Monthly Archives: April 2011

IT Project Management: a practical approach

In my last post, I discussed the importance of project management in creating IT credibility. You won’t be credible unless you deliver projects successfully. Period, , , end of story !!!!

My company mission is to “help IT managers of the world achieve more success”. The very first thing I did in this effort was to write a few books (10 actually) to provide insights and tips on things that actually help you achieve more success as an IT manager.

One of the keys is to deliver projects successfully, , , so naturally, there is a book on project management.

Delivering projects successfully is so important. The book is based upon my experiences in delivering projects successfully, , , both as a young IBMer and later as an IT manager and CIO.

IT Project Management: a practical approach is straightforward and includes the simple process I use and the tools to help you deliver projects successfully. It also includes insights and tips from my experiences that will give you an advantage or edge, , , something we all need.

Short, straightforward, practical, , , and to the point. That’s what we want so that’s how I wrote this one. It is one of my best sellers.

Buy the e-book for $29.95.

Buy the whole series of 10 e-books plus BONUS IT Manager ToolKit (a $175.00 value on its own) for $279.00

$279.00 — Full series + IT Manager ToolKit

Getting IT credible, , , project management is key

In an earlier post, I mentioned, “The most important part of creating IT success is being able to conduct a thorough IT assessment so you can determine what your organization needs to work on.” CLICK HERE to view.

The second most important element required for IT success is that you must become a credible organization.

“Credible”, , , what does “credible” mean?

Credibility only comes when your client trusts you can and will do what you say you will do. Simply put, it means you deliver projects successfully.

You can conduct a great IT assessment and deliver an eloquent strategy that gets lots of acceptance, , , but if you can’t deliver projects successfully, you will not have credibility. Getting credible is absolutely a requirement to become a successful IT manager at any level. 

That’s why project management is so important for an IT organization.

There are three main parts to all of this:

First, you have to define and prioritize the projects. This happens during an IT assessment.

Second, you have to deliver the project, , , this is actually the project management component.

Third, you need to track your projects and demonstrate your success rate in delivering projects on time, within budget, and meeting client expectations.

All three components are very important. If you don’t identify the appropriate projects to work on and prioritize them so they help your company the quickest, clients don’t think you are focused on the right things.

Deliver a project successfully but fail to communicate your success and no one will know about it, , , so it’s important to “bookend” the project work with an appropriate assessment on the front and effective reporting on the back.

See my IT Initiatives Portfolio post and download a simple tool to help you quantify and report your project successes, , , CLICK HERE to view.

There is absolutely no excuse for failing to deliver a project successfully in today’s world. With the methodologies, tools and training in this area you would think that most IT projects are delivered successfully, , , but to our dismay they are not.

Studies show there is a high failure rate with IT projects, , , year after year.

You don’t have to have a PM certification like a PMP to deliver a project successfully, but you do need to know something about project management and it helps to have a few tools. A PM certification doesn’t say you are a successful project manager, , , it says you have knowledge about project management and passed an exam.

I’ve delivered hundreds of projects successfully with some of the simplest tools. The key is knowing what to focus on and doing a few key things that positions you to deliver your project successfully. Do these things well and success is achievable.

In a future post, I’ll give you my “Tips to project management success”.

If you are looking for project management help, I recommend you take a look at two resources:

  1. IT Project Management: a practical approach – I wrote this book to give managers a simple and practical process in project management and it includes the tools I use myself to deliver a project successfully. It’s a quick read and gets right to the point. Learn more.
  2. TenStep, Inc. and Tom Mochal – The company that provides the most in project management in the world is TenStep, Inc. Tom Mochal has created an international force in providing project management tools, training and consulting services.  Check out

Project management is the cornerstone of credibility

It is why you should focus quickly on delivering projects successfully when taking responsibility for a new IT organization. Get credible and IT success is just around the corner.

“Net it out”

When you communicate with your client whether it is senior management or department managers, you need to “net it out”.

What I mean is that you need to give them the bullet points, , , the answer, , , the abbreviated or abridged version, , , , , , , , , , not the paragraph, highly detailed version.

Business people start turning you off within two to three minutes if they hear lots of detail, , , and especially if they hear “technology”.

Senior managers want the answer. If they need more detail, they will ask questions and get to the detail they need. Middle managers of business are similar although many can be a bit more detail, , , but when it comes to technology, they don’t want to hear very much about how, , , only why we need the things you are recommending.

“What’s in it for me?” That is the question you need to answer as you communicate with business people.

The challenge we have as IT professionals is that because we are so detail oriented, we think others want and need to understand the detail.

They don’t usually want it, need it, and are usually not interested in all the detail. You are wasting your breath when you discuss many of the things in technology at a detail level and you are wasting their time.

Give them the answer and be prepared to discuss the issue at lower levels as needed.

Beware the “industry average” trap

I love it when my CEO returns from a trip and discovers something from the airline magazine to question me about. Let me give you an example:

In Delta Magazine, he reads an article that suggests the average number of users to Desktop Technician ratio is 150 to 1 in most companies. (I just made this number up to illustrate a point)

When he gets back to the office, he calls me in and asks me, “Mike, what is our User to Desktop Technician support ratio?”

I do a quick mental math calculation of total users divided by my number of desktop support resources and say, “It is around 100 to 1.”

My CEO looks puzzled and concerned, , , then he asks the magic question, “Why is our IT organization not as good as most?”

Upon finding out what he is talking about and where he is coming from, I have to explain why our number is not as good as what he read in Delta Magazine.

When you see an industry average of anything, you have to remember, , , it is an industry average. What this means is there are many companies who will have much better numbers and there are many companies who will have worse numbers.

Having a worse number than an industry average does not necessarily mean your IT organization is doing a poor job.

There are a lot of variables that affect this particular type of measurement such as:

  • Age of the equipment being supported
  • Distribution of the equipment in the company
  • Complexity of what you have installed on the desktops
  • Amount of change your company is going through
  • Special projects underway
  • Capabilities of the support staff
  • Responsibilities of the support staff
  • Capabilities of the users
  • , , , even how you define a “Desktop Technician” and what he does

Lots and lots of variables.

You can have a worse number than the industry average and actually be doing a better job than someone who has a much better number. You have to understand the situation before coming to any meaningful conclusion.

Quarterly strategy meeting

Every quarter Tom Mochal and I meet to discuss our two companies. Often, we have others join us who can contribute to the process. This time, Tom and his wife visited us at Camp Liberty and spent the night on the Buffalo River.

Tom and I prepare to meet at “The Point” above the Buffalo River

Our meetings are fairly short, but they mean a great deal to me for many reasons:

  • motivation
  • gaining insight from other viewpoints
  • additional analysis and feedback on my work
  • collaborative process

It’s important for you to collaborate your strategies with others and hear their feedback. It’s not always the feedback you want to hear, but you need to listen closely to what others think of your ideas. Honest opinion from those you trust is extremely valuable, , , and your strategies will be better because of it.

It’s also important for you to hear other strategies, especially if they have a similar business as in the case of Tom and me. Listening to other people’s strategies and ideas can be a great catalyst for your own thought process.

I can’t tell you how many times the light bulb has turned on in my head with a new idea when discussing something in these meetings. It happens at least once in every meeting.

Our 20 Minute IT Manager product concept was spawned in such a meeting way back in 2005. After developing the idea, Tom and I developed weekly training sessions for three years, , , 162 of them as a result. CLICK HERE for info.

In this weekend’s meeting, Tom and I decided to revive the 20 Minute IT Manager and develop more sessions for our audiences. You will see our announcement soon, , , we plan to begin releasing new sessions in June.

It was a great meeting with great friends, , , and I didn’t even charge them the standard Camp Liberty Hotel room rate. 🙂 🙂

Hail storm hits Camp Liberty

I was about to write a post about the big hail storm that hit us while spending time at our Camp Liberty today, but my wife probably does a better job so take a look at her post. 

CLICK HERE to see her story and photos of the tennis ball size hail that fell from the sky, , , thought it was coming through our cabin’s tin roof. 

All I can tell you is that it was incredible !! Her photos tell some of the story, , , here is one of them.

Hail next to a silver dollar.

Acquisition: IT Due Diligence

Conducting a solid IT assessment is the key to IT manager success, , , it is the most important part of managing an IT organization. You can’t be successful if you do not know what you need to work on and what you can do.

One of my most popular books is titled, Acquisition: IT Due Diligence. It provides an IT assessment methodology and all the tools you need to conduct a thorough IT assessment.

In the 1990’s I was the CIO of a company that became an acquisition machine. In 5 1/2 years, we acquired over 35 companies and grew the company from $30 million in revenue to over $700 million.

Prior to joining this company in 1990, I had never heard the term “due diligence”. Believe me, I got a quick dose of it.

Every department head was responsible for assessing, budgeting, developing and executing a transition plan for his or her organization. Mine was the IT organization. When I joined the company, we had no tools or processes to conduct assessments, , ,  so each of us developed what helped us size up our part of the new business in order to budget and develop an appropriate transition plan.

Our typical acquisition took about 60 days to complete once a Letter of Intent was issued to the prospective company owners and agreed upon. The timeline usually worked like this:

  • 1-2 weeks of research and preparation
  • 1-2 weeks of onsite discovery
  • 2-3 weeks of analysis, follow-up and writing due diligence reports

The due diligence process and tools I developed saved me, , , without them, the pace of our company acquisitions would have run right over me.

These tools are now 20 years old and they are the same tools I use to conduct an IT due diligence or assessment today. The reason is because an IT assessment is not really a “technical assessment” as much as it is a business assessment to determine what the IT organization should work on.

To do this, we need to learn the needs and issues of our client that require technology support and the capabilities and capacity of the IT organization, at a high level.

The challenge most IT managers have is that they want to dive deep into the technology detail, , , and learn all they can about the technology. The problem is that you don’t really have the time to do this in the beginning, , , there will be plenty of time later.

What we need to do initially is to identify material issues that have technology support implications and develop a game plan by which to start working on these issues.

I’ve conducted 45 IT assessments to support company acquisitions and dozens of IT assessments as a new CIO, IT manager, and Consultant.

In one situation, we acquired a company headquartered in Texas that was made up of ten companies, all in different cities and each with their own technology platform and operating procedures. The parent company had been acquiring smaller companies but had not assimilated any of them, , , the only things consolidated were Payroll, Accounts Payable, and their accounting functions. It was the equivalent of ten acquisitions, , , my tools allowed me to assess all of these entities in record time.

This due diligence process and tools works for both acquisitions as well as normal IT assessments you need to do such as when you join a new company, annual reviews, or when you are promoted and inherit a new IT organization.

CLICK HERE to learn more.

Tax day

The good news is that we got a couple extra days to send in our tax forms this year, , , the bad news is that the IRS still wants our money.

When you have to pay more, you tend to wait until the last minute to send in that check, , , that’s why I spent time today getting the final numbers from our accountant and mailing in my check.

Hate this part every year, but glad to be able to do my part. It wouldn’t bother me at all except I see so much waste in our government, , , it seems to happen pretty much in every government from what I can tell.

One of the best examples I can give you is a little road project at the entrance to our subdivision. The entrance sits in the middle of a sharp curve and there have been several accidents there over the years.

It looked like there were a couple of reasonable solutions, , , reduce the curve and eliminate the blind spot by cutting the bushes and small trees on this curve or put in a 4-way stop so traffic has to slow down and yield to other traffic. Either of these approaches would work and cost very little to implement, , , but our government decides to spend what looks to be some $8 to $10 million and redo the whole interchange. It’s been a year already with no end in sight. It feels like our friendly politicians are asking themselves, “How can we spend more money?”

OK, OK, , , I apologize, , , I’m in a bad mood due to having to write that check earlier today. Even though it’s a pain, , , I’m fortunate to be able to make a good enough living to require more tax from me. I knew a rich man one time who looked at this issue in a positive light. He was glad he made so much money to require such a hefty tax bill.

I would still like to keep more of my earnings, , ,

Escalation procedures

In my last post, I discussed the need to have a “downtime plan”. Part of your downtime plan should include an Escalation Procedure.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I like to assign responsibility of key technology support components to an “Expert”, , , the person I want to empower to own that particular area of support. In the post, we identified e-mail as one of these areas.

Another key area is telecommunications or your Wide Area Network (WAN). When a remote office loses connectivity, your team needs to resolve this issue as quickly as possible, , , your company loses thousands of dollars in lost productivity every hour the remote office is down.

To minimize your downtime and the impact it has, you need an escalation procedure that kicks in as soon as we know an office loses connectivity.

Below is a sample Loss of Connectivity Escalation Procedure:

Problem ownership is clearly defined and specific communications to managers and vendors are spelled out. We have a point person in IT and also in the remote office that has lost connectivity. The point people identify themselves to their manager and make them aware of the problem and advise as to what the status update procedures will be.

In this escalation procedure, we have time limits set up so additional steps are put in motion at 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, and every hour after until the problem is resolved. 

A big part of your escalation procedure is keeping management informed. When you have a formalized escalation procedure, everyone knows who will be providing status updates and when. Keeping your client in the loop and out of the dark is key.

It is simple and easy to develop an escalation procedure for dozens of support issues you might have and that will need some level of escalation if they occur.  Here are the steps I would use:

1.  Assign “Expert” responsibilities for the technical support areas you deem important.

2.  Have your Experts identify possible situations that need an escalation procedure.

3.  Review and agree on the set of issues needing escalation procedures.

4.  Have your Experts develop a first cut draft of the troubleshooting and escalation steps that should take place.

5.  Review the procedures and fine tune them with your Expert.

6.  Create an Escalation Procedure Binder and add completed procedures as you develop them.

Your escalation procedures do not need to be lengthy or complex, , , in fact, your goal should be to keep them to 1-2 pages and simple.   

If you focus on this and distribute the work to several Experts, you can create a binder of a dozen or more escalation procedures in a week. You may want to distribute them to affected managers of the company and communicate what they are and how to use them; I would certainly share them myself, but it is your call as to whether you want to. 

The key is that you are providing managers with information so they know what will be taking place in the event of a problem, , , i.e., what you are doing to resolve the issue. IT still retains responsibility to resolve the problem.

Escalation procedures worth considering include: 

  • Loss of connectivity
  • Natural disaster situations (snow day, flood, hurricane, etc.)
  • E-mail
  • Mission critical business applications
  • Mission critical servers
  • Internet and Intranet access
  • Phone system outage

Putting escalation procedures in place demonstrates to others that you are organized and thinking proactively, , , strong images for your clients and senior managers to see in their IT organization.

Do you have a downtime plan?

Technology will break, so sooner or later you will have to deal with downtime. Will you be prepared when it occurs?

Waiting until downtime occurs is not the time to start thinking about how to troubleshoot the issue. It’s much better to have an idea of what to do when this issue comes up.

One of the things you should consider is to appoint an “expert” for each of your key technology support areas, , , things like e-mail, telecom or WAN, each of your mission critical business applications, intranet and internet access, etc.

A key responsibility of each Expert is to define the potential downtime issues that can happen for his technology area of responsibility. For e-mail, it would include things like virus attack, server failure, power outage, etc.

Once the potential downtime issues are identified, the next step is to develop escalation procedures to troubleshoot and resolve each of the issues when and if they occur.

Proactively looking at these issues and developing a downtime plan to attack the problem when it occurs puts you in a much stronger support position, , , and helps you sleep better at night.