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7 July 2009

How does your garden grow?

By Andrew Clifford

Like gardening, effective IT depends more on constant attention than it does on grand designs.

I am a very keen gardener, and I am fortunate enough to have a fair-sized garden.

My love of gardening is a big influence on my ideas about IT. Many see IT as an engineering discipline, but I see large-scale IT more like tending a garden.

Although I appear to potter aimlessly in my garden, I am actually very objective. I know what I want from my garden: a pleasant space for the family, somewhere for the children to play, to grow interesting plants, and to produce fruit and vegetables.

I have attended garden design courses, but I am not much of a garden designer. I just don't understand the aesthetics. I focus on the big things, like trees and hedges, and making sure the structure of the garden meets my needs. My garden would not win any fashion prizes.

I am realistic about how much change I can carry out at once. Garden make-overs are entertaining on television, but you can not change all of a large garden in one go.

Instead, I have a vision of how I want the garden to evolve. I carry out small pieces of work that bring me incrementally closer to my vision. I only do big projects, like levelling or creating new borders, when I really need to.

I have a simple rule when I work in the garden. At the end of every day, the garden must be neat and usable and all tools put away. This sometimes slows me down, but it lets me fit the gardening around other priorities without the garden looking like a building site.

Gardens are dynamic, continuously changing. Gardening involves fighting nature and entropy, continuously re-imposing my will. The garden demands continuous attention to remove the weeds, clear our dead and overgrown plants, and keep the soil workable. If I let it go for too long, I know it will be more work later.

Other people approach their gardens differently. Some are more design-lead. Some outsource their gardens to a maintenance service. Everybody has different objectives and priorities. Some people just do not care. But for me, for my objectives, my approach to gardening works. It lets me develop and maintain a large garden that meets my requirements with minimum effort, cost, disruption and stress.

The parallels with IT are obvious. Be clear about objectives. Focus architecture and design on meeting the main objectives simply, without getting carried away with the latest fashions. Set a clear direction, and run small projects to move towards it incrementally, while sustaining business as usual. Maintain systems continuously, and decommission systems completely when they come to the end of their useful life.

Other people have different ideas about IT. Some are more keen on trends in IT architecture. Some outsource everything. Some rely on huge transformation programmes. Some are less convinced of the value of preventative maintenance. Some appear not to care. But as I potter around my garden, I muse that they have got it wrong, and that there are easier, cheaper and more effective ways to run IT.

Next: Power*Architect

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