This column was published in the online magazine People and Computers (in Hebrew) on September 29th, 2020, just as Israel was entering its second coronavirus lockdown, thus becoming the first Western country to implement this strategy.
One of the greatest challenges in the eradication of the coronavirus pandemic is the management thereof. Whether in the context of political struggles or professional management, it seems that an orderly and efficient management method is becoming more critical, and the question arises: Is there an efficient management solution for this severe crisis?
Some 25 years ago, the world of software faced a similar problem of uncertainty following frequent changes in both technological capabilities and customer requirements. Programming languages were varied, the information accumulated was decentralized, and customers were not getting what they asked for. The world of software came to its sense quickly and developed a new method—agile software development—which is now one of the leading methods of software project management. Agile means fast and flexible, and in the context of project management this is manifested by short response times to changes that take place in the project conditions.
The agile method offers many advantages that are expressed in savings in development costs and in shorter time-to-market (sometimes even 75% less) compared with other management approaches. Organizations that implement the agile method also report better adherence to time schedules and high customer satisfaction.
Since implementation of the agile method began to the present day, almost all large corporations and software development companies in Israel and the world have transitioned to using it. It is implemented in large organizations such as Microsoft, Intel, and Apple, as well as in the IDF and the Israeli defense industry. Furthermore, many organizations that are not engaged in software development also use agile methods to manage projects with high uncertainty levels.
Agile principles in the management of the coronavirus crisis
The working assumption of the agile method is that it impossible to manage projects with high levels of uncertainty, like the project to eradicate coronavirus, which has already been established to be an unpredictable virus, by following a long-term plan. One of the main practices implemented in order to overcome this challenge is goal-setting and, based on the resources available for the project, constructing a two-week-only work plan to achieve the goals that have been set, with the understanding that this work plan will not change within those two weeks. This process repeats itself every two weeks, enabling quick reaction to any changes required in the project.
Existing data and data that are gathered ongoingly throughout the project duration from a variety of sources serve as the basis for the design of the action plan and for its two-week implementation during which no changes are possible. In software projects, for example, data are gathered on the development rate, the fault rate, the developers' availability, and more. In the coronavirus context, relevant data can include infection rate, number of available medical teams, and the extent of possible effects on the economy.
Data mostly are collected automatically; they are simple to understand and accessible by the entire development team to enable everyone involved to understand the logic of the decision-making process. In the coronavirus eradication project, this principle would be expressed by the publication of data and by transparency regarding the chain of infection, infection locations, age of people infected, severity of disease manifestation, and so on. In the case of coronavirus, like in the case of software development, the public must understand the logic of the decision-making process and the two-week work program that is constructed. Such transparency, it is reasonable to assume, will lead to public cooperation.
And in Israel?
After six months in which we have experienced the pandemic, it seems that enough data have been collected about the disease, the capacity of our hospitals, the desired balance between eradicating the disease and its economic ramifications, and about the public's behavior. These data may be used to design an agile strategy, based on short, two-week work plans, for eradicating the coronavirus crisis.
Based on the success of the agile approach, the following question arises: Why is it that in Israel, which is considered a phenomenal hi-tech success story, and in which the agile method is implemented successfully in so many organizations, the possibility of implementing the agile method in the management of the coronavirus eradication project has not yet been even suggested?
Orit Hazzan is a professor at the Technion’s Department of Education in Science and Technology. Her research focuses on computer science, software engineering, and data science education. For additional details, see https://orithazzan.net.technion.ac.il/ .