Best Practices for an Email Migration Planning Workshop

Everyone knows that the first step in any activity is the most crucial one. An email migration project is no exception. However, the importance of the proper project initiation is often overlooked. Many times a project kickoff meeting focuses only on the statement of work when it should include a full planning workshop, which involves significantly more than a document review. There are several key considerations that should be addressed during this session and all responsible parties must be in attendance. Binary Tree specializes in email migrations and we often run migration planning workshops with customers that are preparing for their transition to Exchange 2010. In this blog post, I’m going to impart some of our best practices to drive a successful planning workshop for an upcoming mail migration. The main topics covered in this article are:  Drawing of an Office

  1. Understand why the migration is occurring
  2. Define critical goals for the success of the project
  3. Identify project team roles and responsibilities
  4. Plan for end-user change management
  5. Ensure team buy-in on realistic project timeline and milestones
  6. Address the top 3 overlooked critical success factors

As you can see from the list items above, this workshop is not something you can complete in an hour or two. These planning sessions should be at least 4-5 hours, or longer, and sometimes extend to several days, depending on the size of the project. And the overall theme for the workshop is to get the project team and key sponsors on the same page. Everyone should leave this workshop in total agreement on the success criteria for the project and a complete understanding of their roles and subsequent responsibilities for the project. 

Discuss Why the Migration Project is Occurring
After the introductions of all attendees, it is important to start with an open discussion on the reasons for the migration project. This may sound like an unnecessary activity – after all, the decision to migrate has already been made – and the discussion, unfortunately, is often taken for granted and bypassed. But until everyone understands why the migration is moving forward, the team can’t be truly dedicated to the success of the project. By starting with this discussion, the team will gain consensus and buy-in on the overall project and understand that there are multiple reasons for the company’s decision, that a mail migration impacts and benefits different groups in different ways, and that the project is not just caused by Corporate IT. This discussion will help drive the goals for the success of the migration project.
Define Critical Success Criteria
The second topic that should be covered near the beginning of the workshop is to map out the success criteria and critical goals for the project. Again, seemingly obvious, the successful project results are often different for different team members: some are mostly concerned with preventing any impact on user productivity; some with the efficient use of the corporate infrastructure; some with reporting of milestones to executive sponsors; and some with cost savings. These feed into the remaining discussion items during the workshop, and it’s very important that everyone has their say on the prioritization of these goals in order to gain a mutual commitment for the overall success of the project. IT professionals have an innate need to be involved and included during the planning phases of a project, so it is absolutely critical to have all constituents present at this pre-migration planning workshop.  

Identify Project Team Roles and Responsibilities
The next section of the workshop should cover the roles and responsibilities of the project team. Any confusion over what tasks are owned by which team members is a common problem that derails a migration project. The descriptive list below shows the absolutely necessary roles for a mail migration. Additional roles can be assigned by the project manager to ensure a successful outcome, but the ones below are a must have.
  • Project Manager: the coordinator and team leader with authority to assign tasks and drive the timeline/milestones for the project.
  • Lead Architect for Messaging Infrastructure: the source and target platform owner responsible for architecture and deployment.
  • Hardware Czar: responsible for procuring new hardware for target infrastructure and migration processing.
  • End-User Support and Communications Manager: responsible for all coordination with helpdesk, user notifications, training and support escalations.
  • Executive Sponsor: the project owner to help with any political red-tape, funding issues and final decision making for migration tasks.
Plan for End-User Change Management
One of the most important roles that often goes unassigned, or is folded under the project manager role, is the end-user support and communications resource. There is so much involved in the related tasks for this role that we highly recommend a dedicated person be assigned. The most common overlooked considerations, that are critical to the success of the project, are all related to change management for the end-users. These include a comprehensive communication plan for the user community, a detailed task outline for training and desktop refresh, and the all-inclusive support model for pre- and post-migration activities.  Be sure to crystalize the focus of this role to ensure the continuity of user productivity during the migration project.  
Set Realistic Project Timeline and Milestones
The next critical discussion item during the workshop is around the realistic timeline and milestones for the project. Many times a project team is driven to complete the project so quickly in order to retire the legacy infrastructure, that they perform a mass-migration and completely disregard the negative repercussions this has on the business users. All facets of the migration project, from technical to business-related, must be factored into the decision for the overall timeline of the project. Successful mail migration projects are ones that sharply limit the impact to the end-users. If you get that wrong, it won’t matter that you correctly transitioned all messages and calendar items intact. A negative impact to user productivity will be the scorecard rating that the project sponsor and CIO will key on.  So be sure to take a balanced approach to the migration phases and agree on a feasible strategy to transition the user community and their data in a timely manner that can be supported by your helpdesk and corresponding change management tasks.
Address the Top 3 Overlooked Critical Success Factors
Finally, let me close with a few project items that are most often incorrectly downgraded in importance. These are some things that can come back and bite you if they are not addressed early on in the planning and testing for the project.
  • Overlooked Item #1: Not properly translating content into a format supported by the target platform
If you are transitioning from a different email platform such as Lotus Notes or GroupWise, you will need to take special care when testing the migration processing for all content items. Especially troublesome are recurring meetings and secondary content such as journals, contacts, and tasks. To ensure proper content translation, be sure to include testing with realistic mailbox data, not programmatically created messages. Real end-users have mailboxes that contain messages with attachments and rich text, plus calendar items, tasks, contacts, hierarchical folders and distribution lists. Migrating these items correctly is very different than migrating thousands of small emails generated by an automated script.
  • Overlooked Item #2: Not establishing the coexistence functionality needed to support end-user interoperability during the migration   
Most organizations cannot migrate all users over a single weekend. Because of this, there will be a period of coexistence when some users have been transitioned to the new platform while others remain on the legacy systems. Maintaining the continuity of communications and workflow between these groups is where a coexistence strategy comes into place. Allowing users to perform free/busy lookups when scheduling a meeting, reserve conference rooms, reschedule existing meetings, and simply find users in the directory are all parts of messaging coexistence. For the success of your project, be sure to identify all requirements for business continuity and build the appropriate coexistence environment to meet your needs.
  • Overlooked Item #3: Not understanding where content should migrated to, and if it should migrated at all
Just because you’re moving to a new messaging platform that supports all your current capabilities and can scale to hold all your existing data items, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should move everything to the same storage model. There are many options available now for more cost effective archiving and data management than were possible on your legacy platform. And a perfect time to review your future strategy for email archiving, data retention, eDiscovery, search and compliance is while you are planning your migration.
I hope that you found these pre-migration planning items useful. For more information on migration methods and best practices, please check out the white papers, case studies, and additional resources on our website.Two groups merging