More than half the year has gone by, and some of those promising New Year's resolutions made at the start of 2007 have probably been forgotten or abandoned. Good intentions are easily lost in the constant competition between project deadlines, operational requirements, and the occasional need to sleep.
A while back, Shannon Kalvar put together 10 resolutions he said would help IT managers stay on top of their shifting priorities and keep the chaos under control. Here's a recap of his goals to help guide your progress for the rest of 2007.
#1: End where you mean to begin
I lead off the list with a bit of practical time-management advice. I'm constantly amazed at how much time my clients spend "ramping up" for any given day. They read their e-mails, plan a handful of activities, and deal with several interruptions. Then they go to lunch.
Instead of the same old/same old, why not try a different strategy? Spend five to 10 minutes at the end of each workday preparing for your first task tomorrow. This gives you a clear task to start with in the morning and creates some closure for your workday, to boot.
Oh, and don't "prepare" to read e-mail. There's no better way to stop your day cold.
#2: Begin as you mean to continue
I don't know anyone who starts the day saying, "Today I will throw all of my time uselessly down rat-holes." All but the most depressed and beaten down of us still cling, somewhere in our hearts, to the idea that we can do something useful.
One of the best ways to keep moving is, frankly, to start. Make the first task of your day an active one. Solve a problem. Reach out to a team member or a constituent in person or by phone, not by e-mail. Finish a report or artifact containing actionable information for another person. By starting with action you set the tone for the day.
#3: Act to solve problems rather than reacting to them
We've all been there: You walk in, head for your first cup of coffee, and get ambushed by some business-stopping, mission-critical operational problem. In a flash, you're off to run interference while your team struggles to solve the problem.
Stop. Get your cup of coffee, take a sip, and think for a few moments. Operational plans, knowledge bases, and communications systems all help, but nothing matters as much as your taking an active rather than a reactive posture. Ask yourself the following question: Outside of the obvious reactions, what can I do that will change this situation?
#4: Stop making pigs fly
RFC 1925 established that pigs fly just fine with sufficient thrust. This does not mean that it's a good idea. In fact, most of the time the pig doesn't end up where you thought it would, and sitting under it while it's in flight presents serious hazards.
Everyone occasionally has to loft a pig. What you can do, though, is stop making a habit of it.
#5: Remember that the customer is mostly right
Everyone says, "The customer is always right." That's true, as far as it goes, but what is the customer right about, exactly? When is he right about it and what should you do about it?
The customer is always right about what he wants — if he says he wants something, he probably does. That doesn't mean he needs it, that it would actually help him, or that the business has the resources to accommodate him. In fact, many customers lack the information, experience, and vision to successfully meet any of those latter criteria on their own.
Take the time to listen to the customers, whoever they may be. Listen to what they have to say. Listen to the emotions and the circumstances surrounding their wants. Honestly reach out to them and make them feel heard.
#6: Heed your inner geek
Hearing does not mean giving in. We have the information, the experience, and the vision to help our customers meet their needs and their wants. That said, we have to put needs ahead of wants — otherwise, the core activity of the business will not get done. More important, we have to prioritize those needs so the available resources can accomplish something this year.
Most good managers I've met have a little inner voice that whispers warnings when customers' wants begin to supersede business needs. Listen to that voice. It's your experience telling you about the bog you're about to step into.
#7: Best practices aren't... so stop with the canons already
There is a vast amount of documented wisdom in the IT field. We have people peddling best practices, consultancies that thrive off telling people what to do, and whole industries dedicated to telling us what we do wrong.
Look around. Is your network constantly down? Do your applications get in the way of doing business? Do your users put pins in voodoo dolls dressed up to represent the support staff? If you answered no to these questions, it means you are, at least for now, doing well enough.
Doing well enough does not mean you should not learn about best practices or try to proactively manage the environment. ITIL, COBIT, and other assorted acronyms can help you do some amazing things. Just don't lose track of where you are in the hope of getting to some promised land.
#8: Know what you want at a meeting
Meetings and their associated IM conversations are a fixture of modern office life. IM makes them more bearable but does nothing to get back the time wasted in most of them.
To avoid wasting your only nonrenewable resource in meetings, you have to make a change more fundamental than chatting with wireless devices. For this resolution, I suggest that you prepare a simple, one-line statement defining what you want from a meeting before you go to it. Do whatever it takes to ensure that you get that one thing done, even if it means taking over the meeting and stepping on a few toes.
In this case, aggression is the better part of time management.
#9: Remember grade-school English
Remember back in grade school when your teacher taught you everything you ever needed to know about project initiation? No? She did, and it goes something like this: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. I might add "How much?" just for good measure.
The next time someone comes up to you with a half-baked project idea, have them go back and answer those questions. Help them if they need it (see resolutions 5 and 6 above), but don't initiate anything until you get done.
#10: Trust QA, listen to QA; QA is...
...Not a roadblock but the solution. In the hectic world of IT, it seems difficult to take the time to do it right, but there is always time to do it over. This is especially true in an environment driven by customer wants rather than prioritized needs.
Quality assurance is the only way to make sure it gets done right the first time, which in turn reduces the long-term cost and operational pain. Take the time to have someone check over work, even simple things like server builds. Let people check for bugs, correct mistakes, and even critique one another's work.
The time you save might just be your own.