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What Shoveling Your Driveway Has to Do with Transformational Projects

Transformational projects in your business often involve technical debt.

(If you don’t upgrade your hardware and software periodically, it gets old and stale and leads to problems – like not taking your car in to get regular service or not going to the doctor for regular checkups. That’s technical debt.)

I was inspired while shoveling out my driveway to explain transformational projects & technical debt in terms of what it’s like to shovel one’s driveway. And yes, for those of you who know me pretty well, I still shovel my own driveway.

Transformational projects are usually started when the business wants to take a leap from what they’re currently doing & their old processes to a brand new way of doing things that allows them to sell more product, do things more efficiently, and generally improve and scale the business.

This often involves an awful lot of digging out of existing technical debt. See where I’m going with this driveway shoveling metaphor? You start in a place, usually at the beginning of your driveway, away from the road. You clear out paths so you can more easily clear snow one way or another.

This is like the beginning of a technical transformation.

You clear out the hardest snow first, so that you can make your job easier going forward. With that hardest snow cleared out, it’s easier to clear out large swaths once you begin to get going. You clean off your cars first, so you can clear out the snow around them without having to worry about getting that snow in the paths you already cleared.

That order of operations that happens on the fly while you’re shoveling? Some of the same logical thinking goes into making sure your transformational project is ordered properly so you’re not constantly re-working it.

As you start to get to the end of the driveway and clear off some of the hard stuff right near the road, you notice that the first part you started to shovel out now has a little bit of accumulation of snow on it.

That’s similar to transformational projects as well. When I shovel, I start at the beginning of my driveway near my house and push snow out to the street. By the time I’m done, the first place I cleared now has a thin layer of snow because I start shoveling while it’s still snowing. But now, it’s a heck of a lot easier to clear out than when I first started. By the same token, at the end of a project, the pieces of work you did at the beginning of the project have now accumulated a little bit of technical debt. But when you go back to clear that technical debt, it’s much faster and easier.

So think of it like this: when you want to shovel your driveway, if it’s just you, you have to drop everything you’re doing to get it done. If it’s a particularly large driveway with an awful lot of snow, you know that’s going to be an amazingly large project that you have to completely devote yourself to.

Now, there are a couple of rules here:

  • If you employ more people, especially people that are really good at clearing snow and you give them shovels, you can make quick work of it.
  • If you happen to have a buddy with a snowplow or hire someone with one, they’ve invested the money and they’ll be able to clear an awful lot of snow a lot quicker for you. You pay them a fee to do this because they’ve sunk their time and money into this equipment and project.

So: a transformational project gets a lot easier when you hire some folks that have already sunk in the time and resources, plus have the skills to clear away the snow quickly.

For the smaller parts you can’t get those large pieces of equipment into, you can still shovel an awful lot more quickly and skillfully when you have people on the ground with shovels who can also arm your people who have some free time with shovels to help clear away the snow quicker and more efficiently.

It also helps in these very large snow removal projects to have a plan going in so you can get quick wins first and clear away the harder stuff more efficiently (because you’ve done all the hard work up front).

If you want to hire some skilled folks with heavy-duty snow plows and shovels that really know how to get rid of snow (transform systems and get rid of technical debt), come talk to us at StarSpring.