Frame of Reference

Got a second?  Awesome.  Go grab a watch.  I promise this won’t take long.

Back already?  Even better.  That probably took a few seconds to find, right?  Now, look at the watch and count off thirty seconds.  Just wait and watch.  I’ll be here when you’re done.

Thirty seconds doesn’t seem like a lot of time.  It feels longer when you’re watching each second pass looking at a watch or a clock.  For some things though, thirty seconds is an eternity.  In the IT world, thirty seconds might as well be a year to some protocols and processes.  Think about some things that can happen in thirty seconds:

6 EIGRP hello packets (by default)

300 OSPF hellos when configured for sub-second failover (ip ospf dead-interval minimal hello-multiplier 5)

VMware notices a host has failed and HA starts moving it to a different hypervisor (12 seconds from last hello to start isolation, 15 seconds from start of isolation to begin moving hosts)

3.75 gigbytes of data transferred over a 1 Gbps link

All that in such a short amount of time.  Yet, for most of us thirty seconds isn’t worth bothering to notice.  We think on time scales of a minute or an hour or even a day.  I recently had to quote the amount of time that it would take for me to install a new system.  When I told them it would take me 40 hours, the response was incredulous.  How on earth could it take that many hours to install this widget?!?  When I told them I thought a week was plenty of time to take care of this thing, the person responded with “Oh.  Why didn’t you say that it would only take you a week the first time?”  I shook my head in disbelief.

When we start talking about a project, we all need to make sure our frame of reference matches.  I deal with lots of projects as an education VAR that need to be done in a specific time frame.  I have a lot more flexibility than others in my maintenance windows.  Spring breaks and summer vacations are prime times to rip out pieces of the network and replace all manner of things.  However, despite my best efforts to wrap everything up by the end of my window, I’m always warned that extra projects need to be completed “before school starts.”  My frame of reference for my extended maintenance window was several weeks.  Now, my project is being extended and compressed into the span of a few days, since this extra work always seems to come around the first of August.  If this had been discovered and planned for ahead of time, it could have been completed with a minimum of fuss.  My frame of reference of a few weeks was totally different that the customer’s frame of reference of a few days before school starts.

It’s a fact of life that people run on totally different frames of reference.  Some think about the day in minute-long increments.  They always seem busy and sometimes on edge.  Every part of the day is filled with something.  Others have a longer-term approach.  Their schedule is measured in days or even weeks.  They can seem lackadaisical or even relaxed.  Their outlook is that things will be done in due time.  When these two types of people meet on a project, the results can be disastrous.  The hares will spend a lot of time spinning their wheels, waiting for the rest to finish and gradually become bored and antsy. The tortoises will become overwhelmed shortly, feeling rushed without taking the time to digest what’s going on.  The key to getting buy in from everyone is to make sure that the frames of reference and time schedules are agreed upon before commencement of the project.  Making sure everyone is on the same page helps alleviate issues after everything gets started.

Tom’s Take

I know that syncing a frame of reference can be hard.  I’m one of the “hares” above.  I’m a hard charger and a quick mover.  When I work with others that don’t share the same attitude, I tend to find myself growing disillusioned.  I’ve found over the years that the key to preventing this is to make sure that I lay everything out ahead of time with the people that I’ll be working with.  I want to make sure we’re all synced up before we get started.  By getting on the same page before opening the book, there’s no need to worry about confused expectations.  Besides, all it takes is thirty seconds of explanation to save hours of pain down the road.

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