When I was a teenager my family took a vacation in Pitlochry, Scotland – which was beautiful and amazing… except for the day we went mountain biking.
The uphill part was okay. I mean, it was exhausting as you might expect, but otherwise passed uneventfully. No, it turns out the downhill is the tough part – at least for a novice like me.
I was riding at the back of the group, and we came to the first big downhill. Everyone else joyfully whooshed down the gravelly descent and I started after them… only to discover that the hill was steeper than I’d realized, and the path was strewn with rocks and roots. My skills were decidedly not up to the task. Lacking any other tools to cope with the situation I grabbed the brakes, skidded, hit some uneven ground and fell. Hard.
“And when I woke up…” Nah, I’m just kidding. It wasn’t that bad.
When I stood up I discovered my back and my legs were all scratched up from the gravel, I was dripping blood onto the ground, and my family had disappeared from view down the trail. I was in pain and scared, and swore I’d never go mountain biking again.
Fast forward a few decades to 2022 and I found myself in a tough situation. My wife and kids loved cycling, but I was holding onto my promise. I was the only member of the family not to own a bike. My wife had been trying to persuade me to take up cycling ever since we got married, but I’d been politely resisting. I will admit that I tried riding her bike a couple of times, and it was kind of fun, but no, I didn’t want one of my own.
So for my last birthday, my wife announced that she has a surprise gift for me. No prizes for guessing – she got me a bike. Worse still, I kinda like riding it.
But don’t worry – I hadn’t totally caved. We live on an island, and it is totally flat, and the bike rack contraption on our car only supports a couple of bikes – so I was still safe from biking in the mountains.
Except obviously I wasn’t. It became clear that my wife was dreaming of a day when the whole family could go mountain biking together. The only thing standing in the way of her dream was that we needed a new bike rack for the car – one that would support four bikes. And so, after 15 years of resistance, I caved. I decided to buy a bike rack for her Christmas present.
As with so many projects – at home or at work – the goal was easy to state: “I will buy a bike rack for our car that supports our 4 bikes so we can go mountain biking as a family.” But actually executing on the project quickly became overwhelming.
- Technology: What kind of bike rack was best? Should we put the bikes on the roof of the car? Could we hang a rack off the trunk like our existing rack? Should we use a hitch bike rack? Eventually I decided that a hitch bike rack was best – to safely support the weight of four bikes, while also fitting in the garage. (Roof-mounted bikes and a garage would inevitably end in disaster!)
- Dependencies: The only problem: our car doesn’t have a hitch. Is it possible to install one? If so, how do I find a hitch that is guaranteed to work on our model of car? Is this even worthwhile? Our car is 10 years old. Maybe we should get a new car instead?
TIME-OUT! Did I really just say that? That’s ridiculous. No. We are not getting a new car. We’ll find a hitch that works with our car.
- Vendors: So now I have to evaluate hitch vendors AND bike rack vendors and make good choices for both items AND make sure that they interoperate well together (and with our existing car).
- Skills: Even once I’ve found the right hitch, I don’t think I’m capable of attaching it to the car. I’ve watched some Youtube videos and read some instructions, but there’s no way I’m capable of doing this safely. ARGH! This is all so difficult. I just want to give up.
- Budget: My original budget was for the price of a rack, but now I need to budget for a hitch as well AND to pay an expert to install it. This is going to be an expensive Christmas!
Projects are stressful
It’s astonishing how something relatively simple can quickly become a huge source of stress. At work we’re regularly involved in major network projects – whether that’s rolling out a new product (Hosted PBX or STIR/SHAKEN) or upgrading equipment (moving to new hardware, adding scale, or going virtual) – and every project is hard. But for some reason, most of the projects at work seemed easier than the bike rack.
Why is that? I think it comes down to two reasons.
- Experience: as a team, we’ve done a lot of telecoms projects. We’re familiar with the technology, we’re familiar with the phases of the project, we know the kinds of things that can go wrong – there are fewer unknown unknowns, as Donald Rumsfeld would say.
- Planning: for a big project, we will put together a project plan – and break the project down into manageable steps. So rather than feeling overwhelmed about the scale of the task and all the things that could go wrong, we can make a good plan, and then focus on the steps. One at a time.
Desmund Tutu once said, “There is only one way to eat an elephant, a bite at a time.” I have no particular desire to eat an elephant, but the advice is sound. Break up the project into small tasks, and then focus on each small task – one step at a time – until you’re finished.
In the end I took my own advice with the bike rack. For Christmas, I bought my wife a hitch. In January, I arranged for a mechanic to install it on the car. In February, I bought a bike rack that attached to our new hitch, and two weeks ago we went mountain biking as a family for the first time.
It was a lot of fun, and I didn’t fall off once. (My daughter did, but luckily she’s tougher than me, and got right back on that bike.)
If you’ve got a big project on your hands, remember to break it down into bite-sized steps – and maybe ask someone experienced for some help.