‘Team Snappy’ improves agility at the FT

By Stuart Sumner
16 May 2014 View Comments
Financial Times

The Financial Times (FT) has formed a group of in-house developers to focus on a high volume of fast projects in order to increase its agility.

Known internally as ‘Team Snappy', the in-house group is responsible for over 100 deployments to the live environment every day, according to the newspaper's CIO, Christina Scott.

"They look at fast turnaround projects," said Scott, speaking exclusively to Computing. "They're projects which we have no certainty up front will work, but we give them a go. They're small trials, things like Chrome extensions which give you the top 10 headlines from the FT - they're very quick to get up and running," she added.

Scott explained that the FT has been using the Agile project management methodology, an iterative system common in software development projects, for many years.

"We have a well-established development team with good skills who have been running Agile for many years, but the question is always, how can we make it go faster?" she said. "We're really focused on things around auto-provisioning of new environments for instance. It used to take three months to set up a new environment because you have to buy new hardware and networking equipment, but that's down to 30 minutes now.

"This means we're able to deploy constantly, with continuous integration and continuous deployment. We deploy to live around 100 times per day, which is quite staggering, but brilliant!"

These deployments usually involve minor software changes and upgrades to the FT's website. Scott added that despite the large volume of regular deployments, the focus remains on going faster still.

"We try to focus on the process, asking how do we go even faster? That's a cultural shift, so we need to look at user behaviours, and understand the right requirements. We're in an organisation that's come from producing a perfect finished product - the newspaper - and now we're asking stakeholders to think about launching something that's maybe not so perfect. But then we get feedback, we iterate and continue."

She explained that part of this cultural change is in forcing the business to specify the minimum possible level of requirements.

"It's about pushing someone to say what really is the minimum we could launch with. It's so much more valuable to get something out there and get feedback, because [otherwise] we're second guessing the customer. So there's more emphasis on the user experience, and research and testing. We start with asking what the customer wants, rather than saying we've decided to build this thing, let's see who wants it," she concluded.

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