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.


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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The Importance of a Vendor Contact List

I remember joining a new company as a new CIO early in my career. It was a small company and my first CIO position. I discovered quickly I had a lot to learn.

One day soon after my start we experienced a problem with one of our key business applications and needed vendor support to resolve the problem. When we began looking for “who to call” and a phone number, none of the staff seemed to be able to find the information.

The application was a mission critical application meaning much of our company employees depended upon it to do their jobs and to support our business. It had client service ramifications as well as cash flow implications.

Well, you can guess that we started feeling the pressure pretty quickly because the system was down and we needed to escalate vendor support, yet we didn’t seem to know who to call or have their phone number.

The good news is that we finally discovered what we needed by reviewing a contract to get a phone number. Once the vendor got involved we were able to resolve the problem fairly quickly.

From that moment, I decided to never let something like this happen to me again. Nothing bothers me more than to be in a situation where we need help and don’t know who to call. When you have a problem is not the time you want to go scurrying around to find your vendor’s contact information.

When you join a new company or assume additional responsibilities, make it a priority to quantify your mission critical systems (hardware and software) and list the vendor information you might need to escalate support.

Use a simple Vendor Support Contact List to identify your key vendors and the contact information you will most likely need at some point. Download the sample version I use and modify it for your specific needs.

Give this list to other managers and to your Help Desk.

Something else you should do, , , take your mission critical vendors to lunch or have them take you to lunch. You need to get to know them and you want them to know you. If you do need to escalate a support call to them, it helps when they know who you are, and I believe they will tend to respond better for you.

Download my vendor contact list template for free here!

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The Worst Boss I ever Had

The Reason Skip (not his real name) was the worst boss I ever had was that he had no idea what my job was. At the time I managed a team of web designers. It was not a secret that Skip got his job as my boss because he had more time to spend on meetings and oversight. He had no clue what we really did. He had no skills in the area, knew nothing about programming and had no experience managing a team of designers. The result was most of the time I was on my own.

You Can’t Fight for What You Don’t Understand.

Being on your own sounds great but every time I put in the request for new software or upgraded hardware Skip couldn’t explain to his boss why it was needed and I wasn’t allowed to speak to his boss about it. This meant I had to write reports on the use and need of the for every order. Even with the report it would take several months to get a request approved.

The truth is I liked Skip. He was a great guy, constantly wanted to take us out to eat, to ball games etc. He was just a terrible boss.

We all Need Help From Time to Time

I know many people complain about bosses who yell, cuss, back stab etc, but nothing is worse than having a boss who really is clueless in your area of expertise. We all need support, on occasion and a boss like Skip cannot help you or support you in any way other than saying “great job” even if you are failing miserably.  I like hearing great job but I like not failing even more.

For tips on true leadership check out the IT Project Manager’s Toolkit. It makes the job of leadership a lot easier.

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.


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.

Don’t Forget Basic Training

In my first IT job I always found it interesting to know more than my boss, the director of IT at my alma mater.  Training him to do his job was very frustrating.  The hardest part was when I tried to explain that we can’t expect all the students to know how to use the new system and the new networking printers and that someone would have to teach a class.  Of course that ended up being me.

You Can’t Reap If You Don’t Sow

The training went well. We ended up having to schedule several more classes for students and faculty. The rest of the semester went much smoother, once everyone understood how the network ran. It was so successful we continued the training through the rest of the year.

What I learned then is still true, even in this day and age.  Everyone on both sides want everything to already just “Magically” work with no effort or training.  To ask them to do basics to get their job done…….out of the question. Even now when everyone should be “in the know”.

Moral of the story

Never know more than your boss or at least pretend not to know or just feel free to apply to your boss position when it opens.

For great information on how to make problem employees implement their own ideas take a look at the PRACTICAL IT MANAGER GOLD SERIES. It’s an invaluable tool.

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/

The 3 Components of Developing Big Data Capabilities

Before we dive into the depths of Big Data, let’s first define Big Data services. Any activity within an organization that requests the collection, normalization, analysis, and presentation of data is a Big Data service. The responsibility of such a service may include the required hardware and software that is necessary to execute said activities, particularly if dedicated to Big Data capabilities. Big Data services may provide ad hoc data analysis and/or continual scheduled data analysis. The scope of the service may be distinguished by customer, application, product, or business service: each with a different binding service level agreement.

Developing Big Data capabilities has three major parts:

  1. Developing the Vision
  2. Developing the Data Analytics Capability
  3. Developing the Infrastructure

Developing the Vision

In order to develop the vision for Big Data, it all begins with understanding the needs of the business and potential “problem areas” (areas that need improvement or opportunities that need investigating) currently and over time. The Big Data vision should answer the question, “How can Big Data be used effectively to support the organization’s achievement of its strategic goals and objectives?” Developing the Vision defines the goals and objectives of Big Data and how it will provide value to the organization.  Often, the adoption of Big Data in most cases will vary.

Some organizations may initialize its efforts with a seemingly insignificant business process, that being a small pilot program. The intention here is to test its capabilities. Others may have had existing data management programs for quite some time and are simply looking to expand their capabilities. No matter the situation, developing the vision encourages the organization to define its expectations clearly, as well as plan its implementation of Big Data carefully.

Developing the Data Analytics Capability

To develop the data analytics capability, focus should be set on the handling, analysis and presentation of data within an organization. This section will cover the majority of the overall development process. This process aims to develop an organization’s capabilities.  The following process is recommended for an organization’s development of its capabilities with regard to data analytics. The process should be implemented for each Big Data service or project for service improvement.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Develop the individual data analytics process(es).
  2. Determine the sources of data.
  3. Automate extraction and validation of data.
  4. Build appropriate business rules (reducing anomalies and false positives).
  5. Prioritize areas of concern.
  6. Refine and document solution.
  7. Increase capacity based on demand.

Developing the Infrastructure

The final part involves the development of the infrastructure, which will provide guidance in order to be able to meet the processing, storage, and transnational needs of the Big Data service. The emergence of the said service’s technologies has created an intense need to understand the requirements necessary in infrastructure, as well as the need to continuously seek out greater efficiencies with regard to infrastructure design. Some of the significant issues that are results from Big Data are as follows:

  • Capacity
  • Security
  • Access/Privacy
  • Latency
  • Flexibility
  • Cost

The technologies utilized in Big Data will often address two or more of the issues mentioned earlier. Usually, the collaboration between intersecting technologies will provide greater benefits as compared to when implementing a single technology on its own.

The dedicated team at The Art of Service has designed a step-by-step toolkit to aid any IT professional in the implementation of Big Data capabilities in any organization. The toolkit aims to introduce Big Data concepts, and provide you with the tools to successfully create a workable Big Data culture in your organization.  Download the Big Data Toolkit at Toolkit Cafe today!