AWS Cloud Operations & Migrations Blog

Designing a successful cloud migration: top five pitfalls and how to avoid a stall

Stalled cloud migrations can undermine cloud adoption’s business value. It is therefore important to watch out for early warning signs and take timely corrective action. This blog post looks at five big pitfalls every cloud migration leader should be aware of. The good news is you can spot these issues early and mitigate them to avoid a stall.

Pitfall #1: lack of stakeholder alignment

One sign that things are not going smoothly is when the list of in-scope business applications keeps changing. Some application owners might not be fully informed that their applications are in scope of the migration. Consequently, they put migration activities on hold, question the migration timing, or request additional preparatory work. The culmination of these issues often leads to escalated inquiries from project sponsors about the lack of project progress. The root-cause for this is usually the absence of buy-in and alignment from application and business teams. You are prematurely committing funding for a cloud migration initiative without a clear top-down mandate.

Prioritize business sponsorship and obtain buy-in from application and business teams when making project commitments to address this. Deferring this to later will prove an even bigger challenge to resolve. Build consensus within business teams by highlighting benefits of adopting cloud to meet their business outcomes. Consider incentives for teams to move to cloud by waiving charge-back of cloud costs for the first six months for early adopters. Enlist a set of senior leaders to sponsor the migration project, commit team support and own their business line’s completion of project outcomes.

Pitfall #2: migration wave plan becomes a moving target

Another sign of a stalling cloud migration is when the migration wave plan keeps changing, like a moving target. A well-defined wave plan prioritizes what gets migrated in each phase or wave based on dependencies among applications. Shared applications and services used by large groups of applications make wave scope too large to migrate all at once. When such dependencies are discovered late, the team usually drops all associated applications from the migration wave and adds them back in the backlog for re-planning. As a result, the migration teams are not utilized effectively, leading to delays and cost overruns. Project sponsors question the migration wave scope reductions, interpreting them first as having an overly conservative approach, and put pressure on the cloud migration leader to increase migration velocity. The common root-cause for this is insufficient inventory data about the application portfolio during migration wave planning.

To mitigate this, initiate design reviews with application teams for priority applications at the beginning of the migration. Leverage tool-based application discovery process such as the AWS discovery tools via the AWS Migration Hub ahead of migration wave planning. Establish a documented and formally binding project baseline based on the application discovery findings. Implement a formal change control process to manage and monitor variances and escalate early in case of deviations from the baseline.

Pitfall #3: migration approach varies by application

An important concern within the migration process is when the migration approach varies significantly from one application to another. This leads to an inconsistent migration methodology, with teams belaboring or second-guessing design decisions or opportunistically adding optimizations into the migration scope. This pitfall has significant adverse effects on the migration effort because the economies of scale and consistent outcomes cannot be achieved. An excessive focus on technical optimizations with the move to cloud slows down the overall migration progress. This also makes it harder to realize the value projected in the original business case.

To overcome this challenge, proactive measures are essential. Define the standard migration approaches and target architecture patterns to standardize migration methodologies and build a foundation that would scale. Group your applications based on common migration strategies as part of your rationalization process. Save the custom migration effort for workloads that require significant change, such as refactoring your mainframe applications. Establish a consistent design decision approach in the early phases of your cloud migration to avoid a stall.

Pitfall #4: ineffective escalations

When the migration is not proceeding as planned, it is essential to have an escalation process for gaining visibility and leadership support. Program management meetings are often the forum where risks and issues needing leadership help are discussed and addressed. Lack of participation by the right stakeholders such as leaders of shared services teams in these key touchpoints will negatively impact the progress of the migration initiative.

To tackle this, establish a comprehensive communication plan and governance structure prior to the project kickoff. This way, you make sure issues get sufficient attention and the right people are in the room that can remove blockers. Consider negotiating expedited resolution times or go-to persons for standard requests with your shared service teams, such as for firewall updates. This allows your migration team to continue working in agile sprints and avoid a stall.

Pitfall #5: late emergence of migration issues

Problems arising late in the migration process are a cause for concern. This becomes apparent through several symptoms. Critical updates on the migration progress may not be proactively communicated to project leaders. Often, you may find yourself learning about issues only after they’ve already caused delays. Project sponsors start losing trust that the project team is in control of the cloud migration. As issues are not addressed promptly, the business outcomes are at risk of being missed.

To tackle this challenge, agree on an initial set of migration control mechanisms with the start of the cloud migration. These mechanisms usually revolve around establishing effective design decision approach, migration process and tools, maintaining line of sight and planning baseline, appointing technical leaders for migration teams, and developing an effective escalation path. Migration control mechanisms help enable better oversight, early issue identification, and smoother migration.


This blog post highlights five key pitfalls that cloud migration leaders need to be aware of. These can hinder the migration process and the realization of business outcomes. Recognizing and addressing these pitfalls early is crucial to a successful cloud migration journey. The key takeaways to pave the way for a smoother migration experience include:

  1. Validate migration mandate with technology and business teams prior to migration kickoff.
  2. Baseline the migration scope and formalize project change control.
  3. Align top-down objectives and technical strategy.
  4. Build an effective escalation path from day one.
  5. Agree key project control mechanisms to enable smoother migration.

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About the author

Rostislav Markov

Rostislav is principal architect with AWS Professional Services. As technical leader in AWS Industries, he works with AWS customers and partners on their cloud transformation programs. Outside of work, he enjoys spending time with his family outdoors, playing tennis, and skiing.