virtual lunch lounge, daily roll calls, online games, a wellbeing club, synchronised playlists, tips for remote working, and plenty more. It’s an experiment in progress, and it’s been fantastic to see everyone jump in with ideas to support and connect with each other.
On the project side, we’ve also been working with clients to ensure that we continue delivering great outcomes with them. We’re proud of our team for being creative and tenacious in finding new ways to communicate and collaborate, and for achieving some fantastic wins despite the challenges. By this point, we have had projects kick off and finish entirely during the lockdown – on time, on budget and with a happy client. We’ve also had fun along the way, with virtual beer and guitar sessions right alongside funny memes on digital jamboards.
To stay “with the times”, we made sure to adapt a range of our packaged services for remote delivery, as we know that some clients are using this time as an opportunity to strategise, upskill and progress important initiatives. In fact, we’ve even added a few new services at popular request, including a remote working workshop. Despite the bursts of stress and uncertainty, it’s been exciting for us to test our adaptive and innovative capabilities in a whole new way.
Brave New World
Speaking of adaptation and innovation, we haven’t been focusing purely on the here and now. COVID-19 is a challenge, but it also opens up a lot of opportunities. Now that we have a solid plan in place to respond to different scenarios, we have started to devote more time and energy to focus on the future.
Futurama has just kicked off with a mix of curious minds across Aginic. It’s a collaborative, safe space where we share the latest information we learn about COVID-19, the market and our own interpretation of what it all means. It’s amazing what true diversity and perspective can do in connecting seemingly unrelated ideas. We are branching out across the entire company to tap into our web of experiences and expertise, and also working closely with our partners.
We truly believe in chasing the unicorn, and at the moment it’s running far and wide.
Who knows what ideas we come up with. Who knows how our services and people evolve over this time. What we do know is that leaning into this uncertainty, getting our people involved, and playing to our strengths is our best bet.
In the meantime, please reach out if you’d like to grab a virtual beer or coffee. We know that nobody has a crystal ball, but at least we can exchange ideas, trade COVID war stories, hear how you’re doing in your line of work, and share what we’re seeing in the market. We’re always up for a chat and are happy to help where we can.
Until then, take care!
Grab a virtual coffee or beer
Feel free to reach out to us to grab a virtual tea, coffee, beer, or anything in between. We'd love to trade stories on how we're managing our businesses through these times.Let's get started