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Every year I post our annual Sisco Christmas Letter and card we send to family and friends. Below is this year’s card and 24th version of our letter.
I hope your holiday time this year is great and 2017 will be a spectacular year for you both personally and professionally.
Note: We started creating a XMAS Letter the year our son Eddie had an automobile accident (1993) and suffered a traumatic brain injury. One of the things he and I like to do every year is to look through past letters to see how much it has evolved over the years along with reminders of many good times we have had.
I create New Year Resolutions every year. In fact, I can go back to about 1980 when I think it all started.
My wife “lives for today” and doesn’t get too hung up on what tomorrow will bring. I wish I could be more like her in this regard.
This is not to say she doesn’t think about the future, , , she simply does not have a need to focus nearly as much on the future as I do.
Whenever we talk about developing new year resolutions or discussing what we want to be in the future, she has two comments for me:
- “I’m not spending time on this.”
- “I don’t care what you become; I just want you to grow up.”
I still hear this today from Miss Dorine after almost 46 years of marriage. We will hit #46 next week on December 26, 2016. Dorine is my BEST FRIEND in the world, and she has been a wonderful wife and companion for all of these years.
Her lack of enthusiasm for goal setting or developing New Year Resolutions doesn’t deter me from pursuing what has become an annual tradition. It’s something I look forward to around this time of year.
Every year around the holidays I start jotting down a few goals for next year. At some point I started creating two sets: one for personal goals and one for professional goals.
In the old days, I used to be fairly lengthy and spent probably more time on them than needed. Now, I spend just a few minutes to jot down a few things a week or so before Christmas and then add/update the list through the holidays. By January 1st, I have listed what I want to commit to myself for the new year.
It’s not complex, doesn’t take much time, and I think it makes a difference.
Over time my list has gotten shorter and shorter as I now tend to list just a few things that I really want to accomplish for myself, either personally or professionally.
Why spend time developing New Year Resolutions?
My sense is that when you write something down, it makes it more important. Studies certainly suggest this to be the case.
You rarely accomplish anything unless you make it a priority and commit to getting it done. For me, I believe it’s important to make a few commitments to yourself each year. You owe it to yourself and good things can come of it.
I can tell you that many of the things I’ve accomplished (both personally and professionally) are due in some part because I wrote them down and made a commitment to make it happen.
A recent example is that for 2016 one of my personal goals was to lose 16 pounds. Well, mission accomplished, , , this time I actually lost the 15 pounds that always seems to be on my list. Next year, I want to go for 10 more pounds and reach my ideal weight. It’s all about focus.
Best of success in the New Year!
We will deliver new training every month on a variety of topics that “help IT managers of the world achieve more success“.
Check out our Fall 2016 Schedule —————>
MDE Enterprises, Inc.
will be posted soon!
One of the keys to success in IT management is being able to manage your client’s expectations.
To manage your client’s expectations, you need to know some things about the concept of “supply and demand” and how it applies within an IT support organization.
Demand is the technology support needed by your clients to address their business needs and issues.
Supply is your IT organization’s capability and capacity to deliver IT support.
You have to understand the dynamics of what’s happening in both “Supply” and “Demand” within your IT support organization’s environment to manage client expectations.
In most situations, there will be more demand than supply, your clients need or want more from IT than your IT organization can deliver.
This is normal and exists for most IT organizations. That’s OK, but to succeed you are going to have to balance the two somehow and manage your client’s expectation to what you can deliver.
Let’s take a team of five programmers and use them as an example to discuss these issues.
The Demand Side
Our demand for programming work is defined by a couple of things:
- Day to day support required of the programmers
- Backlog of new programming enhancement requests – new reports, new functionality, etc.
Your Help Desk should give you some sense for the “disruptive nature” of day to day support issues that hinder a programmer’s coding productivity.
If you don’t have anything, do a 2-week time study and have each of your programmer’s chart where they spend their time for every hour of their work day.
You might be surprised! This simple exercise will tell you a lot about what’s being pulled out of your team’s programming capacity to handle daily support issues.
Maybe you think your team is totally isolated and immune from day to day support. Don’t be fooled, do the time exercise and discover the reality of your situation.
The second part of “Demand” is in your Programming Backlog for new requests (new reports, new functionality, etc.).
You should have a programming backlog database of some type (maybe it’s just an EXCEL spreadsheet) that lists every programming request and an estimate of how many hours it will take to program the project.
If you aren’t managing your backlog like this, then you don’t know what your demand for new programming is. If you don’t know, you can’t manage client expectations.
The Supply Side
On average, a programmer can produce about 100–120 hours of productive code per month.
There are normally about 160 hours in a normal month of work (4 weeks at 40 hours per week). When you pull out time for meetings, training, sick, vacation and holidays, what is left is the actual productive coding time you get from a programmer.
Some months will be less than this average of 100–120 hours of productive coding time, some months will be more.
Over 12 months time you should see a programmer’s average work out to be about 120 hours per month of productive coding, roughly 75 percent of their work time.
If you are delivering less than 100–120 hours per programmer per month on average for 6 or more months, you probably have a productivity issue that needs attention.
Note: This measurement may vary depending upon your company situation or part of the world you live in and the productivity culture that exists.
OK, if we have 5 programmers this means our supply of productive coding (or capacity) should average between 500 to 600 hours per month as a team.
Let’s assume the demand for coding new reports, enhancements, and new features for this application is considerably more than our capacity. How do we increase our output, our supply?
There are several ways to increase the output of a programming team:
- Improve the existing team’s productivity.
- Have the team work more hours.
- Pay programmers incentive pay to do certain projects on their own time (on weekends and holidays or in the evenings after work).
- Hire new programmers.
- Contract programmers from the outside.
I’ve used all of these and every option will work to improve your programming team’s output.
One caution though is that “requiring the team to work more hours” will work to an extent, but long term use of this approach can create morale problems and put your programmers at risk of leaving your company.
You essentially have three options to address a programming backlog that exceeds your capacity:
- Reduce the amount of backlog
- Take longer to do the work
- Increase capacity to attack the backlog
The bottom line though is that you aren’t going to get twice the capacity with the five programmers you have on board now. If need is truly significantly higher than your capacity to deliver, you have to manage your client’s expectations.
There are essentially three ways:
- Reduce the demand
- Increase your capacity to deliver
- Take longer
Usually the answer lies within all three of these. However, Item #3 (Take longer) really isn’t doing anything different and probably may not satisfy your client.
You attack the problem when you do something about reducing the demand and/or increasing capacity.
The next thing you need to have a good grasp on is, “How much of your capacity goes to day to day support?”
If it is 80 percent, that doesn’t leave much to develop new enhancements that are being requested by users.
You need to have a realistic estimate of what day to day support requires from your team. Without it, you are doomed.
To manage client expectations you not only need to know what the demand for programming services is, you must also know what your capacity to deliver is.
This “capacity to deliver” includes how much programming is required for day to day support plus how much is available to focus on new requests.
Without this understanding, it is virtually impossible to manage your client’s expectations.
The next thing is that when you make commitments to your clients, you must be conservative.
Remember the “Golden IT Rule”,
Always position your team to over deliver.
No one gets upset if you exceed their expectations.
Someone always gets concerned when you don’t meet expectations.
One method I use is that I always start managing a new programming staff with an expectation that we can deliver an average of 100 hours of code per programmer per month even though I know we should deliver around 120 hours a month of new code per programmer on average.
Now, when you do this you need to know that I consider these programmers to be truly isolated from day to day support issues. Their full time is focused on software development and producing new code.
I know that if we are operating properly, each of these programmers will actually deliver on average more than 100 hours per month. So, when I give my client a forecast that we can deliver up to 500 hours a month for the team (5 programmers * 100 hours), I’m positioning the team to over deliver.
Let me emphasize this: Position your team to over deliver!
One of the best ways to manage a client’s expectation is to position your team to deliver more than what the client expects.
To do this, you must be conservative in what you commit to.
My approach with programming is to commit an average of 100 hours per programmer per month to the client and deliver somewhere around 120 hours per programmer.
Four key things will help you manage your client’s expectations:
- Understand the demand for your resources
- Know your capability and capacity to deliver
- Realize how much is used for day to day support
- Be conservative in your commitments
Do these things with your programming staff and other parts of your IT support organization and you will be able to manage your client’s expectations much better, and this will help your IT organization achieve more success.
This article first appeared in my CIO.com BLOG, Practical Management Tips for IT Leaders.
I received an interesting question a while back and thought it worth sharing my response. The question came from one of my followers and went like this, “What do you think of Committee decision making and/or problem solving? What would be required to ensure Committee success?”
I agree that committees tend to take longer and are potentially not as responsive as you need to be. It all depends on what you create a committee to do and the guidelines you establish for its mode of operation.
I’m a big proponent in having committees made up of business representatives alongside IT representatives. For example, one of the things I always try to do when managing a Programming Support organization is to create a “steering committee” to review the outstanding programming change requests that exist in our programming backlog in order to determine what gets assigned for the next period (usually monthly) and what does not get prioritized. There are several reasons:
- The business is in the best place to know what needs to be a priority, , , not our IT organization.
- The business needs to realize that our company can’t fund IT to have unlimited resources and therefore work has to be prioritized.
- If we (IT organization) are left to prioritize these jobs on our own, we will never be as responsive as our business clients want us to be. Never! Clients will simply want everything completed “right now”.
When your clients are in the middle of determining what gets worked on and when, , , it’s a struggle initially, , , but over time it simply becomes our normal process of how we manage the business.
I can tell you that when the business units are making the trade-offs and are ultimately responsible for prioritizing the work, it makes life much better for the client as well as the IT organization and easier to support the client in this area.
I don’t believe all things work well in committees. We don’t run companies or manage in a democracy, , , but in places like programming support, strategic project initiatives, project portfolio management, etc. a committee can be very helpful.
I still like the fact that IT is represented as a full member of the committee and the IT representative is often who facilitates such meetings. Certainly, IT must be able to influence decisions but getting the client positioned to feel they are more in the “driver’s seat” and in control of their own destiny is a good thing for everyone.
The downside about running your company “by committee” is that you can have gridlock if you aren’t careful. In my view, a committee is best when used as an advisory group to help the management team make good decisions. More brain power is a good thing but can certainly slow the process.
When creating a committee, it is important to establish good guidelines that help focus the members of the committee on the it’s mission and objectives along with operating guidelines to work within.
Be sure your committee is assigned a role that does not slow an organization’s responsiveness if this is a key measurement of performance.
Finally, committees can be very effective when making decisions about company direction, determining key initiatives for an organization to work on, even deciding the priorities of your programming backlog, etc.
For example, in 1991 our company President created a senior management committee in March to focus on cutting company expenses during the 3rd and 4th quarter. We wanted to take the company public the following year and felt we needed to achieve major expense cuts in order to achieve our 3rd and 4th quarter financial forecasts because of an expectation we would not achieve budgeted revenue numbers.
This committee met initially to understand the issue and to identify a list of cost cutting ideas. We assigned each “cost saving initiative” to a manager from the group. We met a second time to deliver our recommendations for how much we could save in our assigned cost saving initiative areas along with how we should go after the savings and when we should be able to achieve the savings.
When we all left the 2nd committee meeting, each of us had specific cost saving initiatives responsibility to make happen for our company and we were required to report monthly on our progress. We focused on the opportunities plus the President of our company tracked performance.
This committee focus was a huge success in achieving our objective and it positioned the company for a successful public stock offering the following year.
Managers make decisions but a committee used properly can be very effective in supporting managers of your company.
People who work in IT have very consistent work behavior tendencies. In fact, 90 percent or more have similar tendencies in three of four major personality categories. The bottom line is that IT attracts a certain type of personality.
These work behavior tendencies help us become successful as technology experts, but they can present major challenges when you move into a management role.
It’s important for any IT manager to be aware of these tendencies and “what makes IT people tick.” Understanding them can help you achieve more success in multiple ways:
- Being aware of your own personal work behavior tendencies can help you identify areas that need adjusting in order to succeed in a manager position.
- Awareness of IT employee work behavior tendencies who report to you can help you manage and lead them better.
- Understanding the dynamics of work behavior can even help you resolve employee problems.
I’ve used several personality evaluation tools in my career. Early on, I didn’t put a lot of credence in their value; I thought they were bogus. I was wrong.
For over 10 years I used these tools in my CIO role and discovered they are accurate in describing an employee’s work behavior tendencies and helpful in many ways. I learned first hand that understanding the work behavior tendencies of a person is powerful insight.
In one company I was the CIO of we acquired 35 other companies. I obtained the work behavior profile of all the IT employees that came with these companies. Their profiles were consistently similar.
Initially, I thought it was just a coincidence. After seeing the same profile over and over again, I finally concluded that a certain type of personality type is attracted to IT. In a similar way, consistent personality types are attracted to sales professions.
I also measured over 100 IT managers who attended my IT Manager Institute for four years. Again, their work behavior profiles were predictably similar.
It doesn’t matter what your role is in IT. Whether you are an IT manager, programmer, systems or network engineer, project manager, work on the Help Desk or even run IT support as the CIO. If you are in IT, your work behavior tendencies are highly likely going to be similar to everyone else in IT.
What’s the point?
It’s simple. The work behavior traits that help you become an excellent technician can prevent you from achieving success in an IT manager role.
Let’s take a look at each trait.
There are four work behavior areas in many of the personality evaluation tools like Myers Briggs and others I’ve used, and here is what I have discovered:
Trait #1: 90 percent of all IT employees are independent, self starters and technically oriented. No problem so far; these work behavior traits can probably help you as much in a manager role as in a technical role.
Trait #2: 85-90 percent of all IT employees have a high sense of urgency. To say we are impatient is an understatement for most of us in IT. High sense of urgency is a good thing for IT managers as long as you approach major problem situations like a system outage in a way that has a calming and stabilizing effect.
Trait #3: Over 90 percent are high detail and like to do the work themselves. This is great for a technical employee. Programmers and other tech employees achieve success pretty much on their individual performance; they are in more control of their own success. In a manager role, you depend on your employees to get things done. This is a big transition challenge for most young IT managers. Letting go of the detail and depending upon others can be a major obstacle.
Trait #4: Just over 70 percent are shy and introverted. This is a big challenge for IT managers. As a programmer or systems engineer, strong communication skills are not so essential, especially communicating outside their inner circle. In an IT manager role, strong communication skills are required. The problem with shy people is that they usually don’t develop their communication skills because they don’t deem them to be needed. In addition, shy people have a lower desire to communicate. All of these issues are major stumbling blocks to success for IT managers and must be overcome.
When you think of the first three work behavior traits being at 90 percent or more, it’s pretty much everyone in your IT organization.
One more thing
If you put all of these traits together to make a work behavior profile, it sums up to be an individual who looks at work this way:
- Let’s do it (self starter),
- Do it now (high sense of urgency),
- Do it my way (high detail),
- and I don’t want to talk about it (shy and introverted)
This is the makeup of an authoritative management style that works well in the military but not so well in a professional business environment.
Modify the last trait by communicating more and you have a persuasive management style. This style is much more effective for IT managers in a corporate environment.
Technical experts who become IT managers need to do two things if they have the four traits discussed above:
- Let go of the detail they are so used to being in. Have you heard the phrase, “You need to get out of the weeds!”? Managers must depend on their employees to take care of the detail. It won’t be easy but it’s necessary for your success.
- Learn how to communicate effectively. Strong communication must become a core competency so learn what and how to communicate effectively plus put processes in place that force you to communicate.
The good news is that if we need to adjust a couple of our work behavior traits, it is a straightforward thing to do and more success is in your grasp.
This article first appeared in my CIO.com Blog, Practical Management Tips for IT Leaders.
There are many issues that can cause an IT organization to fail, but there are three that are at the root of most IT failures. I named it the “Triple Threat to IT Success™”.
My first article in CIO.com’s Practical Management Tips for IT Leaders blog was titled, 7 reasons IT managers have the toughest management roles. It sets the stage for why IT management is so difficult and provides insight into the unique challenges IT managers are presented with.
In this post we continue building a foundation of the dynamics that take place in many IT organizations by discussing the Triple Threat to IT Success™ and what causes IT failure.
Many things can cause an IT organization to fail but what I’ve observed in hundreds of companies and in more than 20 years of managing IT resources is that there are three main culprits:
- IT – Business disconnect
- Project failure
- Poor communication
Understand these three problems and do a few things to prevent them positions your IT organization to achieve much more success.
Threat #1: IT – Business disconnect
Simply put, your IT organization is out of sync with what the business needs from you. The company needs you to focus on “A, B and C” but IT is working on “X, Y and Z”.
Many studies over the years have suggested this happens over 50% of the time. Plus, CEO and CIO surveys consistently place “keeping IT in sync with the business” as one of their top concerns.
Interestingly, discovering whether or not a disconnect exists between IT and the business is a simple task and takes very little time for an experienced CIO or consultant. So why are so many IT organizations out of sync with the business operations they support?
An IT – Business disconnect occurs primarily because the senior IT manager or CIO does not realize his/her organization is focused on the wrong things. They are certainly not out of sync intentionally. In fact, they believe their focus is exactly what their company needs from them.
Threat #2: Project failure
The second major threat to IT success is failing to deliver projects successfully.
You may not realize it but IT project failure was instrumental in creating the project management industry. Before computers were introduced in the 1950’s we did not have this concept called “project management”.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) was created in 1969 and project management took off as the IT industry grew exponentially in the 70’s and 80’s.
By the early ’90s, most companies of any size were using computers to process payroll, general ledger and other mission critical applications. The IT organizations of these companies were also building a reputation of failing to deliver projects successfully.
Project failure destroys IT credibility so it’s a key component for IT success.
Threat #3: Poor communication
The third threat is the biggest threat because it has a lot to do with what causes the other two threats. Let me explain:
An IT – Business disconnect occurs when IT management does not communicate well with the senior management team. If you communicate what you recommend the IT organization should work on and gain confirmation from the senior managers of your company, you won’t have a disconnect.
Project failure often occurs when IT people start working on a project before quantifying what the specific objectives, deliverables and timing will be and getting agreement from the project sponsor. You can’t succeed if you fail to establish these expectations on the front end of a project.
IT managers in general have historically had a reputation of being poor communicators. It’s a label we unfortunately earn because the fact is that most IT managers actually do struggle in this area.
A big reason for this is that from my research and experience I’ve concluded that over 70% in IT are shy or introverted. People with a shy and introverted personality trait do not invest in their communication skills and they don’t view communication as all that important.
IT employees are more technically oriented than socially oriented; it’s one of the traits that attracts people to IT type of work. There is nothing wrong with this but it can make IT management very difficult because effective communication is a key ingredient to achieving IT success.
I coined the phrase, “Triple Threat to IT Success™” in 2005 to help me discuss the three major issues that cause an IT organization to fail. Being aware of these issues and taking measures to overcome them will position you for more IT success.
Download a 1-page flyer that identifies the triple threat and includes tips to prevent them in your company at http://mde.net/triple.pdf.
This article first appeared in my CIO.com Blog, Practical Management Tips for IT Leaders
To maintain PMP status (PMI’s Project Management Professional certification), you are required to obtain 60 professional development units (PDU’s) every three years.
One of my students just told me he received 25 PDU’s after he requested PDU credit for attending the IT Manager Institute Self Study.
Here is what he received from PMI:
Activity Title: IT Business Manager Training and Certification
For Credential: PMP
— Technical: 5:00
— Leadership: 10.00
— Strategic/Business: 10.00
Prior to submitting his PDU request to PMI for approval, he asked me for information describing the IT Manager Institute. Below is what I sent him:
IT Manager Institute Program Overview
The IT Manager Institute provides practical processes, tools and templates to help IT managers of the world achieve more success. The program includes straightforward “how to” approaches and insights to manage IT organizations at any level more effectively. The Institute is a 25-hour program delivered in classroom, live webinar and in an online self-study program. It also includes a 5-part exam to qualify managers for IT Business Manager Certification (ITBMC) status plus bonus resources valued at over $1,000.
Session 1 – IT Manager Foundation 3 hours
Learn about the Triple Threat to IT Success™, key traits of a successful IT manager, and about the work behavior dynamics of IT employees that both help and hinder their efforts. This foundation material will help you understand “why” things happen as you learn best practices in how to manage technology resources effectively.
Session 2 – IT Assessment 3 hours
The key to success is knowing what to do and what you can do. Follow a proven formula to determine the needs and issues of your business client plus your IT organization’s capability and capacity to support the client. Only then can you develop an appropriate IT strategy. We will share an IT assessment process and tools developed to conduct over 40 company acquisition assessments and a case study will make it all very real.
Session 3 – IT Strategy 2 hours
Don’t wait to be asked, , , develop your IT strategy now and gain senior management’s respect. This step is key in aligning your IT focus with business need and objectives. We even give you tools to help you prioritize your work. Follow the steps in Sessions 2 and 3 and your IT organization is guaranteed to be in sync with your company’s needs.
Session 4 – IT Project Management 3 hours
Delivering projects successfully is the key to credibility. Use simple techniques and tools to manage projects effectively and you will separate your organization from others. Included are tools and templates that help you manage successful projects as well as project portfolio resources to communicate project status and value derived from your organization’s efforts.
Session 5 – IT Organization 1.5 hours
Build an appropriate team to support the business and start by conducting a skills inventory that defines both the skills you need on your team and what you have. Understanding this allows you to focus on the gaps to start achieving more success quicker and more reliably.
Session 6 – IT Staff Motivation & Development 1.5 hours
Learn to motivate your staff like never before, , , and with little or no money. Motivating employees doesn’t require lots of money but it does require an understanding of what motivates IT employees and how to go about it. You may not realize it but teamwork is not a natural thing or easy for most IT employees. Learn why and use a few proven techniques to start building a world class support team. A motivated staff can do powerful things and they will “walk through fire” for their manager.
Session 7 – IT Processes 1 hour
Sound processes can make all the difference in your IT organization’s productivity and success. In fact, there are key change management processes that are required to help your team deliver IT support successfully. Use our proven IT support processes to simplify your life and to boost your team’s productivity and success.
Session 8 – IT Policies and Procedures 1 hour
You may not like policies and procedures, but they can save you and your company lots of pain and reduce risk. Learn to develop simple policies that work for your company plus we will give you dozens of policies and procedures you can modify for your own use.
Session 9 – IT Budgeting 3 hours
Budgeting must become a skill of every IT manager because the key to the hearts of senior executives is the financial side of the business. A quick accounting primer gives you the basics of what you need to understand about senior management’s perspective and the tools they use to monitor a company’s financial performance. Then you will learn to use simple tools and techniques to streamline your budgeting process and develop budgets you can be highly confident in achieving. Budgeting is going to be much faster and easier with insider knowledge and tools from an experienced manager.
Session 10 – IT Asset Management 1 hour
Tracking the technology resources of your company is an important part of managing your IT support business. Get organized and keep it simple. These straightforward processes and tools will help you focus this part of your business in an effective way.
Session 11 – Technology Cost Saving Strategies 1 hour
Every company has significant cost saving opportunities, , , and your IT organization offers real leverage across the company you should take advantage of. Learn where the leverage points are and go after cost savings that more than pay for your IT Manager Institute class.
Session 12 – IT Measurements 2 hours
Key measurements can help you better understand your IT support business and improve your support focus. Learn to track and report meaningful data. Simple tools will help you show IT value and the successes you are achieving in such a simple way you will wonder why you haven’t been doing this already.
Session 13 – IT Communication 2 hours
Communicating effectively is more about knowing what to communicate and how to present it than anything else. It is one of the key skills that can literally boost your career. What’s difficult is that most IT managers aren’t strong communicators nor do they see the need to be. Use our simple techniques to improve your communication skills to start developing stronger relationships with your clients.
5-part IT Business Manager Certification (ITBMC) exam. Score 80% or better on all 5 parts to receive ITBMC certification.
BONUS IT Resources valued over $1,000
– 15 books written on specific IT manager subjects
– IT Manager ToolKit with over 100 IT Manager tools and templates
– Executive Reports
– Samples of 20 Minute IT Manager training
Details of the IT Manager Institute Self Study are at: http://itmanagerinstitute.com/training/self-study-program/
In September we held the second Advanced IT Manager Institute in 2016 and the first to be held in the US. This program is limited to Institute Graduates only. The program included managers from the US, Nigeria, and Australia.
The Advanced Institute program allows much more discussion and interaction on key issues facing IT managers of the world today. Future programs will be offered online.