Why Focus on Decommissioning?
Migrating to new systems and decommissioning the old are a fact of life in the modern world of changing technologies. On the www.capitalone.complatform, we have had several migrations that significantly altered our technology stack in the past decade. Half of those changes were minor migrations only affecting portions of the technology used. The other half were complete overhauls that affected the entire stack from servers, to code, to UI. These migrations also affected everyone who interacted with the platform.
Our platform is not alone. In a world where memory and processing power can double every 18–24 months (see the disputed Moore’s Law), there is always incentive to move to the next “new hotness.”
While working towards the final goal of decommissioning the old system, your company could still have money and resources tied up in keeping it alive. In many cases though, the obstacle that keeps you from turning off the legacy system is the people that are still using it.
I’d like to suggest that there are four personality types that you will encounter as your team goes through a migration and decommission. Understanding each of these personalities and what role they play at the head, middle, or end of your pack is helpful for planning and meeting your deadline. We’ll refer to these personality types as True Fast Movers, Pleasantly Impatients, True Slow Movers and Willing Adopters. Planning with considerations for each of these individuals can help you to move quickly in areas where there is little resistance, and move steadily and purposefully where there is a lot.
Your Fast and Forward Movers
True Fast Movers
The True Fast Movers look forward and never look back. They are literally your pioneers and explorers. They follow the path of least resistance and make the most visible progress. They are your Amelia Earharts, Neil Armstrongs, and George Washington Carvers.
True Fast Movers are your best chance at finding what works and doesn’t work in the shortest time possible. You don’t have to show them the path forward because they’ll find it. However, you do need to pay attention to the problems they encounter. Their obstacles are the same ones others will eventually run into, so don’t ignore them. Focus on helping them remove those obstacles, build forward momentum and create documentation that will help others when they encounter the same issues.
If they finish the paths forward early, pull your next priority problems up for them to solve. Keep them focused on moving forward instead of supporting your legacy system. True Fast Movers require forward movement and working on the legacy system can be a frustration for them.
Your preference may be to completely ignore your legacy system once you start building its replacement. However, the reality is that issues still come up, especially if you still have users on the legacy system. For these scenarios you should still allow yourself 5–10% of your overall team’s effort to resolve some of the more nagging legacy problems before entirely switching over.
Those issues should be managed by your Pleasantly Impatient people. Those people are in the Fast Mover category, they have decided they’re “all in” on your future replacement, but have a good sense of the customer service element needed to get there. They are motivated to handle the people reluctant to move, but for themselves, have a tendency towards favoring forward movement.
Pleasantly Impatient people will be the ones that escort your Slow Movers across the finish line. They are your trail guides, mentors, and ever-cheerful life coaches. They will need that pleasing personal demeanor in order to convince people to move out of their comfortable daily technology routine. The Slow Movers may challenge their patience at times. However, maintaining a good standing with Slow Movers while guiding them to forward is literally the tail end of the project (remember the caboose analogy) so it’s time well spent.
Even your most patient forward movers will be counting down the days for the project to be completed and hoping that migration deadlines will be met (You’ve communicated firm deadlines, right?). As a project lead or manager, you need to do everything you can to hold to your deadlines. This will help keep your Pleasantly Impatients from losing their cool or leaving the project entirely. In the end, they may be the ones that celebrate the hardest when you hit those deadlines.
Your Slow and Methodical Movers
True Slow Movers
Your True Slow Movers are the last to leave the system and will define your project’s finish date. Since they move the slowest (it’s in the name!), you need to engage them early and help keep them moving at a steady clip over the entire length of the project. Slow Movers are the ones at the nightclub waiting for the closing lights to come on before making their way to the door. Your True Slow Movers are those who think the old system worked fine and may have invested a lot of time figuring out workarounds and tricks specific to that system. They may have very reasonable challenges with moving, or are simply not inconvenienced or held back by the status quo.
To get the True Slow Movers comfortable with change will require hands-on assistance, instructions, documentation and communication. You’ll need to clearly and often state the reasons and business justifications for why the new system is better.
True Slow Movers need to be given hard deadlines for milestones (“It’s 2am, closing time!”) and you may have to get creative with your solving problems when they give valid reasons to stay where they are. These deadlines need to be communicated loudly, clearly and broadly so there’s no doubt about whether you’re moving or not (you are).
The True Slow Movers are also going to keep you honest. If you find yourself justifying the migration with, “Because I said so!” (“But Dad!”) and you can’t come up with a compelling counter justification, it may be time to take a step back and make sure your reasons for migrating are as buttoned up as previously believed. The True Slow Movers are going to ask you hard questions about your rationale and make sure you’ve considered everything. Listen to them. Those hard questions may shed some light on real road blocks that won’t appear until you’re almost done.
Example: “I can’t understand the documentation your team wrote” or “We’re going to need more hands on training” or “How will I get the daily reports to management that I’m required to send.” Hearing about those problems, planning for them, and then having a good answer early on will help you stay on deadline.
You’ll have turned the corner with your True Slow Movers when they start using your new system and telling others that they should probably stop using the legacy system as well. Getting True Slow Moves to a place of daily comfort is what will make them the happiest. By relieving their fear of change and helping them find a “quiet normal” again you’ll give them what they’ve wanted all along: a steady and reliable pace. You should also celebrate their individual milestones and let them know you appreciate all of their hard work as well.
Some people want to move off your legacy system — maybe they’ve been frustrated with it for a while — but they haven’t seen a tangible gain for the new system yet. They’ve heard a lot of promises about all their problems being fixed, but they’re not ready believe all of it yet. These are your Willing Adopters.
These are the “everyday users”, the common-folk in a town hall meeting that need to be gently persuaded. They’re open to change, but not quite buying what you’re selling just yet. Their concerns are extremely valid and they have basic, and universal, questions (“How does this save me time when I have to log in three different times?”). Once they witness positive change, or see proof of the justifications given, you’ll get forward movement from them. (“You only have to log in three times in the beginning!”)
Encourage your Willing Adopters along their journey of adoption. Nurture them, give them a public voice, and help them keep their forward momentum. These people are close to your user base and can be a voice of truth to others who are wondering why they should put effort into leaving the old system. They can show others their balanced decision to move away from the legacy system, and advocate without the sales pitch of, “Everything is gonna be great on the other side.”
In this way, Willing Adopters can be a great source for case studies to show others a path for success during migration. Leverage their experience when you’re trying to convince True Slow Movers that there is a way out of the wilderness. “Jackie’s team had a similar problem, and this is how they solved it. Maybe you should talk to them.” Also, providing Willing Adopters with a spotlight of success also reinforces their decision to embrace change in addition to elevating them amongst their peers.
Four Personalities, One Team
Different people manage changes differently. Leveraging the strength of each can provide you with valuable insight and forward movement. Your True Fast Movers give you forward momentum and build the bridges that others will follow while your True Slow Movers keep you honest, making sure that you’ve considered the risks that others have glossed over. Your Pleasantly Impatients help provide great direction and encouragement for everyone and the Willing Adopters can become the overwhelming majority that sings the praises of the new system.
Considering and valuing all personalities for who they are forces you to pay attention to the legacy system that you’re leaving behind instead of only focusing on the shiny new thing on the horizon. Exiting the legacy system and turning it off should be as much of an acceptance criteria as getting users on your new system. By giving each range of personalities what they need, you enable everyone to be a part of the journey in a positive and helpful way.