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How remote working has changed our data migration projects

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Sep 6, 2021 | Data Migration Blog

Among many things COVID has also significantly changed the way how we plan and execute projects.

In our post we share the lessons learned about hybrid work so far and how our existing data migration methodology accommodates remote work in different project phases.

Introduction

Remote working in technical terms it is not a new phenomenon in the consultancy business. Actually, remote work has been an ordinary practice for business consultants for a long time. And it is not just us, as some surveys1 already pointed out several years ago, 88% of organizations offered telecommuting in some form. May it be just checking the latest test reports from home, sending a few important emails on the mobile phone while travelling or connecting to a conference call from the car while driving to the office, teleworking has become unnoticedly part of the daily working routine for the majority of businesses.
Árpád Pregitzer

Árpád Pregitzer

Head of Migration Services

Árpád has 15+ years of experience in the Financial Sector, being one of the most experienced banking migration experts in the region, having led and participated in 10+ successful Core Banking Migration projects so far. As an expert and QA of major MINDSPIRE projects, he oversees the full cycle of Migration, including conceptual planning, mapping of source and target systems, overseeing transformation, dress rehearsal and go-live activities.
But this had been mainly limited to individual work, in most cases no real collaboration was needed so far. COVID has changed this a lot: all the basic interactions required new communication channels, another way of organising work and most of all a different approach from everyone regarding their daily activities. Several interesting articles are available about the lessons we have learnt in the last year and a half, and about the best practices of how to make remote work more effective. Also, there is a common agreement, that wherever it is possible the combination of working on-site and from home will dominate the business world on the long term. But as we had not foreseen the impact of the fully off-site working environment, also we not yet completely understand how things will change with hybrid working. This time however, we can at least reach back to some recently gained experience, just to get better prepared for what is ahead of us.
What can we retain from all the new techniques? What will improve work efficiency, and how a quite formalised and standardised waterfall approach-based project like our standard data migration methodology can be improved by that?
In our blog post I will go through the major findings and conclusions we have collected and analysed so far.

The new experience

Like many others in the IT world, business consultants were surprised or even shocked by the instant restrictions put in place due to COVID. Working mainly on data migration projects located outside the borders of our headquarter country, we have had already relatively long-time experience with remote working. Also, as data migration is usually part of a bigger integration project, it has many dependencies on other activities, requiring flexible availability and time management. So, we were already accommodated to working at unusual times and in various settings. By having colleagues from different nations and locations in the same team and working in hybrid style – when part of the team is on-site while the other one is remote – was not quite new for us either.
Remote working on data migration projects
When the pandemic broke out and restrictions were introduced, we had multiple ongoing data migration projects, each in a different phase. Project progress statuses ranged from ‘just started the detailed design’ to ‘immediately before final go-live’. Accordingly, instant actions had to be done, which varied from project to project. For some the most important issue was to establish a feasible, long term task control and monitoring process throughout the remainder of the project. For others it was just a matter of ensuring resource availability for the go-live process, including seemingly minor issues like organising a back-up location in case of connection downtime at home.
Despite all of our previous experience and definite, standardised approaches to deliver data migration projects, lot of improvisations had to be done to overcome the new challenges.

Our key findings regarding remote work at data migration projects

Now, one and a half years later we made some recap and collected our thoughts. The major general conclusions we came up regarding remote work at data migration projects are:
  • The technical background and the willingness of the participants makes it possible almost every task to be performed remotely, but certain things can be done more effectively on-site.
  • Completely ignoring developing personal contacts and not organising initial personal meetings will cause setbacks later on and limiting non-personal communication efficiency as well.
  • Working off-site requires closer task control not only on the operative, but also on the management level. In addition to regular, formal management status meetings, issue escalations and other ad-hoc discussions have to be more frequent.
  • Decreased or non-existent on-site presence hinders the development of peer-to-peer contacts with subject matter experts, customer and vendor side SPOC’s have increased responsibility and additional work in communication and work organisation. Collaboration between them needs a direct, regular contact besides the formal status meetings.
  • A standardised methodology with defined work phases, roles, responsibilities and cooperation model enables to precisely pre-plan remote and on-site work periods, and eliminate the communication “mess” hybrid work may cause by split teams and mixed channels.
  • The importance of task traceability has been growing, activity tracking solutions are more and more widespread, even for the simplest intrateam task delegations and review, which were arranged earlier only informally with a short chat.
During the internal discussions with our colleagues working on a wide variety of projects for very different customers in several countries, a common agreement was shared about the anticipated hybrid work: redesigning and reorganising collaboration is unavoidable and will be a key factor in improving efficiency. Personal interaction should remain part of the game, but it ought to focus on effective direct communication and cooperation. On the other hand, any individually deliverable work can be made remotely. In order to benefit from the flexibility of hybrid work, you should try to pre-set a fixed timeframe for the common – possibly personal – work with project team members, may it be from customer or vendor side. But how to define common working time? What is the best allocation of office-to-home working? Some are anticipating a 60-40 ratio on a long term2, in our internal survey we also found that 60-70% of on-site work would be ideal, but I can easily imagine IT projects done fully remotely in the future.
So, the correct answer is… ’It depends’. Rather than sticking to a predefined quota, a more comprehensive understanding of the given project is to drive the team work organisation.

The effects of remote working on our data migration methodology

By digging deeper into the assessment of the lessons learned, we started to analyse remote work possibilities and consequences in the individual project phase defined in our standard data migration methodology. As these phases consist of very different tasks and accordingly quite distinct collaboration methods, it is worth to make conclusions for each of them separately.
Remote work data migration projects
Determining if a specific data migration planning or implementation activity is done more effectively on-site or off-site is rarely a definite thing to be measured. There are too many factors to be considered: project organisation, stakeholder preferences, personal communication styles or cultural backgrounds all have an impact on the final outcome and efficiency. Still, we aimed to setup a very basic model with some definable objective aspects, in order to have an indication.

We have taken the following aspects into account:

  • Cooperation time: How much time of overall working hours is used for common work with the project members. Or with other words, what is the ratio of individual versus common work time, assuming that for individual work all the required information, knowledge and accessibility is present, so that it can be really executed off-site effectively, without any major interruption.
  • Communication time: How much of cooperation time is used for direct communication between the parties, most significantly between the representatives of customer and vendor. Any form of direct, targeted communication is to be counted here, even if it is not a real-time interaction between the sender and receiver parties. However, the part of the cooperation time which is not about direct communication should be ignored. For example: testing in general is a collaborative task. Migration process is executed, test data is validated, any detected errors are reported and finally fixed. During validation, testers will cooperate with migration developers. Sending an e-mail, chat message or making a call is direct communication and each one is an alternative for personal discussion, while analysing and reporting the incident is still a way of cooperation, but will not generate direct communication between the parties, personal communication would not add much to this.
  • Verbal communication time: How much time is used for verbal communication. Depending on the content, length, severity and urgency of the message you want to submit to the receiver party, oral communication may or may not be the efficient way of direct communication. Consider what percentage of total direct communication should really be made verbal.
  • Gross / net communication ratio: The “administrative” surcharge of communication. Different phases of a project lifecycle require different approach in communication and will generate extra time for delivering one unit of information. Obviously formal, strictly organised analysis workshops at the beginning are the most cost-efficient: all information shared there is relevant, only little time is wasted during the communication. In later stages of the project, though, more and more time will be spent in standby mode, just consuming time with waiting for the information. Depending on the external circumstances 1 hour of net communication can be achieved with very different gross time investment, that should be considered in the calculation.

Based on above described figures an indication of optimal office work interaction time is to be calculated by simply multiplying them. For example, the usual and presumably most effective way of creating the detailed transformation mapping during the logical design phase is made up by approximately 70% cooperative work between the customer and the migration vendor.

The majority, 80% of this cooperation is based on direct communication, out of which 90% is made verbally by attending common workshops. Other connecting, non-verbal communication activities may be e.g.: reviewing system documentations, screenshots, etc. Assuming a 30% extra time needed for acquiring the actually needed information, such as organising and facilitating the workshops, documentation and formalisation, review, etc., altogether 66% of the activities done during this project phase is optimally delivered on-site. In contrast, with the same logic a very different result, 12% is calculated for the development phase. Our calculations for other project phases: Conceptual design: 45%, Technical testing: 21%, UAT: 47%, Rollout: 59%.

Remote working on data migration projects

This are nice indicative figures, highlighting the different ways of working during the phases of a data migration project, but do we really need any on-site presence? Personal communication has undebated benefits in specific situations, but may not always be the most effective method.

According to our experience gathered during data migration projects the initial analysis and design activities are suffering the most from the lack of personal interaction. Without perceiving real metacommunication during a discussion, it is quite difficult to maintain awareness during a long workshop attended by a larger audience and addressing the questions to the most competent participants without knowing and seeing each other. We have often seen that the communication slows down or even stops in these situations, no matter how prepared and experienced you are in facilitating meetings.

In other cases, however, non-personal communication can be even more effective than personal one. In issue resolving an on-line discussion with looking on a shared screen often provides faster results.

So, when calculating minimum required on-site presence demand you must consider for each type of task or project phase, what is the added value of personal communication. For this, another figure, ‘criticality level of personal communication’ is added to the equation (where 0% means efficiency of personal and non-personal communication is equal, while 100% means non-personal communication has zero efficiency).

Closing thougts

As a final conclusion we have discovered that logical design (business mapping) and rollout phases are the most reliant upon personal communication and whenever it is possible in the future, still approximately 60% of working time in these phases should be allocated for on-site working, while the data migration development activities and following technical testing will not need more than 10% of the same. Of course, this is just a simplified model, based on of our data migration methodology, and not considering specific external factors which vary from project to project. Thus, it is not directly adaptable for other uses. Still, I highly recommend to similarly assess your relevant recent experiences with the changing working environment. You should try to consider and evaluate pros and cons of your own working model you have been practicing earlier and make conclusions, so you can benefit from the new opportunities of the upcoming hybrid-working era.

References

1 WorldatWork (2013). Survey on workplace flexibility 2013. Scottsdale, AZ. Author: Zhu, P. (2012). Are telecommuting and personal travel complements or substitutes? Annals of Regional Science, 48, 619–639. 2 https://news.microsoft.com/apac/2020/07/29/microsoft-forecasts-a-hybrid-new-normal-of-work-in-asia-pacific/

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