Tuesday, March 27, 2007

SPA London: Making BT Agile

The SPA conference is on this week and I’m not there.  SPA is a good conference but being so close to the ACCU conference I need a very good reason to go.  Since I’m not speaking there I’ve skipped it.


The BCS SPA group also holds monthly meetings which I sometimes go along to.  About three weeks ago I went along to a very interesting talk entitles “Large-Scale Agile Application Development”.  In fact the talk was actually about how BT had adopted Agile development techniques.  This was quite a challenge as those who know BT know that it is a very large company, a traditional telco and at one time a nationalised industry.  There could be few more challenging environments into which to introduce Agile.


BT haven’t completed their Agile transition but it seems to be going well.  Fortunately they had high level management backing on their side and all the kind of resources big companies can bring to bear on these problems: training, off-site boot-camps, consultants (mainly from Exoftware) and other resources.


I was particularly impressed by two of their ideas.


First was a plastic credit card like “pledge card.”  I’ve seen these done by political parties in the past but this one was for “BT Core Agile Delivery Practises.”  On one side was the Agile manifesto and on the other was BT’s core practises:



  • Customer collaboration

  • User stories

  • Iterative development

  • Automated testing

  • Continuous integration

The card strikes me as good because a) it was a constant reminder of the practises, b) it was very corporate so endorsed the idea that the company wanted this to happen.


The second idea was a pre-printed task card with the main fields a developer would use.  I’ve seen index cards put through a laser printer before but this was more structured.  It contained fields to help describe the work task, the priority and the acceptance criteria.  Again good for re-enforcing the corporate message (“This is what we want”) and a reminder to teams as to what they needed to do.  My only criticism might be that for such a small card it had a lot of fields to complete.


BT seems to have invested a lot in this programme.  They had sent lots of people on training courses and held lots of off-site meetings and training.


They also spent a lot of time and money using coaching techniques.  In fact they used pair-coaching with an experienced coach working with a new coach to help train the coach.  To my mind this approach vindicates the coaching approach and shows how powerful it can be.


That say, it does seem the coaching model in use was very much drawn from the Agile coaching model rather than the model used by business coaches.  The difference is that the Agile model is much more directive about what needs doing while the business model is much more open.  Both have their place, I just wish Agile coaches were more aware of the other model and how it can help.