Monthly Archives: October 2010

Happy Halloween

It’s Halloween !!!

Do you believe in ghosts?

Do you observe as I have that more problems  seem to occur in our technologies when there is a full moon?

Are you a bit more careful on Friday 13th?

Possibly black cats make you a bit nervous !

At our home, we get somewhere between 200 to 300 kids on Halloween night. This year we opted out of Halloween only because it fell on the weekend and most of our weekends are spent at Camp Liberty.

There are times when we think we have a ghost at Camp Liberty, , , but we are certain it’s a good one who watches over us. And, we have our black cat named Boo who stands guard, , , no one wants to mess with her.

Back to the full moon issue and it having negative impacts on our technologies. Maybe it’s not real but other things seem to bear out the fact that things do happen with full moons – like more traffic accidents, more aggressive driving, more personal accidents, babies seem to be delivered, etc.

Maybe all of this is coincidental, but what I will tell you is that I tend to try and avoid full moon timeframes when we install a new technology, implement upgrades, or do other things that can affect our mission critical systems.

Call me paranoid if you want or just consider me to be a bit more cautious when we have a full moon.

Halloween is a time for fun, , , I hope your Halloween is one to remember.

K-19: The Widowmaker

In my last post, I asked you if your IT organization was prepared for a disaster. What made me think of writing that post was because I watched a movie  a few weeks ago starring Harrison Ford (remember him in Star Wars?) and Liam Neesen (also in one of the later Star Wars episodes).

The movie was K-19: The Widowmaker based on actual events that took place in 1961. In the movie, the Russians wanted to launch their first nuclear  submarine and conduct a rocket launch test. The Captain of K-19 (Liam Neesen playing the part of Captain Mikhail Polenin) refused the aggressive time line being asked to execute the event due to his concern for the safety of his crew.

Harrison Ford plays the part of Captain Alexei Vostrikov, a loyal party member who is assigned the job and becomes Senior Captain of the K-19 submarine.

To make a long story short, the nuclear sub is launched and the rocket test is completed , , , but the interesting part I picked up in the movie that ties to IT management and my last Blog post, Are you prepared for a disaster,  is what takes place on their voyage to the rocket test destination.

The new Captain is a hard nosed and experienced sailor. He knows there are many things that can go wrong on a submarine, so he starts testing the crew for their ability to deal with adversity. Things like:

  • Fire drills
  • Missile drills
  • Flood drills

By doing this he puts tremendous stress on the crew and officers, , , but it also prepares them for what is to come, , , a disaster in the nuclear reactor that poses a potential nuclear explosion in the worst case or radiation exposure to the entire crew.

The end result is that the submarine crew loses several crew members in dealing with the radiation leak and many more die upon their return to base in the months to come. The senior officer is actually heralded for his bravery and the first nuclear submarine launch and rocket firing test, but he is also brought before court martial for the deaths of his sailors.

Had the crew not been forced to practice their mock-up disasters, it is quite possible the entire crew would have lost their lives. Captain Polenin (Harrison Ford) focused on insuring his crew could recover from a disaster they might encounter, , , these drills helped the crew be more prepared when the real disaster occurred.

Have you tested your crew for potential disaster and do you know how they will react? Better to find out now before the real event happens.

Are you prepared for a disaster?

We’ve all heard things like ” We need a disaster recovery plan”, “Be sure your data is backed up”, “We need off-site backup”, etc.

I’m sure most know of or have experienced firsthand situations where a company experienced a disaster and had to go through a recovery. I’ve seen many because of having jobs in companies where we supported hundreds of other companies using our technologies. I can tell you that it’s always a difficult and tough situation to go through.

The question is, “Are you prepared for a disaster?”
I can hear most of your answers already, , , “Sure we are. We have backups and a disaster recovery plan. We are good to go.”

Well the next question is, “Have you tested your disaster recovery plan?”

If you haven’t shut everything down and truly tested a recovery, then you don’t really know.

Two examples

  1. My last company had a disk failure 6 months before I got there. When they pulled in the backup tapes, they couldn’t read them. Net result was mission critical systems down for over two weeks. Wonder why senior management decided to find a new CIO?
  2. I had an IT Manager Institute student have to return to his company prematurely because of a system failure and their recovery procedures not working. He was able to return to the next class but I think you see my point.


  1. If you don’t have a disaster recovery plan, create one.
  2. If you haven’t tested it, be sure to conduct a recovery test to insure it will work.

Model #63 – Escalation

One of the models in my IT Management Models book is about escalating critical support issues.

Escalation steps should take place automatically for certain circumstances. Develop processes and teach your IT staff how and when issues should be escalated and to whom the escalation needs to go.

Every type of business has circumstances that justify escalation to higher level managers. Establish your IT escalation procedures to protect the business and to help your team be successful.

There are times when issues need to be escalated to more experienced people in your organization. Sometimes, the information may need to be escalated to senior management outside of your organization. It is important to establish clear escalation procedures in your organization so critical business issues get the proper amount of attention at the earliest possible moment.

Escalating when appropriate should be automatic and simply part of the process of supporting the technology.

Define escalation procedures: What, when, and to whom – When defining the escalation procedures you need in your IT operation, you must be specific as to what requires an escalation act. Define clearly to whom the escalated message should go to or what does one do in the escalation procedure. You also should define when an issue gets escalated. In my IT operations, I will set up escalation procedures for all types of business situations when I believe it will improve our support operation. In a few cases, I want to be notified immediately so I can be sure we are looking at the problem with a management perspective as well as a technical one.

Build escalation procedures that help your team succeed – Escalation procedures can help your team be more successful because they position the team to be more responsive to problem issues that can occur. Getting stronger skills on a “down system” issue quickly in order to minimize the downtime you might incur is a positive thing for all involved.

Escalation procedures protect the business – Protecting the business is our job when it comes to managing technology. Responding quickly and if necessary with an “all hands on deck” response to a critical issue is appropriate when we are talking about mitigating business continuity risk.

Coach your team so they are “automatic”
– You want your escalation procedures to take place automatically. Coach employees, inspect the process with simulated drills, and do what is necessary to get them handling escalation steps automatically; you will be glad you did when they have to escalate an issue.

Click here to learn more about IT Management Models.

Two “Bits of wisdom” that helped my career

There are two very important concepts that one of my favorite managers gave me. Bryan Hathcock was a senior Systems Engineer (SE) Manager for IBM when I showed up in the late 1970’s. He became a mentor and a good friend and still is today. I learned a great deal about managing effectively from him.

The very first week at IBM, Bryan began coaching me and molding me into a strong SE. His management style was persuasive and not authoritative. He was more comfortable in pointing out the direction for you to take than micromanaging an employee on how to do everything. To say he empowered me to do the job is an understatement, , , I learned a lot about empowering employees from him.

In the first week, he gave me some advice that I still adhere to today. It has been something that has made a real difference in my career as a manager and professional, possibly even as a human being.

I know that may sound quite strong, but I believe it to be true.

Bryan’s advice, “Observe others and incorporate what you see as strengths into your own style of doing things.”

The context of these words of wisdom was when he was telling me about his plan to pair me up with senior SE’s and Marketing Reps over my first six months at IBM to learn about the business. He suggested that I would see some very different, even unique, approaches to dealing with various customer issues, opportunities, and problems.

Bryan’s advice was to observe how different people go about their business and when I saw something that worked well and was a strength, to incorporate this approach or skill into my own way of handling situations. As for those things that do not work well, exclude them from your repertoire.

I took this advice to heart and to this day I still observe others and learn from the actions of others. You might say that over the years I have been a “student of management”. I pick up sound management techniques from all types of sources.

It might be from a management situation I observe taking place, from a movie, even from my wife who makes comments about a situation. Management situations occur all over the place; I tend to look for these situations and learn from them.

One of the best examples of management in a movie is in the first five minutes of Gladiator. If you are looking for it, you learn a lot from a very short segment such as things like respect, commitment, motivation, strategy, and leadership. Don’t laugh, I see every one of these concepts every time I watch this part of the movie. When I need a morale boost, I put my Gladiator DVD in the box and watch just 5 minutes of the movie. It’s great because I’ve identified 15 management traits from the first 5 minutes..

Bryan gave me another piece of advice at the time I was about to leave the SE organization and move into the Sales organization. Part of my career path was to become a Marketing Rep after three years as an SE because having sales experience would be beneficial to my future career as a manager.

In one of our last meetings as Bryan’s employee, he gave me some extremely good advice that I’ve used in counseling many of my employees over the years.

His advice, “When you move into a different role, be sure to focus on aspects of the new role and what it takes to succeed in the new role.”

What he meant in this case was that I needed to drop the technical skills and focus I had on technology from my SE experiences once I became a salesman. Having strong technical skills is not what will make you a good salesman. It certainly won’t hurt, but if you continue to focus on the technology, you won’t be developing your sales skills and doing things that are going to make you successful as a salesman.

This is some of the best advice I have ever had in all of my career !!

I believe this advice is what helped me eventually leave the technology behind when I became a manager and focus my full attention on what it takes to succeed as a manager. It was a very difficult transition for me just as it is for most of us who are initially technical experts who become IT managers.

The problem, of course, is that as an IT manager, you simply don’t have the time to maintain your technical skills at the expert level and also do what you need to do as a manager to be successful.

Something has to give.

If you don’t focus your time and energy on management issues and in developing the skills that are needed in this discipline, your team and company suffer and your organization’s results will not be to the level they should be.

Managing an organization is totally different than managing technology issues as a technology expert. All of a sudden, you have to get things done through other people and not yourself. This was probably the hardest part for me to learn because I was so used to doing things myself and only being accountable for myself. It is one of the more difficult transitions for all of us to make and it is possibly the most important aspect of becoming an effective IT manager.

Management is a full time job and so is being a technology expert. Both disciplines can be very rewarding for a person, but it is very difficult, if not impossible, to be effective in both areas.

I learned a lot from Bryan, but these two concepts have probably been the most important in helping develop my career.

  • I continue to observe others all the time and learn from them.
  • I look for management situations that add value to my existing skills and understanding.
  • When I take on a new role, I quickly try to focus on what’s important to be successful in the new role rather than focusing on what I know from my past.
  • I keep the past in the background and use these experiences when they are helpful, but the concentration and focus is placed on developing skills and dealing with issues that will make me successful in the new role.

Incorporate these two pieces of advice Bryan gave me in your own approach and you will find that they will benefit you for years to come.

Don’t beat around the bush

When coaching an employee you need to be direct and to the point, , , you don’t want to “beat around the bush” or avoid discussing the issue.

I’ve seen some managers try to address a poor performer and they avoid telling the problem employee what the problem is, , , they avoid the real discussion that’s needed.

You can’t do this; it isn’t fair to the employee. If the person is not performing up to the level needed to succeed, you owe it to the employee to let him know. To avoid this is failing as a manager and also failing to support both the problem employee and the rest of your team, , , plus failing your company.

It’s not negative to tell an employee they are not doing well and then list specific examples of why that’s the case. It’s actually a positive, , , especially if the employee rectifies the situation and becomes successful as a result.

Many managers don’t like conflict so they avoid discussing the problem. When you do, you are letting everyone down including yourself. Prepare for the meeting, get your facts together, be prepared to show the employee what he needs to do differently to be successful and be supportive in your efforts, , , you can avoid conflict when you are genuinely trying to help the employee succeed, , , but you ultimately create a real conflict of some kind down the road if you allow a poor performer to continue along without telling him about the problem.

If there is an “elephant in the room”, be sure to point it out and be direct, honest, and supportive in your discussions.

Keep a journal

You may not realize it now but 10, 15, maybe 20 years from now you may look back and discover that right now is one of the very best times of your career.

I’ve had a super career, , , , worked for some great companies, , , worked with some of the best people in the industry, , , and I have truly enjoyed most of the aspects of my 20-plus years working in a corporate setting in IT manager and CIO roles. The last 10 years of running my own training company has been icing on the cake.

There have been a few downside moments but for the most part it has been good.

Something I do now that I wish I had started earlier in my career is to maintain a journal. I actually keep two journals. One is a personal journal and the other is what I call my business journal. Both were started some ten years ago when I started my company.

I don’t write in them every day nor every week and not even every month. I write in them when I want to log something that I feel is an event worth remembering, , , or that I would want my son to read when he is 60 years old long after my career is over and done with.

I add photos, charts, do a little drawing (albeit my artwork is very crude, , , and I use the term “artwork” carefully), and make comments that I believe will be worth recalling when I’m 80 or worth sharing with others.

Things like:

  • How it felt when I received my first set of published books
  • Sitting at the airport for my first trip to South Africa
  • Launching my IT Manager Institute Self Study from The Point at our Camp Liberty cabin
  • Learning something that boosted our business
  • Strategies I put into place to grow the company
  • A special “date night” with my wife
  • A funny event that will make me laugh every time I read about it

Little things, , , big things, , , what is important is that there are things taking place in your life that you will want to remember. I recommend you write them down in a journal because one day you will be mighty happy you wrote a few comments about that special event you had with your employees, , , an award you received from your company, , , how you felt when you finally got the big promotion you’ve been working for, etc.

Keep it simple and make it something that is special for you, , , because if it is it will be special for someone else to read one day.

What’s the Russian’s plan, son?

One of my favorite lines was in the movie Hunt for Red October when the Captain of the US Aircraft Carrier asks the young officer, “What’s the Russian’s plan, son?”

The young officer had just laid out the scenario about the Red October submarine Captain Rameus (played by Sean Connery) defecting from Russia and how the entire Russian Navy was looking for him.

The Captain asked, “What’s their plan?”

Tired and without sleep for two days the young officer goes to temporary quarters set up for him to get a little rest. Upon rising, he showers and shaves before heading back to the ship’s Bridge for follow-up discussions with the senior officers. As he shaves, he looks in the mirror and starts asking himself questions, , , “What’s their plan?”, , , “How does a nuclear submarine and its entire crew defect?”, , , “the entire crew defecting doesn’t seem possible”, , , “How do you get 100 sailors off a nuclear submarine?”

You can watch the movie to get the full context of the situation, , , but here is a question for you,

“What’s your plan?”

Do you have a plan?

“A plan for what?”, you might ask.

Well, , , anything, , , but at a minimum you ought to have a least two plans:

  1. Your IT strategy and plan for supporting your company
  2. Your personal career plan

Let’s focus on the second one – your career plan. The question I ask everyone I have a career planning discussion with is, , , “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Do you know what you want to be? Have you given much thought to it? What do you want in your career and in life? Or are you simply floating along?

Nothing wrong with drifting along, but those who achieve great success identify what they want and put an action plan in place to prepare themselves to achieve it.

They go for it !!

If you want to be the best programmer, invest in your programming skills, learn new technologies that will help you be a better programmer with more productivity and quality in your work, , , and become the best programmer.

If you want to be a great project manager, invest in your project management and people skills. Start tracking your projects to quantify the results you are getting. Do you know what percentage of your projects are delivered on time, delivered within budget, and meet client expectations? Do you know why certain projects failed and now how to prevent these issues from occurring in future projects? Can you also quantify the benefits each of your projects have delivered? If not, learn how to do all of this better and better and become a great project manager.

If you want to become a successful manager, learn what it takes to succeed in the management role you are shooting for and what paths are appropriate to get a shot at management. When you get the opportunity, hopefully you have invested in yourself to be prepared. Many aren’t and do not fare well as a result.

Leading and managing others requires a whole new set of skills than what you may have developed in your technical role so learn what is required and go prepare yourself. It may seem obvious that those who are prepared tend to get the assignment and do well as a result over those who are not prepared. Seems obvious but many miss the obvious.

So, , , what’s your plan? If you don’t have one, now may be a good time to start thinking about what you want in your career and begin developing a plan to get there.

Need help? Take a look at Develop a Career Plan for some quick tips and a career planning tool.

Two more IT Manager ToolKits awarded

In the last two weeks we awarded two more IT Manager ToolKits to random selections of the Subscribers to our ITLever Blog. That makes 9 ToolKits we have awarded and the big drawing will be December 5th when we select a recipient for an Apple iPad.

Most recent winners are:

  • Edwin Lee  –  Luzerne, Singapore
  • Dave Stringer  –  Sydney, Australia

We have subscribers from all parts of the world and appreciate your support.

Click here for a list of all winners.

Is your IT Organization just a “cost center” ?

How does senior management of your company view your IT organization?

Do they see you as simply a cost center, , , an organization that spends lots of money, , , something that’s probably necessary but hard to identify the value they get from such expenditures?

Do they understand what your IT organization is spending money on and why?

Do they think you and your IT employees have an insatiable desire for technology, , , new toys that are pretty darn expensive but may not contribute to the well being of the company?

If you haven’t asked yourself these questions you need to. It’s vitally important for your success to learn how your senior management team views the company’s IT organization. IT is an investment and you hope they view your organization and what you are doing as a very good investment.

It’s very easy for senior management to see you as simply a cost to the company. Over 90% of all IT organizations do not create revenue for the company so every dollar you spend truly is a cost to the company.

The question is this, “Is the IT expense incurred a good investment or not?”

Another question of sorts is that you should realize how much most senior management teams want to spend in IT. Do you know the answer?

It’s pretty simple, , , most senior management teams want to spend $0.00, , , nothing, , , nadda. Most senior management teams would spend no money in IT if they could.

The problem is that your company needs technology for people to do their jobs, , , and technology has to be supported, , , so we need an IT organization. But what’s more important is that your IT organization needs to provide so much real value for the company that senior management wants to find ways to take advantage of the leverage IT offers the company.

That’s right – leverage.

Your IT organization gives your company more leverage than any other organization in your company. IT is the only organization that can positively impact every other organization in the company. Providing technology solutions can improve productivity or help reduce cost in every organization of your company, , , real leverage.

But, , , if your senior management team sees your IT organization as a cost center, they don’t understand the leverage possibilities you offer. And if that’s the case, they look for ways to limit spending in IT, , , not for ways to take more and more advantage of the leverage possibilities you offer.

How do you find out?
Simple, , , go ask them. Ask your senior managers how they view their IT organization – a value add, a tangible business value, a necessary expense, or a drain on resources?

Can they articulate and define the business value your IT organization provides in quantifiable and specific terms?

If they can’t, it’s very possible they don’t really have a good indicator as to what the value is that you bring to the table, , , and they probably see you as a cost, , , or “cost center.”

Better yet, , , can you define the business value your IT organization provides to your company? Not in a general way, but in very specific terms that identify quantifiable and tangible business value resulting from the work IT is doing. If not, there is much work to do.

Do you know what business value is? If not, I recommend you read the post titled, Business value is key right now.

IT can be a super star
Become an IT organization that does three things consistently and you are golden.

  1. Your IT recommendations always have tangible and quantifiable business value objectives.
  2. Every IT recommendation can be clearly cost justified.
  3. Your IT organization delivers what you commit to deliver.

Every day you must earn your company’s respect.

Every day you must help your company understand the business value IT is providing. If you don’t communicate this to managers of your company, they won’t know – GUARANTEED !!

Create this understanding and gain their respect by delivering what you say you will do and senior management will help you do more for them by funding more and more IT initiatives. It’s the key way to becoming a partner with the senior management team of your company.

Don’t allow your organization to be considered just a “cost center”. You and your staff deserve a lot more, and the ball is in your court to do something about it.