Best Practices for Successful Application Migration & Transformation Programmes

Undertaking a large-scale application migration or re-platforming programme is not a new challenge for most organisations with an established IT estate. Many of which are now planning or delivering application transformation programmes to reach the next step on the maturity model, running workloads on agile platforms such as cloud or containers at scale. Based on our experience in leading, managing and working on such programmes with a variety of clients, it’s clear that the probability of successful delivery can be greatly increased by following some simple best practices at each phase of the programme life cycle.

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The phases that need to be managed remain relatively consistent whether it be a data centre move or consolidation, virtualisation initiative, or application transformation and modernisation to an agile platform:

  • Current state – understanding what you have and what needs to transition to the future state.
  • Future state – developing a clear target based upon the defined solution entry requirements.
  • Execution – migrating and/or transforming while following an adaptable plan.
  • Transition – shifting operation and support from the programme to the target “business as usual” model.

There are numerous methodologies and approaches to addressing the challenges in each of these phases to successfully achieve the committed programme outcomes. Vendors and consultants do an excellent job of selling the virtues of methodologies and tools. The quality of these vary but when backed by a high-quality delivery team, the value added is unquestionable. Citihub Consulting Associate Partner Ian Tivey’s blog provides an excellent insight into the challenges organisations might face when trying to implement the factory methodology for cloud application migration.

For organisations with complex, legacy environments, embarking on an application transformation or migration programme, there are some best practices relating to the delivery strategy and control processes that I’d recommend. Some vendor methodologies cover aspects of these but implementing them as part of the programme during mobilisation is preferable. Ideally, this should be completed before engaging or selecting vendors with the most compelling methodology, track record or price point.

Delivery Strategy:

  • Target success not perfection. Align your desired business outcomes with an agreed technology end state. If you are working towards a compelling event or deadline, the level of transformation and defined entry requirements for the target platform must be set accordingly along with the exit criteria for the source platform.
  • Knowledge breeds success. Understand the current state prior to major decisions about your forward path. It sounds obvious but it’s common for critical decisions to be made based upon inadequate current state information. If you own or manage a complex legacy estate, it will make sense to spend the time understanding it to a reasonable level of detail to inform your selection decisions for both technology and the appropriate transformation or migration teams.

Control Processes:

  • Govern the target platform from the outset. Implement control gates within the transformation or migration process. Control gates must validate that the entry criteria and quality metrics you have defined in your strategy are being met across all teams and partners.
  • Break down the problem. For obvious reasons, most methodologies will seek to identify dependencies between applications, grouping them together in bundles or waves. Dependencies should always be questioned to understand how strong the relationships are and what opportunities there are to separate them. Keep your bundles as small as possible to simplify, reduce risk and increase agility.
  • Be agile. The bundles of transformation and migration activities can be broken down into a set of repetitive tasks well suited to agile tracking mechanisms. Reuse your existing agile tracking mechanisms where you have them or use this as an opportunity to become more agile. Many partners will offer a panacea of tooling to track and manage all the activities. While some form of tooling is required when working at scale, I’ve yet to see or use something that delivers a step change in benefits over a well-managed and maintained agile workflow tracker.
  • Report frequently and transparently. Ensure clarity and insight into progress by implementing a consistent taxonomy and establishing transparent reporting mechanisms across all activities, regardless of the internal or external team performing the work.

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Success clearly isn’t guaranteed by following these best practices for successful application migration and transformation programmes. Good programme fundamentals are needed but not necessarily sufficient for a successful programme. There is far more to initiating, mobilising and running the programmes than I’ve covered here but experience shows that application migration and transformation programmes are often initiated and run with deficiencies or issues within the programme delivery strategy and control processes.  These deficiencies reduce the chances of success, extend timelines, increase both the cost of change and the future cost of operation, and ultimately reduce quality.

Looking beyond the fundamentals to further enhance the programme outcomes and probability of success, you should consider your plans for cascading accountability, utilising and developing your team and operationalising your tooling to deliver long term value.

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The author

James Akerman

James Akerman

Associate Partner, London

James is an experienced programme manager with over 10 years experience managing the end-to-end delivery of large complex IT programmes for major global organisations. His technical background and understanding enables him to simplify, manage and communicate complexities with the wider business and deliver high quality results for clients.