Cut through the chaos

IT managers have a very tough job. At times it can be almost overwhelming with all the issues you deal with on a daily basis.

  • Client priorities change, , , quite a bit don’t they?
  • Technology is changing faster than ever. We love this but it creates lots of pressure for us to manage.
  • Employees, , , well, something is going on with them all the time.

When all of these changes happen it creates clutter and chaos in an IT manager’s world, , , so much clutter that you can even get to a point where you don’t know what to focus on. I’ve even seen managers freeze up because they are so overwhelmed.

I’ve been there and can even experience the feeling of being overwhelmed today if I allow it in my life.

OK, so what do we do about it?

Well, what breaks through chaos is

FOCUS

At any given time each of us have a lot of things we need to accomplish. Let’s call it our “list of to do’s”. This list can be anything from a minor item like completing a travel expense report to a major task like developing next year’s budget.

I always have a long list of TO-DO’s, , , ALWAYS!!!  You are probably just like me in this regard. It’s normal to have 20 or more important things on your TO-DO List at any given point of time.

If you aren’t careful, this daunting list will put you into a sort of “stalemate” where you can’t quite figure out what you need to focus on. It’s awful when this happens.

It’s obvious we can’t get everything done immediately, but our need to address everything nags at us to do it all NOW. When this happens, we start analyzing and debating within ourselves about what to do. What can happen is that we don’t do anything and waste valuable time which adds to our frustration.

The worst thing you can do is DO NOTHING!

The solution is to organize your TO-DO’s and prioritize them so you can FOCUS. What I’ve done for 30 years is to create a WEEKLY TO-DO LIST that does a few things:

  1. Quantifies all my TO-DO’s (projects, miscellaneous, and personal TO-DO’s)
  2. Organizes my workload so I can see the entire list of things I need to accomplish
  3. Allows me to prioritize the list so I work on the most important items first
  4. Gives me a sense of accomplishment when I start ticking items off the list as they are completed

Weekly To-Do’s work best for me. Some prefer a monthly list and I know a few who work with Daily To-Do’s. Use whatever method works best for you.

My process works like this:
STEP-1 – Develop an Annual Goals and Objectives List. This includes the major things I want to accomplish during the year. I do this during the holidays and the first week of every New Year. It’s a tradition I look forward to each year.

STEP-2 – At the beginning of each month I list the TO-Do’s I need to accomplish this month. I refer to the Annual Goals List to be sure I’m focusing on things that help me achieve these goals.

STEP-3 – Every weekend I create a WEEKLY TO-DO LIST from my monthly objectives list. This is what I focus on during the week and I work hard to accomplish everything on the list. I identify the priorities of what is on the list so I work on the most important items early.

STEP-4 – Emergency items or important issues come up from “out of the blue”. These items are added to this week’s list.

STEP-5 – The following weekend I move any unfinished tasks to next week’s TO-DO List and add new items from the monthly list that need to prioritized.

I have used pencil and paper combined with an EXCEL spreadsheet most of my life. Recently I discovered a system that can assist in this process that is light years ahead of my manual system. It is so powerful that I’ve made a commitment to work with the company to do some things that will benefit IT managers. I’ll announce something major soon so watch for my posts.

My Weekly TO-DO List is very simple as you can see below. It doesn’t need to be complex. All you need is the Task and a column to put a priority on it. For my Annual and Monthly Lists, I use A, B, and C. For my Weekly List, I number them to give them a chronological priority.

Having a TO-DO List in front of you helps you stay on track and it will help you get more things done. Whenever you begin feeling overwhelmed, , , go back to your TO-DO List and knock out a few items. It will “pump you up”.

5 key components in getting IT projects approved

IT managers and CIOs can struggle when it comes to getting their projects approved. It’s usually because they lack one or more of the key pieces you need to get an IT project approved and funded.

Think of this scenario for just a moment:
The CEO of a small company sees his CIO walking down the hall and toward his office to talk with him. The CEO quite often wants to find a way out of the room to avoid having this conversation.

Why?

Because he knows two things are going to occur in this meeting with his CIO:

  1. He’s not going to understand what the CIO will be talking about because he always discusses things in technology terms and jargon.
  2. The CIO is going to ask him for money to fund a project.

If the CEO doesn’t understand what the CIO is saying, it’s hard for him to give his CIO the money.

You might be surprised, but this scenario happens quite often, especially in small and mid-sized companies.

It’s important to know what a CEO is looking for. Above all, the CEO looks for the “why”. What are the benefits in doing this project and what will it do for our company… WHY?

I believe there are five key components in the dynamics of getting any IT project approved.

1.  The project must address a legitimate business need or issue.

All project recommendations you make should be business-driven, plus there should be a business sponsor identified for each recommendation.

This business sponsor can come from the CIO, but most of the time it should be someone from the business operations of your company.

The project should eliminate or minimize a risk, achieve an opportunity, or address a material issue of the business.

The bottom line is that all IT projects need to help the business in some way, and it always helps when you identify IT projects that originate from a legitimate business need.

Projects that are business-driven always have an edge in getting approved.

2.  The project should deliver business value.

I identify “business value” as one of five specific things. A project should:

  1. Increase revenue,
  2. Decrease cost,
  3. Improve productivity,
  4. Differentiate the company, or
  5. Improve client satisfaction.

Learn more about this in my blog post, “Business value is key to IT success.”

3.  All projects must be cost-justified.

The benefits of doing a project should outweigh the cost and effort. In other words, there needs to be real benefit to the company to invest time and money into doing something.

If you can’t justify the cost of a project to senior management, odds are high you won’t get the approval you seek.

Cost justification can come in many forms, not just financial cost justification. Consider project justification in areas that:

  • Reduce risk,
  • Improve client satisfaction,
  • Improve employee satisfaction,
  • Reduce downtime,
  • Address regulatory or compliance requirements.

4.  The project must be in context with the company’s current situation.

You may have a project that addresses a high-risk issue and is easily cost-justified, but if there is no money available, senior management may not be able to approve the project right now.

They may choose to take the risk. Senior managers balance risk and business issues all the time, plus there are many other departments in the company that need funds to address their initiatives and needs.

If cash flow is tight, the best project to recommend might be a less important project  that creates a cash flow benefit or cost savings that helps your company afford to sign up for your primary project later.

5.  IT must have a proven track record.

Senior management won’t hear much of what you have to say if you lack credibility. The way to achieve credibility is by delivering projects successfully and doing what you say you will do.

Simply put, you have to establish credibility by delivering projects successfully once they are approved. This creates trust and a sense of predictability that will help you in efforts to get projects approved.

Summary

You want to turn the scenario I talked about at the beginning of this article from one where the CEO is looking to avoid having a discussion with his CIO to a situation where he wants to walk out and greet him because he knows the CIO is bringing him something worthwhile.

The CEO wants to hear his CIO when he is consistent in:

  • Making business-driven recommendations,
  • Recommending projects that address a business issue or need,
  • Recommending projects that deliver tangible business value,
  • Always providing prudent cost justification,
  • Delivering the goods once projects are approved.

This is how CIOs and IT managers become partners with the executive management team.

I hope this insight helps you get your next project approved.

Best of success.

Note: This article first appeared in my Practical Management Tips for IT Leaders BLOG on CIO.com.

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Coach employees the fundamentals of IT support

Excellent client service does not happen on its own. It happens because IT managers create the proper environment and teach their IT employees what is required to deliver effective client service.

 

A big part of a manager’s job is teaching and coaching. It doesn’t matter if you are on a sports team or in a professional IT support environment.

 

Good managers coach and reinforce the fundamentals of what it takes to be successful. They teach at the individual level to help each employee succeed. When individuals succeed collectively, the team succeeds.

 

What are IT support fundamentals?

Well, my list is pretty simple as you might expect. They include the following:

 

1.  Follow-up  –  This is one of the most important of all traits we need. Simply put, when something is committed to a client, our staff needs to follow-up and close out their promise. In other words, “Do what you say you will do.”

 

2.  Communicate effectively  –   IT people tend to lack good communication skills. It’s important for you to coach your employees on what and how to communicate with our clients, senior management, and each other.

 

3.  Project management  –  Delivering  projects successfully is how IT organizations achieve credibility. You may need to teach your employees how to work on projects or how to manage them. In fact, you may need to create a project management culture if it does not exist.

 

4.  Quality  –  We want our employees to do the job right and to do their tasks completely, , , high quality. Finish the job and do the work once by doing it right.

 

5.  Productivity  –  At the end of the day, how much an employee accomplishes is as important as how well they do something. Time management is essential and is a great coaching opportunity.

 

6.  Professional conduct  –  “Dress for success!”, they say. Coach employees how to conduct themselves at work and understanding the importance of looking professionally is very important for IT success.

 

7.  Being on time  –  Seems like a small point but it’s a major issue. Being on time for meetings, completing tasks and other commitments on time says a lot about you as an individual and an IT organization.

 

8.  Be conservative  –  When making a commitment, be conservative so you can “over deliver”. No one gets upset if we complete the work earlier or less costly than expected.

 

9.  Teamwork  –  Whether working with a client or with other IT employees, we are all on the same team. Respect for one another and working together as a team is an absolute requirement to achieve success.

 

10.  Positive attitude  –  People who have positive “can do” attitudes achieve higher levels of success than those who do not. IT managers must not only coach this but they need to lead by example and become the IT organization’s best cheerleader.

 

Don’t assume your employees understand all of these fundamentals.

 

Professional sports team coaches constantly teach and reinforce the fundamentals of a player’s position with them, , , and these guys have been playing the sport for years.

 

What you see consistently is that teams who execute the fundamentals of their sport the best are the winners.

 

Instill the fundamentals of IT support within each of your IT employees and your IT organization will achieve many successes.

IT Manager Institute and ITBMC Program Overview

it-manager-institute-overview_start

CLICK HERE or on the image above to watch the video.

As I enter the 17th year of my company I’m excited about the emphasis on IT manager training we have planned this year. The IT Manager Institute has been a very successful program that we offer in three formats:
1. Classroom
2. Webinar
3. Online Self Study

The IT Manager Institute and ITBMC Certification Program is one of the fastest and most effective ways to develop critical IT management skills. If you want specific instruction on how to succeed and fast results, the IT Manager Institute is what you need.

The program follows a simple IT Management Process™ and provides tools and insights that can be used immediately to help IT managers of all levels achieve more™ success.

My training is practical, straightforward and to the point on how to achieve IT manager success. I teach you:
– What you need to do
– How to go about it
– Tools and examples you can use immediately

itbmcOver 1,000 IT managers from all parts of the world have attended the program in either classroom, webinar, or online Self Study with 100% positive feedback. The reason is simple: our processes and tools are practical, easy to use, and they work in the real world.

Attain ITBMC status and you will demonstrate a method of management that sets you apart from other IT managers and will help you achieve more success.

There is NO THEORY in this program. Every process and tool was created by me to help me organize, monitor and manage IT organizations in real companies. I have translated over 20 years of IT management experience into some of the most practical training for IT managers in the industry.

Check out the IT Manager Institute for yourself at:
http://itmanagerinstitute.com/training/agenda/

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2017 IT Manager Training Schedule

We have scheduled a big year of training, and I have reduced travel to be able to deliver much more online training this year. Check out our 2017 schedule below:

_training-schedule-2017

2017 New Year Message from Mike Sisco

Click image to view video

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

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.

xmas2016   xmas2016_card2

xmas2016-p1

xmas2016-p2

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.

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Do New Year Resolutions Really Work?

I create New Year Resolutions every year. In fact, I can go back to about 1980 when I think it all started.

usmc_mike-and-dorine-1

Dorine and Mike – March 1972

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:

  1. “I’m not spending time on this.”
  2. “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.

new-year-resolutions

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!

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Announcement – New IT Manager Training

_training-schedule-2016Our company is entering into a new phase of growth and it includes significant more focus on IT manager training.

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.
itmanagerinstitute.com/training

2017 Schedule
will be posted soon!

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Understand supply and demand to manage client expectations

project successOne 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.

programming teamHere, you see we have one great team of five programmers. Let’s assume they all work on the same software application to make our example easier.

The Demand Side

Our demand for programming work is defined by a couple of things:

  1. Day to day support required of the programmers
  2. 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:

  1. Improve the existing team’s productivity.
  2. Have the team work more hours.
  3. Pay programmers incentive pay to do certain projects on their own time (on weekends and holidays or in the evenings after work).
  4. Hire new programmers.
  5. 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:

  1. Reduce the amount of backlog
  2. Take longer to do the work
  3. 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:

  1. Reduce the demand
  2. Increase your capacity to deliver
  3. 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?”

It might be 80 percent of your total programming capacity to troubleshoot issues, fix things, or provide day to day support for the users.

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.

Be conservative

The next thing is that when you make commitments to your clients, you must be conservative.

Remember the “Golden IT Rule”,

Projects take longer and cost more than you think they will

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.

Summary

Four key things will help you manage your client’s expectations:

  1. Understand the demand for your resources
  2. Know your capability and capacity to deliver
  3. Realize how much is used for day to day support
  4. 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.

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