Why landscaping my garden was just like an IT project

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been redeveloping the garden at home and the whole experience has made me reflect on the way that IT projects are often delivered…

Who’s been developing the garden?

Well, when I say “I’ve”, that may be pushing it slightly… I paid other people to do significant chunks of it but that’s the first similarity. I started work and quickly realised that it would a) take me a long time and b) involve the use of tools and machinery that I don’t have so I needed to engage specialist assistance.

This is just like my customers who have something in mind that aligns with their strategic goals and objectives but they lack the resources or experience and so look externally for assistance.

Getting some quotes

Having decided that I needed help, the next step was to get some idea of what it might cost. After speaking to a selection of potential contractors, I knew that my budget was hopelessly optimistic and I’d either need to scale the plans back or dig deeper into my pockets.

Again, just as in my professional world, everyone has their idea of what something might cost but sometimes that’s just not realistic.

How quickly can we start?

Having agreed on a price and a scope, the next question was how soon? Actually, for me this was pretty good: 2 weeks to start and it should take about 2 weeks. Great. Let’s do this.

In my professional life, I come across procurement periods that can run for months but then the project must happen right now. It’s not realistic to expect a professional services company to have people waiting around for your order (if they do, then maybe ask why). Expect to take a few weeks to engage.

The flurry of activity

The big day came. My drive was filled up with a skip and several tons of aggregate, sand and cement. Materials came and went. People were on site. Earth was moved. Things happened.

It always feels good when something becomes real. Progress on any project is good, especially after waiting a while to get going. But don’t expect a smooth ride the whole way…

The first sprint delivered

Whilst my family took a break, work continued at home. Drainage was installed, wooden sleepers were built up into steps and walls and a stone patio was laid.

That sounds like a successful first sprint. Step one completed, demonstrable progress and a milestone payment due.

Slippage

But hang on, we’re already 9 days into a 2-week project and there are still many items on the backlog. The weather had either been too wet or too hot. And there were delays from the skip hire company that led to inefficiencies in removing materials from the site. We were making progress but the timeline (and so the budget) was starting to slip

Many projects will have unforeseen issues. That’s life. Managing them is what makes the difference. And the key to that is communication between client and supplier.

Scope creep

What about the electrics? I had already spotted that they were missing from the quote but there was armoured cabling to be buried before the garden was completed. And that meant bringing in another contractor. Thankfully, he had worked with the landscaping team before, so he could fit around them without delay (at least for the first fix).

More contractors mean dependencies. Even when teams have worked together previously, there will be some complications to work out. Again, good project management helps.

When will this end? And what about the budget?

Sprint 2 was more of a jog. There was still earth to move, a pergola to be built, a concrete base for my “man cave” to be poured and turf to be laid. Time was ticking – the gap I’d left between the landscaping and the project work packages I was due to deliver myself (log cabin construction, garden furniture arrival) was shrinking – and with work taking place on a time and materials basis the budget was stretched.

Time for a meeting. Let’s agree what’s still left to do and how long it will take, lock down the budget and push towards completion.

I have to admit this was frustrating. But I’ve seen it in my world of IT too. Want a fixed price? Be prepared to pay more as the risk taken on by the organisation delivering the work needs to be factored in. Time and materials can work both ways (finish early, pay less – or to project over-runs) and after a while, patience will wear thin. Again, communication is key. Establish what’s left to do in the agreed scope, nail down the timescales and push for completion.

And as for the other work packages, very few projects exist in isolation. There’s nearly always an entire programme of works to deliver to meet the stated goals/objectives. Some realism is required about how dependencies will align because if you expect the various work packages to run on from each other, you should be prepared for the occasional disappointment.

Phase 1 complete

Three and a bit weeks after work started, phase 1 was complete. And it looked great. All the pain was worthwhile. Just in time to start construction of the log cabin on that base.

phase 1 of the garden completed

60% over time, 7% over budget. Not wonderful stats but also not atypical.

Postscript: Phase 2 delayed

The log cabin arrived on time but was damaged on delivery. And it would take 2 weeks for a replacement roof apex to be manufactured and shipped. With most of the materials on-site though, it needed to be built as far as it could be and then wrapped up to protect it from the elements.

Sometimes, even the best planning can come undone. Supplier contracts might help with speedy resolution of issues but sometimes there’s nothing to be done except to sit and wait…

Weeknote 7: Traffic, snow and an awesome party (Week 49, 2017)


Another week means another weeknote and this one finished on a high because last night was the risual Christmas Party!

risual does Christmas parties rather well and I won’t go into the details here but suffice to say, a good time was had. I knew the weather forecast though and needed to be sober today (Mrs W wasn’t too happy about the idea of driving home in the snow) so I can bask in the delight of not-having-a-hangover.

Anyway, it was a joy to wake up in a Country House hotel this morning and see how the landscape was transformed. I took quite a lot of photos on my iPhone but Dropbox is currently refusing to upload them for me, complaining that one is corrupt (but not telling me which one!). I’ll edit them next week and post them then…

Then I drove home in the snow and ice. England can’t cope when it snows (or indeed with any other extremes of weather: too wet; too sunny; too windy). We do mild-grey really well though.

The week

My week was the usual mix of consulting (paid work), training and pre-sales. I was fortunate to spend a day at Microsoft in Reading on Tuesday, topping up my Microsoft 365 (Office 365, plus Windows 10, plus Enterprise Mobility + Security) knowledge. I’m hoping that, time permitting, some blog posts will come out of that.

I’ve been driving around the UK almost 30 years, and driving for work for most of them. This week drove home to me (excuse the pun) just how overloaded the UK’s road infrastructure is, when it took me more than 5 hours to drive to Reading and back (about 75 miles each way), then around 4.5 hours the next day to drive 190 miles on nothing but motorways and trunk A roads (180 miles of which were dual carriageway). It seems likely that the first place autonomous vehicles can take a hold is on major routes like this and I for one can’t wait. Maybe one day we’ll have segregated autonomous driving lanes on the motorways, where the cars can drive closer together (in constant communication and not constrained by human reaction speeds) and maybe even faster (if the law is changed).

This week also saw the quarterly Milton Keynes Geek Night, which I’m proud to have attended every one of! I’ve made a lot of contacts over the 5½ years it’s been running – some of whom I can now count as friends and this event had one of the best set of talks in a long while including:

  • Simon Collison (@colly) on “The Internet of Natural Things”
  • Laura Sutton (@L_Coull)’s “Non-geek’s guide to the Galaxy”
  • Dr Neil Smith (@neilnjae) showing us “Beatles vs. Rolling Stones: using data science to prove which band is best”!
  • Joe Leech (@MrJoe) wrapping up with “UX, Psychology and the Power of 100”

The next one clashes with my wedding anniversary, and Mrs W has even agreed to come along with me as an honourary geek!

At home

We’re hoping to convert our loft next year and the initial notice has been submitted for planning purposes. It seems that, now that councils are better at sharing information, marketers are scraping it to bombard us with offers of storage, home improvements, etc. Apparently, our neighbours will be getting mailshots from lawyers too… all very irksome…

Around town

I missed this event which was part of Milton Keynes’ 50th birthday celebrations – a floating carnival of decorated boats looks like quite a spectacle on the canal!

It’s really noticeable how many people are now sleeping rough on the streets of Milton Keynes. The Bus Shelter are trying to do something about that – but they need to raise funds to convert a double-decker coach to provide emergency shelter. To quote from their website:

“Homelessness can hit anyone – most of us are just three pay packets away from losing our home. With your help we can provide over 5800 safe, warm nights for people forced to sleep on the streets and help them find a positive future.”

Look out for the bus in the Intu part of the Shopping Centre (Midsummer Place) and please donate, if you can:

At the other end of the scale… I passed a man on the mean streets of MK proudly proclaiming that the best place to get a car parking space is the electric charging bays… it may not be illegal to park a petrol/diesel car in an electric space but it is selfish (especially as there are normal spaces free)…

Other stuff

Barclaycard sent me a new credit card “for security reasons”. It was nice to find that my Apple Wallet updated automatically on my phone and my watch. Sadly the many websites where I had the details stored for recurring payments (Apple iTunes, Microsoft, Amazon, M6 Toll, Transport for London, etc.) didn’t.

That reminds me… I wonder when my Curve card will show up… It seems I’ve been stuck with about 1500 people ahead of me in the queue for weeks now… in fact, the number seems to be going up (but if you use my referral link above, I can move back up the queue…)!

On the topic of referrals, my energy switch to Bulb completed this week. It was painless (though I will have to wait to get my credit from First Utility, my previous provider – who seem more interested in selling broadband to me now than reducing my energy bills…). Unfortunately, neither I nor my friend have received our promised referral credits from Bulb. Enquiries are ongoing…

My son and I needed to force-quit an app on my Amazon Fire TV Stick but weren’t sure how. This blog post helped by pointing us to Menu, Settings, Manage All Installed Applications where Force Stop is one of the options.

Sadly, Amazon and Google’s inability to play together nicely means my Fire TV Stick won’t play YouTube videos from 1 Jan 2018. One is not amused:

I’ve been watching Channel 4’s series about Donald Trump’s rise (An American Dream). I’ll leave the politics aside but it’s fascinating to see how the wealthy can grow to take such a position of power…

I noticed that my Nextbase Dashcam was showing the wrong time (1 hour ahead) and every time I changed it, it reverted after the next power cycle… then I realised there was a timezone setting and it was still on GMT+1 (BST). After changing to GMT, all was good. It seems that it picks up the time from the GPS, so the timezone is the important setting…

I’m torn about the use of the new HEIC image format on my iPhone. On the one hand, I want to store the best quality images I can, on the other, I need them to be readable on all my devices

Whilst I was at MK Geek Night this week, I spotted that War Horse is coming to Milton Keynes Theatre next autumn. I enjoyed the film and I’ve heard good things about the National Theatre production too, so tickets are booked for a family cultural treat:

My phone has decided that, when I get in the car, I’m headed for the local Tesco Express… that’s a little worrying (I wonder how does Siri determine my travel patterns?):

Podcasts

I’ve mentioned before that I listen to a lot of podcasts. One of these is the Microsoft Cloud Show. Sometimes, it can be a bit too developer-focused for my tastes but I enjoyed Episode 223, which pretty much encapsulates the conversations I have with customers as an Architect working with the Microsoft cloud!

I also got the chance to catch up with Matt Ballantine this week (one half of the WB-40 Podcast). It’s been a while since Matt and I had a chat but I really enjoyed bouncing around our thoughts on modern collaboration and team working. and team-working. Like Matt, I’m finding myself drawing/writing on screen more (at least when working, using a Surface Pro – my MacBook lacks any sort of touch capability) though it’s also showing how unpracticed I’ve become at writing!

Wrap-up

Anyway, before I get too far into Sunday evening I need to sign-off and check my children haven’t continued building their snow-wall across the neighbours’ drives…

Next week looks like it should feature a lot less travel (at least by road) and a return to cyclocross with my son. I might even be home a few evenings and maybe, just maybe, I’ll write a blog post that’s not one of these weeknotes! I live in hope…