In part one of this series (here), I laid out the reasons for the renewal program.  In part two (here), I described how we chose to organize ourselves, name a leadership team, and assess where we were as an organization.

In this article, I’ll explain how our team created the plan for the program.

The Big Meeting

It was a warm and sunny day in September when the renewal program’s leadership team met…actually I don’t remember what it was like, and we were in a windowless conference room all day anyway. But, our mission that day was to come away with an initial plan for the program. Instead of a 20-page document with a timeline and detailed milestones, we would leave that meeting with a concrete shared understanding of program goals, the areas we needed to focus our future effort, and how we’d get moving on some changes. We broke the day down into three parts.

Topic 1: Where are we going?  Where are we now?

First, we went over the long-term vision for GlobalNOC and the findings from the organizational assessment in order to get a clear understanding of where we are today compared to where we intend to go. As we discussed in part two of this article series, we won’t be able to get where we want to go without rethinking how we work today.

Topic 2: Program goals (round 1)

This was where we came up with the goals that are highlighted on the main page for the program. Specifically:

Become indispensable to each of our clients: Perform for each client so that we have their full confidence.

Unlock the full potential of our people: Get the full contribution of everyone in the GlobalNOC team by tearing down roadblocks, opening up opportunities, and improving levels of engagement and motivation.

Become one of our community’s leaders in automation: Transform how we work to be automation-first, working with others in our community who are active in this, and sharing everything we learn along the way with the entire community. The team brainstormed topic areas that we thought would help the community and enhance our own capabilities. Network config automation ended up being the clear consensus choice.

It’s worth noting that none of these goals mention expanding or changing the services GlobalNOC offers. We could easily have included a fourth goal along the lines of “expanding the number of community members served and provide new services”. We discussed this and decided that while this kind of growth is indeed part of our long-term vision, including it right now would dilute our focus too much.  Working on the initial three goals allows us to step up as an organization in terms of capability and build the strong foundation that will allow us to look at our services in a few months. In the meantime, of course, things happen. Clients will continue to need more from us and others may approach us for service. Just as we’ve always done, we’ll continue to work with anyone we can. It’s just that we won’t be looking at growth strategically for the next few months.

Topic 3: How do we get there?

Once we’d established where we were, and set the overall goals, we could switch to planning how we get started.  We started this off having the team come up with ideas that would answer this prompt for each of the three goals:

What do we need to work on to achieve this goal?

Each person spent a few minutes putting ideas onto sticky notes. We clustered all the ideas on a whiteboard and looked for patterns. (Note, I mention below that this session ended up being rushed. This is the part of the agenda where that happened. We would have been better served with more time spent looking over all the options and getting more voting on priorities here). At the end of that, it looked like this:

Not exactly the tidiest board, but we got 90 really good ideas here. We were able to cluster them all into five general buckets and turn those 5 areas into our first set of initiatives:

Client engagement: To become indispensable to our clients now and maintain this for years to come means we need to gain a deep understanding what success means for our clients and engage them in setting our future direction.

Organization design: We need to structure the GlobalNOC to give us renewed responsiveness and position us to allow for innovation and improvements as we grow over the coming years.

Freeing time: One of the most common themes in the discussion was the need to free up time for people in the organization. Finding ways we can cut time spent on low-value work throughout the organization is one way we can enable the kind of improvements we need to make in our responsiveness and the professional development of our team.

Config automation: This one is pretty straightforward. We need to figure out how we make the transition to automation first for managing configs by defining what new roles will be needed, what the best architecture will be, and how we modernize our processes in each team.

Talent development: The GlobalNOC’s ability to attract, retain, and develop helpful, expert people is absolutely critical to our future. It is time to build a new and comprehensive approach to the entire lifecycle of a GlobalNOC team member.

With our initiatives identified, we assigned a lead for each, and folks from the leadership team volunteered to participate in groups for each. Lastly, we chose to organize ourselves into short iterative sprints of about three weeks for each initiative. At the end of each sprint, the leadership team meets to discuss progress — items that we identify that are relevant for the program as a whole.


After going through this, I can say two things about the way we handled this planning meeting:

1) It worked out! We succeeded in setting a plan. So far, that plan has been working well, though we’ve recently made some adjustments to streamline and prioritize our focus.

2) It was pretty rushed. If I were to do this over again, I would allow more time on this step, likely by splitting the conversation into two separate meetings with a few days in between. We would have had more time to really think through things. I think the result probably would have ended up with better plans.

In terms of the plan as a whole, I can say after working on it for a couple of months that we’re happy with the structure.  It’s serving us well and we’re focused on what seem to be the right things.  Having said that, we are making  a couple of adjustments. It’s been difficult to make quick progress trying to work intensively on all of these initiatives at once. We’ve also come across a few critical topics that didn’t fit into a single initiative and really require more intensive attention from the whole team.  In another article, I’ll describe how we’ve decided to adjust the program going into 2019.