Covid Hack – Resilient versus Robust

Many of the corporations we work with are inherently designed to be robust.

A concept that permeates every element of that business, from the processes that dictate workflow in each department through to the software engineered to support those business processes.

Robust is defined by the Oxford dictionary as ‘strong and healthy, vigorous’ but ironically, the term is often used within the corporate world to describe an environment that can withstand disruption and change. Rigid. Bulletproof.

Stop for a moment and imagine what it takes to create something that fits the corporate version of Robust. Think about how much planning is required. How many variables, both known and unknown, must be taken into account to design a robust system.

Think about how much guesswork is involved. Think about selling that ‘guesswork’ as fact. Pretending that you know that which is inherently unknowable, upfront.

This is where stress and imposter syndrome live.

A living, breathing ecosystem

People often think of Agile in terms of its ‘shadow’, Waterfall Project Management.

The moment they do that Agile becomes as rigid as Waterfall. It simply becomes a different set of rules governed by its own specific dogma. A different methodology rather than a separate philosophy.

A company, regardless of size, is made up of people and systems. It is always people and systems which must respond, not the company itself.

I can’t touch Barclays, let alone have a discussion with Barclays. I can touch, engage and interact with the teams and systems within Barclays.

To design a robust system is to choke the life out of the very thing that we are trying to create. A living, dynamic and creative environment that continuously creates products and services that delight and excite customers.

Regardless of what happens.


Resilience is defined as ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness’ and ‘the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.’ by the Oxford dictionary.

Adaptive. Responsive. Agile.

People and systems are inherently living, dynamic and permeable. We are continuously learning, growing and evolving. As we do, the systems that support and nurture our growth and development evolve too.

They become more sophisticated, effective and efficient.

Robust versus Resilience

A start-up forms around a central vision, purpose and idea. It is inherently Agile. With limited resources and capabilities, the environment requires creativity, collaboration and continuous delivery of value in the form of products and services to customers.

Without revenue, it simply cannot survive.

As the start-up grows, inevitably, systems become increasingly important in order for that start-up to initially survive, and later, thrive.

It’s at this critical juncture that companies either choose to be Agile or opt to steel themselves against the unknown by creating increasingly complex checks and balances to protect against failure.

In a robust system, complexity increases with each evolution. More checks and balances are necessary. More paperwork and documentation are required. More managers and supervisors are required.

As resources become prioritised, each team must increasingly justify why their department has a greater need for those resources, and slowly, local optimisation becomes the focus for managers.

The shape shifts from a dynamic environment to a hierarchy.

In a resilient system, simplicity is achieved with each evolution. Cross-functional skills are developed through collaboration, and creativity thrives as learning increases through experimentation, trial and error.

Progression is marked by regular reviews, and planning for the next evolution is based on empirical knowledge of what has already happened. What is known. What is discovered.

Failure is embraced as a path to excellence and small, high-performance teams operate with purpose and precision, seamlessly throughout the entire organisation.

Each team optimised for the whole, dynamic system. Each team sharing knowledge, resources and swarming to solve complex problems in order to deliver the most valuable work. Continuously.

The shape shifts from a stand-alone dynamic system to an interdependent dynamic system. A hive.

Robust is a triangle. Resilient is a hexagon.

Choose Resilience over Robust moving forward

As we move through the phenomenon that is Covid, we’re being forced to consider how we’ve always done things and how we’re going to work moving forward.

Some may say that Covid is a ‘once in a lifetime experience’, however, Covid is simply another blip on a number of seismic shifts we’ve experienced over the past 3 years. From Brexit to a legislated dismantling of the flexible workforce.

If history is a predictor of the future, we can be certain that even greater disruption and chaos lies ahead. We’re more likely to encounter increasingly complex problems in the future than not. It makes sense to use the current opportunity to cultivate, nurture and grow Agile capability.

It makes sense to invest in cultivating, nurturing and growing Resilient, Creative and Agile teams that retain their shape regardless of the forces that impact that dynamic system.

It makes sense to think in terms of resilience rather than robustness.

Touch base with me if you’d like to talk about your options. I’m running a series of free Zoom one-on-one conversations. No marketing speak. No sales pitches. Just real conversations around the problems we face and the opportunities that are present.

Send an email to to reserve a time slot that works for you.

author avatar
John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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