Blackboard: Cross-Functional Success Story

May 21, 2010

The recently completed Blackboard upgrade is a veritable case study in effective cross-functional teaming. Although Academic Technologies was the sponsor, this project was an example of true organizational integration, as nearly every department in UTS was involved.

close-up photo of gears Sandra Butler (Enterprise Applications) is the subject-matter expert for Blackboard and the central liaison with the Emory users. She designed the cutover plan and helped develop the project website. She also fixed issues and did customization of the new Blackboard product. When the day finally arrived to upgrade, and no users complained, Sandra knew that true acceptance had been achieved.

As the technical leader on the project, John Wang (Integration) was the Blackboard application guru who coordinated the upgrade and performed complex trouble-shooting. When the team ran into issues with handling data across multiple versions (7.1 to 9.0), he converted the data in place without migrating it, saving the team months of valuable time. So valuable was his problem-solving that one of his project members calls him the “Magician.”

close-up photo of gears Evan Ehrenhalt (Infrastructure), the Oracle database administrator, ensured data accuracy and managed resource availability for both the test and production environments, and designed various upgrade methods. One of the mandates of the project was to ensure that the databases were up 100% of the time and fully efficient even during the upgrade.

In her role as Project Manager, Trisha Wilson (PMO) paved the way for highly productive communication by organizing and promoting the use of the project Wiki ( She also brought skilled organization and boundless energy to the process, facilitating the meetings, and fostered the different team member perspectives to make sure everyone was being heard.

close-up photo of gears Curt Tucker (Infrastructure) managed the Linux operating systems (test and production) and ensured that the original data was duplicated safely during testing. He also optimized the upgrade procedure leading up to the cutover and responded to team requests in support of their higher-level application work. By answering all of the issues during the security review, Curt saved the team from any security entanglements.

Working as the lead trainer and tester, Leah Chuchran (Academic Technologies) held many overview sessions (What’s New in Blackboard 9) and taught users what to expect with the change. Her marketing and training was so successful that the cutover didn’t generate a single service call. Additionally, Leah led the Pilot Group that gave feedback on the system and tested the application on over 400 functionalities and tools.

Like cogs in a machine, each member excelled in their roles and the outcome was practically flawless. The Blackboard upgrade will undoubtedly serve as a model for many UTS projects to come.