In business as in life, it’s natural to set goals. Many of us establish goals based on what we can accomplish in the short term, given the needed resources, assets and time. Others also embrace stretch goals, which help encourage us to be ambitious and focus on what’s most important.
On the personal side, maybe it’s losing 25 pounds instead of 15, finally writing that great novel or convincing yourself this is the year you’ll run a marathon. On the business side, goals might involve doubling sales, capturing more market share or reimagining your business and technology.
Software Engineering & Marathons – Getting Off On the Right Foot
I’ve learned a lot about goal setting through marathon training, which I started late in life. Business travel (pre-COVID) was getting in the way of my playing tennis, and I needed a new sport – one I could take with me anywhere in the world. Having been involved with software development for 30 years, I’m also very involved with application modernization. And I have to say I see a lot of similarities between that and my sport of choice.
The average person doesn’t start training for marathons right when they start running. Instead, they’ll try more modest races, perhaps a 5K. In similar fashion, businesses don’t immediately commit millions of dollars to upgrade their legacy technology. Instead, they approach application modernization one step at a time, perhaps moving five applications to the cloud while changing the user experience in two others. Then they’ll repeat this while looking to improve their process.
Long-term success with application modernization requires a complete overhaul of an organization’s software engineering domain, not just in terms of new tools and techniques, but also from a business culture, process and relationships standpoint, among other things.
Pushing Up That Hill
Here are five key lessons I’ve learned from marathon training that also apply to application modernization.
- Stay diligent and motivated. Because both pursuits have a high degree of difficulty, neither is for the faint of heart nor easily discouraged. With marathon training, the most challenging aspect is getting up nearly every day to run. It’s similar with application modernization: You need to follow your goals – every sprint, every milestone – with a steely resolve.
- Embrace your community. When marathon training, your sole focus is the race. Everything you eat, your sleep, your mood – all of this is connected to your training schedule. You can’t do it without the support of your family. Similarly, modernizing 3,000 legacy applications requires talents from across the company, such as cloud, Java, .NET, mobile, API, microservices, change management, process improvement and project management. Your entire organization needs to be prepared and ready to play a role.
- Learn as you go. As you get comfortable and gain confidence, you’ll learn how to pace yourself during longer runs, how to train when it snows, and how to slow down and heal when injured. On the application modernization front, you’ll experience both success and failure. An application designed to improve performance or look-and-feel may not deliver a huge impact, and that’s OK. You’ll learn something new every time you modernize an application. Be prepared to adjust your plans.
- Celebrate each accomplishment. Running a 10K or half marathon is a major accomplishment, and it’s important to take the time to celebrate with those who helped make it happen. The same holds true for any successful major integration. Releasing a modernized application calls for a team hug, at least virtually in today’s COVID era. Everyone wants to win, and acknowledging everyone’s contribution and hard work will be a motivating factor when presented with the next challenge.
- Aim high but avoid burnout. You’ve experienced some success and want to go further: 26.2 miles and full digital change. You’ll have to condition your mind and body for what’s next. In the case of application modernization, if you find outdated technology, is it better to ignore, modernize or rewrite? Quick business-driven actions are critical, and the same holds true for your marathon training: 26.2 miles will undoubtedly include some steep hills, and as you face the hill on mile 10, you need to decide if you will walk or sprint it, keeping in mind there are 16.2 miles more to go.
Coming Together To Move Forward
Long-distance running evolves into a lifestyle. I’ve raced in Vancouver, Oregon, Napa Valley, Berlin, Buenos Aires and Madrid, to name a few. Every race brings different rewards and contributes to my goal of healthy living as a world citizen.
It’s the same with application modernization. You need a huge collaborative effort that includes design, engineering and Agile methods before you reach your first milestone. Once that first success is realized, and you’ve celebrated with your team, you just keep going for more: another batch of applications, another set of business goals and more new technologies to tackle.
And what do we do when a crisis like COVID-19 hits? Naturally, things shift. All races have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, and we have to adapt. We don’t have group runs, we respect social distancing, but we are connected remotely and tracking our progress. We plan to run a real race in the near future and celebrate our mutual milestones. The power of the running community is amazing and inspiring.
The same holds true for application modernization. Business has been impacted, processes have shifted, and projects have been put on hold. But application modernization efforts don’t need to stop; they need to be re-imagined and made more flexible. Work can be accomplished remotely. Processes can ensure continuity and progress. New technologies and tools are empowering remote work like never before, and teams can deliver regardless of their location.
Goals and timelines may need to be reset, but now is not the time to stand still. After all, the diligent turtle wins the race.
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