AWS for Industries

Jump start your Cloud Transformation with Experience-Based Acceleration on AWS

Large migration and modernization projects can be complex, especially for airlines that rely on legacy technology, including decades-old mainframes. Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers multiple mechanisms to help airlines and other customers overcome common challenges, like lack of communication or employee adoption, to accelerate outcomes.

One mechanism, which has been used by several airlines, including United Airlines Inc. (United), is an experience-based acceleration (EBA). EBAs can be used to accelerate a migration or modernization strategy on applications that are being built on or moved to AWS. They are workshops designed to increase knowledge of AWS, highlight risks to the project, and promote open communication and collaboration.

This blog explores a successful United EBA and offers tips and tricks on how to best navigate an EBA.

The EBA Process

The EBA is a propriety AWS methodology that offers customers a hands-on experience in a fail-safe environment. They are typically facilitated by an AWS Solution Architect or Customer Solutions Manager. An approved AWS Partner can also lead the EBA. During a workshop or “EBA party”, customers and partners develop new ways of working and collaborating. Together they solve problems while learning best practices in an interactive and immersive setting.

As a specific example, AWS worked with United to run a modernization EBA for a complex, Tier 1 application development project that was running behind schedule. The team was globally located in multiple regions and time zones with multiple cross-team dependencies (Security, Testing, Monitoring, and more). The application was designed for printing of baggage tags, tickets, and vouchers.

At United, AWS worked with the customer and partner to ensure that all required resources were available for rapid execution. The outcome resulted in four weeks of development progress being accomplished in two and a half days.

Preparing for an EBA

Careful consideration of EBA scoping will potentially address customer resource availability and complex dependencies. The core team might look at simplifying the application list to be migrated or modernized compared to attempting to do many complex migrations in a single EBA. Areas such as microservices, API-driven design, and cross region resilience are some key strategies that customers have focused on.

Flexibility During the EBA

It’s important to set up interactive processes to manage workstreams during the EBA party. Often times there are culture headwinds with organizations and implementing reversible decisions does not always happen organically. Adjusting to these blockers sometimes requires creativity and persistence to keep tasks moving forward.

Your teams can be set up to make quick decisions and escalate blockers and impediments as they arise. Leverage standups and feedback mechanisms to understand impediments and swarm quickly to resolve blockers. If a team is struggling with progress, adjust your tactics, resources, and leadership style to help unblock them.

For the United EBA, we saw a total of 16 items un-blocked during the three-day EBA party. Other airlines have seen as many as 50 items unblocked during their EBA.

Migration EBA compared to Modernization EBA

A migration EBA is usually leveraged when a customer has struggled to move their existing applications to the AWS Cloud. These EBA’s will create migration patterns for three to four applications and leverage automation to accelerate and streamline the path to production. While customers may use a diversity of strategies to get to the cloud ranging from rewrites, transformations, and migrations, the focus of the EBA is on acceleration.

Modernization and migration strategies are supported, but focus is placed on removing constraints to production. The goal for a migration EBA is not to re-write the application but rather move it into the cloud intact or with containerization strategies.

A modernization EBA should be leveraged when the application functionality doesn’t meet business requirements in its current state. A modernization EBA can be accomplished in conjunction with an approved AWS Partner, especially if you are looking to scale.

In the case of United, it was a partner led modernization with a total of three workstreams: Architecture, Development, and Testing. The goal of this EBA was to accelerate the velocity of multiple workstreams and to establish team momentum from collaboration.

It’s essential to have clearly defined goals for each workstream aligned to business outcomes. The United team crafted three top-level goals and one “stretch” goal for the EBA. The workstreams consisted of small teams (no more than 3-5 participants including the customer).

Based upon the needs for your modernization EBA, there may be a few roles/ownerships to define up front. This includes the overall EBA party owner, who is typically an AWS Customer Solutions Manager or a lead Partner Delivery Manager. The two roles work hand-in-hand with the customer lead to manage the Command Center during the event. Additionally, you will want to identify workstream leads so make sure there is an architect, development lead, and test lead from the customer and partner.

Escalation is another critical component to a successful EBA and can be a challenge for command-and-control industries like airlines. The Command Center helps drive this urgency during the EBA and can effectively push customers, that typically hide behind dashboards, to raise issues quickly—having the team promptly address the problem. You will want to pay attention to application dependency signals which may involve legacy code and APIs.

Removing the “blockers” or risks and issues that occurs in real-time during the EBA is agile mechanism that can be exemplified by the workstream leads and then documented by the Command Center owner. A running risk list will be an output of the EBA. The twice daily checkpoints are instrumental to declaring the blockers publicly across the customer, partner, and AWS OneTeam and requesting assistance.

It’s imperative to ensure there is plenty of documentation before, during, and after the event. This is important for meeting the scoping of the EBA within the desired timeframe, which is typically 2-4 business days.

The overall agenda and the EBA participant list are ideally locked within two weeks of the execution date. The Command Center (the program management desk or workstream) will assist the workstream leads to ensure their blockers, risks, and issues are captured during the EBA. The workstream leads monitor their progress towards goals, developing the backlog, and documenting lessons learned in real-time.

The United EBA had 20 lessons learned that were documented and reviewed between the customer, partner, and AWS.

How to scale large partners

Customers often leverage partners in order to augment their current resources on staff or the staff’s skills. Scaling partners to drive growth and accelerate EBAs enables an AWS

Partner to transfer knowledge following the first training session. The partner plays an active, hands-on role in the EBA compared with sitting on the sidelines or observing.

The partner removes roadblocks as part of the EBA execution by escalating to their management on risks encountered daily or during the checkpoints. The partner participates in a Lessons Learned session internally with AWS at the end of the EBA, preferably within 3-5 days. If the same partner is going to work on a second EBA (as opposed to AWS leading it), they will have an internal hand-off or transition to onboard their new EBA team.

Build training programs to address skills

Bottlenecks may develop during the path to production that indicate resource or environment constraints (such as security knowledge, firewall approvals, and more) or a need for automation. These impediments can be clearly documented as part of the EBA retrospective so training and process improvement programs can be implemented. Set clear objectives and reward teams that create technical and process optimization improvements. Rewards could include paid certification or training, recognition awards, or published marketing articles.

How to mold the EBA by Working Backwards

It’s essential for the Partner Delivery Manager to understand the “working backwards” mechanism. Working backwards is an AWS concept that involves taking a customer-centric approach. Based upon customer intended outcomes and their deliverable dates, the AWS teams literally work backwards from the customer date to define the critical path and the key milestones along the way to the outcomes. Use the EBA to coach the team. Basic agile concepts such as building a backlog of tasks to be worked after the EBA by the workstream leads will serve as examples for the rest of the extended customer and partner team.

Stakeholder Scenarios

We’ve seen success where customer executive sponsors, with authority to drive initiatives, are provided. They ensure their teams understand the value of the EBA outcomes and help unblock technical and business challenges ranging from team accessibility, prioritization decisions, or partner escalation challenges.

The United executive sponsor was available to clearly outline architecture direction and strategy for the team. Without them, a misstep from the core project team could have resulted in the loss of days and the introduction of new risks.

EBA lessons learned

Each EBA conducted, regardless of the type of EBA or the partner, includes lessons learned. The guidance is to host the lessons learned internally first, with AWS or the partner leading the discussion. The timeframe to execute the lessons learned meeting is less than one week from the EBA conclusion. The partner and the Command Center lead(s) will have captured lessons learned daily throughout the EBA using one of the AWS templates.


Metrics for use cases from United’s modernization EBA proved an acceleration of four weeks of development/testing accomplished in two and a half days. There were multiple use cases validated, along with eight tasks completed, and five risks were identified. Most significant were the 29 printer tests accomplished by the global teams (Houston, Chicago, and India) working together in a compressed timeframe.


In conclusion, in your planning, you have a wide range of EBA parties to choose from (people, process, and technology accelerators), however many airlines, hotels, restaurants, or airports choose migration or modernization EBAs due to the nature of their technical landscape and legacy environments moving to the cloud.

By adhering to some of the key guidance shared in this blog, you can accelerate a “stuck” migration or create an agile culture of collaboration and learning.

To learn how you can schedule an EBA, contact your AWS Account Manager (AM) or Customer Solutions Manager (CSM). Check out more AWS Partners or contact an AWS Representative to know how we can help accelerate your business.

Further reading:

Paul Varnedoe

Paul Varnedoe

Paul Varnedoe is a Principal Customer Solutions Manager at AWS. He enjoys helping customers apply technology solutions through cloud adoption and business transformation. He has held leadership positions in the Airline, Automotive, Financial Services, E-commerce, Retail, Sports Marketing, and Consulting industries. Paul earned a bachelor's degree in business from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Robert Heitzler

Robert Heitzler

Robert Heitzler is a Principal at AWS having worked with hundreds of customers to build innovative solutions over the past seven years. Rob's focus over the past 4.5 years has been helping United Airlines navigate a broad scale modernization initiative across all lines of business.