By Yohanna Emkies
The most common question I hear from my customers is: “What’s going to happen to me (read: my organization) if we introduce the cloud?” Closely followed by:
“How are we going to begin the planning process…?” These are fair questions, which have to be discussed and worked out.
A question that is often underestimated, although it’s no less important than "what" and the "how" is “when." When is the right time to tackle operational readiness and organizational questions?
I notice two types of customers when it comes to addressing operational and organizational-related topics. Many simply omit or keep postponing the subject, until they are in the midst of cloud technical go-lives. At some point they realize that they need to cover a number of basics in order to move on and are forced to rely on improvisation. I call them the “late awakeners.”
Others—“early birds” keen to plan for the change—will come up with good questions very early on, but expect all answers to be concrete, before they even start their cloud journey. Here are my observations on each type:
1. Let’s start with the late awakeners.
Quite naturally, the customers I'm working with tend to focus on the technical aspects of the software-defined data center (SDDC), deploying all their resources, putting all the other things on hold, working hard for the technical go-live to succeed, until…
“Hold on a minute, who will take care of the operational tasks once the service is deployed? What is the incident management process? How are we going to measure our service levels? What if adoption is too rapid? And what if we don’t get enough adoption?”
In such cases, critical questions are raised very late in the process, when resources are already under pressure from heavy workloads and increasing uncertainty. These customers end up calling for our support urgently but at the same time find themselves unable to free up resources and attention to address the transformation. And when they do, they fail to look at the big picture, getting caught up in very short-term questions instead of defining services or processes properly.
Doing a first tour in these organizations and mapping the gaps, we may discover entire subjects, which have been left aside, because they are too complex to be addressed on the fly. But even worse, some subjects have already been treated because they were critical… but not treated consciously nor fully. The teams may feel that they don’t have time for these questions, think that it’s taking focus from the “important stuff,” but in reality that’s mostly because they are not aware that they are ALREADY spending a lot of time on these same questions, except they don’t focus their effort on it.
That results not only in poor awareness and maturity at day 1, but also in a low capacity to grow this maturity over time because no framework has been put in place.
Putting things back on track may eventually take more time and focus than if they had been addressed properly in the first place. But it is still feasible.
Clearly, it is an IT senior manager’s role to provide strategic direction, while project managers must include these important work streams in their planning from the start. Ultimately, it’s all part of one holistic project.
2. The early birds are also a tough catch.
From accompanying many organizations in different types of transformations, I cannot advocate loudly enough the need to encourage planning and designing before doing. Being mature in terms of the “what” before running to the “how” is undoubtedly the right approach.
A key lesson learnt is that in order to reorganize successfully for the cloud you have to accept some level of uncertainty while you are making your journey.
Some organizations get stuck upfront with one recurring question: "What will our future organization look like?" Relax.
First no pre-set organization design, even roughly customized to your needs, should be taken for granted. Secondly, no design—even accurate—will ever bring the move about. It’s the people that support the organization who are the critical success factor.
Don’t get me wrong, giving insight, best practices, and direction will definitely help the management in envisioning the future organization, which is essential, but at the same time, an organization is a lively thing by definition. There is also a psychological impact. When you start raising words like “people” and “organization,” concern and fear about change come with.
Sometimes it is even trickier because some organizations are already—or still—in the midst of other transformations started a few years back and lingering. In that case, the impression of “yet another change” may be perceived negatively by the core team and may put them in a situation of stress and stop them from moving forward. What if your team has just finished redesigning and implementing incident management processes, only to realize that they have to do it again to adapt to the cloud?
It will take time for the organization to mature. Embracing the cloud is a big change, but no drastic overnight revolution will take you there. Moving to the cloud is not “yet another re-org” but an ongoing, spreading move, which relies on existing assets, and it's here to last.
Your organization will evolve as you grow, your skills will improve as your service portfolio and cloud adoption increases. And this will happen organically as long as you put the right foundations in place: the right people, the right processes, the right metrics…and the right mindset.
The right balance to the “when” is somewhere in between the two behaviors of late awakeners and early adopters. Here are some of the most important best practices that I share with my customers:
- Gain and maintain the full commitment of senior management sponsors who will support your vision and guarantee focus all along the journey.
- Plan your effort and get help: dealing with operational readiness and with technical readiness should be one holistic project, and for the most part, it involves the same people. The project has to integrate both streams together from the start and wisely split effort among the teams to avoid bottlenecks, rework, and wastage.
- Opt for an iterative approach: be strategic and pragmatic. Designing as much as you can while you start implementing your cloud, and then refining as you go, will provide a more agile approach and guarantee you reach your goals more efficiently.
- Practice full awareness: create a common language on the project, hit important communication milestones, and reward intermediary achievements, so people feel they contribute and see the progress. It is key that your cloud project will be seen positively in the organization and that the people involved in it convey a certain positive image.
- Engage your people, engage your people, and engage your people.
As is often said, timing is everything. When dealing with people and their capacity to change, it’s even more critical to find a balance between building momentum and keeping the distance. Your teams will equally need to embrace the vision, feel the success, and at some point also breathe…and when you empower them efficiently across the process you will have the best configuration for success.
Yohanna Emkies is an operations architect in the VMware Operations Transformation Services global practice and is based in Tel Aviv, Israel.