University of Wisconsin–Madison
CIO Blog

In both recreation and innovation, pace & planning matter

hiking trail view
The view of the Yellowstone River from Artist Point in Yellowstone National Park; photo by Lois Brooks

When I think about the important work ahead of us this year in the Division of Information Technology, my thoughts perhaps surprisingly turn to sports.

One of the fun aspects of working with you all is learning about your fitness and sports interests. We’ve got cyclists, golfers, swimmers, hockey players, runners, gym enthusiasts, and more–some playing on teams, some competitive, some casual, and all just having fun.

One of my pleasures is hiking. Usually I’ll do a one-day outing, but from time to time my spouse and I do an endurance hike over a week or longer, enjoying both the challenge and the achievement.

Whether your fitness hobby is a test of endurance or a great Saturday afternoon, there are parallels with the work we do every day.

Establishing an appropriate pace is the key to success both in sports and at work. On endurance hikes, starting at a steady pace is key–making progress while saving strength for the full effort. Pushing too hard at the beginning can lead to early fatigue, while taking it too slowly and meandering on interesting side routes means having to push a lot harder at the end to make it to the next stopover. We’ve learned to build in rest days on the long hikes, taking time to stretch out, dry our boots, and get ready for the next phase of the adventure.

The effort to bring Research Drive online started with a hard sprint. The team quickly and skillfully deployed a massive four tons of equipment, bringing this service into production in just a few short months. It was intense. We are in production now and are working at a more measured pace as we shift our effort to community engagement to help researchers adopt this technology into their workflow.

We will take time to solidify the service, building it out, adding Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) controls, and making improvements as it’s being actively used. Simultaneously, pacing means that we’re thinking and talking about what comes next in a purposeful but measured way. Cloud prototypes are underway, and the team is engaging with peers on campus and across the nation to plan for what comes next.

Similarly, unwinding the DoIT internal chargeback economy to create a new allocation model was a hard trek that had an unmovable deadline: the new fiscal year. That milestone was achieved and the team is now taking a full year to finalize details.

So how do we know what the right pace should be for a project? Planning is key. Planning for long hikes includes studying the terrain and getting experienced advice so we know what to expect and how long each segment should take. We’ve hiked a lot, so can add our knowledge of our own skills and experience to what we’ve learned to create a realistic plan.

Whether you’re running a marathon or doing a quick loop around Lake Wingra, knowing what is ahead matters.

For the identity and interoperability project–an endurance event to be sure–the planning was done through a series of high-quality design sprints, research, and market analysis. The network rearchitecture planning has just started, and will include these elements as well as site visits to other universities. The final set of phases, timelines and milestones for each of these projects will be set once the planning is done. Each will undoubtedly span several years, including both some treks and some rest breaks. 

The upshot is that experience and planning leads to realistic pacing. Within DoIT, many of our projects are being segmented into separate phases:

  • The team working on metrics is honing a series of baseline measures and talking about adding more content over time
  • The Administrative Transformation Project team is starting on product/vendor evaluation which will take months, and has carved out a 6+ month planning period before the project formally starts
  • Learning analytics development with the faculty is well underway, and the technology deployment will be a separate project

Pacing also is a factor when one team has multiple projects. For example, the team that just completed the Select Agent Infrastructure refresh will be turning toward the Campus Computing Infrastructure private cloud refresh next. The private cloud project itself will need to be phased into analysis and design, campus feedback, vendor selection, disaster recovery, and other phases that will undoubtedly be defined as requirements are solidified.

Now, if I may, back to my hiking adventures.

When we moved to Madison in 2018, we took a few weeks for the journey, hiking a total of 118 miles on the trip in the rugged Wallowa and Teton ranges, in Yellowstone, Shoshone, Devil’s Tower, the Black Hills and the Badlands. The beauty of this country astounds me and endurance of those who have traveled on foot and wagon–and, more recently, by bicycle–inspires me.

My single favorite hike was the Wapiti Trail in Yellowstone, which started in the rolling grasslands with bison in the distance, through streambeds and forests, and ended in the Red Rock canyons. What an incredibly beautiful journey, well worth the effort.

In 2020 and beyond, I’m confident that we’ll reap similar rewards for the university community as we accomplish these complex IT initiatives and execute on well-paced, thoughtfully-designed, people-focused plans. 

May the year ahead bring you adventure and fun, and I look forward to going the distance together.