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Snowstorms’ lessons about IT project strategy

Sometimes just “shoveling snow” makes best solution

New blog! Anna Murray of emedia llc brings a real-world view to life in the trenches of technology. Often with a dash of humor, Murray’s suggestions can help tech work better inside your organization. She is the author of The Complete Software Project Manager: Mastering Technology From Planning To Launch And Beyond. New blog! Anna Murray of emedia llc brings a real-world view to life in the trenches of technology. Often with a dash of humor, Murray’s suggestions can help tech work better inside your organization. She is the author of The Complete Software Project Manager: Mastering Technology From Planning To Launch And Beyond.

Here’s a seasonally appropriate blog about snow. A blizzard has just exited the Northeast. The Northwest has record-breaking snowfall.

Our experience battling the white powder is an object lesson for technology projects.

Consider: A storm has blown through overnight and dumped 12 inches on your 200-foot-long driveway. Next, the plow guy called and says he can’t make it.

What to do?

Solution’s in your garage

There’s no mystery. Get out a shovel and dig!

You may not like it, but the good news is that you have a 100% chance of succeeding. And, after some Advil, you will feel better.

Many facets of software projects are like piles of snow. They are laborious, unpleasant, and time-consuming. But—good news!—they have a 100% likelihood of getting done.

Here’s a technology example: You must migrate data, somehow transferring 2,000 zip codes from a legacy system into a new system. The data is dirty, so the tech team members are scratching their heads.

One possibility: Key them in by hand.

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Immediately, there is a revolt on the tech team.

Key them all in by hand!?

That will take Greg, the data entry guy, forever!

Why don’t we just write a custom script to normalize the data and migrate it without human intervention?

What just happened? The tech team transformed a simple (albeit laborious) task with a 100% likelihood of success into a now-uncertain programming effort.

How long would it have taken Greg to key in 2000 zip codes? A week?

Now, how long is it now going to take to write, test, and execute the custom script? What if something goes wrong?

The Secret about Programmers: Programmers and tech folks generally resist pile-of-snow tasks. This makes perfect sense from their point of view. Computers were invented, after all, to automate things.

The Rule for Business Managers: Managers must be aware of this programmer bias. And they must resist it when “shoveling snow” makes better sense for the project.

Get the drift?

Piles of snow can be your friend in a tech effort where many project aspects can be uncertain and risky.

Reducing risk where possible, even if that means some human effort, can be a very wise strategy.

So learn to spot the pile-of-snow tasks in your tech project and to evaluate when getting out the shovel is the best decision.

Anna Murray

Anna Murray of emedia llc brings a real-world view to life in the trenches of technology. Often with a dash of humor, Murray’s suggestions can help tech work better inside your organization. She is the author of The Complete Software Project Manager: Mastering Technology From Planning To Launch And Beyond.

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