Marathon Rules of Migration

Running has become a recent pastime, passion and way of life for me.   As a traveling consultant I allowed many years of airports, hotel lounges, and client boardrooms to take its toll.  Faced with a bulging waste line and a list of health ailments I decided to change from a sedimentary life style to one based on exercise and health choices.  During this transformation I set a goal of completing a full marathon.  If you have run a marathon you know the importance of training.  This allows you to gain the experience required in addition to a solid plan, to get you over the finish line!   How you train is up to the individual, bottom line if you don’t put in the miles you won’t make it to the finish line.  It occurred to me that training, planning and running a marathon could be compared to performing a migration project!   Just like a migration project if you don’t have skills linked to your project you may not make your goal.  Migration projects require:

•    Solid Business Justification, Approval and Business Buy in
•    Skilled Resources to assist and augment the local team
•    Proper technical and managerial planning
•    A well-executed alpha and pilot cycle which feeds info back into the plan
•    An execution schedule the business and team can keep pace with for the projects duration
•    Realistic end goals
•    A recovery period before the business moves onto new goals
Before making the decision to train for a marathon it is important to gain the support and approval of your family.  Preparing for an event like this requires dedication, time commitment and change in routine and depending on your goal a marathon may involve travel, equipment, track time, ect.   This is very similar to a migration project which may start on one person’s desk as an idea.  In proper planning this idea must be turned into a business case and be pitched to the stake holders in a way that solicits their support, time commitment and in most cases financial backing.  It is during this critical time that you show how well thought out this idea really is, your facts, analysis, projected costs, and most important the return on investment. 

After receiving initial approval from your family it’s time to build a training plan that suits your needs.  If you have not run a marathon before this is where you would seek advice from other runners and health professionals.  Using their experience and suggestions you build a training schedule that will be followed for the next number of months.  You will post your new schedule on the fridge, review it with family and adjust your lives to accommodate and ensure success. In a larger migration project it is critical to front load your project plan with information from a seasoned consultant.  This allows you to build out a technical solution that matches the business and its needs.  During this time you should also plan out your communications, support & escalation plan, and financial model.  Once complete these plans need to be represented to the business and team members to ensure that everybody is not only on the same page but prepared to adjust day to day tasks, policies, ect to ensure success of your plan.

And now the training begins as you start putting on the miles, slowly at first and eventually building yourself up to long weekend runs and short fast weekly sprints..   During this time you will have setbacks as you learn how your body works, managing food intake, stretching, dealing with sore muscles, fatigue and constant adaptation.  Similar to the migration project here you would add skilled team members, and grow your knowledge of the environment, business and requirements.  You report on the source & target environments, possibly clean up a bit and prepare for the actual migration effort.   During this time you may experience setbacks, run into applications that have issues being migrated, or business requirements that you did not anticipate.  It is the team’s ability to stay positive, flexible and rationalize information that insures success.

So its race day all the planning, training, hectic schedules, and nervous thoughts has to be put aside.   As the gun goes you start in on the first 1-9 miles of a long race.    This phase, often called elation, is about finding your rhythm and pace based on the weather, your body and energy level.   Generally I am thinking about my goals for the day which for me is just to complete one of the most challenging tasks I have ever undertaken.   I’m excited and full of energy for these miles and often find I need to reel back my energy, keeping a steadier pace as there is still a long way to go.  This is similar to the alpha and pilot phases of a migration project.  Here you set up a number of test groups designed to identify issues in your plan.  The team is still gelling, the issues ahead are not yet know yet everyone is full of energy, optimistic and at times can be getting ahead of themselves.  I find it helpful here to slow the team down, reminding them that what they learn during this phase is invaluable.  The adaptations made to the environment, process and team dynamics are what make a difference later in the project.

Miles 10-19 are the rhythm phase where as a runner I usual start to feel like a well-oiled machine.  By now my breathing is well under control, my legs are working at a solid pace.  I am focused and not thinking about the end goal any more rather living in the moment.  I hear people cheering me on along the way, see other runners, and a host of other environmental elements along the way.  I am sort of in a trance as react and carry myself along.  This is not unlike a migration project team who has found their grove.   At this point the daily capacity has been settled, support issues and fixes are fairly well know, all the major issues found during pilot are resolved and the team is internally reacting to minor issues without slowing down.   The end goal is not forgotten here however the team is focused on the rinse and repeat rhythm of migration activities. 

Sludge forward for miles 19-24 this is when the pain starts and you need to find a way to hang on.  I find this phase of the marathon is painful I’m starting to think about the finish line but it’s still over 7 miles away.   My body and mind are starting to argue.  The mind says it’s time to kick into high gear and just get it done and my body definitely does not agree.  The legs are sore, arms stiff and my breathing just no longer feels quite right.   I have to push on and it is at this time I can use a reminder of why I am here.   In a migration project this is where you have finished all the easy to reach users and are dealing with the harder and sometimes more complex ones.  With the bulk of the users over your application environment is starting to show its need to move too.  As the team sets in on these tasks which can at times affect the business and require 3rd party assistance.  This migration has been going for some time and the business is yet to see the ROI since you have as of yet to get to the end goal of shutting down the source.   Time lines may be off, application issues my require modifications to budgets, and business expectations may start to stretch.  This is the time as a leader you need to remind the team and business why they are here, of their end goal, and at times motivate them to continue.

The last push – Miles 24-26.2.  Everything is hurting now but I know I am almost done.  My body wants to stop but this is the time to pick up the pace, straighten my posture, smile and wave to the crowd and just get-er’-done!  In a large migration I find the last month to be challenging.  Team members start to drop off in favor of new contracts, budgets are strained, timelines may be surpassed and in general it seems to be a challenge to complete all the tasks.  Here it is helpful to remind the team and business of the long term goals they set so long ago, and allowing the team to finish.  This may include cleanup efforts, some additional non planned work, and even working harder with a reduced team.  So much changed from mile 1-26.2 however the team finished.  Along the way they lost a little focus, re-focused, re-calibrated and met the deliverable.  Now it’s time to reflect as you celebrate your victory and use what you learned to set new goals!!

Since taking up running and changing my life style to support it I have managed to loose approximately 100 pounds and gained back happiness I had long forgotten.  Over the last year I have run numerous half marathons and completed my first full marathon in September 2013 with a completion time of ~5 Hours.  With this completed I have set new goals of completing a full Iron Man triathlon.  I have many miles to go to complete this goal but I will do them with a new found attitude and energy.  In writing this it has also occurred to me that I have learned to apply these “Marathon Rules of Migration” in my customers’ projects which has reduced customer impact, increased satisfaction and ultimately renewed my enjoyment of the migration space.  I have been in this role for a number of years, and I look forward to the steady pace and strong finish as I negotiate the remaining years of my career.