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Digital transformation project: Drive success with Agile

Implementing Agile methodologies can help organizations scale and accelerate their digital transformation projects, according to Harmeen Mehta, global CIO and head of digital at Indian telecom giant Bharti Airtel Ltd. In an interview at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, Mehta discussed how adopting an Agile methodology can help cater to a successful digital transformation's rapidly changing processes.

In this video, she delineates how Agile can help organizations innovate effectively and efficiently, while also allowing them to fail fast. She also offers best practices for CIOs trying to scale their organization's digital transformation project.

Editor's note: The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

How can implementing an Agile methodology help scale an organization's digital transformation project?

Agile ... allows you to experiment very fast. But more importantly, it allows you to fail fast.
Harmeen MehtaCIO, Bharti Airtel

Harmeen Mehta: Agile is just a different way of doing things. When you're trying to do something innovative, something that's not been done before, or use a new technology within your own organization for the first time, what Agile brings is it allows you to experiment very fast. But more importantly, it allows you to fail fast. That is essential, because if you're being disruptive, then you're pushing the boundaries of both technology and process as well, and that's where you want to learn very quickly to see whether it's working or not and adjust your methods accordingly, and then move on. That's what I love about Agile.

We use a lot of Scrum, and there are pods and squads where the various parts of the organization, from various verticals, come together to work as one team. Agile allows us to do that. Then you complement that with the ability to work in short bursts and try something out very quickly, and either you succeed in it and decide, 'OK, I'm going scale it up,' or you don't and you just dust yourself off and say, 'Can I move to a different way and try something new to solve the same problem?' And I think that's something we really struggled with in the past, and the Agile way of working has really taught us how to do that very effectively and efficiently.

What role do CIOs play when it comes to scaling their organization's digital transformation project?

Mehta: We have to lead it from the front and also be really good partners with the business and understand what business problem we're trying to solve. Everything we do either has to create new value for the company, or create a new business model or solve an existing problem, or cut down costs massively. The ideal project would be a mix of all of these three.

There is a lot of pressure and a lot of work to do, as all businesses within the organization are looking to transform at the same time. We have to pick and choose the battles, and that's where it becomes important to see what benefit we are going to bring to the larger organization, or to the consumer.

Given our scale and the reach of Bharti across all the various 17 countries, as well as over 400 million people, it's important that we build solutions that can scale up, because you can't build digital technology and anything innovative and say, 'OK, this is only available to 2 million customers.' In order to make them available to all, you need to have the level of elasticity and horizontal scaling in your technology. That is essential if you really want to take it to the masses.

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