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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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.

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!

Minimize downtime with Sisco’s free Move/Relocation Checklist

Here is a no brainer about the role of IT support : Our job is to keep the business “up and running.” That’s right, most of us in IT have a 24 X 7, 365-day obligation to keep our technologies running and our business clients positioned to use them. So who has time to move our offices or relocate a data center?

Sooner or later you are going to have to support a company move, department relocation, or opening up a new office. The very nature of these activities suggests downtime, and downtime is an IT organization’s worst enemy.

Getting a move on (and we don’t mean twerking)

A move or relocation is a project just like any other project, and one of the things you want to do is to minimize the business impact in achieving your goal of getting the affected organization and people in place so they can be productive.

I was the CIO of a company in the mid-90’s that grew from $30 million in revenue to over $600 million in just over 5 years. We accomplished much of this growth by acquiring other companies that provided the same type of physician billing services we provided. Many times we would acquire a company that had an office right around the corner from one of our offices. To leverage our investment we either consolidated the two offices into one of them or moved both offices to a brand new location.

It seemed like we were moving a group of people to a new location or opening up a new office every week.

Relocation activities create lots of opportunity for downtime and loss of productivity. Downtime was a huge cash flow and client satisfaction problem in this industry.  If our employees could not bill and produce insurance claims and collect the money for physician services, our physician clients didn’t get paid, and neither did we.  Minimizing downtime was a key objective because our operational and financial success depended upon it.

Introducing the Office Move/Relocation Checklist

To help us manage an office move, we developed a simple Office Move/Relocation Checklist.   This checklist can help you with almost anything that you need to do from time to time, things like:

– Office moves
-Delivering classes
-Deploying equipment
-Troubleshooting specific technologies

In this particular example, there are three key sections:

  1. Move preparation tasks that include a responsibility and completion timeframe
  2. Day of Move tasks you should target
  3. List of equipment you need to support the move

Checklists like this one and others we used helped our IT organization minimize downtime and disruption to our business by completing our projects reliably and consistently, key ingredients for a positive IT support operation.

Download the Checklist for Free!

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Check out Mike’s IT Manager Toolkit

If you like the Office Move/Relocation Checklist, you’ll be interested in the 100 tools and templates in the IT Manager ToolKit. To learn more about the complete IT Manager Toolkit, click here.  If you want to learn more about all MDE products and services, click here.

Mike Sisco is the President of MDE Enterprises, Inc., an IT manager training company focused on, “helping IT managers of the world achieve more success”. MDE resources are available at http://itmanagerstore.com

Your feedback welcome!

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5 More Critical Insights for Implementing ERP

In part I of this series on ERP, we interviewed Brian Schaffner about five of the things he wishes he’d known before he started implementing his first ERP solution. This week, our interview continues with five more lessons for CIOs, IT directors, and IT managers who are staring down the gullet of an ERP implementation deadline.

ToolTalkWeekly:  Testing an ERP may take as long, or longer, than to do the development and configuration

Brian Schaffner: During a typical software lifecycle, you perform rigorous testing of the solution to be sure it meets your requirements and does what you need it to do. On smaller scale systems, you can often predict the testing effort using various formulas and rules of thumb. With an ERP implementation, however, the rules can be different.

Because an ERP system usually supports many more processes than a smaller, more focused system, and because the processes within the ERP are more integrated – there can be many more dynamics at work than in a typical software solution. As a result, the number of permutations that can arise grows exponentially as you define and build the system. You will need to think about the effort required to test and validate all of these variations. Automated testing solutions can be a tremendous help in this area, as you will need to not only test the system during the initial development and deployment, but will also need to regression test it as you make changes.

TTW: Implementing a system-wide ERP platform is a huge cultural change for an organization

BS:  As with overlooking your customers – some organizations overlook their internal people and culture when implementing a solution of this magnitude. Change is difficult for many people – and especially for organizations where there is an ingrained culture. Culture can take many forms – and in this case can be affected by changes in the roles that people have, in the tasks and processes they carry out, the skills required, and even whether their job exists after the system is in place.

It’s important to understand how the process of implementing the new system, and how the operational rollout of it will affect the organization as a whole. You don’t want everyone to come in on a Monday morning and have a crash course on how to deal with the system, customers who are complaining and anything else that’s going wrong. This can be addressed partially through normal training curriculums which train users on how to perform specific functions within the system. Usually, though, that’s not enough. You should also think about how you will transition into the new system and how you will socialize those changes – organization-wide. You’ll want to make sure that the non-IT people understand that the new system isn’t going to be perfect – and will definitely have issues. As the organization learns about the changes, and adapts to them over time, the process of adopting the new system will go much smoother.

TTW:  The cost to implement an ERP are probably 2x to 10x whatever you think the initial estimate is

BS:  IT news sources have no shortage of stories of failed and expensive ERP implementations. So – you probably already know this one, but it bears repeating. Your ERP will cost significantly more than you are planning. Very few ERP implementations cost anywhere near the initial plan.

You should go in expecting to spend between 2 and 10 times your initial cost plan. This may seem like too much – and possibly there are ways to reel in the costs. The reality, however, is that ERP systems are complex and planning them out in a way that’s accurate is very difficult to achieve. That complexity often comes from many of the issues listed above, such as the ERP doesn’t fit your business processes, so you pay extra to customize it (or your processes) so that they match. Or maybe your business process requirements are all in the head of the mainframe programmer that retired last year, and now you need to pay a hefty consulting fee to bring him back to help you. Perhaps you thought you were going to have a 1 year, big-bang implementation – but half-way through you realize that a 3-year phased plan is much easier for the organization to consume. Some of these you can plan up-front – but many of them are hard to predict until you are already in the middle of the project.

TTW:  ERPs are long cycle projects – and they take a heavy toll on the IT team and the business users

BS: Most ERP projects take 12 months or longer to complete. That can be a long time for everyone involved to continually keep focus and motivation. The IT team often has some idea of the impact coming their way when they sign up for a project like this. IT groups are usually familiar with the process of system development and implementation, and have grown accustomed to the steps and timeframes involved.

Business users, on the other hand, are usually in a different boat. Many non-ERP projects that involve business users only require limited involvement and input. During an ERP implementation, the demand on the business users can be very high. At times, the business users will work as many or more hours than the IT team – helping to articulate their processes and how they work, helping to test and verify that the system does what it’s supposed to do, and even participating in and leading training of their departments. All of that effort can be a drag on their morale, and also a major impact to their normal daily duties.

TTW:  A clear understanding of the benefits is crucial to prioritizing the work, and to measuring the success of the project.

BS: Many ERP implementations start off with a grand vision of how great things will be when the project is over and everyone is reaping the benefits of a great implementation. What usually happens over time is that trade-offs and compromises are made in order to keep the project schedule on track and keep the costs in line. When that happens, the goals and benefits of the project can erode.

A clear understanding of the benefits and priorities can and should be the backbone of decision making when reviewing costs, schedules, and other project risks. It’s understandable to back off of certain features because they are going to take too much time or effort to implement; but if not implementing the feature compromises a core benefit of the system, it’s important to understand that when it occurs, not when the project is completed and the CFO doesn’t understand why the ROI doesn’t match expectations.

What’s your take on ERP?

To share your experiences with ERP implementations, please post a comment below or send a note to the editor.

Featured Toolkit: IT Project Management

If you’re looking for a great set of templates and tools for implementing an ERP solution in your shop, check out The IT Project Manager’s Toolkit.

5 Critical Insights for Implementing ERP

Oh, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), you promise so much but you’re a fickle consort. That’s the lesson we learned when we interviewed Brian Schaffner, Director of Enterprise Architecture and Infrastructure for a healthcare provider with operations on five continents.  Brian has worked and lived through his fair share of ERP implementations in companies of various sizes and industries. Whether you’re considering your first ERP implementation or you’ve been charged with upgrading an existing ERP integration, you can benefit from Brian’s mistakes as he shares the things he wishes he’d known before he started with ERP.

If only I’d known then what I know now about ERP

ToolTalkWeekly: You said the first thing you wish you’d known before you started your first ERP implementation was that not all ERP solutions are the same.

Brian Schaffner:  Some ERP vendors cater to specific industries, some and are more flexible, and some are too big or too small for your company. It’s not always easy picking a solution that fits your company and its needs. Evaluate companies by looking at their track record with companies or organizations that are similar to yours. If you are a mid-size state college – look for solutions that have done that before. You don’t want to be a vendor’s guinea pig when implementing a system of this scale.

TTW:  What if you’re migrating from an existing system to a new system?

BS:  You and your team need knowledge and documentation of the existing system. That’s key.This probably sounds like an obvious statement, but it’s surprising how many organizations have either no documentation, or the documentation they do have is nearly useless. That can be true of knowledge within the organization as well. Systems that have been around a while often evolve from what the documentation says they do. The people who know what the system does, and, more importantly, how it works – have moved on or retired.

Before you embark on your ERP quest, take inventory of what you know about your existing business, processes, and systems. You may find that you are fully staffed, documented, and knowledgeable. However, if you are like most companies, as you uncover the rocks, you are more likely to find snakes than gold. It’s important to know what you know before you get started, because once you start implementing it’s much more difficult to go back to the beginning.

TTW:  What’s a typical timeline look like for an ERP implementation?

BS:  Depending on the size of the system and company – phasing or building integration may be better than “big bang.”Many ERP vendors have solutions that will handle many, if not most or all, of your processes. This can be great for streamlining your organization and providing better service to your customers. If you are a small organization, you may be able to consume all of the changes to all of those processes in a single implementation. Most organizations, however, struggle to implement using the “big bang” – or all-at-once approach.

If you find your organization overwhelmed by the magnitude and quantity of changes taking place, look at ways to phase the implementation. Start with more simple, back-end processes like Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, and General Ledger. Often, those processes form the backbone of an ERP implementation – and often they are not overly customized. Many times, these are easier to implement and integrate with.

Once you have the core system running, you can build integration layers that handle getting data in to, and out of, the system. Modern integration platforms provide not only batch data loads, but also real-time messaging and synchronization across systems.

TTW:  IT people tend to think in terms of impact on IT functions and internal business operations.  What’s the impact on customers?

BS:  If there are customer-facing pieces of your project – communicate a lot and often with customers.  A huge mistake that companies make when implementing new internal systems is forgetting about the external impact. Usually this means customers – but can also mean vendors, financial institutions, investors, and others who interact with you. Customers, in particular, can be affected in many ways. For example, if you change the format of your invoices – and customers have processes that depend on the invoice format – you probably just broke their process. A new system also means bugs and bumpy processes. Customers understand these issues if they know what’s going on – but if you don’t tell them, and they simply experience the issues themselves, they are likely to become frustrated or leave.

Involve your customers, and other external entities in your project. Tell them what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how they will benefit from it. If you have target dates where they will experience changes, let them know in advance. The more you let them know what’s going on, the better prepared they will be for the changes, and the more successful you will be in the implementation.

TTW:  Is ERP an inevitable part of IT operations?

BS:  An ERP platform does not constitute a holistic architecture.  Sometimes when you implement a new, integrated system – the new system brings its own technology, platform, framework, and architecture. Usually those are all necessary to make all the pieces of the ERP work together in harmony. In the context of the ERP system, that is all well and good. For many organizations, however, the ERP is not the boundary of their systems. Sometimes you have customizations or proprietary systems that need to integrate, or possibly be built into the ERP system. It can be tempting to adopt the technology, platform, and architecture of the ERP for these auxiliary systems.

Before you do that – you should consider the implications. As the ERP architecture evolves – are you willing to invest in evolving all of the systems that are based on the ERP architecture? Or are you willing to wait for ERP enhancements as you bring all of your systems up to date? There may be operational considerations as well. For example, with some systems you may have monolithic components that require the entire system to be down during maintenance. If you understand these types of implications, and can live with them, you may be okay. If not – you may need to consider other ways to design the auxiliary components.

Part 2: Five more lessons you need before you implement  ERP

Follow the discussion when we continue our interview with Brian he talks about what happens after you select an ERP solution. In the meantime, please tell us what you thought about this content by posting a comment below or email the editor.

Featured Toolkit: IT Project Management

If you’re looking for a great set of templates and tools for implementing an ERP solution in your shop, check out The IT Project Manager’s Toolkit.

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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A simple project planning tool that will save you countless headaches

What do you think of when you hear the word “management tools?” Soft skills like “ability to listen well?” Software tools like compilers and debuggers?  In this column, I’ll tell you about one of the  management tools I have used the most in my long career: a simple project scheduling template.

Background: Project Management 101

I was first introduced to what we now call “project management” years before there really was such a term called project management. Believe it or not, in the early days of IT we didn’t have project management methodologies, nice tools, or training. Today, project management resources are everywhere.project schedule template

When I first joined IBM in 1976, my Systems Engineer (SE) responsibility was to support existing clients with IBM computers and install new IBM computer systems, usually for small businesses who had purchased their first computer. We called it the “mini-computer” era. It was exciting and lots of fun helping small business owners automate part of their business.

We didn’t have laptops, no software to speak of for personal use – not even project management software. What we did have was a predefined form and a pencil along with knowledge of the tasks required to install a new computer system plus the business applications that went with it.

IBM trained me on their installation process. We didn’t call it project management, but that’s certainly what it was. With this training, IBM provided a blank installation scheduling form (template) by which we could develop an installation schedule for each new client.

30 years later

The process we used to install computer systems in the late 70s and 80s is exactly the same process we use today. You need a project schedule that includes a few basic things like:

–       Tasks required to do the job

–       Responsibility assignment for each task

–       Timeframe for completing each task

IBM gave me a form and a set of standards (tasks required to do the job) so I developed an installation plan, or schedule, for each new computer system I needed to install.  I used the schedule to manage the project, just like we use the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)  today.

Of course, in my IBM days, it was all manual with paper and pencils, so it was smart to have a good eraser close by.

When the PC came out in the early 1980s along with VISICALC, I put this paper form onto a spreadsheet. (I wonder how many people reading this article remember VISICALC, the first spreadsheet application.) It revolutionized much of the manual and tedious administrative work we used to do with pencil and paper that we now take for granted.

I still use this template in Excel spreadsheet format to manage projects. Even though I’m well versed in Microsoft Project, I always revert back to my simple project schedule spreadsheet template whenever I can. For me, it’s just quicker and easier to use and it works just fine in providing what I need to manage a project.

Simple tools work just fine, and you won’t find a simpler tool than this Project Schedule Template.

Download the Project Schedule Template for Free!

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