A few months ago, in one of the traditional Friday talks at intive-FDV, we discussed Why is Ecology Important? The presentation was delivered by ecohouse, an NGO that promotes sustainable development through education, volunteer work and environmental certification. This organization invited employees to an urban garden workshop, in which we learned how to keep a garden in the city, a practice that the over 3 million inhabitants of the city of Buenos Aires should take on more often.
How Does Infrastructure Relate to an Urban Garden?
The answer to this question is quite simple. There are symbolic characteristics that are common to infrastructure and urban gardens, like the following:
- Short- and long-term planning is essential. In both cases, there are resources available to leverage.
- It’s necessary to define aims that are real, achievable and measurable.
- Planning how to increase and reduce capacity in time is important for the success of the operation.
- Everything can fall apart if the points we have just mentioned aren’t taken into consideration.
Urban Garden: Stages
a) First Steps
Usually, when starting a project that’s completely new, it´s necessary to carry out concept tests. Concept tests not only help understand if a project is viable, but they also provide actionable information for the team to use in future projects. It’s vital to define the scope of the concept test, so that it doesn’t extend beyond what we really need to know and understand.
In this case, the first concept test was to purchase five plants (spoiler alert: only two of them survived… sometimes concept tests fail!). Then, we defined the aim and the tasks (another spoiler: the aim was to be able to prepare a mojito with mint from the garden).
These were the goals:
- To understand the risks associated with growing and taking care of a plant. We could draw a parallel between this and understanding a new cloud service (in terms of costs, configuration and possibilities).
- To understand the responsibility of taking care of a plant.
- Given that plants need daily care —mainly sun exposure and water—, this was an issue during weekends or holidays, since nobody was present at the office. The same happens with idle infrastructure and the costs it creates when unused. In either case, lack of care or a period of inactivity generate maintenance costs.
- Each plant requires different kinds of care. Likewise, each service has different metrics and indicators that help us understand if a given resource is being used appropriately.
c) Solution to the Most Complex Problem
As we said, the biggest problem was to keep an eye on the plants during weekends and holidays, so we decided to adopt an automatic irrigation system, which suited the project’s needs. We thought it was best to recycle resources (plastic bottles and old clothes) in order to reduce unnecessary costs.
d) Growth and Planning
Once we are able to understand and solve every problem, the next stage is to grow. But before that, we have to understand that the more the resources, the more complex the management. That’s why it’s critical to organize, so we tagged every plant and put them in wooden boxes.
After the concept test is over and we have a clear idea of the tasks, we face less uncertainty. But there will be other problems to understand and manage —since you don’t avoid risks, you manage them. The aim of this stage is to analyze and measure whether we’re in the right track.
f) Is it really necessary to grow?
Before going any further, we must question ourselves where and why do we want to grow. If we add more resources, we have to be clear about our aim. It’s important to remember that there are economic and time costs associated to every additional resource, which could be allocated to other projects or areas. Sometimes, it isn’t necessary to grow in the short or medium term.
At this point, we have decided to add more resources, we have planned our growth and defined requirements. Every additional resource becomes a task and, as such, has to be planned. If you purchase a new plant, you have to bear in mind that you must water it and avoid infestations. For every new service, you have to adopt some type of control or monitoring measure.
h) Can we keep growing?
Yes, and no… At some point, the space available isn’t enough and we have to expand our infrastructure in another direction. In any case, it’s important to know the limits of the cloud (every cloud is limited; there’s always some type of limit to the amount of resources we can add).
- We don’t always have answers, but we will definitely have questions. Understanding uncertainty helps us manage things.
- It’s vital to define clear and measurable aims (ideally, in the form of mojitos).
- Manage your resources and plan how to monitor their status, use and economic cost. Monitoring includes checking daily use and making future projections.
- Planning is an art, and too much planning can prevent us from ever starting a project. It’s advisable to start slowly but steadily, with a clear aim. Agile methodology is useful for this kind of projects, when we have a good idea but lack a clear scope.
- Finally: learn from others, experience is always essential.