Any telecom provider must always try to avoid network downtime. But to stay competitive these companies also must constantly upgrade their software and systems. So when AT&T decided to migrate more than 40,000 users to comprehensive IBM IoT solutions—to support internal software development and replace its existing disparate solutions—the company knew it was facing a long slog.
Naturally, service outages were not an option during this protracted transition. That’s a primary reason why, over the course of about three years, the company used an agile business planning model and IoT-enabled solutions from IBM to complete 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.
Deliberate and sequential planning
Seppalainen said the keys to success lied in broad buy-in from all levels of the company. This included 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; we were given the tools and told to have at it, so that’s what we did,” she explained, adding that the project involved about 3,000 applications, about 100 project areas and 57 servers.
Careful and sequential planning were key. Seppalainen and her colleagues set up about 10 scrum teams, 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 recalled. “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 said the company’s leaders actively supported the endeavor via internal communications, webcasts and town halls so “it would be very clear from the top down that this was going to happen, and quickly, and everybody needed to support it.”
In keeping with the agile model, the migration teams rolled out the new solutions in phases. They received feedback from early adopters and adjusted accordingly. Of course, large organizations like AT&T have many stakeholder groups with different wants and needs for their respective operations. Seppalainen reported that while they couldn’t fulfill everyone’s wish list, they were able to prioritize and deliver the most critical requests.
Coordinating the calendar
The volume of users necessitated scheduled releases and automated updates. The agile team spread these across the calendar to avoid overwhelming everyone with the changes. (Seppalainen applauded IBM’s crucial assistance in the project area design work, calling it “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 added. “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 of IoT solutions
Once new roll-outs were in place, AT&T conducted extensive testing. It 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 contends that 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 explained. “Our strong program and project management is what brought this three-year odyssey to fruition.”
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