Assign a paparazzi to your IT team

PhotographerYou should assign a paparazzi to your IT team and start documenting your journey. You may not realize it, but right now may be one of the best work experiences in your entire career.

There are three companies I look back upon in my career and think of them as my best experiences. Much of what made these situations special has to do with the people I worked with, part of it was the type of work we were doing, and some of it was even the client experiences.

There are two things I wish I had done earlier in my career:

  1. Kept a journal
  2. Taken more photos

No excuse for not keeping a journal, , , just didn’t think about it back then. Wish I had because there were many memorable moments that I know would be worth remembering now.

I keep two journals now, , , one for business and one that’s personal. I don’t write in them every day but try to capture important events and a few things I think will be worth remembering when I’m in my 80’s and 90’s. :)

On the photos issue, I do have a reason for lacking more photos. Early in my career we had to use film, , , digital cameras were not around yet. So, the hard copy photos I have are far and few between and many have been lost over time. Digital is so much better. Wish we had digital cameras when I was a kid!

When I stumble upon a hard copy photo from my early career, it usually brings back good memories, , , like the one below.

Mike_BryanThis is Bryan Hathcock, my first IBM manager and one of the best managers I’ve ever worked for, awarding me a $20 gold coin for helping sell the most IBM software applications during a contest period. I remember working hard to help my primary Sales Rep, Jim Cockerham, focus on this objective. Jim is also in the photo (far left) and just seeing Jim and Bryan brings back so many great memories of my “IBM days”. Note the wide tie and jet black hair!

I st$20_Gold_Coinill have my $20 gold coin which is now worth more than $1,000.

I talked to Bryan just last week which may have prompted me to think about writing this post. He is in his 80’s now but hasn’t changed a lot. Hoping to stop by and visit him when I’m in Atlanta in April for our niece’s wedding and share some memories.

Back to the paparazzi idea, , , why do I recommend you assign a paparazzi and start taking photos? Well, there are several reasons:

  • Capturing memories at work may be appreciated later in your life. Like I said, these times may be some of the best you will experience in  your career.
  • Develop slideshows with high energy background music for some of your IT staff meetings, , , especially if you do an annual IT Kickoff Meeting. Your employees like to see themselves on “the big screen” in a slide show. Trust me, it’s great motivational material in a staff meeting. How do I know? Simple, I’ve been an employee and liked it and I’ve also seen it work great with employees who have worked for me.
  • It’s fun, , , and having fun at work from time to time is beneficial for both you and your employees.

In each of my IT Manager Institute classes I assign a paparazzi on the first day to take photos during the class. At the end of the class I give students a flash drive that contains IT management resources plus a file of all the class photos taken during the week. Some of them are truly memorable like the ones below:

CoinsDubai Institute managers showing off their MDE/IT Manager Institute coins

Institute-Tanner_Sep2014-2Tanner Medical managers in a fun class photo

IT Manager Institute - DubaiClass photo of one of my favorite Dubai Institute classes – October 2012
I have delivered 16 IT Manager Institutes in Dubai through 2015
I’m standing next to our paparazzi, Mohammed Abu Deeb from Saudi Arabia

kickoff_photosA small class but what a great group!!! I stay in contact with several of them.

kickoff_6Monika really enjoyed this desert!

18bEd presents Heitor a “Dead Chicken Award” – lots of laughs!

21cLjubljana Institute managers in our “Blues Brothers” pose

21bI’m 5’10” tall, , , Matej and Timor are 7′ tall – material for a memorable photo

institute39-bLagos Nigeria class presents me a painting that now hangs in my home office

Call me sentimental or foolish, but I like to reminisce and remember some of the “fun times” in my career. As you get older, you may discover it happens with you as well.

What type of photos do you want your IT paparazzi to capture? Good question, I recommend the following but don’t limit it to just my ideas:

  • Company events
  • Awards
  • IT employees at work
  • IT employees with your clients (Managers and Users)
  • Meetings
  • Off-site events
  • Cameo or ad hoc photos of your employees

Be creative and have some fun with the process, , , it really does not take a lot of time or effort.

photagrapher_2Take advantage of the motivational aspect work photos give you during IT staff meetings; I think you will find it has much more impact than you believe it will. Over time you will amass quite a library of photos that can be special to show your people “scenes of the past”.

SMILE, , , you are on Candid Camera !!

IT managers need a “Swiss Army Knife”

swiss army knifeManaging an IT organization requires many skills to succeed in today’s fast paced and complex world. IT managers are required to juggle several issues at the same time and meet ever-increasing demand from their clients (senior managers, department managers, users) and from their IT staff.

For example, to be effective you need to be able to:

  • coach
  • monitor
  • manage
  • lead
  • council
  • innovatelate
  • strategize
  • communicate
  • investigate
  • sell
  • troubleshoot
  • analyze
  • decide
  • focus
  • prioritize
  • critique
  • persuade
  • research
  • educate
  • budget
  • understand technology of all types
  • , , , and more

Do you still need convincing?

It’s like we need a Swiss army knife to help us handle all the challenges of managing an IT organization. A single function knife blade will no longer do the job, , , we have to become skilled in multiple capabilities.

On top of managing today’s technology support environment and issues, IT manager responsibilities are constantly changing.

  • Client priorities seem to shift like the wind from month to month, maybe even from day to day in your situation.
  • Technology is changing faster than ever, , , and the pace of change will only increase in the future.
    • To stay current with today’s technologies is tough now and will be more difficult in the future.
    • There will be technologies in two years that are not even on the drawing board today and will make some of the technologies we use today obsolete.
    • It is difficult, if not impossible to be a technical expert in today’s environment and also be a strong manager.
  • Client need is evolving and increasing in demand as new technologies emerge.

Sounds like an impossible mission, doesn’t it?

Well, it’s certainly a big challenge. I’ve written many times and explain to IT managers in my classes all over the world that, “IT managers have the toughest management role in a company”. The reasons are what you’ve just read:

  • Technology is changing so fast.
  • Client demand for technology is increasing and changes all the time.
  • The IT manager, especially the CIO must understand the needs and issues of every department in the company, not just the IT Department. No other manager in your company is required to do this to be successful, , , only in IT.
  • IT people are different and can be challenging to manage.

How do you attack these challenges?

  1. yes-noFirst and foremost is that it’s important to realize, “You don’t have to be an expert in everything.” Even if you had the brain power and capacity to learn it all, you won’t have enough time in the day to be the expert in all areas. What this means is that you need to prioritize and focus on what you believe is required in your circumstance. Every situation is different.
  2. Become a prolific reader to learn things and to improve the knowledge and skills needed in your profession.
  3. Augment existing skills with training and education that will add new skills in the areas you need them.
  4. Find mentors who have experience in the area of responsibility you have or that you aspire to.
  5. Identify internal and external resources who can help you “cover all the bases”.
  6. Learn to delegate and rely on these extra resources  to handle issues outside your expertise.

A key to doing these things is that you must spend some time to assess what your organization (company and IT Department) needs from you.

Next, do an objective and honest skills assessment of yourself. What are your current skills, and how strong are each of these skills relative to what is needed?

Finally, create a plan of attack to develop your skills where you see gaps in what is needed versus what you have.

Give this part plenty of thought and prioritize your efforts. IT people have a strong tendency to want to do everything and do them to the “nth degree”. Not necessary, plus it only serves to overwhelm you which will prevent you from accomplishing as much as you could if you keep your list short, focused and reasonable.

Remember, you don’t need to be an expert in all areas, , , just competent in most and expert in a few. Choosing which areas you will become an expert in is subjective and depends upon the situation you have. Making these choices will be a challenge, , , but part of managing well is making decisions and choosing “what not to do” sometimes. Not an easy thing to do but it will help you manage to what is possible and not what our minds tell us is desirable.

Identify where you will develop additional skills and where you will rely on others (either internal or external resources) to provide the organization the complete set of skills needed for success.

Swiss army knives come in all types of configurations. So too do the needs of IT management positions in companies. Not all positions require the same set of skills, , , every situation is somewhat unique, so the skill requirements can and should be different.

Let’s use my personal example to explain. I’m comfortable managing programmers, business analysts, and Help Desk environments, but when it comes to managing some of the infrastructure resources (specifically Network and Systems Engineers), I need help because I don’t have this technical background. So to the points I’ve been making, I find resources who can competently fill the technology expertise needed in these technical areas to compliment the set of skills I have.

I’m not going to become an expert in networks, security, and systems, , , but we have to have experts in these areas to support our business. I’ll either rely on someone internally (hopefully) or will bring in help from the outside to provide the skills we need.

Build the “Swiss army knife” you need for your situation, , , one that gives you the skills and tools to be successful. And don’t forget to also develop resources you can rely on with additional capabilities to handle issues in areas you choose to delegate and rely on others for.

2016 IT Manager Institute training schedule

Hello and Happy New Year. 2016 will be my 14th year delivering the IT Manager Institute to managers all over the world via classroom and self study. We also have open slots to deliver the program in the US and Canada when you confirm 6 or more students. Classroom events can be delivered in 3, 4 or 5 days as desired. Contact me at info@mde.net if you are interested in hosting a class for your company or community in the US or Canada.

This year, we will deliver our open classroom programs in 3-day events. The days will certainly be full in order to cover all the material, but this gives you an opportunity to save in registration fees, time and travel expenses.

Plus, we will deliver two Advanced Institute classes following two of our standard IT Manager Institute programs in Dubai (May 25-26) and the US (September 16-17). These programs are for Institute Graduates ONLY.

CLICK HERE for more information or to download a brochure.

 

Best razor I’ve ever owned – Gillette Fusion ProGlide

gilette fusion proglide I’ve been shaving for more than 50 years and I’ve had my share of razor battles where my face ended up looking like “my razor attacked me” leaving small cuts and nicks that are just a pain. No pun intended.

These skirmishes happened quite often when I tried out a new razor.

Well, I think I have discovered the “holy grail of razors”. It’s the Gillette Fusion ProGlide that I’ve been using for about 6 weeks.

I have a thick beard that can be a challenge if I go several days without shaving. This razor doesn’t care, , , a 3-day old beard is just as easy as shaving each day.

gilette fusion proglide razorWithout a doubt, it is the best shave I’ve ever had and only 1 slight nick in all that time which was yesterday and only because I wasn’t paying attention. My fault, not the razor’s.

Five blades make the shave smooth and the Flexball handle technology makes navigating the contours of your face easy as can be, , , even challenging areas around your chin and corners around your mouth.

I actually look forward to using this razor, something that’s never happened to me in all these years.

Most can relate how difficult it can be to get to the area right under your nose. The ProGlide has a special precision trimmer blade on the back side where you simply trim down from the nose. This not only makes it so much easier to get to but does a much better job than trying to shave up the lip to the bottom of your nose to trim a few hard to get to moustache area hairs.

gillette fusion proglide blades

With my previous razor, I could not get to this area at all so I used a second old fashion single-blade razor to do the trimming. It was a hassle which caused me to look once again for a razor that would do the entire job and not attack my face so often.

I’ve used the same blades for 6 weeks and every shave is still smooth as silk. I’m certain I’ll get at least 2 months with every cartridge based upon my shaving habits.

I have to say, this is the first razor I’ve owned that actually makes shaving enjoyable so wanted to share it with you. Bought mine from amazon.com.

6 Keys to Successful IT Projects plus a secret

projectDelivering projects successfully is critical for your IT organization; in fact it is the key to IT credibility, , , not just the IT organization’s but your credibility as an IT manager as well. That means you need to do things that position your organization for project success.

What is “project success”?

Simply put, project success includes delivering projects that are:
–  completed on time
–  delivered within budget
–  achieve the stated goals and objectives
–  meet client expectations

In my experience, there are 6 keys to delivering IT projects successfully:

1.  Manage the project’s scope
There are two parts in managing scope – defining the project goals and quantifying the deliverables. Being specific about what the project will achieve and what you will deliver is how you manage your client’s expectations. First rule of delivering a successful project is that you must establish realistic and achievable expectations with your client in the beginning before you actually start working on project tasks. If you don’t, you have no chance in delivering the project successfully.

2. Develop a solid project schedule
A good project schedule identifies all the tasks that must be completed to deliver the project successfully. Once you know exactly what must be done, you can staff the project appropriately and budget the project. Project schedules define:
– tasks that must be completed
– task responsibilities (accountability for completing each task)
– task completion timelines

In a nutshell, a good project schedule defines what, who and when.

3. Staff the project with competent people
It goes without saying that you won’t be very successful if you do not have competent people taking care of the required tasks. Once you identify the tasks required to deliver the project successfully, focus on the people that have the required skills who need to take responsibility for each task.

4. Be conservative when budgeting and estimating task completion time frames
There is a golden rule in IT, , , “Things take longer and cost more than you think they will.” Believe it, it’s true. If you do not have buffer in your budget and project timeline estimates, odds are high that you will either be over budget or deliver the project late, , , or both. Be conservative when estimating project costs and task due dates. You want to position your project team to over deliver. No one gets upset if you complete the project early or under budget.

5. Schedule a Kickoff Meeting to get everyone on the same page.
A great way to get the project started on the right foot is to hold a Project Kickoff Meeting with all project members attending. It allows you to set expectations with the project team members, to identify bottlenecks or key risk areas that might prevent project success, and to outline the guidelines for future project status meetings, , , i.e., “come to status meetings with your tasks completed and prepared”. An effective Kickoff Meeting helps you get everyone on “the same page” and started on a positive note.

6. Manage the schedule with weekly project status meetings
Projects don’t happen on their own. They are successful because project managers make them happen, , , they push and guide projects to the finish line so they are delivered on time and within budget. An important tool project managers use to do this is by holding weekly project status meetings to understand issues that arise, make corrective actions as needed and to push the project forward. You can build a great schedule and budget, but if you do not “manage the project” with regularly scheduled status meetings, the project won’t be delivered successfully.

meeting-3OK, these are what I consider the 6 keys to managing projects successfully, , , but there is a secret component you need to know about. Three of these key elements require strong communication. Unfortunately, IT managers have a tendency to be weak communicators. I’ve discussed this issue many times in prior posts. It’s a very real problem.

The bottom line is that poor communication is the root of much of our IT failure.

That’s right, in order to complete three of the six key parts of successful project delivery, you must communicate effectively:
1. Manage the project’s scope – This requires you to quantify the goals and objectives and spell out specifically what will be delivered to your client so you can gain agreement. It requires you to communicate with your client.
2. Hold a Project Kickoff Meeting – This requires you to communicate the schedule and obtain “buy-in” from all project team members that they can complete the tasks by the scheduled completion dates.
3. Hold regular Project Status Meetings to manage the project – Again, strong communication skills are required to make this happen.

My sense is that 70-80% of projects that fail are caused by poor communication and not doing these three key parts just listed effectively.

Let me give you two quick examples:

1. Often, IT people are so eager to start the work on a new project, they don’t spend time to define the scope and gain commitment from their client on the specifics that must be delivered. In many cases, they don’t even take the time to define what they believe are the requirements of a project, , , they simply start working. Doing this will spell “disaster” every time.

2. Another example is that I’ve seen IT organizations stop holding Project Status Meetings and updating the project schedule because “it takes too much time”. Yes, it does require time, but if you fail to monitor and manage the project by reviewing the weekly tasks that must be completed, , , you might as well go ahead and ring up another project failure to your list.

it project management ebookRemember, projects don’t happen successfully on their own, , , they are successful only when someone manages the project and pays attention to the details. A big part of this detail work is the communication aspects of three of the six key parts of successful projects that I have laid out to you.

If you are interested in a practical resource and tools to help you deliver projects successfully, check out my book, IT Project Management: a practical approach.

Five IT Manager Institute programs held in 2015

Five more IT Manager Institutes delivered in 2015 (3 in Dubai, UAE and 2 in the US). I was fortunate to meet some super IT managers from many parts of the world including:

Countries_2015Here are class photos.

IT Manager Institute #72 – Dubai, UAE – October 2015

IT Manager Institute #71 – Columbia, TN – September 2015

IT Manager Institute-70IT Manager Institute #70 – Dubai, UAE – May 2015

Institute69-4IT Manager Institute #69 – Dubai, UAE – March 2015

Institute_68IT Manager Institute #68 – Columbia, TN – February 2015

6 Reasons Some Managers Get Promoted Over Others

arrowsupI’m sure you’ve seen it, maybe even experienced it yourself.  Some managers seem to get the promotions and others do not, even though those who are not promoted work very hard and are extremely conscientious about managing technology resources effectively.

This happens for technology employees as well, not just managers, , ,  some get the nod and others do not.

If you are interested in what’s going on read the rest of the article. I’m going to give you a senior management perspective that can help you in your management career.

As a CIO or executive of a company, we want to promote from within as much as possible. Promotions encourage our employees and to be quite frank, we like taking care of our own when they do a good job for us.

Unfortunately, we can’t always promote from within our company and must go outside to find the resource required to do a certain job.

There are several important issues that position you for a promotion no matter what your current position happens to be.

blue ribbon1.  You must be promotion material
You have to be doing a good job in the position you are in and we must be able to back fill your position when you are promoted.

In addition, you need to be right for the job in question. Let’s break each of these aspects down a bit and explain.

Job performance – This is a “no brainer”. To be promotion material, you need to be excellent at what you are doing.

As a senior manager, I want to promote the top 10 to 20 percent who I think will be able to rise to the occasion when confronted to the bigger challenges and issues of the new position.

Job performance is a key factor we look for when determining whether someone should be promoted and who can handle the challenges of the higher position.

Simply put, we promote the best we have, not average or poor performers.

Back fill your position – Being promoted is going to create a gap in your current area of responsibility.  Your position will most likely need to be filled.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in senior management meetings to discuss the needs of a new position of a growth company and not be able to promote from within.

When looking through our organization, we had people who had shown the performance to make them a good candidate for the higher role but when looking at how we would fill the gap created by promoting them, we had to back off making them the offer because there was no one to fill their position.

Many times we had to go outside when we had a great internal candidate, but losing them in their current position was too big a risk.

A management-101 principle is that you need to find a way to position someone to take your place.

Having the skill and experience isn’t enough; you need to be able to fill your position so business continues to run smoothly, , , so start investing in someone to take your place one day.

Right for the position – I had a great employee in my Help Desk organization many years ago. Our company grew very fast and we soon had the need for a Help Desk Manager.

My employee had very good management potential but because we were growing so fast I decided to hire someone from outside the company who already had management experience and in scaling up a Help Desk organization of a fast growth company.

My employee was pretty upset initially, but I explained to him that promoting him to this particular management position without being able to be there to support him could be overwhelming as fast as we were growing and potentially damage his career.

I convinced him that he would become a much stronger manager by learning from a seasoned Help Desk Manager who had already experienced what our company was going through.

I also committed to invest in developing his management skills to position him for a management role in the future. This employee became a very strong IT manager and CIO in his own right in later years.

Had I put him into a situation that he was not ready for and not support him properly, I could have ruined his management career.

success on target2.  Proven track record
You have to have a proven track record of success. As a manager, you have to deliver tangible results. The same is true as an IT employee.

Not only is it important that you achieve quantifiable results, much of whether you are promotion material is about how you go about getting the results.

For example, as an IT manager your efforts need to be in sync with your client and they agree that you have done a good job for them. “Client” being represented here by senior managers of the company and department managers.

For IT employees and IT managers, it’s imperative that you exhibit strong teamwork as you work with your peers and others in accomplishing your job.

We don’t just look at your technical skills when determining if you should be promoted or not.

People who work well with others in a cooperative spirit and foster a win-win environment are those we want in senior level leadership positions.

So, what this means is that regardless of your position you should pay attention to the track record you are creating and how you are getting the job done.

IT has a poor reputation for delivering projects with some studies suggesting that a very high percentage of all IT projects fail. Put yourself in the success group and keep track of your successes.

You may find that people, especially senior managers start looking at you differently.

We promote the people who we trust will be able to do the job, , ,  and your past track record is a good indicator of what the future should look like.

1803.  Deliver what you say you will deliver
Sounds pretty simple, but you might be surprised at how many people promise something but don’t come close to delivering it.

One very simple aspect of this is to follow-up on your commitments. Whether you are the CIO or a Desktop Support Technician, it’s imperative that you follow-up on any commitment to someone.

What often happens is that we see something that will improve a client’s situation so we make a promise to do something for them later. Before we get back to our desk, we are hit with five more issues that need attention and as a result we forget our promise.

Well, I can assure you that the person you promised something to does not forget. It may be a very minimal thing that doesn’t even have any real importance, but the fact that we forget tells the person we do not follow-up or take our promises seriously.

Nothing increases your value as much as when people view you as, “the person I can count on to do what he says he will do”.

phone4.  Strong communication skills
This one is significant. People who have strong communication skills have a real edge on those who don’t.

I encourage anyone who is reading this article to make an effort to develop your communication skills. There are training programs everywhere to help you develop effective communication skills.

Skills in public speaking, negotiation techniques, organizing and holding productive meetings, presentation techniques, etc. are all important investments you need to make in yourself, , , and don’t forget basics like good writing skills – also very important.

Make a commitment to speak in public, make stand up presentations, hold meetings, etc. to develop and improve your communication skills. I cannot emphasize enough how much solid communication skills can mean to you. In many cases, the person who gets the promotion over others is the one who can communicate effectively. Effective communication skills are career differentiators.

webinar5.  Business minded
Being business oriented and focusing your resources on issues that provide tangible business value to your company is key, especially for IT managers.

Too often, our managers are focused on the technology and not what the business needs. In management roles, this is a very important issue when looking to determine who should be promoted.

I’ll always opt for the manager who knows how to build strong client relationships and has a track record of delivering business value to our business operation clients over the strong technical manager who doesn’t know how to foster strong client relationships.

Managers are not good promotion candidates if their focus is out of sync with our business partner’s needs and issues. Many studies suggest that over 50% of all IT organizations are out of sync with the business so this is not a small issue.

Senior managers promote those who show they can focus resources on the right issues for the company and don’t get sidetracked into doing things for technology sake.

foundation blocks6.  Prepared for the next level of responsibility
This final point is similar to what we covered in the first point in being “promotion material”, but I think it goes beyond that.

If you want the next level of responsibility, then you should try to understand what the new job entails and prepare for it.

Maybe this requires additional education, , , maybe you need to gain new experiences or even accomplish certain things that are related to the new job’s responsibilities.

The point here is that you need to try and understand what is required of the new position and prepare yourself as best you can to be ready for such responsibilities.

What I have found in my career is that promotions tend to come to people who are prepared and ready for the next level. We don’t just give out promotions and hope the candidate will be able to succeed.

The need must exist
We can do a lot to help prepare an employee or an IT manager for the next level promotion, but at the end of the day the need must exist for such a promotion to occur, , , and the person must be a good candidate for the specific position.

In a small company with very few technology employees, promotions don’t happen quickly. In high growth companies that grow 20-30% every year, promotions tend to happen more often simply because the organization is growing in numbers.

When counseling your employees and discussing the idea of preparing and positioning them for the next level, be sure you make it clear that our company has to have the need and the candidate must be a good fit before such a promotion will occur.

Otherwise, you will set an expectation that when certain things occur in the employee’s development, the promotion will follow. Again, we have to have the need and a good fit before a promotion will actually occur.

I hope this gives you some things to think about as you make efforts to enhance your career and move to the next level.

Getting a promotion usually means you are ready for the role so take a look at what is required in the next position and be sure to develop the skills necessary to be successful in the position.

Good luck and best of success.