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James Mckenna

Paralegal, Morrison & Foerster

Expansion logistics: Establishing an office abroad in 86 hours

Expansion logistics: Establishing an office abroad in 86 hours


James McKenna shares how his infrastructure and administrative systems team created a large new international office in 86 hours

Key takeaway points:

  1. Plan for the unexpected; have all the right people available during the transition period

  2. Have the person leading the onsite work tour the facility well in advance of the project

  3. Share pictures in advance of all of the local office technology

  4. Create in advance your first automated process of creating a new workstation specifically customised for the office, nation or region’s needs

  5. Build a team with people who embody the attitude of ‘the answer is yes, the question is how’


What does it take to open an office in 90 days in a country in which you do not currently have a presence?

Morrison & Foerster decided to expand its international presence by opening an office in Berlin, Germany with about 80 people. Once announced internally, we had three months to design, procure equipment, address logistics and create our plan.

No physical work in the office itself could occur before we took over the space on Thursday 31 October 2013 at 7pm. All services needed to be operational by the office’s opening on Monday 4 November 2013 at 9am. How do you create a new office in 86 hours? The answer involves a great team, investing wisely in consolidated infrastructure, expecting the unexpected and a lot of hard work.

Our problems

Our challenge was to have a large office open in Berlin on 4 November 2013 and be completely ready to fully support existing and new clients. Opening an office is a notable endeavour. Opening an office in a country in which you do not already have a presence introduces many new variables. We had about 90 days
to prepare.

To complicate matters, we were unable to work in the physical space until 7pm on Halloween eve. We had 86 hours to complete the transition by Monday at 9am. We needed to install all the necessary local office infrastructure, phones, computers and printers, as well as to connect them all to Morrison & Foerster’s systems. Additionally, we needed our network connectivity to be delivered to connect our Berlin office to MoFo.

Objectively, we had three
key problems.

Problem 1: Equipment logistics

We had to identify, purchase and have delivered all of the necessary equipment
to make an office fully operational. We had to learn quickly which vendors could directly support us in Germany.

We also had to create our new office’s computer image. This is our standard practice; it enables the fast and easy creation of new computers for the office to directly work with its designated repositories and allows us to distribute specific fixes or improvements quickly.

We had about 90 days to
accomplish this.

Problem 2: 86 hours to complete
the work

We could only begin onsite actual work starting at 7pm on 31 October 2013. We could then start unboxing items, distributing equipment, setting up the
local office infrastructure and work
towards connecting the office to
Morrison & Foerster. All of these
discreet elements had to happen concurrently on five different floors
due to the compressed schedule.

This was a project with a long
to-do list, but one in which it was not entirely possible to predict the order
or duration of each step.

Problem 3: Anticipating the unexpected

Every project presents surprises and we rightfully assumed opening our Berlin office would have its own. It could have been equipment, logistical and/or technical in nature. As it turned out, our biggest unexpected challenge was umlauts – specifically, the German keyboard. The German keyboard is different to the American/English version as some letters are in different places and it has a few unique characters like umlauts.

On Saturday night of the transition weekend and with the end of the project in sight, we saw that we had a serious problem. Morrison & Foerster had not previously supported a German keyboard and had assumed an American/English one would be present when a person logged in. As this was not the case, anyone with a password that had a
Z, Y or special character would not be able to log in. Our new teammates would have typed in their passwords correctly, but the English-based systems would have seem them differently and refused entry.

We had a few hours to create an automated solution. It was either that
or, on Sunday, we would have to log
into each computer in English, tell the computer it had a German keyboard and make a series of other small changes, and continue to do this until a permanent solution was implemented. While possible, performing 20-plus steps in sequence on 80 or so computers would likely result in some mistakes.

Another unexpected challenge is the first delivered network was not as large as we had requested. We were able to resolve this over two hours on a Saturday with the assistance of that vendor’s customer service. Had we not addressed this, everyone would have experienced a very slow Monday.

To resolve these problems, we needed clear communication, specific roles, task prioritisation, the leveraging of talent around the world and to be nimble.


Logistics of opening a new international office

  • Have whomever will be leading the local work extensively tour the facility well in advance to identify any potential issues

  • If possible, take pictures of existing local office infrastructure, locations, desktop technologies and conference room technologies

  • Identify any local office, national or regional technical requirements

  • Create in advance the automated solution for building the next new office computer

  • Identify and document all key support services contacts

  • Schedule nightly after-hour cleaning services during the transition

  • Schedule a daily pickup of old equipment, boxes and rubbish during the transition

  • Have all equipment delivered onsite in advance of the transition

  • Have ‘swing space’ available so that equipment can be unboxed in advance of the transition

  • Order all networks well in advance of the transition


Our solutions

Problem one – equipment logistics – was the easiest to solve of the three. We scaled our existing local office and infrastructure standards appropriately for our Berlin office. As we have consolidated our enterprise applications and data storage into regional data centres, we
only needed to a bit of equipment to
allow for sufficient space and capacity
for our new office.

Problem two – completing the setup in 86 hours – was possible if everything we needed was onsite when the countdown clock started. Having sufficient talent was critical. Not only did we need a large number of bodies to do all the setups, but we also needed specific technical talent to manage the merging of the new office to the firm’s systems, as well as to address anything anomalous.

We started with a good-sized team and new reinforcements arrived each day. This worked really well, as the first day allowed us to figure out our onsite processes and order of operation. We then created a real project plan that had the right people on the right tasks at the right time. When the reinforcements arrived, we were able to task them with specific activities, maximising our progress while minimising any confusion.

When you have the luxury of time, you can do work in a linear order. When you have a deadline, it focuses your efforts upon what has to be done first, what will take the longest to complete (which will drive its start time) and what is most strenuous (to help spread that work out over the time available). In retrospect, having everyone there at the starting point could have resulted in too many people trying to do everything at once.

Problem three – anticipating the unexpected – did in fact occur. German was a new language for Morrison & Foerster. Our systems had always worked around the premise that our computers first logged into the firm and then they were told what they could be to address office or regional localisation needs. A computer expecting an American/English keyboard would not correctly interpret the inputs of a German keyboard. This would result in people eventually being locked out and needless frustration.

On Saturday night, about two-thirds of the way through the transition, we recognised this problem. We also recognised that, without automating a fix, we were looking at another 20+ minutes per computer to manually make the necessary changes and would likely
make a few mistakes.

At about 11:30pm on Saturday night, the team in Berlin had figured out the problem and listed what needed to occur. They did not, however, possess the necessary skills to create, implement and package the solution to meet not only Monday’s deadline but also to be able to use this capability going forward.

The Berlin team contacted the right firm resources, who live in California, USA. It was about 2:30pm local California time and, via an hour-long conference call, the problem and proposed solution were conveyed to the engineers, who then began working on the solution.
The Berlin team retired for the night and, when they woke up, they read an update from California that the fix had been implemented in Berlin and was about
to be distributed worldwide.

The new logic provided more flexibility. Before, a computer would have to login first and then be told ‘here is where you are’. Now, the new logic looks first at
where the computer resides, presents
itself in that localised format, and then connects to the firm. What started out
as a very time-consuming surprise turned into a firmwide opportunity to make things work better.

Challenges faced

Time was our single biggest challenge. It was difficult but possible to get all the equipment we needed into a country within which we had not previously had a presence. We were able to find vendors that could deliver.

The allocated 86 hours to unbox, set up, configure, connect and make ready an entire office’s worth of equipment and infrastructure was possible but difficult. Having the right team on site was key. This component of the project required individuals who could do everything necessary to deliver success. The
transition consisted of long hours,
very technical assignments and heavy physical work. It took a mix of skills and,
at different moments, each and every person was critical.

Lastly, we all had to own the responsibility for this project’s success.
The attitude we needed was not ‘if’ or
‘we will give it our best’ but a universal
‘the answer is yes and the question is how’.

Lessons learnt

Expecting the unexpected was wise. By not planning for everything to go perfectly, we were instead preparing ourselves for reality. This gave us the ability to shift priorities, call for assistance or assign more resources to a given task.

Setting the expectation that all of the right people needed to be available during the transition period for an emergency call made everything that much simpler. When the call for assistance was made, the people who could deliver it were ready.
In conjunction, embracing a problem as
an opportunity helped us create a solution that could be used in any new office with
a non-English language.

A surprisingly simple lesson learned was that just because something is working well does not mean it cannot be a lot better. Changing the logic of how our computers determine where they are
has saved a lot of time and eliminated
some frustration.

In some regards, the hard deadline focused everyone’s attention and made it easier to be successful. Having a solid list of things needing to be accomplished was far more productive and helpful than a specific project plan. We were always doing what we needed to do, but it was not possible to predict the final order of events when we were initially making our plans.

We purposefully staggered the arrival of our reinforcements. A portion of the team arrived on Thursday and then a few more people arrived each day up through to Monday. The initial team determined the work order and each subsequent arrival was assigned a set of tasks.

Impact assessment

Our Berlin office opened successfully on Monday 4 November 2013. All systems and services were completely available.
We successfully leveraged all of our existing technology standards, making it a painless process to add a new office. Our new teammates were very happy that all of their equipment worked, but also impressed that everything was brand new.

The opening of our Berlin office reaffirmed our strategies around regional data centres, standards-based technology offerings and server virtualisation. These capabilities allow Morrison & Foerster to move quickly, spend wisely and minimise ongoing support costs.

James McKenna is director of infrastructure and administrative systems at international law firm Morrison & Foerster