When my Dad decided it was garage cleaning day, there was no hiding. He woke us up at dawn with a whistle, lights on, and shades open.  Before we could hide under the covers, a bagel was tossed at our heads. It wasn’t a frozen bagel, but a hot one fresh from the bakery, because Dad had been up for hours, planning spring garage cleaning.

I dreaded garage cleaning day. How could a two-car garage get so cluttered with stuff and dirt?  “We’ve put this off for a few years and now the car barely fits”, Dad would say. The car not fitting in the garage was his leading indicator that the time had come for a garage overhaul.  The car was a large family investment and Dad was not about to have sit out in the rain.  So, with bagels in hand, my two brothers and I headed for a planning meeting in the kitchen.

Dad was so organized with his cleaning plan that each one of us was given an assignment based on our skills, height and allergies. Mitch was the gadget guy, he would test all the tools, and map parts and spares to working items. Jeff was strong so he got to move all the big stuff. And me, being tiny, I was dispatched to clean corners and crawl inside cabinets.  Mom was all about lunch, refreshments, and bandaging skinned knees and ice for bumped heads.

Jobs assigned, we moved to step two. Everything was removed and lined up on the driveway. For me this was the step I dreaded most. Why? Because just when I thought it was safe to turn around, one of my brothers would fling a dead mouse at me – yes, a dead mouse. Over the crying, Dad would yell “stop picking on your sister and get back to work.”

Step three was inventory. This step took lots of thought as Dad would consider: 

  • Was he ever going to fix that broken radio?
  • Did he really need to hold onto the stereo that he built in high school?
  • Was he ever going to use the odd hardware and copper wire he had collected?
  • How may cable ties did he really need?
  • And, the biggest decision of them all…what to do about the old lawn mower.

To its credit, the mower had been providing reliable service for over 15 years but it was showing wear. Times had changed, my brothers had other activities on the weekends and would soon be going to college. Dad didn’t like the space the mower commanded in the garage or the cost of running and upkeep.  New mowers were smaller, safer, and used less gas. And, the box of mower parts, purchased for pennies at yard sales, was getting smaller every year. So we’d spend lunch discussing the pros and cons of repairing old mower, getting a new one, buying a shed for the old one or investing in a lawn services. Once the lawn mower decision was made, Dad would determine how to organize our garage space and we’d spend the rest of the day putting back our priceless items in as organized a fashion as possible.

Overlaying a legacy TDM network with a new packet networking solution is like keeping the mower in the garage when you have a lawn service. Sure, it’s good to have a backup, but if you keep the mower you don’t gain the space you need to store the car, which is the primary function of a garage.

Messy garages, messy networks

So, you are probably thinking, nice story but what does it have to do with network transformation? Well, a legacy network is a bit like our garage.  It’s was built to house cars, but as the years passed, evolved to provide additional services like storage, workshop, craft space and darkroom. Legacy TDM networks were built to provide phone service but as time passed were asked to provide data and video services. At some point efficiencies are lost, equipment becomes discontinued, and critical skills are scarce or simply unavailable. And, just like Dad was hooked on that old mower, some network operators just can’t part with their legacy networks.

Legacy networks and the old mower were top of the line when new. But now, network managers search for spare parts on eBay, like when Dad used to get lawn mower parts at yard sales. And, just like my brothers going off to college was the loss of skill and experience that drove the final blow to the old lawn mower, legacy network experts are increasingly hard to find.

It's time to make a decision, because overlaying a legacy TDM network with a new packet networking solution is like keeping the mower in the garage when you have a lawn service. Sure, it’s good to have a backup, but if you keep the mower you don’t gain the space you need to store the car, which is the primary function of a garage.

Getting started may seem overwhelming, but when you break it down into manageable steps, a network transformation can be achieved. Here are 10 steps from my days helping Dad clean that garage that can be readily applied to network modernization:

Step 1: Shared vision.  Determine what success looks like before you start the project. Know what you want to achieve at the start, and you can balance every project decision against the goal. Get all stakeholders involved to ensure that all have the same view. The goal of garage cleaning was to get the car back where it belonged, with plenty room to get in and out of the doors.

Step 2: Build and motivate a team.  Getting people with the mix of skill sets needed to get the job done and motivate them with incentives that have meaning is step two. Food always did the trick to motivate our family.  Plus we knew that a clean garage equaled a happy Dad.

Step 3: Call in the experts to fill skill voids and gain knowledge. Dad was an electrician, not a cabinet builder. Recognizing that experience is needed is not a sign of weakness, its smart. By taking advantage of the skills of professionals, Dad could focus on organizing his tools. Consultants and professional experts can be pulled in at anytime during a project. At each project checkpoint, revisit the need for expert assistance, either with the current or next task.

Step 4: Take inventory. If equipment is not serving customers, it’s like an old bike that no one rides. You don’t need it. Take stock. If it’s gathering dust and not providing a service it is a waste of power, space and money.

Step 5: Determining the big decisions can be a challenge. Making them is even harder. For Dad, it was a mower. For a network manager it could be migrating customers off legacy service or making a move to virtualization. Whatever the decision, make it first for it will impact all of the smaller decisions. 

Step 6: Stay or Go. “If it’s not broke don’t throw it out” may not be the right approach or you. Use your vision as a guideline to determining what to keep, fix, sell, recycle, scrap. Open all those boxes stacked neatly in the corner, you don’t want to hold onto spares for the equipment you just tossed.  Dad kept hiding the old broken radio in a neatly packed box, hoping that no one would open it. I did, and it went in the trash.

Step 7: Build the plan. With the big decisions complete and inventory taken, you can design how you are going to reach your vision and goals. This may be a good time to think about calling in expert assistance and bringing in stakeholders from across the organization to ensure that the plan you build is executable and will achieve your goals.

Step 8: Plan for the unexpected.  You never know when you will get hit with a dead mouse. So, make sure you build the unexpected into your timeline so you don’t waste time crying over what you knew would eventually happen.

Step 9: Checkpoints.  Dad had us take hourly water breaks and we discussed our progress, improved our process (like using the skateboard to haul garbage bags to the end of the driveway) and made sure we were on track. Regular checkpoints, where all stakeholders can review milestones, ensure all tasks have been completed and project goals are being completed.

Step 10: Celebrate success. Our post garage cleaning celebration was pizza, not delivered but at a restaurant. Whatever it takes to make the team feel that the job was appreciated and a success.

Dad taught us good transformation project management by just doing it. He could have put off the big decision of the mower until he lost his skilled labor or ran out of spare parts, but he got ahead of the potential problem by assessing the situation each Spring. Don’t wait till your situation gets to a critical point. Spring clean your network and just like Dad, you will enjoy space for the car and always be able to find the right size cable tie, and perhaps the occasional dead mouse.