Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series for AWS Consulting Partners. Read Part 1 >>

By Tim Robinson, Well-Architected Geo Solutions Architect – AWS
By Stephen Salim, Well-Architected Geo Solutions Architect – AWS
By Richard Wilmot, Sr. Partner Management Solutions Architect – AWS

AWS-Well-Architected-1

For AWS Consulting Partners, running highly impactful Well-Architected Reviews can be key to building long-term relationships with customers.

Effective use of the AWS Well-Architected Framework educates customers on best practices and how to measure and improve their workloads.

Through iterative use of this review mechanism, AWS Partners are able to discuss potential issues they find with a customer’s workload, which can be remediated as a professional services engagement following the review. This can result in improved risk posture, workload performance and efficiency.

In 2020, the AWS Well-Architected Partner Program facilitated partners all across the world executing thousands of customer reviews. Each review consists of questions that work to teach, measure, and improve customer workloads based on the five pillars of Well-Architected: operational excellence, security, reliability, performance efficiency, and cost optimization.

This post, the second in our two-part series, is aimed at Well-Architected consultants and covers vital techniques to ensure your customer review sessions are highly impactful.

All AWS Well-Architected Consulting Partners are trained through our official education program, and through Well-Architected bootcamps that provide context on how to run the review process for customers.

Based on feedback we have received over the past 2+ years, here are some tips which consultants can include in their reviews to ensure customer sessions have the highest impact and ensure success within your consulting businesses.

Tip #1: Review Expectations

Setting expectations at the start of a Well-Architected Review works to create a solid platform on which to base the experience. Some customers will have little awareness of the review process and what’s required from their side, so spend a few minutes to brief your audience accordingly.

Here are some of the topics you may want to cover:

  • It’s important to give a clear expectation of what the review represents. Take customers through each of the five pillars and their alignment with best practices. Explain the significance of architectural remediation in terms of producing effective and efficient workloads, and the importance of High Risk Issue (HRI) removal as a risk mitigation strategy that you will assist with.
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    The session will produce a Statement of Work (SOW) that will be presented back to the customer; this represents an individually-tailored remediation plan specific to their business requirements.
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  • The session is a sharing of best practice guidance and does not represent an audit. Information provided within the session will not be passed to any compliance body and simply allows the consultant to understand how the workload being assessed aligns with AWS best practices.
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  • Inform the customer the review should last between 3-4 hours and is split into multiple pillars. Each pillar can be run with an appropriate audience (example: a security team or CISO for security). Should the customer not want to dedicate this time in one block, the review can be run in separate sessions according to requirements.
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  • Is the customer experiencing any significant issues or business-aligned challenges with their workload? Often, where we find a customer has a priority aligned with a particular pillar (perhaps cost or security) it’s good to understand this in advance so concentration in this area can be anticipated by the reviewer.

Tip #2: Pre-Review Workload Analysis

A deep understanding of the customer’s workload is vital to a consultant’s ability to run an in-depth review.

In the case of a customer who is already a managed service client of the consultancy, gaining access via a read-only account is easy to achieve and provides you with insight into the services used by the customer and how they align to current best practice.

Perhaps a more scalable way to achieve the same result is through the use of automated best practice engines. These can allow consultants to gain insight into the alignment via a remote role.

There are numerous tools available in the market that can be used to gain general insight across all pillars, such as solutions from AWS Partners like nOps and Trend Micro’s Cloud One Conformity, or specialist tools which allow a deep dive into a particular area such as Cloudcraft and CloudHealth by VMware.

Whichever method is used, ensure you have appropriate data to be able to provide accurate insight into the customer’s workload during the review. This ensures the customer’s time is spent understanding areas for potential improvement rather than educating the consultant on the services which are present in the account.

Tip #3: Understand Your Customer’s Priorities

Having a clear understanding of your customer’s business and their associated priorities ensures the review provides outcomes that are aligned with their needs at the time it’s conducted.

To ensure there is a full understanding of your customer’s priorities, spend some time at the start of the review and ask a few key questions to business-level stakeholders:

  • What experience do you have with the AWS Cloud to date?
  • Are there any issues that are currently impeding the business from growing at the rate that you expect?
  • What would constitute a significant outcome or finding from our review?
  • What would represent value for your organization in terms of an architectural trade-off if we offered one?

Allowing a customer to respond to such questions allows you to focus on the areas of the customer’s business that align with their needs. While we recommend a consultant cover all five pillars during the review, it could be that these questions highlight an area which is appropriate for a deep-dive session to unlock additional value for the customer.

Tip #4: Provide Measurable Advice and Outcomes

A high value Well-Architected Review creates a defined linkage between design principles and the associated best practices of the AWS services the customer is using. This means a reviewer must be able to maintain a view of the customer’s environment when asking pillar-aligned questions, with a view to deep-diving into service or process-based specifics as a follow-up task.

By doing this, you’ll create a detailed map of best practices and be able to suggest appropriate remediation within the SOW when it’s presented to the customer.

Ensure that when you’re working through the questions, you are collecting appropriate metrics and insights which can be presented to the customer at the end of the review.

Consultants should aim to provide advice that is both measurable and outcome-based. The SOW should contain deep-dive best practice outcomes that are meaningful to the customer, rather than high-level statements which are not sufficiently detailed to produce an outcome. Where appropriate, use data to provide context during the review.

A statement such as “50 percent of your Amazon DynamoDB environment is unencrypted and should be addressed as a priority” is measurable and outcome-based. Meanwhile, a generic statement such as “Encryption where possible is best and we will help you with that” gives the customer no actionable event to follow.

Tip #5: Prioritize Your Findings

Technical consultants are presented with a large amount of breadth in terms of customer architecture they may have to review. Perhaps the most challenging workloads are where a large amount of remediation is required. This is typically the case where an architecture has developed organically over an extended time period without intervention from an external reviewer.

In these cases, a customer may be unaware of certain best practices, or of how their workload can benefit from innovations launched for the services they’re using.

This often results in an SOW that includes a large amount of remediation across all pillars. Whilst this is commendable, it can result in a large amount of professional services costs and may even mean the SOW cannot be executed due to budgetary constraints.

A recommended approach is to create a prioritized approach to your SOW. By separating review material into short/medium and long-term remediation, customers will be able to build trust with the consultancy and experience the value offered by remediation over a period of time in manageable units.

Try to ensure any HRIs that are found within a workload are remediated as a priority, and that customers are aware of every HRI which is found, together with the associated risk impact. It may also help to emphasize that remediation can be flexible in terms of approach, with HRIs representing either positive ROI or the largest risk reduction being prioritized.

It’s also worth remembering that a startup venture will have a very different set of priorities and associated risks in contrast to a typical enterprise organization, so ensure all of this is taken into account before presenting your findings to the customer.

Tip #6: Review Format

Whilst Well-Architected Reviews are traditionally conducted face-to-face, virtual reviews are becoming increasingly common due to geographical constraints, time limitations, and a customer’s work-from-home environment.

Ensure your customer is aware that while a review may take 3-4 hours, it’s not necessary to complete in a sequential time period. Where a virtual format is used, you may want to schedule a number of sessions with your customer throughout the week to cover 1-2 pillars at a time.

In addition to this, working with different stakeholders for each pillar ensures you’re working with the appropriate experts in each domain. This also offers the possibility of being able to run review sessions in parallel, which can reduce execution time even further.

Make sure you arrange the expected format ahead of the review with your customer so they have time booked in an appropriate manner, including time set aside to discuss the review results and SOW specifically.

Tip #7: Review Experience

During the Well-Architected Review process, it’s important to pay attention to the experience you are providing to the customer. As much as the exercise will result in technical objectives, the way the review is conducted can define a customer’s experience overall. This can influence how closely your SOW aligns with the customer’s objectives.

Here are several guidelines you may want to consider when executing the review:

  • Ensure the Operational Excellence pillar is completed in full. This represents the questions which are required to understand the customer’s business drivers and goals. The information gathered forms a foundation from which a consultant can direct and prioritize the conversation. This is perhaps one of the most fundamental success mechanisms required to build a meaningful SOW.
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    We advise consultants to use the Operational Pillar questions to understand both the strategic direction of the customer, and any immediate issues that are presenting themselves in terms of achieving that future outcome. This information provides the overall framing for the review and ensures SOW recommendations are in line with the priorities of your customer.
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  • Time box your question appropriately and manage the conversation. Aiming for a review length of 3-4 hours means that answers to each question should last 4-5 minutes on average. For this reason, be aware of your limited time and ensure you have maximized your time with the customer by completing any pre-review analysis before the review starts.
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    In addition to this, ensure you have adequate time remaining during the review for the succinct explanation of any best practices you wish to discuss. In doing so, the session helps to provide an educational overview of the positioning of the SOW, and means customers are aware of the direction you intend to take during the remediation phase.
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    Finally, be aware of where the conversation is not aligned to the specific question that’s being asked and gently realign the audience accordingly. This ensures you are receiving appropriate feedback, which is relevant to both the workload and the question being positioned.
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    Inexperienced consultants are sometimes tempted to enter into conversations concerning possible future state solutions, which should be avoided at this point to ensure the conversation is appropriately targeted.
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  • Ask the questions verbatim, and follow-up with “how” questions as necessary. The questions within the review are designed to ask a high-level question, which allows a consultant to move in a variety of directions in order to build a complete picture of the workload under review. Ensure you’re asking the questions as they are written and then follow-up with appropriate questions according to the response.
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    Through the use of “how” questions as follow-ups to a pillar question, the consultant can build a complete picture of the methodology used within the workload. An example of this point could be seen during a situation where a consultant is asking about the customer’s use of automated code pipelines to allow for the deployment of frequent, small, reversible changes.
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    Asking “do you” questions (such as “Do you use code pipelines?”) can result in a closed answer in contrast to a “how” question (such as “How are you organizing your code deployment systems to create frequent, small, reversible changes?”). This helps produce a response that is more likely to result in a deeper discussion.
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  • Where possible, bring someone to assist in note taking. Due to the necessary pace of the review, it’s often advisable to bring a colleague to the review to assist in note taking. This ensures the consultant is focused on the review itself rather than the associated note taking.
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    This model can be adjusted according to the size of the consultancy in terms of requesting permission to record a virtual session or using automation software to transcribe notes. Where two consultants are available, it may be possible to alternate note taking and interviewer across a review to ensure that each pillar is covered adequately.

Partner Success: Versent

Versent is a technology solutions company based in Australia that has been an AWS Partner since its inception in 2014. It helps many of the top 50 corporations in Australia manage their AWS enterprise cloud journey by delivering on the AWS Well-Architected Framework pillars.

An AWS Premier Consulting Partner, Versent has been part of the AWS Well-Architected Partner Program since 2018 and has completed 22 customer reviews in 2020. The approach Versent has taken to the review process has been integral to their success in building trust with new customers while establishing a direction for existing ones.

“At Versent, we make it clear the security pillar is compulsory for all reviews,” says Josh Lopez, who leads the Well-Architected program at Versent. “Our approach is to communicate clearly to customers that this is a non-negotiable aspect of the review and shows how seriously we treat security for new as well as existing customers.”

In terms of format, Versent spends approximately two hours per pillar, and works to run pre-review analysis through the use of their partner Stax, a platform-as-a-service tool that provides visibility on cost optimization and security for AWS workloads.

“On average, each AWS Well-Architected Review that Versent performs identifies eight or more HRIs for each customer, which is possible through the combination of automation and interaction with the customer during the review,” says Josh.

“The Stax service is modular in structure and provides us with insights into security and cost by investigating wastage in the services which a customer is currently using,” he adds. “We gather these insights prior to a review, which we then present to the customer as measurable insights that can then be commented on prior to us building their remediation plan.”

This methodology works effectively in driving measurable outcomes for Versent’s customers.

“Following one of Versent’s Well-Architected Reviews, one of our customers was able to reduce their AWS bill by 40 percent,” says Josh. “In another example, a customer was able to increase computing efficiency that reduced wastage and achieved annual savings of $1 million.”

Versent has successfully integrated Well-Architected into all areas of their business and now runs a review with a customer as the standard method of establishing a baseline prior to moving to cloud.

In terms of projection, Versent is expected to contribute to the migration of 4,000+ cloud workloads in 2021. This is largely attributed to their alignment with best practices through the Well-Architected Partner Program.

Conclusion

Using the tips outlined in this post will help AWS Well-Architected consultants produce highly impactful reviews with associated remediation that align to customer objectives.

It’s important that consultants learn from any past mistakes and use this knowledge to build your review style for future AWS Well-Architected Reviews. It may be helpful to discuss some of the content the Well-Architected team has produced in terms of labs and supporting content.

To learn more, check out these AWS Well-Architected resources: