For any telecom provider, avoiding system downtime is usually job one. So when AT&T decided to migrate more than 40,000 users to IBM’s IoT-enabled connected products—with the goal of supporting internal software development and replace its existing disparate solutions—the company knew it was in for a long slog.
Over the course of about three years, the company used an agile business planning model to pull off this monumental project. AT&T agile tool product owner and team lead Tiina Seppalainen detailed how it all unfolded at the recent IBM Continuous Engineering Summit in New Orleans.
AT&T’s Tiina Seppalainen describes her company’s Rational migration at the 2017 CE Summit.
Connected products buy-in and planning
Seppalainen said the keys to success lied in broad buy-in from all levels of the company and a meticulously planned process for executing and managing the changes at various stages. We had an aggressive and changing schedule, and we did this without any kind of formal training,” she said. “We were given the tools and told to have at it, so that’s what we did.”AT&T had to account for about 3,000 applications that support different parts of the company. “We ended up [affecting] about 100 project areas and 57 servers. And they all needed to be built in time for the migrations to the Rational tools,” Seppalainen said. “It was all planned very carefully and sequentially because of the dependencies between our servers.”
This included setting up between five and 10 scrum teams with a total of about 100 people who were primarily dedicated to the project. “This allowed us to be nimble and change as needed, which was frequently,” Seppalainen said. “We regularly adjusted either what we were doing or when we were doing it, and we had a team to engage user groups and keep people apprised of the progress.”
She added that a critical component of the endeavor was strong leadership commitment at multiple levels and very active support. This included internal communications, webcasts and town halls. “It was very clear from the top down that this was going to happen, and quickly, and everybody needed to support it,” Seppalainen said.
In keeping with the agile model, the migration teams rolled out the new solutions in phases, received feedback from early adopters provided input, and adjusted accordingly. Naturally, such a large organization has many stakeholder groups that wanted different things. Seppalainen said they couldn’t fulfill everyone’s wish list, but they were able to prioritize the most critical requests.
Coordinating the calendar
The volume of users necessitated scheduled releases and automations, which the agile team spread out across the calendar so as not to overwhelm everyone with the build-outs and iterations. (Seppalainen said the crucial help IBM provided in the project area design work was “a key to our success.”) “We had a lot of concurrent and dependent activities and multiple work streams, and they all had to be managed,” she said. “It was a major challenge to coordinate interdependent and overlapping work efforts.”
This meant having frequent meetings, almost all of them virtual, including check-ins at the beginning and end of every work day. “It was a very agile mindset,” Seppalainen said. “That’s what made this happen; just doing that day in day out.”
Testing and training
Once new roll-outs were in place, AT&T conducted extensive testing, established training courses that included certifications, and created “small-bite” videos so users could quickly refresh their skills as needed.
Now that the heavy lifting has concluded, Seppalainen said her company views this massive endeavor as a success. “Using the agile approach was one of the key factors because it’s team oriented, very iterative and gives you the ability to adjust to changing needs,” she said. “Our strong program and project management is what brought this three-year odyssey to fruition.”
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