a blog written by Brandon Mowat

Organizational Migrations

Propel your organization forward in a controlled way

Wed Jan 18 2023

Managing change in an organization is, unsurprisingly, challenging. When done well, your teams not only continue to thrive, but reap the benefits of the change that you're trying to make. On the flip-side, a poorly executed migration can plague your teams with dysfunction, leaving them unmotivated and toiling with the opaque change.

Migrations are only one of the many types of change that can occur in an organization. Examples of a migration would be: moving your team from Microsoft Teams to Slack; adding a new programming language to your tech stack; or implementing new quality checks in the development process. I think of migrations simply as shifting your organization in a desired direction through the addition, modification, or removal of a tool or process. Though I don't claim to be an expert in this, I have seen this done well and poorly, and have even seen a poorly executed migration become a successful one.

When executing migrations, it's crucial to keep in mind the dysfunctions of a team: Lack of Trust, Fear of Conflict, Lack of Commitment, Avoidance of Accountability, Inattention to Results. Planning your migrations with these in mind will keep you on a successful path. With these in mind, the template for running a successful migration comes almost naturally:

Identifiable leaders & De-risking

[Avoidance of Accountability, Fear of Conflict]

The first and foremost thing that every successful migration needs is an Identifiable Leader or Group. These will be the people who ensure the success of the migration and will see it through to the end. They'll be the last line of Enablement during the migration and are more than likely the group who put forth this migration in the first place. During the migration, their involvement will become less and less – their work is certainly front-loaded – but they should be accountable for keeping the migration moving until completion.

A migration must go through a de-risking phase as well, to collect feedback on the proposed migration as well as work out the kinks in the plan. Team members will be across the spectrum of "Yes, let's just do it" and "No, absolutely not"; it's important to hear this feedback and to work closely with the people who are forthcoming as it'll make your migration more solid. To de-risk your migration, work closely with 1 or 2 teams to go through the migration and iterate on the plan. Work with teams that are most hesitant as they'll have important feedback – working with other teams may give a false sense of security.

Enablement & Transition Plan

[Lack of Trust, Lack of Commitment]

A migration needs to be enabled by the Identifiable Leaders for the people who are being committed to supporting the migration. Enablement can come in many forms, but one of the highest leverage tools that you can use is to draw up thorough documentation that outlines exactly how to adopt the migration. After you feel like your documentation is completed it's first draft, you can de-risk it with the 1 to 2 teams that you've chosen to be your guinea pigs to work out any kinks and take it to it's complete form. This document will allow you to be hands off in the execution of the migration; unless you want to be pulled in the same number of directions as you have teams at your company, then you better fucking do it.

A successful migration needs time for adoption. The timeframe should give people a window to learn, ask for help, and to adopt the new patterns or tools into their toolkit. A good migration will have a kickoff date and a completion date – something realistic within the context of your team, likely this takes into account your roadmap work and other initiatives.

Success Criteria

[Inattention to Results]

A migration is only successful if it's completed – there are no half-points with them. Along with that, there should be reasoning for running a migration. Are you solving a problem with your migration? It's important to have clear success criteria so that your teams and your stakeholders understand why you're going through all this work and that you expect to see specific returns on the investment other than, "we did it!"

That's it! 🪄

Although I can't guarantee perfection, following these principles, your migrations should run smoothly. Having identifiable leaders de-risk the migration and enable your team's adoption of the new thing you're trying to migrate to with documentation and a transition plan, you're all but certain to succeed. Go forth, and make great things happen.

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Written by Brandon Mowat
building useful things at Ada, in the city of Toronto

made from scratch