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Responding to Change over Following a Plan: How SCOR’s Organizational Agility Helped Us Navigate the COVID-19 Pandemic
May  2021

Unprecedented. That was the word that SCOR’s CEO & Chairman Denis Kessler used to describe the emerging COVID-19 pandemic in his letter to employees announcing the activation of SCOR’s business continuity plan and the decision to have all employees and staff begin working from home full time effective immediately March of last year. At the time, I could not begin to fathom how strongly that word would resonate and how often I would return to it in an attempt to convey the exceptionality the situation we found ourselves in over the course of the next year. The pandemic has been, for many, one of the most unprecedented experiences of their lives, myself included.

As a human being, my initial concern upon activation of our BCP and subsequent shift to working from home was for my friends and colleagues, knowing that a shift of this magnitude would surely have an effect on their mental health, on top of the already substantial effects of the pandemic. As an Agilist, I was also concerned that this change would have a dramatic effect on the ability of our teams to coordinate and collaborate on their work. It turned out my concern, while understandable and shared by many, was overstated. Our Agile methodologies and practices, in place well before the pandemic, had provided us with a substantial safety net for both challenges.

Agile methodologies value Individuals & Interactions over Processes & Tools, so our Sprints (the two-week iterations in which our teams work) were already designed to maximize interaction and collaboration between team members. Our Sprint Planning, Review, Retrospective and Daily Standup meetings were all opportunities to check in frequently, not only to collaborate on the work but also to see how people were doing and ask if they needed help of any type. I know we all have “Zoom Fatigue” by now, but without those calls and the chance for face-to-face interaction they provided, many would have felt even more isolated than they already did.  

The pandemic also had a major effect on business priorities. Many, if not most, organizations were forced to pause and evaluate whether their plans for 2020 were still viable, and SCOR was no different. If anything, as a global reinsurer, we were perhaps more affected than many other industries. Our actuarial and analytical teams were asked to quickly pivot from what they had been working on to real time assessment of the pandemic’s effects on our underwritten business. 

Luckily, Agile methodologies also value Responding to Change over Following a Plan, so our teams had very little issue rapidly adjusting their Backlogs to include this work. Over the course of a few shorts Sprints, they were able to produce an impressive array of tools and analysis to help us navigate an increasingly volatile situation.  

The last thing I’ll mention is transparency. Early in the pandemic, one of the main concerns I heard from friends and colleagues working at non-Agile organizations was that without a physical presence in the office, they felt like they had lost insight into what their teams were working on and what the status of that work was. Understandable if your insight into those things depends on your having to seek that information out, as this became considerably more difficult to do with a dispersed, work-from-home team. 

Teams who use Agile methodologies however, focus heavily on transparency and radiating information outwards. Our teams simply continued to use the tools and processes we already had in place to do those things, such as Sprint Review meetings, Backlogs and Kanban Boards.  This helped us continue to make information about what our teams were working on and how that work was progressing widely and easily available to everyone who wanted to consume it.

None of this is to say that Agile is some sort of magic bullet that helped SCOR escape completely unscathed from a worldwide pandemic. As our Mr. Kessler said, this situation has been unprecedented, and with it have come unprecedented difficulties and challenges both personal and organizational. I do feel strongly though, that SCOR’s Agile transformation has helped us weather the storm far better than we could have done without that agility. The insurance industry and indeed the world face an uncertain post-COID-19 future, but our teams face it undaunted and ready to continue providing the essential reinsurance services that ensure our industry’s resilience and subsequent ability to provide peace of mind for millions of policyholders worldwide.   

Stay Agile my friends!