by Leo King

BA CIO says Lean and Agile development will beat downturn

Sep 30, 2009
IT StrategyTransportation and Logistics Industry

British Airwaysplans to standardise its IT development on Lean and Agile methodologies, as it fights to stave off the recession.

The airline, which has cut 2,500 jobs this year in the face of the downturn, said improving efficiency was vital.

Paul Coby, chief information officer, said at the Business Analysis Conference in London: “We need smart innovation and smart change leveraged by technology. Lean and Agile methods are becoming key enablers.”

Agile development is used extensively across BA, which has 43,000 staff, and Lean “will be a key enabler of change”, he added.

Lean methodology was increasingly important, Coby said, because “BA is 90 years old, and we’ve spent all that time becoming more complex”. It is used to standardise processes in order to cut costs and time use, and improve efficiency.

An example of Lean methodology improving processes is in BA’s storage warehouses, which contain crucial parts but had “poor flow and general confusion”. The introduction of Lean development brought about a new layout with clearer processes, and a more integrated team, Coby said, adding: “The situation before had been costing us a lot of money.”

Nevertheless, Lean methodology has experienced its own problems at BA. It was used extensively in the development of systems at Heathrow Terminal 5, but upon the terminal’s opening thousands of travellers’ bags were delayed after a string of problems with baggage processes.

Agile methodology is widely used in BA, and becoming increasingly prevalent, Coby added. It focuses on flexibility, quick response to change, and collaboration, instead of fixed plans and methods. The only exceptions when it is not used are in changes that necessitate gradual development, such as introducing large software deployments.

“With [alternative methodology] Waterfall, you wait for the benefits and you can miss your targets. With Agile you can deploy change early and often,” Coby said. But he added: “Agile is not an excuse for anarchy – you still have to stick at your course.”

Departmental managers involved in process changes meet daily to discuss what can be improved, he said.

“Lean and Agile are vital, but challenging,” Coby explained. “They require top level management leadership, the ability to admit when things are going wrong, middle management to empower the front line, and the right analysis.”

He added: “If we didn’t do it, and lost control of our cost base, all our blood, sweat and tears would have been wasted.”