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 4 words tech support should never say

In this edition of Jeff’s Quick Rants, I’d like to share with you the one thing that should never be said by your customer-facing, level I, level II, and level III support staff.  When an IT person utters this four-word phrase to someone not in IT, the message it sends is, “You’re obviously an idiot because there’s no way on earth that what you’re reporting can possibly be true.  You must be mis-reading or mis-keying or mis-clicking something.” (Unspoken but added in the tone: “You moron!”)

Sometimes, tech support people use this four-word phrase in jest, attempting to use comedic irony to lighten the tone and the mood. That’s acceptable, if the use is truly in jest. Problems occur when the phrase is an automatic response, uttered without thinking first.

Tech Support Rule #1: Listen, Think, Then Talk

IT pros love good, quick answers to questions. Many of us think we have the ability to discern the root cause of a problem and articulate a solution in less than 0.06 seconds – every time. The harsh reality is, however, that most of the time, those snap-quick answers are wrong.

We IT managers and support professionals as a group need to remind ourselves that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason – we should listen twice as much as we talk.  In the early days of tech support, you could solve a lot of problems by asking your customer, “Have you tried rebooting the machine?”

It’s a new world now, folks.  We’re supporting cloud-hosted, Web-based interfaces running simultaneously on desktops, laptops, tablets, and supposedly-smart phones. Our in-house applications are stored on storage area networks and department- and user-level drives are mapped to different letter-names depending on the mood of the tech who built the box or added the user’s access to a resource. You can’t let the first thing that pops into your mind be the first thing that pops out of your mouth.

The four forbidden words

Here are the four words that I recommend we ban from the IT lexicon forever:  “That shouldn’t be happening.” The variation on that phrase, “That shouldn’t have happened,” goes on the list, too.

I’ll tell you why these words make my skin crawl.  Recently I had to move my desktop machine from the sixth floor of the office building to the third floor. While I was waiting on the movers to move the stuff and for tech support to make the ports hot at my new location, I logged on to a public machine in a conference room so I could get some work done while I waited. I logged in, fired up the email client, and sat and watched as the email client flashed various “loading” messages until it timed out and gave up.

I trotted down to the Help Desk Call Center area and said to the tech on duty, “Hey, I’m having problems getting the email client to work on the conference room down the hall. “I’ll take a look at it,” the tech said.  Email access is a big deal on conference room machines, because you frequently need to get into email to pull up the URL for webinars or other online meetings.

The tech “took a look,” all right.  The tech looked at the error message, then went straight into Control Panel and started making changes willy-nilly.  Still the email client wouldn’t load. No problem for me, though, as my new workstation was ready.

Three years of cached email addresses – gone!

I fired up my PC, confirmed my internet access and mapped drives were intact, and launched the email client. I went to compose a new message and — what’s that? The cached email address I needed wasn’t there. In fact, NONE of my cached email addresses were there.  Three years’ worth of email addresses were gone.

I went back to the Help Desk Call Center area and asked, “Hey, did you do something to my email account when you were troubleshooting the machine in the conference room? Because all of my cached email addresses are gone now.”  What do you think the response was?

“That shouldn’t be happening!”

No kidding, Sherlock. It shouldn’t be happening, but is it happening! It happened! Three years ago I got this new machine and for three years the email client had been dutifully caching my email addresses.  Now they’re all gone! And the only response the tech suppport “pro” had to offer was, “Well, gee, uh, doh! That shouldn’t be happening!”

It was as if the person was saying to me, “Come on, you ID-10-T, you must be mistaken.”

What you should say instead

If the support person had simply listened and thought before responding, he might have come up with something like, “That’s not good – let me look into it.”  Or, “gosh, I’m sorry to hear that. Let me look into it.” But no. This person didn’t stop and think, didn’t take two lousy seconds to consider the possibility that whatever he had done while troubleshooting the conference room machine might — just MIGHT! — have resulted in deleting my cached email addresses.

“What did you do to the conference room machine?” I asked. “Well, I deleted your user profile and recreated it and renamed it and….”  I stopped listening.  I said, “So, you did something destructive (deleting the user profile) without knowing with some degree of certainty that it would fix the problem?  “Well, yeah.”

How the story ended

Some of you might be thinking, “Come on, Jeff, what’s the big deal? You just re-enter your email addresses.” Yeah? Thanks for the empathy. Let me delete all of your cached email addresses and we’ll see how much you like it.

The tech who blindly deleted my user profile off the conference room machine kept jabbering about how “that shouldn’t have happened.” Who knows what this schmuck actually did to the conference room machine, but there was no doubt that whatever he did adversely affected my ability to do my job.

I got the tech’s manager involved, and eventually they produced a copy of the NK2 contacts file from backups that contained my cached email addresses, but they didn’t have any idea how to import them back into my email client. “Just copy and paste them into an email address and that should retain them.”  I tried that trick, and it didn’t work.

I’ve saved the NK2 data so I can search it and copy-and-paste email addresses when I need them. But overall, this was an epic tech support fail. I reported a problem on a community machine. The tech support person didn’t stop and think. Didn’t stop and google. He just dove in and made a destructive change that didn’t work. Then all he had to say to me, the client, was “That shouldn’t be happening.”

I was thinking the same thing about his paycheck.

What shouldn’t be happening in your shop?

Listen to your techs when they’re on the phone with customers. Are they making ridiculous statements like “That shouldn’t be happening?” If so, you may want to send them a link to this article, because they’re doing a disservice to your IT organization’s reputation.

To share your “it shouldn’t be happening” story, post a comment below or drop me a note.

Related reading:

Jeff’s Quick Tips: 5 things techies should NEVER do or say (in sales presentations)

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Should You Allow Telecommuting?

Should you allow telecommuting? The answer is yes, as many as possible, as soon as possible. I know. I know. Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer recently told all of her telecommuters to come back to the office claiming employees are less productive at home. But do we really want to follow the lead of the company that passed up the opportunity to buy Google and Facebook on numerous occasions? And as anyone on Yahoo Mail can tell you, the decision has not improved service. Aside from bashing an incredibly successful company, I do have a strong case to make for telecommuting. Consider the following 2 reasons:

1) Money

As the economy struggles to grow most companies are still looking for ways to increase profit and productivity. The biggest expense, by far, of almost all companies is employees, making it the obvious place to look for fat to trim. The problem for most organizations is all the fat got cut between 2006 and 2010. Now there is nothing but muscle.

The second biggest expense for most companies is space. In addition to the monthly rental on space there is the cost of heating and cooling the space, lighting the space and cleaning the space. Employees that work from home offer all of that for free. That’s right. A free space, with free heat and air, often the phone service is free. A company that allows 30% of its employees to work from home could possibly give up 20% of the space currently being rented. That could mean big money, even for small companies.
You can save money on new hires as well. Studies show that prospective employees are often willing to work for less when allowed to work from home.

2) It’s Really Easy Being Green

The greenest thing any company can do is allow employees to work from home. Imagine just 10% of the work force no longer on the roads every morning and afternoon. What would that do to the total fuel consumption of the world, not to mention to the bank accounts of the employees? The people left on the road would probably use less fuel as well, in that there would be less traffic, less stop and go, resulting in shorter commute times. It’s something you could mention in company news, how you are doing your part to lessen the world’s dependency on fossil fuels.

The Down Side

You know those problem employees you have, the ones that spread negativity? If they have to come in every day while others are allowed to work from home they will reach hither to unseen levels of nastiness. At every opportunity they will make insulting remarks suggesting those not at the office are not actually working but are watching soaps and playing with their kids. I like to remind them that I will keep that in mind if they are ever up for a telecommuting position.
The other downside is some people actually do watch soaps and play with their kids. And it can be a problem. Most telecommuters are very conscientious and are at least as productive as the employees at the office. Those that aren’t should be brought back in immediately, or fired.

The Big Questions

So the big questions for most managers are, who should be allowed to work at home and how can we implement it. Those are tough questions but Tool Kit Café can help. If you are contemplating a new telecommuting policy or are experiencing trouble with your current telecommuters consider The IT Telecommuting Policy Tool kit. It has everything you need to create your policy, determine who should be eligible and who should not, training for telecommuters, support policies, contracts and more.

Have any funny or not funny telecommuting stories to share? Post them here or email the editor. We love to hear both sides of an issue.

3 must-know table tips for Word users

In this edition of Jeff’s Quick Tips, I’ll share three tips for using tables in Microsoft Word that every Word user in your organization must know.  Feel free to pass these productivity and formatting tips around to your users, your help desk staff, and technical trainers. These tips work the same way in every version of Word.

Tip #1: Repeat header rows on every page, please

If you have a table that spans more than one page, guess what? Your document looks pretty ragged if you don’t repeat the header rows on every page. The steps are simple:  Right-click on the top row (the row that contains the headings you want to repeat on every page), choose Table Properties, click the Row tab, and check the box for the option labeled “Repeat row on every page” and click OK.

Reminder: Click on the screen shots to enlarge them and fully enjoy their lustrous beauty!


Figure 1: This is what your Word doc looks like if you don’t repeat the header row in your table on all pages. Yucky!


Figure 2: Right-click on the first table row and choose Table Properties, then click the Row tab to turn on “Repeat as header row at the top of each page,” then click OK.


Figure 3: This is what your Word doc looks like with the header row repeated on every page. Very professional!

#2 Doctors without Borders are great, Tables without Borders are not

If you have a lot of data in your table, and if you want people to be able to make sense of the information in your table without having to lay a ruler on top of the printed page (or worse, up against the screen!), all you have to do is select the entire table, then click on the Borders tool in the Formatting toolbar and select the All Borders option, and voilà! It’s obvious to the most casual observer where each row begins and ends.


Figure 4: To select the entire table, click the “Select all” icon that appears above the top-left corner of the table when you mouse over it.


Figure 5: On the Formatting toolbar, click the Borders icon and choose All Borders.


Figure 6: Borders make the document easier to read.

#3 When you paste from Excel into Word and the columns go off the page, use “Auto fit to Window”

How many times has this happened to you? You’ve got a bunch of data in Excel. You copy and paste that data into Word as a table, and ka-blam! It doesn’t fit. It runs off the right margin and into oblivion. What do you do, hot shot? Well, if you’re smart, you don’t try to change the width of the table columns manually.  If you’re smart, you right-click on the table, choose Auto Fit and Auto Fit to Window, and bada-boom, it fits! You may have to fine-tune the width of some of the columns, but it’s much, much easier to clean up those column widths after Word has auto-fit the table to the existing margins.


Figure 7: Here’s what my sample Word document looked like when I pasted in four wide columns from an Excel worksheet.


Figure 8: Right-click anywhere in the table and choose AutoFit | AutoFit to Window.


Figure 9: Here’s how my document looks after using AutoFit. It’s MUCH easier than trying to tweak the column widths manually.

How do you like these quick tips?

To share your feedback on these tips, please post a comment below or send a note to the editor.

Take ToolKit Cafe’s IT Management Knowledge Quiz

Are you smarter than the average IT manager? If you think so, we invite you to take’s  IT Management Knowledge Quiz. IT management coach Mike Sisco designed this quiz to test your IT management mettle.  It takes just a few short minutes to answer 10 questions.  Your answers will be graded and results displayed immediately after you finish the quiz. We’ve designed the quiz so you have to answer 7 out of 10 questions correctly in order to pass.

Thanks in advance for taking the IT Management Knowledge Quiz.  Keep an eye out on your ToolTalk Weekly e-newsletter for a link to our analysis of the results.

Tell us what you think of the quiz!

After you take the IT Management Knowledge Quiz, please come back to this thread and post a comment to tell us what you thought of it or email the editor.

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.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Pat introduces the Worst Help Desk Manager…EVER

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

King Percy

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

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

Well-deserved Credit

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

Beware of Bad Managers Bearing Gifts

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

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

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

Policies to Pre-empt Percy

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

Have you ever work for a Percy?

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

2 Reasons to Love IT Project Management

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

Reason #1: You can’t remember everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This download is free to all Toolkit Cafe Registered Members. Please login to download

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Talk back to ToolKit Café

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


Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Pat’s Tips for Appropriate Office Attire

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

Express yourself

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

Figure A

These cloths say “grunt worker.”

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

Figure B

 Figure B

IT pro or someone looking for a date?

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

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

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

Figure C

Figure C

Boring but safe in a “business casual” office.

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

 Figure D

Figure D

Geeks can wear ties too!

  Figure E

Figure E

A blazer makes casual attire more professional.

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

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

Fashions for the IT Mind

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

Are you dressing for success?

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

3 golden rules of IT vendor management

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

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

1. Do your due diligence before signing a contract.

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

2. Monitor the vendor’s performance.

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

3. If the vendor craters, have a plan.

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

Do you worry about IT vendor management?

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

Is a third party helping you with a system conversion?

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

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