Monthly Archives: June 2010

Beware the transparent manager

Managers who choose to avoid taking a stance and let someone else take the blame for a problem are “transparent”. Transparent managers can cause severe damage to an organization including low morale, poor client service, and failed projects.

We have all seen them at work. They are the managers who blame their employees for client problems, they point to the company when cost cuts have to be made, and they rarely take credit for something unless it’s positive. In fact, they often like to take all the credit for any success that’s achieved.

Transparent managers are unfortunately very common and exist in almost every organization. They tell you what they think you want to hear and point elsewhere when there is a problem rather than stepping up and taking responsibility, then dealing with the issue head on.

Transparency undermines your team, your organization, and your company. When you see it happening, try to help the manager in question by addressing the issue (in private preferably) and make the manager aware of the negative impact that transparency has. Ultimately, the biggest loser will be the transparent manager unless he/she recognizes and changes the behavior, , , and in many cases the manager may not realize it.

How do you avoid being a transparent manager?

  • Take the hit for a problem rather than blaming an employee.
  • Do your homework to understand a company’s decision and reinforce the reasons and benefits of the decision. Take personal responsibility for helping implement the decision as positively as possible.
  • Always give your staff credit for “wins” and take the blame for “failures” as the manager, , , this is a  “management basic”. Coach and critique your staff for improvements one-on-one and behind closed doors.
  • Recognize transparent action and coach others on “stepping up” to issues rather than pushing them off to others or pointing fingers.

The issue comes down to the fact that most of us do not like confrontation. Unfortunately, “passing the buck” does more damage and can have long term consequences, , , mostly negative. You gain much more respect by dealing with the issue and taking responsibility, and you lose credibility when you don’t.

Dress for success

One of the things that helped me early in my career was advice and a gift from my manager at a small company. He simply gave me a book titled, Dress for Success by John T. Molloy and suggested I read it.

I had just come from IBM so it wasn’t like I didn’t know how to wear a nice suit in those days. I actually had some very nice suits, lots of white shirts (obviously), and some really great ties. I like nice ties, , , but my wife says I tend to buy ties that look the same all the time. I don’t really agree but I guess many of them do have a similar “power look” with some red in the tie. Oh well.

The point this CEO was making in giving me the book was that you need to be conscious of how you look in your professional life. To get ahead, senior management needs to see you as professional, polished, a good example and role model, , , especially when you are managing and leading other people. How you dress has some things to do with all of that.

It’s a misconception that IBM required you to wear a white shirt and pin-stripe suit. Not true, at least not so when I was with IBM in the late 70’s and early 80’s. However, most of us wore white shirts and conservative suits because it did not create any issues with our customers, , , it was just a cultural thing that “this is what we wear to work”. Pink, yellow, even blue shirts at the time were considered to cause some level of discussion so we avoided all of this by wearing a white shirt and conservative suit. No issue to get in our way of working with our client.

Today, dress is far more relaxed, , , and I love it. Many companies, even IBM has gone to “business casual” versus requiring you to wear a suit and tie. On the flip side, some companies are now going back to the suit and tie because they feel it makes their staff more professional and possibly the relaxed dress code has made the work a bit too relaxed, , , or they have lost some productivity.

Personally, I like the business casual code – nice trousers and a nice shirt (dress shirt or a polo golf shirt with collar), and a nice pair of shoes.

The challenge is that some of your employees are not as professional as they might need to be. If you want to maintain a professional atmosphere, especially important if your staff meets with clients, it is important that you set a positive example and reinforce appropriate dress in your company.

Senior management looks at you and inspects you every day:

  • How you dress
  • Are your shoes polished
  • Is your haircut nice and neat
  • How you handle yourself in meetings
  • What does your staff look like
  • etc., etc., etc.

Believe me, , , your senior management team is sizing you up a lot to determine if you are material for a bigger role at some point. Your image and how you present yourself day to day is an important part of their inventory of your work, , , not just the results you attain, , ,  so don’t limit yourself by being slack when it comes to putting yourself together in the morning.

Take advantage of the opportunity “dressing for success” gives you, , , we all need every advantage we can get to reach our full potential.

The book I mentioned, Dress for Success, has been written and revised many times, , , it continues to be a big seller. There is also a book for women, , , both can be found on Amazon.com.

One final comment. Many companies go with “casual day” on Fridays or the end of the work week where you can wear blue jeans and tennis shoes. I like these days too, but be sure you wear nice jeans and nice shoes, not raggedy jeans or dirty tennis shoes.

Even though it’s “casual Friday”, you are setting the tone with your staff and if you wear grubby jeans and shoes, , , they will take it a lot farther and before you know it the company needs to back off of their casual dress days because it doesn’t reflect a professional image with clients and one another.

Obviously, companies are different. Small start-up companies are often much more relaxed than larger financial institutions. Regardless of how lax your company is, I would recommend you always do your best to present a professional image, , , it is to your benefit in the long run.

IT Manager Institute headed to South Africa – July 26-30, 2010

We have another IT Manager Institute planned for South Africa the week of July 26-30, 2010. It will be my 4th Institute in South Africa and takes place after the World Cup soccer events, , , so it should be a great time for the class.

Details at www.mde.net/institute

At the Nelson Mandella Mall in Sandton, South Africa

IT Management Model — 5-pound sack

IT resources have capacity constraints just like a 5-pound sack has a limit to how much sugar it can hold.

You may get extra ounces of sugar in the 5-pound sack by stacking sugar up above the top rim of the sack, but eventually it spills over.

All IT resources, , ,  staff, systems, networks, etc. have limits. One of the keys to managing IT effectively is understanding the capacity of your resources and their limitations. You must understand both what your capability is as well as how much you can do to manage your client’s expectations.

Let’s look at an example using a programming team. Each programmer has a certain capacity for developing new code in making software changes and new enhancements. In order to determine your “programming capacity”, you need to quantify how many hours of new code each programmer can produce in a month.

A typical month has four, 40-hour weeks with roughly 160 work hours. If a programmer were 100% productive in producing new code, he would deliver 160 hours of code per month, , , but then you have meetings, training, vacations, holidays, and other disruptions to a person’s productive output time.

I’ve always used 120 hours per month as a bench mark of what I think a programmer will produce. Some months will be more, , , and some months will be less, , , but over the course of a year, a programmer will average about 120 hours of productive code a month.

If you have 6 programmers, your programming capacity is 720 hours of programming per month (6 x 120 = 720) assuming all six have the ability to work on the same business applications.

Once you establish your team’s capacity, you can look at the programming backlog, , , i.e., the list of outstanding requests. If each of the requests are estimated for number of programming hours needed to complete the request, you can more easily manage expectations of how much can be completed each month.

If the backlog contains an estimate of 2,900 hours of programming requests, you have a 4-month backlog (2,900 hrs. / 720 hrs capacity per month = 4.03 months to complete).

Ultimately, you don’t care what you work on assuming the department managers and users are establishing appropriate priorities. How you use the “5 pound sack” of programming capacity is not as relevant as ensuring all understand that there is only “5 pounds of capacity” to go around.

Caution when working with a new team
Until you gain experience in working with a programming team, use 100 hours per month per programmer as your estimated output. You do this to position yourself and the team to over deliver. No one gets upset if you deliver more than expected. As you gain experience with your team, you can raise the expectation to 120 hours per programmer per month.

Another reason for doing this is that if the team has a poor quality issue, you will spend some time fixing many of the programming changes they make until you get the quality issue fixed. The hours these fixes require don’t count when a user looks at “effective output” of new code each month.

You set the tone for your IT staff

As the IT Manager you create an attitude toward your clients and technology users that you may not be aware of.

Your employees look to you for the lead and when they see you complain about User problems, company politics or policies that you disagree with, they will actually begin mirroring your attitude toward these same issues.

It’s the manager’s role to set a positive tone and to help create a positive work environment for all employees. This doesn’t mean you have to like every new policy or that you shouldn’t be concerned about how some User Departments deal with technology support.

What it does mean is that when you have issues, you need to try to handle them “behind closed doors” versus in the open where your employees hear your dissatisfaction.

Got a policy that you don’t like but one senior management says must be enforced? Voice your concern with senior management in the proper place but never use your employees to share your disagreements. Your staff member’s first inclination will be to support your position and in the long run that may be the wrong thing for all. Part of your job is to reinforce company policy, , , and work on changing it through the proper channels.

Always be mindful of the impact you have on others when you are dealing with these difficult situations. Your staff and clients observe your behavior and if it’s all right for the manager they naturally assume it must be ok for the rest.

Your position has more impact on your company’s culture and the behavior of employees around you than you might think so take time to think through your options before taking action and consider the impact it has on those around you.

Use note taking codes to help you follow-up

I’ve always used a simple note taking scheme to help me highlight key items and to be able to quickly see the follow-up issues I have after a long meeting.

Strong follow-up skills set you apart from the rest of the pack.

My “note taking codes” and what they mean to me:
just a note to remember
* important
–> follow-up is needed
/ a task to be completed
X the task is completed
? needs clarification  (might also add “who to ask” and “what to ask”)
$ cost implication
R Risk
O Opportunity
🙂 client service “pop”

This system was tremendous help in my note taking during due diligence efforts of over 40 company acquisitions. At the end of each day of on-site discovery interviews, I would go back through my notes and quickly code them. When I finished the discovery part and started writing a Due Diligence Report, it made my job so much easier, , , for example, when writing the Risk section, I just looked through my notes for items coded “R”.

Any system you come up with works; the key is to use what you need to help you remember key points and to follow-up as needed. Quick follow-up increases your credibility, , , poor follow-up undermines credibility.

Don’t forget to tell your Night Operator

Security issues come in all sizes and shapes. When I was a young IBM Systems Engineer, I was assigned responsibility to install a Payroll system for a large hospital.

As it would happen, the CIO of the hospital was apparently in hot water with the new Hospital Administrator, the CEO of the hospital. During this time I was “camped out” day and night working on the Payroll installation, the CIO was fired.

Word came down from hospital management that the CIO was terminated, barred from the Data Center and that the locks and security codes were being changed right away. This is common practice when management wants to “lock down” the computer systems if they are concerned with the possibility of sabotage by an outgoing employee.

The next day, we were asked to review the systems access logs. To everyone’s surprise, the CIO had logged onto several key systems between midnight and 1:15am in the morning. This was in the days when remote access was not possible, , , you had to physically be in the building using one of the networked workstations to access the hospital’s systems.

The locks had been changed,  the security codes were changed, , ,  but the former CIO still managed to access the hospital’s systems.

How did he do it?

Hospital management told everyone about the CIO leaving the company except for the 3rd shift Computer Operator. When the outgoing CIO tried to get into the building, he no longer had keys, , , so he buzzed in as he normally would do and the Night Operator let him into the Data Center, , , also just like he normally would do. It looked like ‘business as usual’ to the Night Operator.

Fortunately, the fired CIO wasn’t there to do anything malicious. He was there to retrieve a few personal files and to follow-up on a technical issue that he knew about. He was actually very conscientious in his “night maneuvers”.

The morale of the story is that when you think you have all the doors locked, check again to be sure you’ve notified all who need to know, , , including your Night Operator.

What to do when IT staff is bombarded with “last minute” requests

If your organization is getting bombarded with “last minute” requests, there are four things you need to understand:

  1. What are the requests?
  2. Why are the requests being asked at the “last minute”?
  3. Who is asking for help?
  4. What’s causing these issues?

If you know the answers to these four questions, you should be able to develop a strategy to reduce or eliminate the issues altogether. Worst case is that you should be able to develop processes that reduce the need for so many “last minute” cries for help.

In many cases, Help Desk logs and incident trends should be able to help you identify the answers to the first three questions. The last question takes a bit of analysis, but when you have the data to support the first three questions it usually points to “what’s causing the issue”.

The answer to this dilemma usually falls into one or more categories:

  • quality
  • capacity
  • managing expectations
  • responsiveness

Once you know what, why, who, and cause, , , then the rest is up to you as the manager to develop and initiate processes for improvement or conduct coaching sessions that improve the situation.

There is always a logical reason as to why “last minute” calls are coming in. Figure out the four questions above and you will get to the solution to reduce or eliminate the problem.

Need an example?
Let’s say you get too many requests for a new PC at the “last minute”. Maybe, a department manager habitually forgets to tell you a new employee will start on Monday morning. That manager may not even remember to get the employee  set up with a cube and a phone, , , but if he has to wait on a PC, then it is always “IT’s fault”.

Simple way to eliminate this “knee-jerk” reaction you and your staff can be put into is to have a few spare PC’s available that are already fully configured with your standard image for a new employee. When you get the “last minute” request, deploy one of the spare PC’s and get the new employee up and running, , , then order a replacement spare PC for the next time you have such an “opportunity”.

One of the priorities we have as managers is to try to eliminate the reactive nature of our IT support business. Many things are out of our control like the “last minute” requests from other managers, , , but we can usually do something like the spare PC process to minimize the impact these things have on our staff.

The bottom line: even when some things out of your control can create challenges for your organization, you actually possess more control than you might think to be a responsive IT organization.

10 ways to eliminate paper and incur BIG cost savings

The cost of paper is enormous in most companies. Anytime, you can find big pockets of paper usage, you generally have an opportunity to save your company thousands of dollars, if not millions.

Eliminating the use of paper reduces expenses in your company in many ways:

  • paper
  • ink & ribbons
  • printers
  • handling
  • distribution
  • storage

Paper and ink costs can be significant, but creating the paper is only a fraction of the cost of using paper. Handling, distribution, and storage costs are far bigger issues.

Things to consider:

  • Xerox research estimates each US worker creates 10-12 thousand sheets of paper a year.
  • US paper consumption has tripled in the last decade to 700 billion sheets a year. (Source: Xerox research)
  • Life cycle cost of a piece of paper is estimated to be $20.00. (Source: Association for Information & Image Management.)
  • In the 1990’s, insurance companies used to pay our company $1.00 for each insurance claim we sent them electronically versus paper. In those days, insurance companies estimated the cost to process a single paper claim was $5.00.
  • In 2006, the use of electronic claims has grown significantly but so has the number of total claims, , , paper is still heavily used even though electronic claims now make up about 75% of all claims submitted. The cost to process a paper claim is still between $1.50 – $3.00, , , and sometimes much more. (Source: AHIP – America’s Health Insurance Plans)

In an age of digital information, you would think paper usage would be declining, but it isn’t, , , it’s increasing rapidly according to research findings by Xerox. If the research is accurate, here are some startling numbers for a small company of just 100 employees:

  • 100 employees create 1,100,000 pieces of paper annually
  • 1,100,000 pieces of paper have a life cycle cost of $22,000,000

That’s creating $22,000,000 in cost every year. Not all of this cost is incurred by the company creating the paper, , , much of the cost is incurred by other companies who must handle, process, and store the paper created by our small company of just 100 employees.

Think of the thousands of companies, with tens of thousands of workers and you can quickly see that the cost of paper and associated costs in handling, distributing, and storing it are enormous.

With today’s technology, there is no reason we can’t reduce paper significantly. We won’t eliminate paper totally, but we certainly should be trying to reduce the creation of paper and the associated costs to our company.

As a new CIO in a company, one of the things I look for in my initial assessment is for large “pockets” of paper. If I find large amounts of paper in a department of the company, there are generally some major cost saving opportunities in the following areas:

  • reduce clerical workers who handle and process paper
  • reduce postage and distribution costs
  • reduce paper storage costs

The challenge with clerical workers in most companies is the rate of turnover, , , they are the highest turnover group in your company which has additional cost implications such as recruiting, hiring, training, etc. Automating clerical processes allows you to just “not re-hire”  as clerical employees leave your company.

10 ways to eliminate paper

  1. Document management systems – Implement systems that create and distribute electronic documents versus creating paper.
  2. Company policies on use of paper – Are you aware many employees print out most of their e-mail messages, , , and other things like it? Lots of opportunity in creating paper usage guidelines.
  3. Duplex printers – Printing on both sides of the paper saves a lot in the long run.
  4. Electronic Distribution Systems (EDS) – Data interfaces with companies you work with can eliminate boat loads of paper. Wal-Mart implemented a company-wide EDS program in the 1980’s that has saved their company billions, , , and continues to reduce the cost of their products to consumers.
  5. Use your Intranet – Stop producing paper for company information (newsletters, employee manuals, operations policies and procedures, etc.) and use your company Intranet to publish the information.
  6. Print to PDF’s versus paper – Most company documents can be printed to a PDF file and distributed, then selectively printed by the recipient as necessary. This will drive paper costs down quite a bit.
  7. Scanning and imaging systems – This technology is so much more cost effective than it was even 10 years ago. If you have large volumes of paper coming into your company from external sources, you can reduce costs a lot by scanning the documents and retrieving the images as needed to process and store the information.
  8. Make printing harder – Selective placement of printers within your company can actually reduce the amount of paper produced.
  9. Automate clerical processes – Clerical workers are usually handling lots of paper. Automate the processes they do and eliminate the paper which allows you to eliminate the clerical worker position.
  10. Mandate change – To be effective in cutting the usage of paper, your company needs a “champion” who leads the way and encourages others in the company to look for innovative ways to reduce the use of paper. People do not change their ways easily, , , ultimately, senior management must get involved and reinforce the idea that change is required and you take it seriously.

Most companies have excellent cost saving opportunities by eliminating paper. Take a day to tour your company and just look for large “pockets” of paper and think about what might be done to eliminate the creation of that paper, what costs would be eliminated if people did not have to touch it or if your company did not have to distribute it.

You might be shocked at the cost savings opportunity !!

Announcement – Installment payment option for the IT Manager Institute Self Study

Many have requested we offer a multiple payment option for our highly successful IT Manager Institute Self Study. At $995.00, it is by far the best training value for IT managers in the industry. In most situations, our students have the program paid for by their company, , , but in many cases, it’s up to the individual to invest in himself.

Our goal has always been to make our practical IT manager training materials and resources accessible and affordable to all managers in the world who want to improve their operational management skills. The multiple payment option plan is another step in that direction.

Details of the IT Manager Institute Self Study are at www.mde.net/selfstudy

For the multiple payment option, go to  www.mde.net/selfstudy/installment