Agile Coaching in British Telecom


you can never spread it too thin."

While raspberry jam becomes thinner the more you spread it, no matter how much you spread a good strawberry jam, its lumps–the strawberries–will remain. In BT's move to Agile delivery, the lumps are the people delivering the message so, as long as the delivery of the message included real flesh-and-blood people, it could only be diluted so far. Clearly, more quot;lumpsquot; were required in BT' "jam." It had too few coaches with significant experience, and little time to train more. BT therefore decided to look for outside help.

The Law of Grape Jelly
While carrying our the search for experienced Agile coaches, BT was mindful of the last jam law. Grape jelly is a bland, consistent mass-produced product that can be found in any American restaurant. Its primary features are that is always tastes the same, never surprises you, and is cheap to manufacture. Putting these properties together, we get the "Law of Grape Jelly." As it evaluated outside consultants, BT was keen to avoid purveyors of "Grape Jelly!"

Still Not Enough Jam
After some evaluation, BT identified a consultancy that understood and most closely shared its aspirations. Early in 2005, a partnership was created to "agilify" BT Exact. With more"lumps" available in its coaching team, BT could focus on two key objectives:

  • Promoting the Agile delivery message through face-to-face communication.
  • Starting a number of learning projects.

BT started three broad initiatives:

  1. The Agile Road Show, half-day events to promote awareness, held at BT Exact's principal UK offices.
  2. Agile Program Days , one-day quot;deep divequot; events to provide more in-depth education on Agile delivery and to collaboratively explore how these approaches could be applied to the project and program in question.
  3. Agile Learning Projects , a series of project-level engagements were created to provide learning opportunities and success stories.

Ironically, the success of these initiatives meant that BT again found itself with a shortage of "lumps" in its "jam." Even with an extended team of six, including two mentors from Exoftware, it could not meet the needs of its 14,000-strong workforce. Fortunately, experience obtained along the way to this point suggested a way forward: pair coaching as a means of creating more quot;lumps.quot;

Pair Coaching
The road shows and program days were, by their nature, focused on education, and therefore allowed significant time for Qamp;A. Two types of question were commonly asked. The first highlighted the need for coaches to have a detailed understanding of BT's business. For example, coaches needed a deep knowledge of a specific area or about the levels of investment being made in specific projects. The second required the coach to have both deep knowledge of implementing Agile delivery and practical experience of addressing situations similar to that of BT.

To ensure such questions could be competently answered, a practice of quot;pair coachingquot; was introduced wherever possible, in which a BT coach and an Exoftware coach would work together to deliver an engagement. This accelerated the learning for both partners and specifically addressed BT#39;s need to build up internal capability. The success of this approach hinted at the solutions for our quot;lumpy jamquot; shortage.

A drive was started to identify and recruit new coaches from within BT's software development teams. The priority was to find people who were passionate and enthusiastic about Agile delivery, had experience of applying it, and had coaching abilities. The coaching team grew quickly from six to 12 coaches and the range of backgrounds and experience across the team also increased. During a road trip to Dublin designed to help the team gel, a program of workshops

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