Thursday, September 25, 2014

Lessons from Doorbell Replacement

How hard can it be to replace the button for a doorbell?

That was the task my wife gave me and it appeared within my abilities. Surely, I could be done within an hour.

My wife had already spent thirty dollars on a brushed metal doorbell that looked nice during the day with a back-lit button you could see at night.

On Saturday, I jumped into action and removed the old buzzer button, a simple twenty-year old plastic box. I pulled the doorbell away from the door frame and undid the twisted wires. Quite brittle, they broke easily. To get more length, I tried to pull the wires out farther, but they would not budge. If I was not careful, I would have to instead buy a wireless doorbell.

I examined the new doorbell as I took it out of the package. While the old one had just laid on top of the wood, this one had an inch-long metal piece that was supposed to fit inside a 5/8-inch wide hole. A search of my tool box came up empty for that particular drill bit. Plus, I didn't really believe the doorframe was deep enough.

"Look," I explained to my wife, "this isn't going to work" and presented various reasons to discard her plan.

With open disappointment, she agreed; I put the old button back in place. Ding dong, it still worked.

At the home improvement store, we bought a different thirty-dollar brushed-metal doorbell button; this one could lay flat against the door frame but did not have a light, a compromise.

On the next Saturday, I went back to work. How hard could this be?

I once again removed the old doorbell button. This new one had two pieces: a back that attached to the door frame with screws, and a front that snapped onto the back. The wires gave me grief, but I was finally able to attach the new doorbell button.

This one would not lay flat; some type of plastic protrusion on the back always got in the way. The last doorbell ringer needed a hole, so I considered that as a potential solution for this situation. I got out a power drill and started poking little holes in the door frame.

Ultimately, I was able to get the button to lay flat. When I tried to snap on the front, however, it would not close; something was preventing the snap from catching. I completely removed the doorbell, busted some more holes behind it, hooked it up again, took it off, and repeated several times.

By now I was frustrated. It wouldn't snap close, so I decided to try to keep it shut with some Gorilla Glue.

No luck. With brown glue spots all over the door frame and a ruined doorbell, I had failed. Trying to remove the Gorilla Glue mess, I scrubbed off patches of door frame paint. I tossed the thirty-dollar buzzer in the trash and once again returned the old plastic one to its proper place. Ding dong, it still worked.

Okay, I needed to stop and think about this. What approach was best? I still had the original back-lit doorbell buzzer that my wife wanted. I needed the right tools to do the job.

I made another trip to the home improvement store and bought a 5/8-inch hole drill bit with diamond grit (coincidentally, another thirty dollars). While there, I picked up white paint to cover the Gorilla Glue fiasco.

On the third Saturday, I removed the old doorbell buzzer, drilled the hole, and put in the new buzzer; it just barely fit. With some silicon chalking around the button and some white paint to cover mistakes, all was good. Ding dong!

After replacing this legacy piece of hardware, here are some of my personal insights:

  • I started without assessing the situation 
  • I never had a proper plan  
  • Having never done this before, I did not have the proper know-how, expertise, or skills
  • I did not have the proper tools to do the job 
  • It took longer than expected (especially without plan, skills, or tools)
  • It cost more than expected 
  • I could have saved by hiring a professional

My personal experience with a doorbell buzzer is similar to companies replacing their legacy business systems. How hard could it be, for example, to get rid of old reporting applications and convert all of the existing procedures to newer technology?

Upper management already bought the new BI product, so you just assign the conversion effort to the college intern. How hard could it be? Surely, she can knock it out quickly.

Ding dong: no up-front assessment, no planning, no accurate expectations as to time and cost, no specialized skills or tools, minimal progress every Saturday.

You may consider a legacy system modernization initiative as a one-off project your team can just fumble through and then forget about. That can be the painful approach and you may have to cover up mistakes afterwards. Before you do that, consider there are professionals who have done modernizations before and who have developed methodologies and automated software to reduce the time, cost, and risk.

Don't be a ding dong. 

About Me

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I am a project-based software consultant, specializing in automating transitions from legacy reporting applications into modern BI/Analytics to leverage Social, Cloud, Mobile, Big Data, Visualizations, and Predictive Analytics using Information Builders' WebFOCUS. Based on scores of successful engagements, I have assembled proven Best Practice methodologies, software tools, and templates.

I have been blessed to work with innovators from firms such as: Ford, FedEx, Procter & Gamble, Nationwide, The Wendy's Company, The Kroger Co., JPMorgan Chase, MasterCard, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Siemens, American Express, and others.

I was educated at Valparaiso University and the University of Cincinnati, where I graduated summa cum laude. In 1990, I joined Information Builders and for over a dozen years served in regional pre- and post-sales technical leadership roles. Also, for several years I led the US technical services teams within Cincom Systems' ERP software product group and the Midwest custom software services arm of Xerox.

Since 2007, I have provided enterprise BI services such as: strategic advice; architecture, design, and software application development of intelligence systems (interactive dashboards and mobile); data warehousing; and automated modernization of legacy reporting. My experience with BI products include WebFOCUS (vendor certified expert), R, SAP Business Objects (WebI, Crystal Reports), Tableau, and others.