Mike’s Top 15 IT Manager Tools

When the Editors of Toolkit Café asked me to provide a list of the Top Ten IT manager tools every IT manager should have, three things happened:

• First, I never had really thought about “must have tools” for every IT manager. I had always just focused on individual tools or my entire IT Manager ToolKit.

• Second, if we really mean “every IT manager should have them”, then we should create an opportunity so every IT manager can access them.

• Third, when I tried to identify a Top 10 List, I couldn’t narrow it down to just 10. There are 15 IT manager tools in my IT Manager ToolKit that every IT manager must have.

Let’s start with the list and follow with a short description of each tool and my reasons as to why you need it.

15 Tools Every IT Manager Must Have

1. IT Employee Skills Matrix
2. IT Training Plan
3. New Employee Orientation Checklist
4. Performance Plan Template (and examples)
5. Project Schedule Template
6. IT Systems Conversion Project Schedule
7. Move/Relocation Checklist
8. IT Initiatives Portfolio
9. Vendor Support Contacts
10. Escalation procedure
11. Annual IT Accomplishments
12. Client Rescue Guide
13. Cost of Downtime
14. Budget templates
15. IT Support Survey

Every tool can be customized to fit your specific needs and each tool includes instructions to help you use it.

DOWNLOAD ALL 15 TOOLS FOR FREE!

Read on for a Description of Each Tool

1. IT Employee Skills Matrix

One of the first things you want to do in an IT organization is to conduct an IT assessment. A key component of this discovery process is to determine the capability and capacity of your IT staff.  In other words, what can you do and how much can you do in terms of providing IT support.

This simple tool helps you quantify the skills you have and quickly identify the skill gaps that exist so you can prioritize training and education for your team. You can modify it to assess any level of skill you want; use it to quantify both technical and non-technical skills.

2. IT Training Plan

Training and education is one of the top motivators for IT employees. It always ranks in the Top 3 reasons employees stay with their company so it’s important to have a strong focus on employee development.

Eliminate knowledge silos and develop depth in your organization with a focused employee training plan when you quantify and prioritize training with this tool.

3. New Employee Orientation Checklist

It’s important to help a new employee get started so he or she can become productive quickly. It also has morale implications with your IT team as well as with your new employee that you may not realize.

Use this checklist or modify as needed to show new employees you are organized and help them become part of the team quickly.

4. Performance Plan Template (and examples)

IT employees have a strong need to know what it takes to be successful and they want to know if they are. Employee performance planning and review time is some of the highest quality time you have with your employees.

Included are three sample performance plans for a Programmer, Business Analyst and Infrastructure Manager.

5. Project Schedule Template

The key to gaining IT credibility is delivering projects successfully. You need project schedules to help you manage the project team and complete the tasks on time.

I’ve used this template hundreds of times to manage very large projects. You don’t have to be a PMP to deliver projects successfully, but you do need structure and some simple tools.

6. IT Systems Conversion Project Schedule

Sooner or later you are going to convert one of your systems to a new platform. This project schedule template provides a generic list of tasks you can use to get started quickly.

In addition, an actual sample system conversion project schedule is included that will provide additional insight into project management.

7. Move/Relocation Checklist

There is going to be a time when a department of your company needs to relocate. I’ve been in situations where it seemed like someone was moving every week. Nothing hurts IT credibility more than when these relocations go poorly.

Prepare with a move/relocation checklist that helps you support your client by ensuring future relocations go smoothly.

8. IT Initiatives Portfolio

This little tool is so simple yet powerful. A couple of pages will show everyone how effective your IT organization delivers projects. Summarizes exactly what you need to know:

• On time
• Within budget
• Results achieved
• Meets client needs
• Successful (Yes or No)

9. Vendor Support Contacts

When you need vendor support you often need it fast. Keep your vendor contact information close by and make it available to your Help Desk and all your IT managers.  You’re going to need it.

10. Escalation procedure

There are events that take place when you need to escalate IT support to a higher level such as a remote office losing connectivity, a data interface goes down, or a server crash.

Developing practical escalation procedures puts you ahead of the game when these problems occur and positions your organization to be highly responsive.

11. Annual IT Accomplishments

No one knows what the IT organization is accomplishing if you don’t tell them. I was shocked when assembling data for an annual IT Kickoff. We had accomplished so much more than I realized.

Right then I knew that if I had forgotten as the manager, then my clients and senior managers wouldn’t remember either. From that point I began tracking our accomplishments so we could communicate them with all groups in the company.

12. Client Rescue Guide

Early in my career an unhappy client intimidated me. Maybe that’s happened to you. Over the years I learned that a “problem client” is simply an opportunity in disguise.

Identify the client’s issues and address them and you have a partner instead of a headache. This template walks you through a process to do just that.

13. Cost of Downtime

Senior managers don’t understand technology nor want to, but you have to gain their approval to fund many technical projects that are necessary for the company.

This can be especially difficult when trying to discuss infrastructure projects, , , executives don’t get “routers and switches”. A tool that can help you is to educate them on the “cost of downtime”.

This practical tool will help you quantify the downtime implications in lost productivity for any technology in your company, even down to a single PC or printer

14. Budget templates

Developing an IT budget should be fairly quick work, but it is a long and tiring process for many IT managers. It was for me too until I developed a few templates to help me in the process.

This tool is actually several templates and can help streamline your IT operational and capital budgeting effort.

15. IT Support Survey

At the end of the day, your client’s perspective of how well your IT organization is performing is your measurement of success. You need to be aware of how they feel about IT performance.

To do this, I use a simple survey like this tool but I don’t send it out and expect to get them completed and returned. Instead, I interview my clients and get much more information.

Use this survey form or modify it to determine client perspectives on:

• IT responsiveness
• IT focus
• IT quality
• IT professionalism

The tools and templates above have helped me significantly, and I hope you receive value in using them. There are over 100 tools and templates in the IT Manager ToolKit. To learn more about my complete IT Manager Toolkit, click here.  If you want to learn more about all MDE products and services, click here.

Download Mike’s Top 15 IT Management Tools!

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Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Start a Team Mentoring Program

Most support teams are pretty diverse when it comes to skill sets. Some techs excel at customer interaction while others are experts at telephony and others are the hardware specialists. It’s good to have a specialty.  We can be good at many things but generally, to be great we must concentrate on one area.

A lot of Good can be better than Great

In managing teams I found it’s better to have a lot of employees who are good at many things than a few employees who are great at one thing each. Vacations and sick days alone really kill you. That’s why I like to have a mentoring program within my team. A lot of organizations refer to this as skill sharing but I’ve had more success calling it mentoring.

Make everyone a Trainer

There are few ways to do it. One is to schedule two hours a month, or even a week devoted to training. Ask each team member to prepare a course to give the rest of the team in those hours. Some members will be too shy to present. While it is great to encourage people to face their fears, never force it. If an employee just does not want to present ask a less shy employee to work with him or her or ask that they write up something.

Don’t stop the program when everyone has had their 2 hours. Start over again. Each area of expertise has should have a lot to offer. Encourage your employees to create training around incidents where they learned something new about their area.

Another mentoring method is just that, mentoring. Team up people with different strengths for a few months at a time. Be clear about why you team them. Ask each tech to mentor the other one on their specific strength. Spell it out. Make sure the techs know you mean their ability to analyze network issues, not their wicked Xbox skills.

Everyone Wins

Mentoring others helps the team become more diverse in their skill sets and, therefore, stronger. It also develops leadership skills in people who likely want to eventually move into management roles. It’s a good trade off for everyone involved.

Do you have a mentoring program within your team? Tell us how it works for you. What problems, if any have you run into?

For more ideas on how to get the most from your team check out our Practical IT Manager Gold series. http://117.240.88.103:8484/toolkitcafe/product/practical-it-manager-gold-series/

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Respecting Your Users

I spent years in phone support. I was a frontline tech, a manager and, at times, a trainer. I always liked the job but I was one of the few. Most techs hate it and would rather do anything than take calls. I think there are a couple of reasons.

Would You Like a Hot Apple Pie With That Password Reset?

The first thing people hate about working phone support is they are on the phone. That sounds silly but working a phone room feels like a low lever job. You have to wear a headset which always looks funny. Management counts the number of calls you take and coaches you on how to take more and worst of all they monitor you. Even when the pay is good those three things together make employees feel like they are just one step above wearing a hairnet. Heck Some hairnets look better than the headsets.

The big thing techs always complain about though is the callers themselves. Techs go on and on about how stupid the users are and how much they hate them. I never could figure out those techs. I mean the only reason we had jobs was we knew more about computer systems than the callers. Did they really want the callers to be able to figure these problems out on their own?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

For the most part I always liked my users and liking the people I supported sure made the job a lot better. Once I was in management and training I did my best to change tech attitudes about users. This was my philosophy. What job would you rather have, one where you take care of a bunch of whiney idiots who can’t take care of themselves or a job where you solve technical problems for intelligent professionals. I always worked with smart professionals and I was always happy in my work. The difference is really in the tech’s attitude and respect, not the users’ education.

For more tips on how to manage check out The IT Project Manager’s Toolkit (below). It’s an invaluable asset for working with people.

Measuring the Cost of Downtime

Have you ever tried to get an infrastructure project funded only to discover that it is like “pulling teeth” to get your senior manager’s approval?

If so, it is probably because your senior manager is having major difficulty understanding what you are talking about. All he hears is that you are asking for lots of money, and that’s not something he lets go of without understanding the value of what he will receive from the investment.

Senior executives normally do not understand technology, and they don’t want to.

Well, if that’s the case, how do you get a technology project funded that’s critical for the stability and support of your infrastructure? You know how important it is but you aren’t getting the message across to your boss, the CEO.

Something that will help is to discuss the project in terms of business value, , , and certainly not in technical terms.

Discuss “WHY”, not “WHAT”!

“WHY” deals with benefits, i.e., business value. “WHAT” deals with technology.

Unfortunately as former technical people, IT managers tend to discuss the “What” and not the “WHY”. It’s a guaranteed way to put your CEO to sleep or give him a major headache.

Business value includes one or more of five very specific things:
– Increase revenue
– Decrease cost
– Improve productivity
– Differentiate the company
– Improve client satisfaction

When you change your presentation to highlight the business value your company will receive by making the infrastructure investment, your senior manager hears and understands you, and when this happens, he makes a decision that usually goes your way if there is sufficient value for the investment.

A tool that can help significantly is to paint a picture of the ‘cost of downtime’ that your project recommendation will help eliminate.

Calculating “cost of downtime” is straightforward, but first you need to visualize what we are talking about. Below is a simple infrastructure scenario:

cost of downtime template

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this example, we literally “paint a downtime picture” to show the following:
– Corporate HQ Office is home of the Data Center where there are three servers.
– There are five remote offices (Atlanta, Denver, New York, etc.)
– In each office we list the number of Users (500 at HQ, 100 in Atlanta, etc.)
– We estimate the average salary of a company employee is $20/hour.
– The green filled circles are routers.
– Three Downtime scenarios are highlighted:
o If the Atlanta office router goes down or they lose connectivity, the productivity loss at 100% is $2,000/hour.
o If the HQ router goes down (green filled circle on the Corporate HQ box), all remote offices lose connectivity and 100% productivity         impact will be $20,000/hour.
o If the E-mail server crashes it affects productivity of all 1,500 workers. At 10% productivity factor, the impact is $3,000/hour.

Using these assumptions you can quantify the ‘cost of downtime’ for any component in your company, even a zone printer or a single PC.

Once you and your client can visualize the downtime scenario we created above, you can list key components in a downtime chart and refer to it when trying to justify an infrastructure project.

Download Mike’s Cost of Downtime Template Here for Free!

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Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Snooping is Creepy, Especially When the Government is Doing it

As an IT manager, making sure employees don’t abuse their access rights and snoop in HR files is always a concern. I think most of my employees had too much integrity and too much of a life to consider it but not all. The fact is, almost everyone in IT knows people who read files they had no right to. The ones I knew were as greasy and creepy as you might imagine.

The Spies Who Love Too Much

It was those creepy guys I thought of when I read that NSA employees were caught accessing the files of love interests. Yep. Twelve NSA employees were caught going through the files of wives and girlfriends, ex-wives and ex-girlfriends and, of course, women they wish were girlfriends.

The Government says, even though they are storing all of our emails and calls, they can’t actually read them or listen to them without a warrant, but that’s not really true. They’re not supposed to read or listen to them without a warrant but they can do it anytime they want and there are 12 creeps, in addition to Edward Snowden, who prove that.

What’s Good for Google is Good for America

I know what people say. Google, Facebook and Verizon already have that information and use it daily, so what difference does it make. There is a difference, a big one. To Paraphrase Stephen Colbert, Google cannot draft me and send me to war. Facebook cannot arrest me and try me for crimes. Verizon cannot send me to prison for life and none of them can strap me to a chair and pump a syringe full of deadly poison in my arm, all of which the US government can do. The reason for the fourth amendment is to protect individuals from an all powerful government. Allowing Google to show me diet ads should be a forfeiture of that protection.

But I should have nothing to worry about if I don’t do anything wrong, right? I mean, our court system would not let the government convict me without evidence. If you really believe that look up the case against the late Alaska Senator, Ted Stevens. You know the guy. “The Internet is a series of tubes.” He was convicted of corruption, in 2008. Less than a year later it was discovered federal prosecutors deliberately withheld exculpatory evidence that proved his innocence. This is a very powerful wealthy guy, a really high official and a member of the party in power at the time. Yet he was tried and convicted of a crime they knew he didn’t commit.

In the end, corruption was defeated , sort of. The exculpatory evidence was discovered. Senator Stevens did not go to jail. He just lost his senate seat and spent hundreds of thousands on his defense. More to the point, the two federal prosecutors who withheld the evidence were punished. One got a 15 day suspension and the other got 40 days, proving the system works and we can trust the government.

The fact is we are not supposed to trust our government. Our forefathers didn’t. They knew to err is human but it takes a government to really screw you over. That’s why they put checks and balances in place and gave us a bill of rights. Trusting the NSA not to violate our fourth amendment rights because they promise not to look at the files they have complete access to is like not having passwords on the HR system and just trusting the employees not to read each others files. Maybe you can trust them all but do you want to bet your job on it, let alone your life.

Are your data and systems secure?  Do you have the proper documentation?  Maybe you should check out our IT Security Manual Template.

 

The Best Boss I Ever Had

I’ve heard that some of the most popular blogs on Toolkit Café have been about best bosses and worst bosses so I thought I would take this week to talk about The best boss I ever had.

Better Bosses Make Better Employees

The best Boss I ever had forced me to be better than I thought I was, to think for myself, and think through problems. If I made mistakes, I had to helped troubleshoot them until the issue was resolved. Fortunately most of the people we supported were patient and didn’t mind if I had to redo a network setup or if I crashed their laptop by installing the wrong drivers.

My boss literally felt that everyone had the capacity to succeed in life and everyone had opportunity if they wanted it. I think the fact that he was gay at a time and place where that wasn’t always accepted influenced those beliefs. He never let what others think get in his way. He had several degrees, stature and respect in his position.

All Good Things Must End

Later in life this boss left IT to get a law degree  but not before teaching me that the best bosses anyone can ever have are the ones who will work with you when needed, get  hands dirty with you, if that’s what it takes to get the job done, and help you achieve your goals…not just theirs. That was my boss.

Being a great boss is tough but worth it. To make it easier check out Mike Sisco’s IT Manager Toolkit. It provides everything you need to for the day in day out grind of managing leaving you more time to work with  your employees.

What Do You Do With Old Computers?

If you do not lease your equipment you have several options available to you. The first of course is to take it to a local recycler. You may want to make sure they are a reputable one. Many states not have commercial laws. For example, you are not allowed to throw it away and you must use a reputable or registered recycler. Check with your local Department of Natural Resources or EPA. If your company has a Sustainability, Green or Environmental Responsibility Department they will be able to tell you the laws in your state.

Behind Curtain Number Two

Your second option is to donate it to a nonprofit organization. This of course is always the preferred option because your computer is still usable for special community programs as long as it is able to handle or be upgraded to Windows 7. Even if it isn’t, a nonprofit may also use old computers and electronics to train kids and adults in computer repair or recycling and possibly give them a job. My organization, Wits, Inc is one of the largest reuse and recycling organization in the US.  We have up to 200 people a year  come through our doors just to get job training and job development. We generally process between 5-7 million lbs of electronics a year.

Many nonprofits, like Wits, are certified, reputable and registered. To make sure, ask what they do with the equipment….if they sell it to someone else(some do that for cash)  make sure you know where they sell it. If they “scrap” it for parts that helps them keep their programs running  and you can get a tax write off for it. Be careful that some may need to charge for monitors especially if nonworking.  The price should run between $5-10each. Again, check your laws, some states will not allow charges for certain items.

Queue the Native American With a Tear

Your final option is to throw it away, As a registered recycler in several states and a nonprofit organization I do not promote this nor will I say its preferred however being non-partial to this conversation….in some states it is legal to do so.

But why would you? Computers and other electronics contain all sorts of toxic materials, precious metals, and reusable components that could be helpful to those organizations and are dangerous to the environment and water streams. Even if you aren’t generally a “Green” person, keep in mind that it doesn’t hurt to support a local nonprofit or business in your area and just do the right thing.

And please don’t throw the hard drive away. In addition to the data that may be salvageable, the board still has toxins and valuable materials in them. Most of your reputable recyclers have special software to wipe the data it. At Wits, we take them all apart and completely crush them.  We can even do it while you wait for a small fee.

If you don’t have a policy for old computers you can purchase our ULTIMATE IT POLICY TOOLKIT and create one from the Hardware Security Policy.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Is it Time to Replace the Computers or Can You Wait?

How long is too long to keep a computer? That answer seems to change with the economy and our budgets. Back in the nineties when companies couldn’t spend money fast enough 3 years was the norm. Later the standard was 4 years, now it seems to be 5 or whenever the darn things breaks beyond repair.  It’s understandable but, does waiting too long cost more money in the long run? I think it does.

Why Not Wait?

The first thing wrong with keeping a computer until it can no longer be repaired is it indicates that your company doesn’t have a full technology plan, that you are just winging it. Winging it is cool, especially if you are a fighter pilot or a secret agent but IT managers don’t have that luxury. IT managers require plans. Without plans our employees and users often take matters into their own hands and develop their own policies, independent of each other and management. In other words, without plans we have chaos.

The second thing wrong with waiting to replace computers is the loss of productivity.  Every fix requires time. Even simple fixes, like a memory upgrade can mean significant loss of productivity. True, most techs can replace the memory in any desktop or laptop in under five minutes, including finding the part. Except that five minutes doesn’t include the weeks or even months the user endured poor performance before finally getting enough and asking for help. It doesn’t include the phone call or web request to report the problem or the initial visit from the tech to diagnose the problem.  Total time loss for even a minor problem can be many hours. Multiply that by the number of incidents for an older computer compared to a new one and it’s not hard to justify the purchase.

So When Already?

Now that we agree keeping a computer too long is a poor choice, we are back to our original question. How long is too long. I think, for most companies, beyond four years is too long.  Of course different companies have different needs. If your users are designing computer games or doing research for NASA they should probably get new computers every six months. For most of us though, a three year old computer is probably fine.

Does your company have a full technology plan? If not, take a look at the PRACTICAL IT MANAGER GOLD SERIES.  Asset Management can be quite helpful in creating a hardware plan.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

When You Grease, Don’t Forget the Quiet Wheels

As with most idioms, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” is far too often completely true, especially when it comes to managing employees. This is not a good thing. One reason is people are not wheels. Noise does not necessarily mean there is a problem and quiet certainly doesn’t mean there are no problems.

A Parable for Our Time

I remember a team with which I worked several years ago that was moved to a new building. We were all quite excited. I was finally going to have an office with windows and my employees would all get bigger cubes. The managers who were squeaky wheels managed to get a look at the new area before it was officially open and laid unofficial claim to their areas. This did not affect me as my team was took calls and required a phone room. It did affect a few of my peers. I asked one, who was by far the smartest, hardest manager on the team, why he just stood by while others got asked for the good offices. He said he figured the VP would make the decisions regardless of what we said.  As usual the squeaky wheels got their choice and the quiet managers took what was left.

Another difference between wheels and people is that grease usually doesn’t quiet squeaky people. As time went on the squeaky wheels increased their teams far more than the quiet wheels did, they got all the best equipment and managed somehow to get a lot of credit for work other teams did. After a while even the quietest wheels noticed that  though they did most of the work and never complained they never seemed to get the thanks or perks the squeaky wheels got. True to their nature they said nothing but one by one they left, leaving the VP with a bunch of squeaky wheels that couldn’t really take him anywhere.  I managed to find another department myself.

And the Moral to the Story is

I understood how it happened. The VP wanted a happy office.  What he didn’t understand is to have happy office you must employ happy people. Giving the unhappy people everything they want doesn’t work, at least not for very long.

I’m not saying managers shouldn’t get out the grease gun when they hear squeaks. What I’m saying is, listen to what people want. If it is reasonable and will help productivity then make sure all your wheels get the grease and give those with the best results just a little more, otherwise you might find yourself stuck in the muck.

For tips on how to handle problem employees, squeaky and otherwise, check out the Practical IT Manager Gold Series.  It’s a great resource.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Support Tech or Carrier?

Every year about this time people start calling in sick. They have a cold, or they have the flu. They have something that they rather not go into detail about. As a manager you expect the flu season to wreak havoc and most of us prepare for it. We encourage our troops to get flu shots. We are prepared to fill in if need be and we make sure all of our techs wash their hands before and after touching anyone’s keyboard.

Typhoid Mary

What? You mean to tell me you don’t have your techs wash their hands between customers? You think that would be overkill and your techs would laugh at you anyway? Well get over and get on board. If your techs are moving from cubicle to cubicle, keyboard to keyboard, helping one customer after another without washing their hands then your team is the reason so many people call in sick.

According to the WebMD about 80% of contagious disease is spread by touch. We touch a contaminated surface then we touch our mouth nose or eyes, allowing the germ to enter our bodies.  Most people pick up the germs from door knobs, banisters, the things we all tough daily, but the onsite support techs are the only people in the office who regularly touch other people’s keyboards. That exposes the techs to everything anyone might have at the office. Since they often immediately go from one keyboard to another they are a great transport for any germ looking for a new host. Think of it has having a bunch of Typhoid Mary’s with pocket protectors.

It’s not Easy Being Clean

Hand washing is the Key. The CDC reports that the simple act of hand washing prevents the spread of most diseases. Some people like to carry sanitizer and that is good but sanitizer only kills bacteria. They don’t work on cold and flu viruses. The only way to get rid of viruses is to wash them away. Scrubbing your hands together with soap under running water does the trick.

Some think that techs should use disposable gloves, throwing them away between each stop, like doctors and nurses. It’s a good idea but the weirdo factor the gloves bring to anyone outside the medical community would be too much to bear. Let’s face it. Everyone already thinks we read all of their email know where to get the best porn. Add latex gloves to that and it’s just too much.

Most techs will fight it and even those who don’t will have trouble remembering to stop in the restroom and wash every time they touch someone’s keyboard but if you can enforce it, the policy could actually save lives. Believe it or not, 49,000 people die every year from the flu. I don’t know any of them catch it from their support tech but it wouldn’t shock me if one or two could be traced back to an infected keyboard. Don’t let any be traced to your team. Start the hand washing policy today.

For tips on getting your techs to follow a difficult policy like hand washing,  check out the Practical IT Manager Gold Series. It can be an invaluable tool.  http://toolkitcafe.com/product/practical-it-manager-gold-series/