Are You Planting Asparagus?

Working in the garden another thought/illustration hit me. A question actually -

Are You Planting Asparagus?

We love to eat the stuff. Why not research planting it and plant it with this year’s vegetable garden. We learned a few things doing that research:

  1. It’s Perennial & can produce for decades.
  2. It is picky about its conditions (drainage, high PH soil, lots of sunlight)
  3. We have to wait three years to really enjoy it. Two to even try a little bit.

Our existing soil isn’t great so we made a large and tall raised bed for it. We brought a lot of loam, compost and lime (to raise the PH) in. We bought lumber.  My wife carefully planted the first 25 roots/plants and we took care. It was a lot of work up front.

Contrast that with two other kinds of plants – Green Beans – throw some seed in the ground someplace. Water when you think of it and in about 10 weeks, you’ll have plenty of beans for salad/cooking (that is if you or the kids don’t eat them all before bringing them inside). Very little effort to plant and harves

Someday...

We'll get that, we just have to wait a few years

t. When the beans are picked, the plant is dead to me. Weeds – No effort required to get them established – they grow in places we can’t grow anything (except for strawberries, a tasty weed essentially). Lots of efforts to remove ‘em, though.

Ok. But Why the Post?

What are we planting at work? What are we planting with decisions that we are a part of? Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we need to be planting Green Beans – sometimes we need to get something up and quick. Green beans still taste great and serve a purpose and you can even spend more effort and get better beans… but I digress. I’m not saying every decision or interaction needs to be “perfect”. I’ve heard it argued that the perfect is the enemy of the good and, in one sense, I can agree with that statement. As long as the good really is “good”. But I think we (and I certainly include me in this we) should be planting asparagus more often.

What are some ways we can plant asparagus at work?

Remember… Asparagus takes more work today. The payout is in the future, sometimes a few years in the future -

Good Design & Project Management – Don’t skimp on the design time in your project plans. Don’t get stuck on, “delivery is only delivery if I get something I can hold“. Spending time in design and project management isn’t bad (well not always). Spending more time designing something than building is usually okay. Building is sometimes easy. Proper planning and design isn’t always easy or quick. If you are a customer who doesn’t want to see the sausage being made, you won’t get something to hold at the end of a design phase but when your project is done what you are delivered will be that much better because it was well planned.

Relationships – I was just chatting about one aspect of this with a friend the other day. Have you ever been on that project where you are the domain expert and you are ignored? Your experience, wisdom & well thought out judgment are tossed aside? I’m sure you have. It is so tempting to shutdown here, to say to yourself, “They aren’t listening to me. I know what’s going to happen, why won’t they listen! Well forget it. I’ll just do exactly what they ask of me and nothing more…” You can do that. I have before. You can do that and delivery will happen, you’ll move onto another project. But you haven’t planted asparagus – not in a way that will last long enough to even enjoy one season of harvest. Weeds will eventually take over that bed, harvests will die off. It’s like buying weed seeds and sprinkling them in the bed.

What about that stereotyped Developer/DBA relationship? Do you fall victim to it? Is it pride? Are your motives to shut someone else down, prove something yourself and be the big person on campus? Weed Seeds, it’s all weed seeds.

Setting up the proper relationships with our colleagues takes time and effort. On some projects it takes daily effort (or more!) It takes a lot of introspection and self-change. When we move from “what should they change” to “what should I change” we start heading down a better path. That is a tough row to hoe. It means we have to be self-critical, self-adjusting and we have to lay aside our desire to be right and our pride. Maybe this is too much confession, but I have a hard time with those adjustments. I have a hard time saying “alright, my advice wasn’t taken, what did I do wrong or how important is that and why do I care, what can I do differently?” instead of … Well you get the point. If we want to plant asparagus here we have to make a bed of humility. We have to fill that bed with looking out for the whole team and the project and go out of our way to do our best. (I’m not saying be a door mat. If there is something stupid, bad or dangerous happening and we are ignored in trying to make it better, maybe it’s time to move on or make official objections known.)

Building For The Future – When that next server request comes in or that SAN purchase discussion comes up, look a few years down the line. Taking the green bean approach might make you look like a money saving hero up front but once that last green bean is gone, the plant is useless. I know hardware changes quickly. I know the cloud is allegedly the “it” place in the future. I know that prices always come down. Even Still – make decisions today that you will be happy with in 2-3+ years. Migrations can be a pain, budgets can change for the worse. Plan for the future and add an overage and build that.

I am not talking about hardware and software purchases only here. I’m talking all of the decisions. For example, don’t allocate the storage you’ll need on day one for your new production ERP database. Plan for growth, even if you are taking an educated guess. The payout, like asparagus, will come in the future. If you are still there, you’ll be really glad you took the time now. If you aren’t, you can be happy knowing that your replacement is having an easier time because you took the time to do it right.

You Get The Point -

I could keep going (Shocked?) but I won’t. If you want it to, this can even apply outside of work, you know. Take the time and plan for future harvests. Looking at the blossoms on our apple trees, I’m anticipating finally enjoying the literal fruits of my labors in planting those trees 1.5 years ago. Now, if I can only remember to use this lesson when it comes to saving vs. spending (for money or calories…)

Until Next Time


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  1. Phil Factor May 23, 2011 at 09:54 #

    I don’t think it has any symbolic significance for the workplace, but it is quite a good thing around here to plant the asparagus under 1 in. wire netting because the deer like to grub up the roots in winter and eat them. It is a bit sad if you’ve waited several years for them to get to fruiting size. I can’t watch the film ‘Bambi’ any more without my trigger-finger itching.

    • Mike Walsh May 23, 2011 at 09:57 #

      We have our entire garden fenced in and then we wire in some of the crops that need to survive a bit or take a while to produce (like our Garlic and fruit). Good call on doing that for the asparagus. I’ll be adding that to my list of things to do, thanks for the tip.

      The workplace symbolism? Pretend the asparagus is the database. The deer are the developers. Work for you?

  2. Stuart Cowen May 23, 2011 at 12:49 #

    Flipping AWESOME post! Have you read QBQ (Question Behind the Question)? Personal accountability is what you are talking about here (in most part). I’ve worked in DBA environments where it’s been very much “us against them” and most of our activities (as directed by the manager) was to prove them wrong and us right. Weed Seeds.

    My wife and I often say “are we willing to give up the good to go for the best?”

    Great post :)

    • Mike Walsh May 23, 2011 at 12:52 #

      haha, thanks Stuart.

      That was actually an awesome comment. I really like that statement you and your wife have. 13 words that can change many aspects of our lives. I may borrow that mantra. We are trying to be better about saving, better about prioritizing where we put our time and money, etc. That statement applies to both situations. It applies to raising our kids, how we spend our weekends, what we decide to focus on, etc. I like it.

      I haven’t read QBQ, maybe I’ll have to check it out. Thanks again for the great comments you’ve been leaving.

  3. WIDBA May 25, 2011 at 09:39 #

    Just catching up on my reading and I saw this post, excellent point. Of course we have been eating asparagus for a few weeks now, and I remember the prep work in past years to get to this point. I wish databases provided some reminder that early effort would translate into something good later, but for all purposes, the asparagus goes to seed, everyone forgets about what it took to make the database or server run so well.

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