Rally Software in the hot seat: The challenges and benefits of going agile

Agile is a word that's increasingly bandied about in the world of enterprise technology these days. Similar to big data, it's a concept that's at once self-explanatory yet deceptively complex. To get a better idea of exactly what agile strategies are and how they are helping to shape and empower modern businesses, we put some questions to Phil Knight, major account manager at Rally Software UK. Here's what he had to say.

What does Rally Software do?

Rally Software is a provider of cloud-based solutions for managing agile software development. If you're not familiar with the concept: in a nutshell, agile is a way of working to deliver value faster and improve the outcome of a project. It is a method based on incremental development where requirements and solutions evolve allowing adaptive planning, evolutionary development and fast delivery which allows a very flexible response to change.

Traditionally, the business side of an organisation would say, "This is what we want" to the IT development team," who would then try to translate that into a viable product, produce the requirements, write the application and then test it before presenting it back to the business. This could take many months - and in some cases years - before the business saw what was requested.

The agile approach allows the development team to only work on the highest-priority features and deliver these small pieces of functionality back to the business within a matter of weeks. The beauty of this is that if the requirements change, development can easily be changed or restructured without wasting huge sums of money, big chunks of time, or lots of resources. It's much more effective.

It basically comes down to shifting from defining large projects that take years to develop, to breaking them up into very small pieces and delivering each piece within a few weeks. Agile, by definition, is characterised by quickness, lightness, and ease of movement – Rally Software enables this through its platform, products and coaching services, enabling businesses to react quicker and ultimately be more competitive.

Who typically deploys an agile strategy and why?

The strategic importance of software to organisations continues to grow and companies are increasingly looking to software as the core technology differentiating and enabling their businesses and products. With the right coaching, anyone developing software can develop in an agile way. Most organisations look to agile because the traditional methods of developing software are failing. Traditional methods have resulted in behind-schedule, over-budget projects that are delivered with lower-than-expected quality, and with limited transparency and visibility into the status of these projects, trust between the business and IT has been lost.

So what are the business advantages of agile?

Agile places an emphasis on productivity and quality, thereby accelerating the pace of innovation so that companies create products users love and ultimately make the organisation more competitive. Agile also allows for rapid feedback and constant learning, so you don't waste time on the wrong things. You can adjust priorities or pivot as necessary, so you make better decisions and dramatically reduce the risk of the project failing. It requires a fundamental shift in how you think about projects, people and resources. It is very powerful to have a whole company working in an agile way.

Who are some of Rally Software's clients?

We have clients across a wide variety of industries including the financial services, government, healthcare, media and entertainment, and mobile communications to name a few. These include McKesson, Sony Ericsson, Financial Times and NBC Universal.

Why are the UK and continental Europe such important markets for you?

We've seen great success with agile adoption in the US and, more recently, in most parts of Europe where it is now considered to be a mainstream methodology. Just in the past three years, we've seen more and more large European organisations experiment with and go on to adopt agile - it's becoming part of the business lexicon in this part of the world. Rally is dedicated to helping drive successful adoption of agile in Europe and further establishing ourselves as a valuable partner for building agile businesses.

How do you anticipate the agile market changing in the coming years?

Agile is a huge market. Large enterprises are increasingly recognising the value of it. As you can see from Rally's client list, we have a large, diverse base of enterprise customers who view us as a key strategic solutions provider. Over the last 12 months, we've seen a huge shift because agile is now moving out of development and into other areas of the business, like portfolio management and strategic planning.

Both of these aspects really demonstrates that agile has become mainstream and we expect adoption to dramatically increase in the coming years.

Rally has acquired Flowdock, a Scandinavian company. Any more plans to acquire around Europe?

Flowdock has proved to be a very successful acquisition and was the perfect fit in terms of Rally's vision around distributed team collaboration. While we don't have any additional acquisitions planned at this time, but we would not rule anything out if it made sense to what we're trying to achieve.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Becoming a true agile organisation is hard. You have to be willing to accept change and in a lot of cases, change existing practices. You also need to be willing to accept failure and learn from it in order for agile to be successful for your business long term.

Rally has over 10 years of experience helping organisations succeed with agile and have identified many things that aide successful agile implementation: understanding how agile practices are designed to work, getting buy-in from many different parts of your organisation, and learning from experienced agile practitioners.

When agile is done right, it is amazing what can be achieved and the heightened level of moral attained for all those involved.