Adventist Health beat the clock to deliver a new data center
2020 PMI Project Excellence Award Winner
Sean Howell, center, at a team meeting
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Sean Howell and Carl Block, PMP
Life-or-death decisions sometimes hang on whether doctors and nurses have safe, secure and swift access to patient records. That’s especially true for Adventist Health, one of the largest rural healthcare providers in the Western United States. When the nonprofit built a new headquarters to accommodate growth, its leaders also saw an opportunity to transform their data storage.
With more applications running on cloud-based technology, executives at Adventist Health jumped at the chance to downsize the data center to free up space and capital. But instead of incorporating a more nimble facility in their new headquarters in Roseville, California, USA, they chose to lease a centralized data center—with an agreement that allowed the organization to expand or contract based on business needs.
The team launched the US$4.5 million project in May 2018. But with the lease on the existing data center set to expire, the IT department had to race against the clock—and serious risks—to complete the relocation in just one year.
Clearing the path for the migration of terabytes of data meant the team had to secure the support of thousands of stakeholders. Losing access to patient data—even for a minute—could be devastating for the more than 250 clinics and 20 hospitals spread across the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii. So the team, including project partners from tech firm Quest Technology Management, spent a lot of time gathering feedback from administrative leaders and IT personnel, who then got feedback from the healthcare professionals.
In addition to implementing a failover that allowed applications and services to run without interruption while being moved, the team relied heavily on stakeholder communication to mitigate risk and ease concerns.
“Feedback in the beginning from stakeholders was concern, fear and worry,” says Carl Block, PMP, former administrative director, core technologies, Adventist Health, Gold River, California. “‘You’re moving my stuff.’ So that became an integral part of our communication plan.”
To show stakeholders what was possible, and to accelerate planning, the team applied lessons learned from projects submitted to competitions over several years. For instance, an email migration project by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation provided help for prioritizing and streamlining proactive communications. Its plan “wasn’t just the usual communication plan that says, ‘I’ll have status updates and I’ll send emails to people,’ but it was actually integrated with their agile approach,” Block says. “They had the communication go out prior to the sprint and another communication go out after the sprint. We modified it slightly for our own needs, but that resource was wonderful.”
Although communication risks were low during the building phase—tasks were laid out sequentially and there was little need to stray from scope—migration required much more flexibility, Block says. With 900 applications and hundreds of vendors, the team leaned on agile to adapt and manage a flurry of changes.
“There is a high probability that if you schedule something to happen on a certain day, something is going to happen—a vendor can’t arrive, something goes goofy with hardware or physicians might have a critical procedure that day,” he says.
The team also set up change control board meetings to inform key resources and stakeholders on all major changes, says Sean Howell, project manager, Quest Technology Management, El Dorado Hills, California. The team also prepared a detailed report each week for executives, including up to 10 pages of accomplishments and activities for the next week or next set of sprints.
Adventist Health personnel at work during the pandemic
“It really gave the context of what those changes were,” says Howell, who served as lead project manager. “It was very important to communicate those things in layman’s terms to provide meaningful updates to technical and non-technical resources so they could understand the progress and status of tasks, risks and critical updates.”
—Sean Howell, Quest Technology Management, El Dorado Hills, California, USA
The team’s ability to adapt was put to the test in November 2018, when a wildfire that scorched 153,000 acres (61,900 hectares) and killed 85 people damaged Adventist Health’s Feather River Hospital, a 101-bed acute care facility in Paradise, California. In the middle of migration work, the hospital’s IT team had to remove some 30 local servers from the facility once the flames had been extinguished.
The Feather River IT team delivered the servers to the project team, which then worked throughout the night to bring the local Feather River Hospital servers online in the main Adventist Health data center. Then the team added a sprint to the schedule to move the Feather River Hospital servers to the new data center. But using agile helped keep the project on track.
“We were able to not only ensure that the people that were under the care of Adventist were taken care of, but also that our project did not suffer impacts to the scope, schedule and budget that we had all been evangelizing,” Howell says.
By responding quickly to adversity and change, the team finished the project on time—just before the legacy data center’s lease expired—and within budget. After relocating more than 1,000 devices and virtual servers to a single location, the team earned healthy praise from IT executives.
“After the move, we usually got either no comments or positive comments,” Block says. “I consider no comments a good thing. Positive comments would normally come from information technology professionals, which would be, ‘Hey, I didn’t get a phone call in the middle of the night. This was great.’ No comments from physicians and nurses, because that’s actually what we want—to absolutely minimize any impact on them.”
He attributes that satisfaction and steady project success to dedicated teamwork and ingenuity.
“They really were focused on, ‘How could we get that maximum quality at a reasonable cost—so that the cost doesn’t get passed on to the patient—yet still meet the strategic goals of the business?’” PM
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