The Million Dollar Lawn Mowing

Surprised? Well, what if Lawn Mowing did cost you a million dollar or more, what would you do? We have water restrictions in place and a lot many lawns that were once green are turning a bit brown. Now in such situations, if your lawn care was to cost you a fortune, what would you do? I would simply pour concrete and overlay that with AstroTurf. Life long green front yard and low water and maintenance costs.

Lawn Care??

This is hardly an article about lawn care, this is about software development and the analogy used is Lawn Care. Most organizations start with wanting to simply have a green lush well manicured lawn or rather a simple software developed that would enhance their business or be the widget that they will sell as part of their business.

Lawn Care Discussions

Here's a conversation that I had with the person that manages my lawn
Me: Since there are water restrictions, I do not need the lawn to be mowed regularly. However I need you to mow the lawn, weed every alternative time and spray poison on the sides every quarter.
LC: That's fine, but I will need to purchase the Herbicide that would not interfere with your lawn. The one that I have would not be fine with the other plants that you have in your yard.
Me: OK add that to the quote.
LC: Yes that is fine however I feel that the frequency of a month might be slightly longer given that there are rains and the grass grows faster.
Me: Yes those two - three months we can consider a shorter period, so we would need about 12-15 visits, right?
LC: Yes

In my mind each visit would cost me approximately $60, so the cost of managing the lawn to me should be approximately $720-$900 annually plus an additional $100 for the poison. All good, I would see the person bring in his ride on lawn mower, run through the yard and done within the hour.

Software Development Discussions

Client: Times are tough, I do need an application for my business. However I need the very basic application to start with, requiring feature A, and B and C and in the next couple of months.
Me: Ok, I understand however feature B is not easily managed and would require licensing of component A which will be an additional cost of $X.
Client: Ok, go ahead with that
Me: What are the platforms that you want this app to be available on, and do you have a back end server for online data?
Client: Yes, I have that and our developer will provide you with those details on how to get the data from there.
Me: Ok, so we can start soon.

In the clients mind, that would cost them a total of the estimate provided and will include an additional cost of purchasing the component A. In Y months the app will be ready for the platforms agreed on.

Spotting Disaster

In both the conversations you can note that it is the tasks at hand that are discussed and some assumptions and requirements outlined at the start. Here's what it looks when you can spot disaster.

Me: I am out of town and hence I am looking at someone to mow my lawn regularly.
LC: That's fine, could you send me the blue prints of your house
Me: Why do you need that? When you come let us know, we'll take the dogs indoor and you can come in from the side gate, you can mow the lawn and leave.
LC: Yes but I need to first understand the structure and layout of your house. Without which I would not be able to determine the optimum height of the grass to be cut.
Me: I used to mow the lawn earlier and did not need to know the layout of the house
LC: You already know the layout so it is easy for you. If you do not have the layout, I can get an architect to come in and create the layout for me to work with.
Me: That's ridiculous, the last guy I called came in, mowed the lawn and did a fine job, he is unavailable (and a bit more expensive) hence I am looking at alternatives
LC: Well, we are professionals and this is how we work. We cannot commence until you provide us with the layout of the house
Me: OK, I will provide you with those (reluctantly)
LC: Ah, that's nice I will also need the keys to your house to be able to be oriented with the layout and the current furniture
Me: WHAT?? You are kidding me.
LC: No, I need to know what kind of furniture you have in that layout.
Me: How does that help you? While you are at it, do you also need my bank account details so you can pay yourself?

Disgusted, I would pour concrete, kill the lawn, lay AstroTurf and that's the end of that story.

Disaster translated to Software Development

Outsourcing Team (OT)
Me: I am short on time and need some assistance in creating some portions of the code
OT: That's nice, we are a professional company and would help you achieve that
Me: So here are the sections that we need work on
OT: Can you provide us with the entire designs in five resolutions, 3 for Android and 2 for iOS
Me: You can see that the app is simple List views with some customization
OT: No, we cannot work like this, we need the designs, if you do not have the same, we can get our designer to make that on your behalf. We need this to slice and use them
Me: Are you going to create native code or are you going to simply use graphic views for everything (like prototypes)
OT: Can you also send us the current source?
Me: WHAT?? Why do you need that, I need you to simply write some stuff for me, I will integrate that myself. I will provide you with the input and output points.
OT: Sorry, we need that to understand ...
Me: Ok, I will see what I can do for that
OT: AND, can you also provide the source for the back end and also a set of your production data to understand how things work
Me: You are kidding me!! Right??


Some of you might agree with the fact that the outsourcing teams need to have access to everything. In my opinion NOT SO, whatever analogy you use, not everyone is the Architect, not everyone needs to know whats happening. They need to know only portions of what they need to achieve. The biggest risk that you run by sharing everything with the outsourcing team is that all of your IP is transferred to them. If they use your code/IP/technology for their own purposes there is practically nothing that you can do about that.

If I were to hand over the keys and the layout of my house to someone then I am liable if I do get broken in, I might as well stick the front door keys on the front door for everyone to use. Similarly, if you provide the entire source code to everyone, how can you even base your business on this.

Million Dollar lawn Mowing

To me getting my lawn mowed is a cost of approximately $700-$1000 annually. When I have to hand over the keys, the blue prints etc I'd rather spend a similar cost and get AstroTurf. With businesses things are not as easy, there is a significant investment in this and since the product is the basis of your business, you also run the risk of having your clients hold you liable legally.

Lastly, the outsourcing teams that have access to your entire code are basically paid top notch money by you for up skilling them and spending time on them that you did not have in the first place. The only reason people choose outsourcing is to save money. The rates these days are not cheap any more, they are comparable to a full time employee.

Look up any local advertisements for development positions, most startups had some prototypes created by outsourcing teams and are now stuck with the mess or the aftermath. Most are looking to clear up the mess and get their business back on track. This is where a majority make the same mistake again and end up with a larger issue on hand. Will discuss this in a latter article. To give an example of issue escalating to a larger issue is that of Cane Toads in Queensland.

Cane Toads

In 1935 the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations (Sugar Research Australia) battling with the issue of grey-backed cane beetle (Dermolepida albohirtum) and Frenchi beetle (Lepidiota frenchi) imported cane toads from Hawaii. These beetles (not the music band) are native to Australia and detrimental to the cane crop as the adult beetles eat the crop leaves. cane is a major crop and source of income for Australia. Their exoskeleton is quite tough and the eggs and larvae often buried underground and the conventional pesticides also affects other harmless species.

A few cane toads were released in Queensland around Cairns, Gordanvale and Innisfail (now has banana crops) and more in Ingham, Ayr, Mackay and Bundaberg. Since their release in 1935, the 100 odd toads multiplied and their numbers have increased to 200 million and are known to spread diseases that affect local biodiversity. The introduction of these toads has not only caused a large environmental detriment but also has provided no evidence that they have had any impact on the cane beetle population that they were introduced to predate. These are now spreading over to other states and affecting the local biodiversity.

If you want to read more on this, you can google or check this link on Wikipedia on Cane Toads.

It has come to a point where during the rains, the roads are literally littered with can toads, they are noisy and to the point where majority of the Australians believe in not harming wildlife taking to Spraying them with Phenyl or Dettol, freezing and bludgeoning them with golf clubs, cricket bats, etc. Though these are illegal in many states.


It has become so much a part of the Queensland culture that the State of Origin team players are called the Cane Toads (and they do win the Footy matches)


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