It is a very strange time for all of us as the COVID-19 coronavirus and the response to it changes just about everything around our personal lives and our workplaces. It’s worth remembering, though, that even in adversity – and this is most certainly that – there is opportunity. For some, the opportunity is a transition to working from home (a natural shift for a software development house like Soft Tech to adjust to). For others, the downtime may present an ideal chance to get to all those things you never had time for.

There’s an old idiom about what it takes to elevate a business from small or medium size up to the next level: work on your business, rather than in your business. For most of us, working in the business is standard operating procedure. After all, things are busy, hands-on with operations provides a level of comfort and assurance that things are getting done right, and there’s a never-ending cascade of things demanding your attention.

Working in the business becomes an issue because it leaves little time for a focus on strategic direction, i.e. working on your business. Not only that, but many of you will be well aware of all the little things that should get done, but don’t – broken machines, poorly configured systems or processes, any one of a hundred squeaky wheels which can’t get any oil when the factory is running flat out.

Many of these issues can now come under the spotlight. If your production has slowed out of necessity, this could be the opportunity to examine processes carefully and, if they aren’t already, document them. Analyse your operations; look for opportunities for improvement or optimization, elimination of waste or double handling, review your customers and markets.

When it comes to larger projects or investments, the immediate response to the current economic climate is probably to hit pause if not the big red STOP button. But, in times of slowdown, and following on from the previous paragraph, the time is right to look for efficiency, cost and waste reduction. Some of this is achievable through technology – which ranges from better machinery and equipment, through to better software and processes – so having more time on your hands might present the opportunity to target improvements in this direction.

Consider an Agile approach

Given that capital preservation is likely top of mind for everyone right now (but improvement is desirable), it’s worth considering the Agile management practices. Generally, Agile is applied in software development, but the concepts and principles extend readily to the delivery of any project or portfolio of projects (as this Forbes article makes clear).

In a sentence, Agile is an approach emphasizing incremental delivery, team collaboration, continual planning, and continual learning. As an iterative approach, it also implies ‘kaizen’, or continuous improvement.

I know many of you have big projects and initiatives on the drawing board; I also know these generally come with big price tags. By applying Agile principles, you can move projects into smaller phases and bite sized pieces. It also means targeting those areas where maximum value can be achieved in minimum time – which makes good sense in our ‘new normal’.

I’d suggest that this is a better approach rather than simply pulling everything and losing momentum. Keep moving forward, just bring the revs down a bit; planning and organizing for future work could involve a range of activities covering processes, sales and marketing initiatives, finance, people management and more. Make the most of the downtime, in other words.

Finally, no, this isn’t a pleasant time by any means, for anyone. But as Winston Churchill said, if you’re going through hell, keep going. Even if things get worse, they will get better. And consciously working on making things better is probably the best way to achieve the positive outcomes we all seek.