AWS Cloud Operations & Migrations Blog

Best Practices for the Custom Lens Lifecycle: Plan and Implement

In this blog post, we will present best practices and resources that help you build, validate, and improve your own AWS Well-Architected Custom Lens, and roll it out across your whole organization. The AWS Well-Architected Custom Lens is a feature of the AWS Well-Architected Tool that lets you bring your own content and best practices to complement and enhance the existing Well-Architected Framework. You can use the AWS Well-Architected Custom Lens to either bring existing knowledge and best practices like the AWS White Papers and Guides into the AWS Well-Architected Tool or create your own content in the tool that is unique for your organization. Using this for reviews will improve the overall adherence to best practices and requirements in your organization.

In a previous blog post, we presented the Custom Lens Lifecycle, a process to create and continuously improve a Custom Lens for your organization. The lifecycle phases include (i) plan, (ii) measure, and (iii) improve. These phases are iterated over in short repeatable continuous improvement cycles to refine the customized content based on the user feedback. These quality improvements will lead to performing additional reviews with your Custom Lens, and thus you will receive more data to construct a comprehensive view of the organization’s architectural health.

Based on the insights from collaborations with customers, we have compiled a list of best practices that you can apply when implementing the Custom Lens lifecycle in your company. Below, we will present best practices for the plan and implement phases.

Plan Phase: Best Practices

Identify the Benefits of a Custom Lens for your Organization

As a first step, encourage members of your organization to become familiar with the Best Practices of the Well-Architected Framework and use it to identify gaps that represent business needs and missing processes.

Performing a number of Well-Architected Framework Reviews gives valuable input for determining the process of creating your Custom Lens. We found that this is the best way to get a real-life reflection of how teams work, which guidelines they follow, which tools they use and where there is room for improvement.

Next, identify opportunities where a Custom Lens can help teams creating well-architected workloads beyond what is possible with the AWS Well-Architected Framework and its lenses, by answering the following questions:

  • Are there a high degree of industry- / technology- or business-specific requirements that aren’t covered in the Well-Architected Framework?
  • Are there a high degree of existing platform services, tools, and blueprints available to builder teams, that represent the recommended way to build and secure applications?

As an example, a retail customer had a highly standardized methodology for software development. The customer wanted to capture the specific steps, tools, and best practices for their software developers to follow per workload. Using the Custom Lens, this customer is now able to document their highly standardized development process and share it throughout all teams and workloads. By collecting adoption metrics, platform teams can measure the portion of workloads are going through the common software development process.

Another enterprise customer in the automotive industry wanted to systematically review their machine learning workloads by leveraging the benefits of the Well Architected Tool. Until then, the AWS Machine Learning Lens was only available in White Paper format. Using the Custom Lens, the content was brought into the tool, customized and shared across the organization, where the customer is now using it to review and optimize existing and new machine learning workloads.

Define the Scope of Your Custom Lens through Desired Business Outcomes

At the beginning of your initiative, you should clearly define the scope of the Custom Lens, which follows from the business outcomes you want to achieve with it. For example, our first customer wanted to build a Custom Lens to use as a set of guidelines for their software development process. This includes platforms, tools and best practices for building application in their specific enterprise environment. Following this example, the following target outcomes were defined:

  • Reviews with the Custom Lens are quick to perform (30-60 minutes) and provide prescriptive, actionable guidance on how to satisfy requirements and implement best practices.
  • The Custom Lens acts as a single point of entry for teams to become aware of all requirements and best practices.
  • The Custom Lens helps teams to stay up to date about new tools and best practices as they evolve and become available in the organization.
  • As a consequence of using the Custom Lens, the level of compliance to the defined software development process is increased.

Implement Phase: Best Practices

Define a Custom Lens Implementation Plan that Produces Early Results

Depending on the scope of the Custom Lens, there is the risk that subject matter experts spend too much time in defining the content before they get any user feedback. In our example, the customer wanted to address all pillars of the Well-Architected Framework, but it became clear that this would result in a lot of upfront work without a significant benefit. To shorten the feedback cycle, we proposed to focus on one pillar first (typically Security, which we regard as our top priority), and release a test version of it to a cohort of test users. Thanks to the built-in versioning features of Custom Lenses, updating the lens is frictionless, which allows for an incremental approach of adding new best practices as they are created and documented.

Choose a Simple Collaboration Method and Set Up a Meeting Cadence

When starting out with such an initiative, momentum can be lost by spending too much time on figuring out how to do the work. Here is a list of recommendations that solve common needs in a practical way:

  • What’s the tool to collaborate on the content? Pick whatever tool you use to collaborate on text, for example a wiki.
  • When should you create the data in the JSON format needed to upload the Custom Lens into the Well-Architected tool? Keep working in your user-friendly collaboration tool for as long as possible, until most of the initial content has been created.
  • What content has to be captured to fill the Custom Lens? Use the following template.

<Pillar Name>

Best practice – title Best practice – description and optional link Improvement plan – description and optional link Owner Internal comments and questions
The main content area of the Well-Architected Tool shows a checklist with the title of each best practice. A best practice has a detailed description and optional link that is shown in the sidebar of the Well-Architected Tool. This content is shown when the best practice is not checked. Stakeholders and content creators. Discussion on what a good guidance looks like, what additional artefacts are missing etc.

Like the original Well-Architected Framework, Custom Lenses divide content in pillars, questions and best practices. The above template helps you to create the content in a way that matches this schema.

After the content has received multiple reviews from the working group, it can be turned into the JSON format and stored in a version control system. This makes it easier for teams to collaborate and develop the lens. To make steady progress, set up a regular meeting cadence with your working group, for example every week, and keep track of work to be done by the next session.

Summary and Next Steps

In this blog post, we presented best practices for executing the Custom Lens lifecycle. Do you have a special software development lifecycle, a customized security and compliance framework, or other highly specific requirements or best practices that you want to make visible to teams and measurable throughout your company? Then check out the original feature announcement blog post to learn more about how to create a Custom Lens in the Well-Architected Tool, and dive deeper into its features with the Well-Architected Labs. In addition, read the previous post to get an overview of the Custom Lens lifecycle, and apply the best practices presented here in your organization. In the next post, we will discuss the best practices for the Custom Lens lifecycle phases measure and improve.

Christian Denich

Christian Denich is a Global Customer Solutions Manager at AWS. He is passionate about automotive, AI/ML and developer productivity. He supports some the world’s largest automotive brands on their cloud journey, encompassing cloud and business strategy as well as technology. Before joining AWS, Christian worked at BMW Group in both hardware and software development in various projects including connected navigation.

Robert Hoffmann

Robert Hoffmann is a Senior Solutions Architect at AWS. Before, he worked for top smart device and telecommunication brands, pioneering cloud native applications during the early days of Docker and Kubernetes. At AWS, he is supporting some of the world’s largest sports brands on their cloud journey. Robert is passionate about observability, infrastructure as code, and developer productivity. You can find him discussing these topics at conferences and on Twitter (@robhoffmax).

Duncan Bell

Duncan Bell is a Geo Solutions Architect on the AWS Well-Architected team covering EMEA and part of the Cloud Operations specialism area. His career has spanned various roles from support, software engineering, DevOps and Solutions Architecture specializing in server provisioning to IaC, configuration management, DevOps, CI/CD automation, and improving teams’ ways of working, including the whole software delivery lifecycle.