This week, IT Consultant Republic is featuring a daily journal of Mike Sisco, an IT consultant, author, and former CIO. In this installment, Sisco describes a Thursday filled with contract work, networking, and marketing. See how you can apply his knowledge and experience to your career.

Read the rest of the IT Consultant Journal

Be sure to catch up on Mike Sisco’s entries from Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

8:00 A.M. Contract
I check my e-mail to determine if any issues concerning either of my two USHW technology assimilation projects cropped up overnight. (I’m working with U.S. HealthWorks, an occupational health business, on two projects to migrate 10 clinics in two states and several regional billing offices to USHW’s proprietary AS/400 system. We refer to them as the “Dallas” and “Florida” projects.)

Every Thursday afternoon, I host two separate weekly status update conference calls with the dozen or so participants of each project. The participants are dispersed from Florida to California, so conference calls are a key part of keeping the projects focused and on track.

I manage each of the projects by focusing the group on weekly events that must take place to successfully complete the project. The spreadsheet format that I use for the project plan makes it very easy to organize, schedule, and monitor weekly events. During a particular week, deadlines are placed on the key activities that should be completed for that week, as well as on those activities that I have judged to be the critical-path items for future task completions.

After replying to e-mail, I review all tasks closely and take one last look at each of the project plans to ensure we are on top of the projects. (You can see a sample of the Florida project plan on the MDE Web site. As mentioned in Tuesday’s journal installment, I consistently use Microsoft Excel for simplicity and ease of use by all participants.)

I print out the latest project plans for the Dallas and Florida projects and take a moment to list the key points for today’s meeting. I also review last week’s notes to make sure that we have followed up on all of the issues identified in our last meeting, or if we have not looked into them, that I know why. I gather my project plan printouts and place my key points list in my USHW folder, and I’m ready for this afternoon’s Florida conference call.

There will not be a Dallas project conference call today, as we determined in last week’s call that we are in such good shape that the call would not be needed this week. The reason Dallas is in such good shape is that we had to push its “go live” date back a month, partly due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In order to take Dallas live on Oct. 1 as originally planned, we would have had to have two people flying to Dallas by Sunday, Sept. 16. With the uncertainty of air travel, I made a call to push the project back 30 days. Due to business reasons, the best time to go live is the first day of each month; otherwise, we could have delayed only a week or so. The additional time allowed for more preparation, which is always helpful.

I make a couple of follow-up phone calls to project team members to clarify points I wanted to understand prior to the meeting. We’re all set for the Florida call to take place this afternoon at its scheduled time.

10:00 A.M. Business development
I place several phone calls to two of the Cash Flow Innovations (CFI) partners to clarify the work that I’m doing for the marketing brochure. (CFI is a venture between myself and four other consultants with healthcare industry experience. Our goal is to offer billing and collections monitoring, analysis, and consulting services to help healthcare providers maintain high levels of cash collections.)

The issues are cleared up, so I spend the next hour refining the marketing brochure and adding pricing information. The final result looks good enough to use for our initial prospect calls.

11:00 A.M. Marketing
I review my to-do list for the week and notice that I need to write my monthly newsletter for October. I began writing a free monthly MDE Technology Tips and Techniques newsletter earlier this year. After reviewing my newsletter topic lists and perusing my ideas file, I decide to write on the following topics within my standard categories for this month:

  • IT Management Tips and Techniques: “Staffing, organization, and focus”
  • Web Site Tips and Techniques: “Send e-mail to a friend from your Web site”
  • Product/Service Review: “Free advertising at Access Atlanta”
  • Business Entrepreneur Thoughts: “It’s all in the numbers”

During the month, I add to my potential topic list when I find worthwhile items, and I place pertinent information in the ideas file to support articles for the newsletter. As I choose the topics, I pull the supporting information and review it to determine if I need to do additional research.

(You can review my past newsletter articles on the MDE Web site.)

11:30 A.M. Personal
A long lunch with my family is in order since I have everything in place for the afternoon. My wife thinks she actually sees me less now that I work at home.

One of the challenges of working from home is that the work is always there, and if you are like me, there are so many things you want to try to accomplish. It’s very easy to work all the time, and I know that balance is key for the long haul. (Or maybe I’m simply justifying the long lunch.)

2:00 P.M. Contract
I leave for USHW in order to be there 30 minutes prior to starting the meeting. This additional time gives me an opportunity to see a couple members of the technology staff and to determine if there are any new issues.

The 3:00 P.M. conference call goes very well. All items that need to be completed by this week are either completed or are tracking for completion by next week. Two key follow-up items are discussed, and I log them into my notes to pursue when I return to my office (and after I change back into a T-shirt and jeans).

My keys to effective project management include organization, a well-defined plan, communication, empowering the participants to accomplish their tasks, and having regularly scheduled meetings. It turns out that the most influential driver spurring everyone on to complete their tasks is the peer pressure of having to tell the entire group the status of each of the tasks due every week.

My role, then, simply becomes identifying who should be responsible for what and to initiate the discussions that are critical to accomplishing future tasks. This approach has always worked very well for me.

4:30 P.M. Contract
Back home and out of my business casual and into “real” casual clothes, I go to work. First thing is to update the USHW project plan with the notes taken from the meeting. Once that is completed, I send two e-mails as follow-ups to two participants that could not attend.

Finally, I send an e-mail with the updated project worksheet attachment to all participants. A quick review of my notes, and I determine that I can leave the project until Monday.

5:00 P.M. Contract
A meeting has been scheduled with the USHW CEO and COO for tomorrow to discuss the proposal between USHW, Motion Reality, Inc. (MRI, a 3-D motion/imaging business), and me. I review the key points for the meeting before closing out USHW activity for the day.

7:00 P.M. Networking
My friend from eWebIT visits again for another dinner. It seems that he likes my wife’s cooking. (So do I.) After dinner, we play several games of pool and discuss business strategies, challenges, possible approaches, and potential ideas for generating new business opportunities.

We generally meet with one another at least once a week, and it’s usually easier to have him over to my house. It also gives us a nice break from work, even though we discuss work-related topics. But even business talk is always a bit more loose at home than at the office.

10:00 P.M. Administration
No news on the e-mail front. Will pick it back up in the morning.

Thursdays are always good days when the project status conference calls go well, as the Florida call did today. The Dallas training is going well this week, and the project is ready for “go live” on Nov. 1. The Florida project is tracking very well, and no real problems have been identified to date.

Fridays are generally quieter, but tomorrow will be different because I have a breakfast meeting at 8:00 A.M. and a meeting with USHW management at 11:30 A.M. It will be a busy day, but I look forward to both meetings.

Do you produce your own newsletter?

A newsletter, especially one sent via e-mail, can be a relatively inexpensive and easy way to reach potential clients. Do you have one? How often do you publish it, and what topics do you cover? Tell us about your newsletter in a discussion below.