Completing an assessment of a client’s technology capabilities means little if you can’t effectively communicate your findings. The report you develop for your client following your IT assessment should be well written and concise, and it should illustrate the thoroughness of your work and how well you now understand the technology issues and challenges of the company.

Whenever possible, you should always present your findings to those that contracted you for the assessment. Lead them through your findings section by section and focus your attention on your conclusions and recommendations. Those two sections are what they are going to be most interested in.

When writing the report, strive to maintain complete objectivity. Be aware that anyone in the company may be given a copy of the report, so be cautious, for example, of including anecdotes that could be construed as harmful to specific individuals. It is important to “tell it like it is,” but you can accomplish that in an impersonal way that is more constructive.

Here’s a look at how you should put together your final report.

Last in a series

This is the final installment of a five-part series by IT consultant Mike Sisco that covers ways to gauge a client’s IT capabilities. Four other articles in this series examined how to build your assessment by interviewing senior management, company departments, external clients, and the client’s IT department.

Dealing with roadblocks
In several technology due-diligence situations, I would find myself working through the reviews with no problem. But when it came down to writing the report, I would often get writer’s block. In hindsight, I see two likely causes for this:

  1. Not knowing how to structure the report
  2. Procrastination

Many of us are more comfortable taking action in the discovery process, but we will procrastinate when it comes down to writing it all down. Writing takes energy and it’s hard work, even if you have all your notes well organized. Motivate yourself to get started by scheduling the assessment meeting with your client. Nothing is better than to have an appointment scheduled to break the procrastination problem. Some people simply work better under pressure.

Not knowing how to structure the report can make it very difficult to get the ball rolling as well. One way to make it easier on yourself is to create a standard report template or outline for your IT assessment projects. I know that in my case, I was more proactive in writing up reports after I developed a standard report template to use for new assessments. Consider the elements included in Figure A when putting together your assessment report.

Figure A

You may want to include other sections, depending on what you were asked to review or whether you uncovered additional issues. You may also ask whether it makes sense to document the current IT environment as outlined in Section V. I think this step is necessary because you never know when you might need to refer back to this information. Writing up the overview of the technology environment will also help you quantify issues and conclusions for later insertion into the report.

For example, in one company in which we were buying many other businesses, I would always need to refer back to my due-diligence reports to clarify questions that came up. The Information Technology Overview section answered many questions over the years.

As you write up key issues, concerns, and recommendations, always follow them with recommendations. Your clients are asking for your assessment, and more than anything, they want your opinion as to what they should do. You’ll encounter many types of issues as you complete more assessments, and this experience can help you formulate an appropriate recommendation for each situation. The key is to give your clients a clear path that they can follow to achieve the results they desire.

You should prioritize your Issues, Conclusions, and Recommendations sections. Keep them in logical, functional groups (such as “IT infrastructure” or “Staff”) to avoid jumping around. Always remember your audience: Executives do not usually want long, wordy documents to read. Keep it at a high level but include enough detail to explain your point. In addition, your audience may not be technologically astute, so you’ll want to avoid using too much highly technical terminology.

Executive Overview
One of the reasons for the Executive Overview is to provide a synopsis of the critical points for those that don’t want to read the detail. That’s another reason for scheduling a face-to-face meeting with your client to review your findings. You may find the meeting to be the best format needed to deliver your message.

The CIO has the most vested in the report that you deliver, so it may also be appropriate to develop a separate set of recommendations specifically for the CIO. Be aware, however, that you may have been brought in to validate for senior management that they have a challenge in their CIO position. But even if that is the case, it still helps management to have a specific set of action steps that work to eliminate critical issues and to improve the delivery of IT services.

Mike Sisco is president of MDE Enterprises, an IT management training and consulting company based in Atlanta. Check out MDE’s IT Manager Development Series for more of Mike’s advice.

What did you find during your last IT assessment?

Were there problems or issues that you helped resolve during your last IT assessment? Tell us what you uncovered and how you helped your client work through difficulties. Send us your findings in an e-mail or post your comments below.