Two Different Instances of Ownership Transfer

It’s been awhile since I blogged. But during this period, I experienced two rounds of ownership transfer occurring almost at the same time. These were on two projects I was handling. In the first instance, we were having to disengage with the client for business reasons.  There was absolutely no rancour in the relationship and I gave a four month notice that we would like to disengage. In fact the process was timed such that we continued till the contract was active and essentially highlighted that we would not be renewing the contract. We suggested to the client that they could either up-skill or add on to  their current team or look for a different partner.


Unfortunately and as is all too frequent, there was no momentum for as much as the first three months after we passed the information. I used to remind them every week, and in fact we started giving countdowns; initially in months, then in weeks and then in days. We also minuted our conversations and sent it out. With two weeks to go, the client sent down two of their engineers to have a training session with us. In parallel they were still in the process of tying up a relationship with another vendor. A person from the other vendor also came down during the training session.


The trainees loved the one week they spent with us. But they acutely felt that they needed more time. I was amazed at the rather perfunctory nature with which it was all taken. Four months is a long time for groups to acknowledge a change and take a decision. But all too often, we see that organisations are not prepared in time. In many cases they ask for extensions at the last moment. In this case, we had conveyed right at the very beginning that we will not be able to extend the contract.


They do reach out to some of our team members once in awhile for help. Our team has since dispersed and the members help them out whenever they find time to do so.  We had established a blue green process of deployment to bring the down time to the end users to a bare minimum. As we were finishing up our engagement and having the client take over some of these activities, we started to sense some of these things unravel. We also feel that this client may not be making releases anytime soon.


This is a classic case where on the three bridges( Domain, Skill and Agile Fluency) – the new team falls short on the skill and the agile fluency vectors. Essentially this will result in lesser or no releases and when a release does occur, it will see longer downtimes for the users.


On a different project, we faced an internal situation of staffing. The project runs out of one office but given the skill sets and experience required, the Tech Lead was from a different office. For personal reasons the Tech Lead could not continue on this project for the long term. This was known to us for a long time. Such is the nature of the industry that for close to six months we could not find a replacement with the right set of skills and experience to take over. We began to seriously consider moving the project itself to the Tech Lead’s city. Now, it’s not a big team (about 7 members) and some of the members were willing to relocate. Even so, when we plotted an Ownership Transfer plan (team ramp-ups, ramp downs, and tracking through releases), it came out to be anywhere between 4 months to 5 months. Of the three bridges (domain, skill and agile fluency), the new team would most certainly have to cross the skill as well as the domain bridge on this project. However, on looking at the costs of moving the project to Chennai, we decided to look at getting a Tech Lead with renewed focus. We have since then identified a senior person who is still not a perfect fit. However we planned it such that we are giving a long duration (close to 2 months) between the Incumbent Tech Lead and the new Tech Lead to transition. We also plan to re-arrange some of the team responsibilities such that there is a more equitable spread of accountability with the rest of the team members.  This gives us two lessons,


  1. The purpose of the Ownership Transfer should be understood clearly. Moving to a new city because we could not find a replacement Tech Lead was not a strong enough reason to move the entire project. However, we were ready to consider it, because we did not understand the real cost of an Ownership Transfer. It’s quite possible that Operations team members might consider that transition could happen in two weeks – because typically that is the time we assume whenever there is a team member rotation in any project. Now two weeks can work if one member in a team of 20 is changing. But that will not work if the entire team is changing. Only when we charted out a plan and plugged it with releases at play could people see the enormity of the exercise.
  2. Even with a change in Tech Lead, the transfer is not limited to just two people transitioning amongst each other. Changes in roles and expectations amongst other team members also occur. We are also thinking of making engineering and process changes to move our delivery stream to release on demand. So, while this is an independent evolution, the new lead has to take in these changes as well apart from what the incumbent lead does.


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