Will Knowledge Management become the core of all IT frameworks?

What is knowledge management, and why should IT managers, directors, and CIOs care? In this column, I’ll define knowledge management and explain how it fits into your IT framework.

Defining Knowledge Management in the IT world

The discipline of Knowledge Management is simply a means of focusing one’s effort in the right direction. In order to gain a better understanding of Knowledge Management, let’s take a quick look at some of the more obvious business benefits:

  • Improves decision-making capabilities; the right knowledge is available to the right people at the right time.
  • Reduces research time and training through the provision of a knowledge framework.
  • Stimulates cultural change and enhances employee retention.
  • Streamlines and increases production speed and reduces costs.
  • Improves customer service and reduces response time.

How are Knowledge Management and the IT framework compatible companions?

The rapidly growing trend of IT management has truly begun to stamp its authority in the corporate world, with no sign of defeat. Organizations are actively implementing a variety of IT-related services, processes, and strategies in order to keep up with industry competitors and to ensure that profitability steadily rises. Besides its indisputable popularity, what precisely is it about IT that has us all on the edge of our seats? It could be argued that IT is simply a plethora of communication media or a technical service. However, a true believer would retort that IT abilities not only generate entire business approaches, but also assist in creating business goals and objectives.

Knowledge management can often be perceived as the definitive objective of centralization of an organization. IT services and processes themselves are considered to be categorized under a centralized management or power of authority model. Similarly, knowledge management makes it possible to approach the business model from a central point of view. The benefit of implementing knowledge management is that its processes deal directly with producing competencies which branch out to all business levels.

Applying knowledge management to IT functions

For many organizations, this particular benefit of knowledge management can be applied to IT functions, indicating that IT can effortlessly be considered a secondary process of knowledge management. Providing knowledge management endeavors to extort predictions from an organization’s abilities, as well as record vital information (recent and historical data), making it highly feasible for IT to submit to its authority at some point.

Countless predictions have been made regarding the future influence that knowledge management has over IT resources. One possibility concludes that businesses will incorporate knowledge management into their IT framework; another foretells that knowledge management will still happily co-exist with the IT department, all the while sitting pretty on a rung above IT on the business management ladder.

We watch with anticipation as existing IT methods, capabilities, and devices evolve beyond our wildest imaginations. It is through these advancements that knowledge management could very well be a valuable tool for many businesses that are looking to effectively control IT processes and goals.

Every organization seeks to improve its foundation of knowledge. The dedicated team at The Art of Service has designed a step-by-step toolkit KM Toolkit_boxshotto aid any IT professional in the implementation of knowledge management. The toolkit aims to introduce knowledge management concepts, and provide you with the tools to successfully create a workable knowledge management culture in your organization.

Click here to learn more about Art of Service’s Knowledge Management Toolkit!

What’s your take?

To share your thoughts on knowledge management, please post a comment below or email the editor.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Pat introduces the Worst Help Desk Manager…EVER

When I was hired as a contractor by a fortune 500 company to help start up a small Help Desk, I was excited about being in on the beginning of a project and couldn’t wait to get started. My excitement was quickly turned to dread as I soon realized I was working for The Worst Help Desk Manager, Ever!

King Percy

To protect the innocent, and the guilty and me, OK it’s really to protect me, I’ll call this manager Percy. Percy was young and ambitious. From the beginning it was obvious that he liked being in charge. Most of his days were spent leaning way back in his chair with his feet propped on his desk tossing a football up in the air and catching it. If he got a call he took it on speaker, so as not to interrupt the tossing.

He kept the speaker volume loud so the entire team could hear his calls. This saved time. If anyone asked Percy to do anything he would happily agree and point at one his techs. He usually pointed at me when the request was to write new technical documents. If someone wanted something heavy moved he pointed to John, the big guy. Undesirable tasks fell to whoever was out of favor.  It was good to be king.

Well-deserved Credit

I discovered the hard way that Percy didn’t like to read. After completing a first draft of the first technical document I was asked to write I emailed it to Percy with a note explaining I had thoroughly checked it yet for errors and that I had to guess in a few areas but wanted his input on the direction I had taken. In the meantime, I assured him, I would research the areas I guessed on.  A few days later I told Percy I had a second draft and it had changed a lot. He said not to worry, the first was fine. Turned out he had not read my email, or the draft. He just printed it and sent it on.  The good news was Percy had taken full credit for the document.  The bad news was I had to inventory the stock room.

Beware of Bad Managers Bearing Gifts

The worst came a few weeks later.  After successful completion of a project Percy gave everyone half a day off, with pay, on a Friday. What a treat. As a contractor I knew I couldn’t get paid for the time but I was happy to be off at noon on a Friday.

The next week, when I turned in my time sheet Percy noticed that I had only recorded 4 hours for the Friday before. He reminded me that he was giving us the rest of the day with pay. I told Percy I really appreciated the gesture but reminded him that I was a contractor, not a salary employee and it would be illegal for me to report hours that I didn’t really work.  Percy insisted that I change the 4 to an 8. I refused. He finally admitted that he told his manager that we all worked until the last minute to complete the project and if my time record was different than the rest of theirs, it would look bad. I refused to change my time sheet which made Percy so angry I was placed permanently on the newly deployed night shift.

Fortunately as a contractor my jobs were never permanent and I soon moved on to other if not greener pastures.  I don’t know what happened to Percy. I suppose he went on to torture many a poor help desk analyst. I would like to think that eventually one of the analysts snatched his football out of the air and … well you get the picture.

Policies to Pre-empt Percy

Those of us who are not Percy’s need to do everything we can to free the world of them.  The best way to do that is put in place IT policies to which all managers must adhere. That can be daunting but the Ultimate IT Policy Toolkit makes it a lot easier. With templates and charters that will guide you through creating an extremely effective set of policies and procedures.

Have you ever work for a Percy?

Tell us about it. Post a comment below or email the editor.

2 Reasons to Love IT Project Management

I hate to break the news, but if you don’t love project management, you’re probably failing as an IT manager. Why? Because if you’re not embracing project management, you’re making the people who report to you work longer and harder than they should. In this column, I’ll tell you why you need to be your company’s biggest fan of the IT project management process.

Reason #1: You can’t remember everything.

Recently I met with an IT manager who told me in no uncertain terms what he thinks about IT project management: “It’s worthless.” I wish I could have told this person “Get over yourself, loser!” But that would have been the impolitic response. Instead, I asked this person to give me one good reason why an IT manager would NOT be a big fan of project management. “When it comes to my projects, I don’t need someone telling me what to do. I know what I’m doing.”

I don’t need someone telling me what to do?! That attitude constitutes what I like to call old-fashioned, seriously out-of-touch-with-reality, bad management. If you feel the same way, you need to get over yourself. When it comes to getting your big-ticket projects done on time and without going over budget, you do need someone (an IT project manager) to tell you what do to.

Why? Because you can’t remember everything that has to be done. You can’t remember every detail about every task and remind every person involved in the project of key milestone dates and deadlines. You can’t keep it all in your head, and even if you could, you don’t have time to do your job AND manage projects.

Your IT project manager can remember everything that needs to be done. Why? Because that’s the IT project manager’s only job! The IT project manager writes down everything that needs to be done and keeps all the moving parts moving.

Reason #2: You’ll get blamed if your project fails.

Here’s what I think is the most important reason for a good IT manager to learn to love project management: If you insist on managing the project yourself, guess who gets blamed if the project is late or fails or goes woefully over budget? You will! You will get blamed, and you don’t need the stink of  failure on you.

I’m not advocating that you  blame the project manager if the project fails. Sometimes projects fail no matter how well they’ve been managed.  But when an organization fails to complete a funded project, the fault  belongs to the entire project team. If there is no project team, and if you’ve tried to do or direct all the project yourself, you’ll be held accountable.

Start your love affair with IT project management with a free Communication Plan template

As all good IT project managers know, the first step toward project success is getting everyone involved to buy into the concept of the project.   The way you document how you’ll update the world on project progress is typically by executing a Communication Plan.   In their IT Project Manager’s Toolkit, our friends at Method123 Ltd. have included a Communication Plan template that makes it easy for you and your IT project manager to get the project off on the right foot.

We at ToolKit Café highly recommend the IT Project Manager’s Toolkit for all IT managers who want to do a better job of finishing projects on time and under budget.  Before you purchase that toolkit, we invite you to download this Communication  Plan template and fill it out for the next big project on your calendar. The template will ask you to document, among other things, project details such as the vision for the project, the people who will need updates, and the methods by which you’ll notify those people.

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Talk back to ToolKit Café

Do you take advantage of IT project managers in your shop or your organization? Share your opinions and experiences by posting a comment below or send an email letter to the editor.

 

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Pat’s Tips for Appropriate Office Attire

Most of us in the IT world would like to think the old stereotype of the computer person who dresses badly and doesn’t “fit in” no longer applies. After all, IT professionals are just that: professional. Unfortunately the reputation lingers.

Express yourself

The fact is, clothing is a form of expression. Sometimes our attire speaks louder than we do, but is it saying what we want it to? The outfit shown in Figure A is a good example of something some pros wear to work. Those techs are expressing “I am not concerned with impressing anyone. I am my own person.” However, the message received is most likely “Hi, I’m the office lackey. Need anything heavy moved?”

Figure A

These cloths say “grunt worker.”

Figure B illustrates another common mis-communication through attire. The IT pro who dresses like this to the office may intend to express “I’m young, I’m hip, and I am in great shape.” The message heard is probably “I like to use the office like a singles bar, and I’m prowling for dates.”

Figure B

 Figure B

IT pro or someone looking for a date?

Some people who dress in similar fashion to the examples above will disagree with me.  Those who do should look at their careers and ask, “Do I miss out on a lot of promotions or projects I want? Do people often ask me to perform menial tasks that are not my responsibility? Do I get a lot of unseemly attention?” These things happen to everyone from time to time, but anyone who has one or more of these experiences regularly or more often than their co-workers might want to consider a change in attire.

Most companies have written policies on dress code and, obviously, those codes should be followed. Don’t stop there though. It’s a good idea to go beyond the least acceptable. “I won’t do anything more than I have to” is not a good message from any employee.

So where should the IT professional look for clues on what to wear? The best examples at any given company are those in positions of power.  If the executives tend to wear golf shirts and slacks, like the outfit shown in Figure C, the safe thing is to do is wear the same kinds of clothing. It’s an easy and clean look. Dressing similar to the boss is a great message. It says “I’m one of you, part of your tribe. It’s safe to give me the important projects and promotions.”

Figure C

Figure C

Boring but safe in a “business casual” office.

Contrary to popular belief, there are still a few companies left where business suits are the norm . Law firms and financial institutions are good examples. While it’s always best to wear suits in a formal office, if that’s just not possible, an acceptable substitute can be dark dress slacks with long-sleeve dress shirts and dress shoes. For the finishing touch, men should add a nice tie and women should add a jacket, as shown in Figure D and Figure E.  Most men who wear suits to the office remove the jacket as soon as they arrive, so a man with no jacket fits in. The opposite is true for a woman. A jacket adds the same formality to a woman’s ensemble that a tie brings to the man. An added benefit is a jacket provides a female tech with more pockets for phones and tools, something her slacks often fail to do.

 Figure D

Figure D

Geeks can wear ties too!

  Figure E

Figure E

A blazer makes casual attire more professional.

Regardless of your company culture there are a few “Don’ts” that apply in most any office.

  • Sexy or Revealing clothing: An office is not a pick up place. Wait until after hours to show off that killer body.
  • Stains or tears: Dress like a homeless person and you may just be treated like one.
  • Ill fitting clothing: If you lose or gain weight, adjust your wardrobe to compensate. Looking as if you’re going to pop a button or drop you pants is no way to be taken seriously.
  • Grubby sneakers and overly scuffed or dirty shoes: Money spent on appropriate office attire is wasted without appropriate shoes.
  • Flip Flops: Fashionable as they are, they have no place in the office. Save them for your days off.

Fashions for the IT Mind

If your IT career isn’t going where you hoped take a look in the mirror. Do you see a manager staring back or do you see a grunt? If your reflection is more like the latter, consider a change. To learn more about what it takes to be a successful IT manager download this free tool,  IT Management 101 by Mike Sisco. It’s an incredibly valuable resource for any IT manager.

Are you dressing for success?

Let us know what you thought of this article by posting a comment below or email the editor.

3 golden rules of IT vendor management

Got vendors? You need vendor management. As an IT manager, you spend a lot of your company’s money. You hire individual consultants and big-time corporate consultants.  You sign Statements of Work or multi-year agreements  with niche- and enterprise-software vendors. You pay big bucks for professional services provided and software and hardware maintenance contracts.

So how do you manage those precious, vital third-party service providers? More specifically, how do you make sure you’re getting what you think you’re paying for? Here are three golden rules of IT vendor management.

1. Do your due diligence before signing a contract.

Do not be fooled by a sweet deal that’s only good until the end of the quarter.  If a vendor tells you that prices will go up if you don’t sign the contract by the end of the quarter, tell that vendor to go fly a kite. Smart IT managers perform due diligence on third parties that’s commensurate with the risk the third party brings to the company.  Here are a few key questions to ask before you enter into a written agreement with any third party whose products or services are mission-critical to your company. (a) Does the vendor have experience in this area? (b) Can the vendor afford to take on our contract? Hint: If the vendor is waiting on your first contract payment to hire the programmers needed to do your project, you’re working with the wrong vendor. (c) Has the agreement between your company and the vendor been reviewed by your company’s senior managers and the departments that will be affected by bringing on this third party, like internal audit, legal, and operations?

2. Monitor the vendor’s performance.

Before you sign a contract to engage a vendor to provide services, ask yourself this question, punk: How will you know if the vendor is doing what you’re paying it to do? If there’s a project plan, is someone making sure deadlines are met? If the vendor’s work is ongoing, who is making sure that (a) invoices match actual work performed? and (b) is the vendor meeting its service level agreements as defined in the Contract or Statement of Work?

3. If the vendor craters, have a plan.

This third “golden rule” is to remind smart IT managers never, ever to assume that even the biggest and best vendors are infallible. As part of your due diligence process when you’re onboarding a new third party or engaging in a new project with an existing third-party relationship, make a D.R. plan. Require the third party to tell you how long it will take THEM to recover if they have a disaster. On your side, make a plan for what you’ll do if the vendor has a disaster that lasts longer than your business operation can tolerate.

Do you worry about IT vendor management?

If you liked these “golden rules,” please post a comment below or send an email to the author or post a comment below.

Is a third party helping you with a system conversion?

If you’re working with a third party on a system conversion, you can incorporate these three “golden rules” of IT vendor management into yo8ur project plan.  Use this link to download Toolkit Cafe contributing author Mike Sisco’s free Systems Conversion Project Template.

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How to Implement an IT Systems Conversion Project Schedule

In my last post, I showed you how a simple Project Schedule Template can save time and headaches for IT managers. If you are in IT, sooner or later you are going to need to convert some technology, install new hardware and software to replace some old equipment and software, or maybe install new equipment and software for a totally new application. In this post, I’ll show you how to use my time-tested Systems Conversion Project Schedule.

Schedule the work, work the schedule

In most system conversions or new system installations, there are a few key groups of tasks required to do the job. One thing you can to do  help organize your project schedule is to group the detail tasks by category.

In the sample I’ll discuss, I identified  six major categories of tasks:

  1. Assessment – Identifying everything required to complete the project.
  2. Order and organize – Ordering equipment, software and other items as needed plus organizing components of the project.
  3. Infrastructure – Infrastructure and desktop support tasks.
  4. Setup/Installation – Software installations, etc. File build tasks would also be in this category.
  5. Programming – Programming and Business Analyst work.
  6. Training – Training and testing tasks.

You may need other category groups, depending upon the nature of your project. Most system conversion or installation projects will have at least the six that I’ve listed above.

Organizing the tasks by category group will also help you when you run weekly status meetings to determine the status of the project as it organizes the discussion into logical work groupings.

“X” marks the spot!

What I like to do for each task is to put a “/” in the cell for the week the task needs to be completed by. When the task is completed, I change the slash (/) to an “X”. This way, it is very easy to walk through a status meeting quickly by just focusing on this week’s tasks that have not been marked as completed. It also makes it easy to visually see the status of the project.

Another thing to consider for your project is that there will be tasks that are critical to the project.  In fact, those “critical tasks” may turn into  bottlenecks that can jeopardize a successful delivery of the project. It’s easy to highlight these tasks for the team by shading the cell that shows the scheduled completion date for the task. By doing so, that shading will trigger you to ask about the status of the task weeks in advance of its scheduled completion date, and you can  instill a sense of urgency on the parts of the people responsible for getting the work done.

Project success is much more likely when you organize your project into a solid schedule, assign appropriate responsibility, and check on the status every week.

In the sample there is a generic project schedule along with an actual project schedule sample used for a past systems conversion. Feel free to use these to help you in your next systems conversion or installation.

Sisco6

Download Mike’s IT Systems Conversion Project Template!

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Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

7 Things Your Users Want From You (and Your Help Desk)

Whether you’re providing computer support to fellow employees, consumers or other  companies your user all want something from you and your help desk operation. Obviously they want their hardware and  software to work properly but that’s not all. Knowing what callers want and how to give it to them makes the job easier and more enjoyable. It also makes for a great Help Desk analyst.

1. Respect
Respect is probably the number one thing everyone wants from everyone else. We
all want it from our friends, family, bosses and the kid behind the counter. Given the universal desire for respect, it’s amazing how often we forget to give it. Treat your callers with respect and expect it in return. Respect means recognizing that a lack of technical prowess does not equate to stupidity or laziness. It also requires you to remember when computer systems were not part of your knowledge base. Let your caller know you respect their contribution, whether that is sales, purchase or just that they are trying.

2. The solution
We usually hear from our users when there is some sort of problem. We are counted upon to provide the solution. While you can’t always give an immediate solution you can let user know that you understand the problem and are working toward a solution. Do this by restating their problem, using somewhat different wording. Then tell them what you are doing to find the solution. It takes only a few seconds and not only eases your users’ the minds but verifies, for you, that you really do understand the situation.

3. Less Jargon
Other computer professionals like it when you talk geek. No one else does. Unless they are in the business your spouse, your children, your friends and family hate it. Your users hate it more than anyone. They already feel inadequate for having to reach out to you for help. Not being able to follow the conversation just makes them feel worse.

4. Honesty
When you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know the answer but you will find it. The honesty is always appreciated and you look like an even bigger hero for all of your efforts when you do find the answer.

5. To get back to work
All anyone wants from the Help Desk is to get their work done. Your users come to you because there is something they need to do, usually for their job. They can’t do whatever it is and for some reason they believe you can correct that situation. That seems obvious but it’s important to keep in mind when talking with your users. They just want to get their work done.

6. To let off steam
No one wants to be yelled at and it’s not part of the support analyst’s job to accept that kind of treatment. Still, sometimes people just need to let off steam. When you hear the frustration start to build in your users’ voices, preempt the situation by acknowledging how frustrating it must be for them and that you know they probably need to vent. Hearing that will most likely be all the vent they need and yelling will not be necessary.

7. To be told they are not the problem
One reason user frustration gets to an explosive level is they fear the problem is their fault and is shining a light on their inadequacies. Computers are confusing and difficult. Even the most astute users and analysts sometimes delete a file they didn’t mean to or fat finger a password, one too many times. Let your users know that the system is supposed to compensate for human error and sometimes it fails. If that wasn’t true, the company wouldn’t have hired you.

Obviously these seven items don’t cover everything callers want or need.  What do your callers want from you and how do you provide it? Let us know by posting a comment below.

If you like this column, check out “7 Things a Help Desk Analyst Needs from the Help Desk Manager.”