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Helpful articles and tips

Using Priority Matrix in IT – a Case Study

Priority Matrix is a powerful task management and workflow system that gives businesses in all industries significant advantages in productivity and accountability. While it delivers value for all levels of managers and employees, it is especially adaptable for IT organizations.

I discovered Priority Matrix by accident. Actually, people in Appfluence (the company that developed Priority Matrix) discovered and contacted me about the possibility of interviewing me to learn more about IT managers and IT organizations.

Inquiries like this happen fairly often and I don’t think too much of them, but on a rare occasion I stumble upon something special. This was the case with Priority Matrix.

At first, “I didn’t get it!” They gave me a demo and walked me through the system and I was impressed, , , sort of. Then I started using the system on a real project and WOW, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I suddenly realized that I had actually stumbled upon a system that will change the way you work and help you become significantly more productive as well as improve accountability and communication within your organization.

These are strong words so I think taking a look at a new user will be of benefit.

Background
Strattec is a large global manufacturing company based in Wisconsin. The company makes customized auto parts for many of the automobile manufacturers. Beth Ackley is their Director of Information Services. I first met Beth in 2004 when she attended my 4th IT Manager Institute. Since then she has put many of her managers through the program.

As I’ve gotten to know Beth I have always been struck by the fact that she approaches her IT support business very practically and she has a keen sense for supporting the business and delivering business value. In our discussions it is always apparent she is motivated as the Head of IT to help her company be more successful.

I worked with Appfluence for a few months to better understand the Priority Matrix system and to create some targeted IT manager templates. Then, I created an awareness campaign in late June of 2017 to make IT Manager Institute graduates aware of the power of the system.

One of the first to show an interest was Beth. Her comment to me was, “We were just talking about needing to find something that addresses our task management needs that will also help us attain better accountability and improve productivity.”

After doing her due diligence work and taking advantage of the Priority Matrix free trial period, Beth purchased licenses for her team.

I initially interviewed her after she had gained about 60 days of experience in using Priority Matrix. Then, we talked again after about a year of experience with Priority Matrix.  Here is what I found.

Implementation approach
Beth initially rolled the system out to just her IT managers and a few key people so they could gain insight and experience in using the new tool. This “test group” focused on discovering the best ways to use the system within Strattec and how to bring new users up to speed. Their implementation included internal training along with training from Appfluence plus I spent time with Beth to show her some of the highlights I had discovered in using the system.

At the time I caught up with Beth to explore how her team was using Priority Matrix she had 26 people in her IT organization using the system. Her ultimate goal was to have the entire IT team of about 45 IT employees using Priority Matrix by end of the year.

Her team stays very busy as do most IT organizations these days. In the interview she indicated they had approximately 65 active projects underway in various stages. Many of these projects are now managed and tracked using Priority Matrix.

While Beth’s IT team initiates efforts to standardize certain project types and processes using Priority Matrix, she stated that each person tends to use the system individually or a bit differently than the next person. This is an important aspect of Priority Matrix; it is very flexible so the system adapts to how you want to use it, not forcing you to use it in a predefined way.

One comment she made was that one of her senior software developers became productive with the system in about 10 minutes. My sense with this is that there are two reasons:

  1. The system is very intuitive.
  2. A quick orientation from a more experienced user makes the learning much faster.

Benefits in using Priority Matrix
Beth talked about many early benefits she and her management team are experiencing. Below is a list of key benefits she is getting from Priority Matrix:

  1. Master List – This feature allows you to see all your To Do’s for the week plus you can see across your team and what they need to get done. This makes you aware of what’s going on and puts you in better control. Beth believes this feature is really a strong selling point of the system.
  2. Eliminates confusion – Each customer has a Priority Matrix project which creates a single place to record all to do’s and issues that take place with the customer.
  3. Collaboration – The ability to collaborate in real time to resolve issues, complete tasks, and to discuss things proactively improves productivity and helps you get things done.
  4. Ability to find things easily – All the components dealing with a project, a client or whatever you use Priority Matrix to track can be stored in one place. This makes finding things easier and much more productive than the “folder chaos” we normally go through.
  5. Reduced e-mail clutter significantly – Because tasks and issues are handled interactively and updates are “real time”, significant amount of e-mail churn is eliminated. No more need to send e-mails back and forth to get updates on issues. This has a dual effect in that huge amounts of e-mail are eliminated plus being able to find prior correspondence is quick and easy by searching within the collaboration database. One of Beth’s quotes is, “It also means we don’t have to search through emails to find the tidbit of technical information that someone included in a discussion, but didn’t document in the product spec.”
  6. Deadlines and accountability – The ability to assign responsibility and due dates to tasks allows you to see what’s going on and anticipate things that need to get done. Beth mentioned that one of the great things was to be able to start Monday morning with the ability to all that needs to get done this week.
  7. Heat map – This feature helps you see the workload of your employees so you can make adjustments to balance workload when needed.
  8. Intuitive user interface – One of her programmers picked up the system in 10 minutes. Just a little insight makes using the system quick and easy.

Additional thoughts
Beth and her team are one year into the use of Priority Matrix and they continue to discover additional benefits as they use the system. Their initial experience appears that the system is delivering many tangible benefits and is changing the way they work so her team can become more productive and accountable as they get things done.

Discover more about PRIORITY MATRIX at:  https://appfluence.com/it-management-software/

How much is client service worth?

3 examples of companies that will show how you should never underestimate the value of client service in IT.

Client service is a big and important part of your IT organization’s support. In fact, it may be worth a lot more than you think.

In your IT manager role it is important to understand the value of client service and what it can do for your IT organization.

To illustrate how important client service is to a company, I’ll use three personal examples. These three company examples will give you a sample of just how important it is with companies that understand the value of client service.

Example 1: IBM

I worked for IBM way back in the “mini-computer” days when small and medium companies were buying their first computer. It was an exciting time that included lots of fun as well as hard work.

What I initially thought was that IBM’s revenue came mainly from new client sales. I was wrong and quickly learned that about 70 percent of the revenue at that time came from existing customers. This is true in many companies today if you look closely at their revenue makeup.

What this means is that existing clients are very important to a company’s success. So, retaining clients and maximizing the sales potential from existing clients is going to be a strong focus.

IBM placed a huge emphasis on client retention. The way they did this was to build incentives into their sales plan for marketing reps. If a company left IBM and went to a competitor, the marketing rep accountable for the client paid IBM back the current commission value of the lost business.

That’s right, you paid IBM back even if you did not sell the business many years earlier.

The message was simple: IBM marketing reps need to be on top of the client satisfaction of their assigned clients. Future business is dependent upon it so IBM places a high value on their existing clients.

I can assure you that the risk of losing real dollars creates real incentive.

Example 2: Infiniti

I have owned five Infiniti automobiles and still drive one today. A major reason is due to a client service experience I had with my first Infiniti car in 1990.

What happened is that I got in my car one Monday morning to go to work and the car wouldn’t start. The reason I learned later was because I had accidentally left the car door ajar over the weekend and the battery was dead.

I went to work in my wife’s car and asked her to call the Infiniti dealership to see about getting the car checked out. At this point we were not sure what the problem was although we suspected it was simply a dead battery.

To make a long story short, Infiniti received the “support call” and took care of the situation.

While they were doing all of this, they called my wife six times to keep her updated on their progress and the status of the car. Here is how it went:

  • Infiniti receives the support call.
  • Infiniti calls owner, “A technician is on his way and will be there in approximately 30 minutes.”
  • Infiniti technician arrives, charges the battery and transports the car to the dealership to inspect it more fully to insure there were no additional issues.
  • Infiniti calls owner, “Your automobile has arrived; we are checking it out and will call back once we know what the issue is.”
  • Infiniti calls owner, “We have inspected your automobile; the problem was a dead battery. We are charging it fully and will call you once the repair is completed.”
  • Infiniti calls owner, “Your automobile is repaired and should be returned in approximately 30 minutes.”
  • Automobile is returned.
  • Infiniti calls owner, “Calling to confirm you have received your automobile in good working order.”
  • Infiniti calls owner, “How did we do in taking care of your problem?”

By this time, my wife is saying, “Enough already!”, but she was also very happy.

Here is the key point and something IT managers should think about when supporting their clients. Infiniti communicated often to keep their customer aware and in the loop. My wife never had to guess about the status of the situation and this creates a “peace of mind” that is valuable.

It set the tone for me purchasing more automobiles from this dealership.

Example 3: 4imprint

Recently I ordered 50 personalized journals for a class reunion we were having from 4imprint, a company I had ordered similar journals from before.

The journals arrived in three boxes. We opened the smaller of the three boxes to inspect the journals and were very happy with them. All is good, or so we thought.

Fast forward a month later and it is Thursday around noon only two days before the big reunion. At the last minute I decide to put an ink pen in the journal loops. I assigned this important task to my wife and she starts adding a pen to each journal.

Then I hear those terrible words, “Mike, we have a problem!”

The ten journals in the small box we had inspected were perfect, just what we ordered. But the two large boxes had some other company’s journals which were completely different from ours.

It was our fault for not checking all of the boxes when we received them, but we still have a problem. I’m thinking we will probably not be able to give our classmates a journal at the reunion. Instead, I’m preparing to hold one up and tell them, “This is what your journal will look like.”

I call 4imprint and get routed to one of their client service reps. I explain the problem, she asks me a few questions, and then she tells me she is going to contact their production facility to determine what options we have. She also says she will call me back as soon as she talks to the production people.

The end result was that we received the replacement journals within 24 hours of my call, unbelievable client service. The other thing that impressed me was how well the client service rep communicated the status of our situation; I was never left in the dark.

I was so impressed that I sent the president of the company a nice note and told him how happy I was with their products and client service. I will order more from this company in the future.

What does this all mean?

Great client service creates advocates for your company, , , or for your IT organization. These advocates buy more products and services from you or they become partners and support agents for you and your team.

Plus, and this may be the biggest benefit, they tell others about their positive experience.

Great client service adds tremendous value to your company or to your IT organization. The bottom line is that client service is important and providing excellent client service reaps big benefits.

And what do you think is the key component to delivering great client service?

You bet, , , it is communicating well. That’s the trick.

So, you want to take full advantage of creating great client service by communicating and following-up well. It pays real dividends.

Get More Done With a Simple TO DO List

A simple To Do List can filter the noise and distraction you encounter so you can focus on important priorities and get more done.

IT managers deal with considerable pressure from new and changing priorities that occur in today’s dynamic work environment. These distractions will negatively impact your team’s performance unless you do something to help you and your team stay focused on the important issues.

Our work environments get crazier and more hectic all the time. Guess what: it probably isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Technology innovation has been super in giving us tools to do so much more in our working lives and to access these systems from virtually anywhere and at any time.

The downside with all this “greatness” comes the fact that in today’s world it is hard to get away from the work, especially in IT. User needs and their dependencies upon technology have expanded and will continue to do so. This brings with it an ever increasing list of To Do’s that present major challenges for IT managers every day.

We need something to help us focus on what’s important and to eliminate as much of the “noise” as possible.

What I use is a simple Weekly To Do List. I’ve been using “my system” for 30 years since my early IBM days. It’s a very simple system that helps keep you focused in order to get more accomplished plus help ensure you focus on the right things, , , or you can call them the most important things.

Here is how it works 

I actually start with a Monthly Objectives or TO DO List that gives me an overall set of things I want to accomplish in a month. Recently, I’ve simply been putting it in a work journal shown below.

Every weekend I create a list of the key things I need to accomplish the following week, , , pulled from my Monthly Objectives List or things that help me complete them. These Weekly tasks are quite often more detailed and might include several “reminder tasks” to get accomplished in the week.

When I have my week sorted out, I rank the Weekly To Do’s in order of highest priority to lowest priority, , , or sometimes just in “A, B or C” priority.

If something comes up with a high priority during the week it gets added to the list in the appropriate position I think is warranted.

During the week, I force myself to focus on the top priority things on this Weekly To Do List. Quite often, the fun thing to work on is not really the top priority so my To Do List is always there to help me stay on track.

If something does not get completed during the week it goes on next week’s list if it is still important.

On a weekly basis, I also refer to the Monthly Objectives List to gauge how well I’m getting through the major objectives for the month.

Using this process does three important things for me:

  1. Provides focus and keeps me on track during the week. I’m convinced this helps me get more done every week.
  2. Reduces procrastination because I have clarity on what to do.
  3. Gives me a sense of accomplishment as I check things off the list.

What you will find is that this process is simple, does not require a lot of time, and it reduces a lot of the “noise” and helps you focus, , , and when you focus you get more accomplished. You will also discover that when you have clarity of what to focus on it reduces stress.

Let’s face it, juggling all the issues and needs that find their way onto your desk can be overwhelming at times. I’ve even seen managers “lock up” because they can’t determine what to work on when they have a heavy list of To Do’s. A system like this helps you cut through the chaos and focus.

My system started with pen and paper when I started my career with IBM, and I migrated to Excel spreadsheets later. Now, I use a journal for the most part.

When there is some “heavy lifting” requirements, I use a workflow system for IT managers called Priority Matrix that automates many of the things I had to do manually.

I created a To Do List template for the Priority Matrix System that you will be able to see on their web site.

Use a system that helps you focus on the important priorities that need your attention and you will achieve more success. The tool is not so important as the process of listing out your To Do’s and making yourself focus on what’s important.

Good luck and success in organizing yourself.

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.

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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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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Are you using committees effectively?

questionmark1I received an interesting question a while back and thought it worth sharing my response. The question came from one of my followers and went like this, “What do you think of Committee decision making and/or problem solving? What would be required to ensure Committee success?”

My response:
I agree that committees tend to take longer and are potentially not as responsive as you need to be. It all depends on what you create a committee to do and the guidelines you establish for its mode of operation.

I’m a big proponent in having committees made up of business representatives alongside IT representatives. For example, one of the things I always try to do when managing a Programming Support organization is to create a “steering committee” to review the outstanding programming change requests that exist in our programming backlog in order to determine what gets assigned for the next period (usually monthly) and what does not get prioritized. There are several reasons:

  1. The business is in the best place to know what needs to be a priority, , , not our IT organization.
  2. The business needs to realize that our company can’t fund IT to have unlimited resources and therefore work has to be prioritized.
  3. If we (IT organization) are left to prioritize these jobs on our own, we will never be as responsive as our business clients want us to be. Never! Clients will simply want everything completed “right now”.

When your clients are in the middle of determining what gets worked on and when, , , it’s a struggle initially, , , but over time it simply becomes our normal process of how we manage the business.

I can tell you that when the business units are making the trade-offs and are ultimately responsible for prioritizing the work, it makes life much better for the client as well as the IT organization and easier to support the client in this area.

I don’t believe all things work well in committees. We don’t run companies or manage in a democracy, , , but in places like programming support, strategic project initiatives, project portfolio management, etc. a committee can be very helpful.

I still like the fact that IT is represented as a full member of the committee and the IT representative is often who facilitates such meetings. Certainly, IT must be able to influence decisions but getting the client positioned to feel they are more in the “driver’s seat” and in control of their own destiny is a good thing for everyone.

The downside about running your company “by committee” is that you can have gridlock if you aren’t careful. In my view, a committee is best when used as an advisory group to help the management team make good decisions. More brain power is a good thing but can certainly slow the process.

meeting-3When creating a committee, it is important to establish good guidelines that help focus the members of the committee on the it’s mission and objectives along with operating guidelines to work within.

Be sure your committee is assigned a role that does not slow an organization’s responsiveness if this is a key measurement of performance.

Finally, committees can be very effective when making decisions about company direction, determining key initiatives for an organization to work on, even deciding the priorities of your programming backlog, etc.

For example, in 1991 our company President created a senior management committee in March to focus on cutting company expenses during the 3rd and 4th quarter. We wanted to take the company public the following year and felt we needed to achieve major expense cuts in order to achieve our 3rd and 4th quarter financial forecasts because of an expectation we would not achieve budgeted revenue numbers.

This committee met initially to understand the issue and to identify a list of cost cutting ideas. We assigned each “cost saving initiative” to a manager from the group. We met a second time to deliver our recommendations for how much we could save in our assigned cost saving initiative areas along with how we should go after the savings and when we should be able to achieve the savings.

When we all left the 2nd committee meeting, each of us had specific cost saving initiatives responsibility to make happen for our company and we were required to report monthly on our progress. We focused on the opportunities plus the President of our company tracked performance.

This committee focus was a huge success in achieving our objective and it positioned the company for a successful public stock offering the following year.

Managers make decisions but a committee used properly can be very effective in supporting managers of your company.

IT managers may need to change their work behavior

changePeople who work in IT have very consistent work behavior tendencies. In fact, 90 percent or more have similar tendencies in three of four major personality categories. The bottom line is that IT attracts a certain type of personality.

These work behavior tendencies help us become successful as technology experts, but they can present major challenges when you move into a management role.

It’s important for any IT manager to be aware of these tendencies and “what makes IT people tick.” Understanding them can help you achieve more success in multiple ways:

  • Being aware of your own personal work behavior tendencies can help you identify areas that need adjusting in order to succeed in a manager position.
  • Awareness of IT employee work behavior tendencies who report to you can help you manage and lead them better.
  • Understanding the dynamics of work behavior can even help you resolve employee problems.

Background

I’ve used several personality evaluation tools in my career. Early on, I didn’t put a lot of credence in their value; I thought they were bogus. I was wrong.

For over 10 years I used these tools in my CIO role and discovered they are accurate in describing an employee’s work behavior tendencies and helpful in many ways. I learned first hand that understanding the work behavior tendencies of a person is powerful insight.

In one company I was the CIO of we acquired 35 other companies. I obtained the work behavior profile of all the IT employees that came with these companies. Their profiles were consistently similar.

Initially, I thought it was just a coincidence. After seeing the same profile over and over again, I finally concluded that a certain type of personality type is attracted to IT. In a similar way, consistent personality types are attracted to sales professions.

I also measured over 100 IT managers who attended my IT Manager Institute for four years. Again, their work behavior profiles were predictably similar.

It doesn’t matter what your role is in IT. Whether you are an IT manager, programmer, systems or network engineer, project manager, work on the Help Desk or even run IT support as the CIO. If you are in IT, your work behavior tendencies are highly likely going to be similar to everyone else in IT.

What’s the point?

It’s simple. The work behavior traits that help you become an excellent technician can prevent you from achieving success in an IT manager role.

Let’s take a look at each trait.

There are four work behavior areas in many of the personality evaluation tools like Myers Briggs and others I’ve used, and here is what I have discovered:

Trait #1:  90 percent of all IT employees are independent, self starters and technically oriented. No problem so far; these work behavior traits can probably help you as much in a manager role as in a technical role.

Trait #2:  85-90 percent of all IT employees have a high sense of urgency. To say we are impatient is an understatement for most of us in IT. High sense of urgency is a good thing for IT managers as long as you approach major problem situations like a system outage in a way that has a calming and stabilizing effect.

Trait #3:  Over 90 percent are high detail and like to do the work themselves. This is great for a technical employee. Programmers and other tech employees achieve success pretty much on their individual performance; they are in more control of their own success. In a manager role, you depend on your employees to get things done. This is a big transition challenge for most young IT managers. Letting go of the detail and depending upon others can be a major obstacle.

Trait #4:  Just over 70 percent are shy and introverted. This is a big challenge for IT managers. As a programmer or systems engineer, strong communication skills are not so essential, especially communicating outside their inner circle. In an IT manager role, strong communication skills are required. The problem with shy people is that they usually don’t develop their communication skills because they don’t deem them to be needed. In addition, shy people have a lower desire to communicate. All of these issues are major stumbling blocks to success for IT managers and must be overcome.

When you think of the first three work behavior traits being at 90 percent or more, it’s pretty much everyone in your IT organization.

One more thing

If you put all of these traits together to make a work behavior profile, it sums up to be an individual who looks at work this way:

  • Let’s do it (self starter),
  • Do it now (high sense of urgency),
  • Do it my way (high detail),
  • and I don’t want to talk about it (shy and introverted)

marineThis is the makeup of an authoritative management style that works well in the military but not so well in a professional business environment.

Modify the last trait by communicating more and you have a persuasive management style. This style is much more effective for IT managers in a corporate environment.

Technical experts who become IT managers need to do two things if they have the four traits discussed above:

  1. Let go of the detail they are so used to being in. Have you heard the phrase, “You need to get out of the weeds!”? Managers must depend on their employees to take care of the detail. It won’t be easy but it’s necessary for your success.
  2. Learn how to communicate effectively. Strong communication must become a core competency so learn what and how to communicate effectively plus put processes in place that force you to communicate.

The good news is that if we need to adjust a couple of our work behavior traits, it is a straightforward thing to do and more success is in your grasp.

This article first appeared in my CIO.com Blog, Practical Management Tips for IT Leaders.