How BT embraced agile programming

The telecoms giant BT has transformed its IT delivery ability by moving to agile development with a 90 day project lifecycle.


In 2005, BT Group began replacing an aging Unix-based phone-traffic monitoring system with a Web-centric architecture.

The intent was to allow traffic managers to make quicker changes to switches and other physical devices to handle shifts in network loads - on any point in the company's vast telecommunications network - without risking system overloads.

The new system, rolled out in late 2005, has made the work of these phone-traffic controllers much easier for network load balancing; the system it replaced was difficult to upgrade. At that point, few people in the company even knew how the old system worked, says Kerry Buckley, a lead software developer at BT’s Ipswich centre, who worked on that project team.

But the most dynamic part of the development effort was this: The project was completed within the construct of BT's nascent 90-day agile development cycle.

Before the telcom giant's shift to an agile development methodology in 2005, it could take three to nine months for a third-party developer to gather specifications. Then the development itself could take up to 18 months or longer to complete, according to Al-Noor Ramji, CEO of BT Design and CIO at BT Group.

A traditional software-testing cycle, typically done after coding had been completed, would have prolonged the project by several additional months, says Ramji. The company's shift to 90-day and often 30-day software iteration cycles is at least four times as fast, he says, meaning they could deliver the end product that much faster. The central idea behind agile programming is to code quickly, test out what you've done, fix any problems and then move on.

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