Almost every weekend, Cisco implements 25-30 projects upgrading our core network infrastructure, involving sites around the world. These network projects run from simple office moves and partner connections to complex technology upgrades and acquisition integrations. They also include all the changes that are part of the Cisco IT fleet management program, where we regularly review the network infrastructure at each of our 500+ sites for needed upgrades, and schedule the upgrade cycles. This upgrading work is distributed, detailed, and involves repeatable processes, which makes it ideal for outsourcing: but there are tricks to handing off responsibility while maintaining extremely high standards.
Previously, our own Cisco IT engineers performed this work, which meant we had many expert employees who we were put on planes all the time. This led to problems with employee burnout, and we would lose their experience when they inevitably moved to another job that required less travel. Also, because we were always focused on the next project, we were often too relaxed about documenting the processes and lessons learned from current work so that we could apply them in the future.
Today, we follow standardized processes with our in-region outsourced partners, who actually perform much of the implementation work for us – once we establish the standard implementation plan together. At the core of these processes is our “5-5-5 Rule” for a new IT project that is implemented in multiple sites:
- The first 5 (or for larger projects the first 5%) are pilot implementations where the work is done by Cisco IT design and implementation engineers based on their detailed knowledge of the upgrade design and plans. Engineers from the outsourced partner observe Cisco IT provisioning these pilots to begin their training and to develop detailed documentation for use by their own local teams when they take over the implementation activity.
- The next 5 (or 5%) of implementations are performed jointly by Cisco IT and outsourced partner staff, and together we review and update the cookbook documentation.
- The final 5 (or 5%) of site implementations are performed by the partner staff with Cisco IT staff observing to verify that the partner is ready to take over project responsibility. At this point we finish reviewing and approving all documentation, processes, schedules, and hand off the rest of the work to our partners.
This 5-5-5 rule is beneficial for both Cisco IT and our outsourced partners in several ways:
- We transfer knowledge from our Cisco IT engineers to the high-level partner engineers who can in turn transfer that information to their teams in ways that are appropriate for that organization. This sometimes encourages our engineers to improve the process, because you learn a lot about a process when you’re teaching it to someone else.
- Because the outsourced partners are preparing for their contracted work, they produce better and more detailed project documentation than what Cisco IT might develop on its own.
- We learn from our partners, too. We get feedback from the outsourced partners about improvements in design or implementation, and can adopt these improvements into future Cisco IT projects.
Following this rule produces a good learning experience for everyone. For example, there are things that the outsourcer’s engineers ask that our internal engineers wouldn’t necessarily think about. This approach also allows Cisco IT to avoid the difficult task of providing and maintaining a suite of detailed documentation for an external vendor to perform the job successfully.
By following the 5-5-5 Rule, we are able to keep up the pace of implementing nearly 2000 IT projects per year. And it helps our implementation partners work more effectively, which benefits partners, Cisco IT, and ultimately, the users we serve.