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Technical Support for Very Large IT Projects with Multigenerational Plans

WebSphere Application Server technology is typically used to host powerful but complex JEE applications. Some of these large IT projects have multigenerational plans. There will most likely be active new initiatives for years. To support such large IT projects, a level of support personnel stability is necessary. This helps your team deal with complex technical details, maintain project management continuity, and build work relationships with peer technical teams and business partners.

Let’s look at what you can do to best assist the previously mentioned large IT projects.

Building a Small Subteam

These large IT projects are the manifestation of senior management’s determination and the financial commitment of an IT organization for top priority as well as strategic business initiatives. Besides, these are difficult projects because of size, complexity, and visibility. You want to carefully choose those who are most suitable to be the members of a small, but elite, WebSphere subteam.

Of course, you want to use your best and most experienced WebSphere engineers for the most important WebSphere projects. However, they are scarce resources. You may also want to pair off senior WebSphere engineers or consultants with junior team members. This allows your senior WebSphere engineer or top consultant to delegate entry-level technical or project management tasks to junior team members. This allows your senior team members to focus on complex and difficult work and add more value. Your junior engineers have an opportunity to learn to do a job, build confidence, and gradually take on more challenges under the guidance of senior team members. This arrangement also helps you to better deal with possible staff turnover and provide continued quality support for your strategic projects.

Separate WebSphere Support

For the WebSphere engineering support of a very large IT project, you have the following two distinct areas of focus:

  • Production environments
  • Testing and development environments

It is important to understand the specific requirements for each area and assign the right kind of WebSphere engineers and consultants.

For production environment support, the WebSphere engineer or consultant selected must have good technical skills. However, equally important, if not more critical, are good communication skills and project management capabilities.

For the selected WebSphere engineer to lead the WebSphere work in a large production environment, she must be able to communicate clearly and powerfully. A factual, considerate, and assertive manner is highly desired. Key communication capability is particularly important when working with the production support team on resolving differences during production emergencies.

The second attribute of the role is the ability to have both a great sense of urgency to get the job done while keeping a calm and professional demeanor. For example, the team members must focus on resolving a nagging production problem and restoring the service of an important production system while confidently and professionally interacting with the team and management.

Last, but not least, is project management capabilities. The candidate for this senior WebSphere engineer position must understand the value of carefully managing a large WebSphere project. She needs to be familiar with the practices and mechanisms of project planning, change management, job scheduling, quality assurance, and progress management. For example, the candidate must be able to lead the subteam to deliver many servers within deadline. The candidate must have an appreciation of quality control (for example, diligently following established server build and validation processes). The candidate must have the enthusiasm to perform a large number of difficult project management jobs. For example, she must have the patience to participate in lengthy change-control meetings, and must fight through planning sessions for the right window to perform a critical change. Without technical project management skills and enthusiasm, success is elusive for the candidate.

The next area of focus needs to be the testing and development environment support, including the critical stress-testing environment, which requires a different type of WebSphere engineer. Some of the attributes for this role include JEE development background, enthusiasm for deep diving into technical niceties of tough problems, and the patience of combing through large amounts of testing data to reach recommendations for solving tough system problems or complex performance issues.

JEE development experience comes in handy for collaborating and conversing with testers, developers, and architects to resolve difficult technical problems uncovered during testing—especially stress testing.

Curiosity and interest in understanding and tackling tough technical problems are essential for this role. The WebSphere engineer assigned to this job must not be someone who only has the technical knowledge and skills needed to do the job. A suitable candidate must truly enjoy solving tough technical problems and be proud and excited to provide excellent solutions.

Patience for combing through a large amount of testing data is important. The WebSphere engineer must have the patience to work with testers to analyze and research testing results. The WebSphere engineer must have the perseverance to participate in repeated tests and analysis to seek optimal system configurations.

The candidate must have exposure to a broad set of technologies. This helps her develop an end-to-end view of a large WebSphere Application Server-centered IT system with many integrated components and interconnected systems. In particular, this is important for optimizing WebSphere Application Server systems in problem avoidance and performance enhancement. For example, from a traffic and load perspective, an end-to-end view from the customer browser, geographical load balancer, Web server, security server, and application server, all the way to the backend enterprise data store helps in constructing a fine-tuned traffic pipeline that minimizes system problems and maximizes system performance.

Ensure Standards and Practice Consistency

Over time, a large IT project can evolve into different system standards and engineering practice. In the long run, such differences are costly to correct, if possible at all. Therefore, you need special countermeasures against possible consistency problems for large projects. Both organization adjustments and engineering processes can help reduce the inconsistencies.

System Consistency Challenge

Having a small team engaged on a large WebSphere project for an extended period of time may present unique challenges. One of the challenges is deviations from WebSphere Application Server standards, which would then cause inconsistencies in engineering practices. For example, to expedite a WebSphere Application Server build to suit an application, the WebSphere engineer engaged may define the resources, such as Java Database Connectivity (JDBC), at server level rather than at node level, as your enterprise WebSphere Application Server build standard recommends. This may lead to a problem when a different WebSphere engineer updates the resource definition. He may be unaware that a nonstandard resource definition was used. As a result, the change in resource definition may be made at the node level rather than server level. This causes the application to fail when it tries to find the resource definition, and an unscheduled production outage occurs. It also causes automation problems that are to be used to audit enterprise systems.

Team WebSphere System Architect

To prevent such inconsistency problems, you can assign a senior WebSphere engineer with both WebSphere Application Server system experience and JEE expertise to work with all the projects as the team system architect. The primary role of the team system architect is not to design every possible WebSphere Application Server topology and configuration document for all the projects for which your team is responsible. (Of course, the team system architect can always provide input for WebSphere Application Server architecture issues.) However, his primary function is to review every WebSphere Application Server topology and configuration document that your WebSphere team delivers to ensure that the documents conform to the enterprise WebSphere standards and generally accepted WebSphere engineering practice.

System Audit

Another effective means to ensure WebSphere Application Server system consistency is to periodically conduct a system audit. This audit can be done using an automated program and, when necessary, a manual process. For example, a quarterly WebSphere system audit can be done. You need to also perform a spot check of the system as an ad-hoc quality assurance. Any problems uncovered during the system audit need to be corrected. WebSphere system audits without rigorous follow-up are useless.

Rotation and System Stability Considerations

A reasonable partial rotation of WebSphere engineers for large and important IT projects can help achieve high WebSphere Application Server system consistency and standardized engineering practices. However, this rotation may also destabilize your critical WebSphere Application Server systems and disrupt work relationships. These large IT projects need organization stability to be successful. Therefore, you have to carefully weigh the pros and cons and reach a balanced solution to any intended rotation as a correction to possible system inconsistencies. Of course, there are always many organizational considerations, business objectives, and project imperatives that you need to consider with personnel changes.

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