How BT learnt to be Agile

An understandable myth is that large organisations cannot possibly be agile. They are simply too big, complex and geographically dispersed to successfully deploy an agile approach to IT and business. BT has proved this wrong.

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One of the tricks to getting it right is to create internal agile coaches, specialists in the implementation of agile methods who move from project to project, spreading their expertise along the way. In an IT function of 14,000 (of which almost half are in India), split down into hundreds of small development teams, these coaches are essential to ensure the successful rollout of agile practices.

Another vital ingredient for agile is the provision of the communications and collaboration tools that allow these distributed teams to work together, wherever they are, based on a ‘single version of the truth’ resource. In other words, organisations must avoid wasting resources on multiple (and perhaps conflicting) solutions to the same issue.

Having an overall picture of what every team is up to and allowing teams to have sight of this, is crucial.

One step at a time towards the agile business

Like agile software development itself, the transformation of the organisation to the agile approach should be gradual and focused. It simply isn’t possible to rush through such a radical overhaul of IT functions, particularly in a large business.

Businesses need to recognise that they can, and will have to, mix old and new approaches to development and provide the right support systems to manage the interface between agile and traditional teams.

Whatever their size, organisations constantly need to innovate to gain and maintain competitive advantage. In IT that means short cycle times and rapid, targeted delivery.

Agile principles focus on minimising waste, delivering quickly and remaining focused on the business goals. Such outcomes will no doubt benefit any organisation, whatever its industry, size or location.

Agile need not stop with the IT department. Within BT we are now considering applying the same agile principles to other business functions. Agile is not an overnight solution, it can be risky without the right planning and processes in place, and it is a challenge in a large organisation, especially without a trusted technology partner.

However, the benefits far outweigh the time, effort and risk involved. Agile can transform any organisation, whatever its size, making it more efficient, flexible and therefore more productive.

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