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What/how would you document to guard against 1-person failure point in IT?

By Understaffed ·
I am a single-person I.T. Department for a non-profit child welfare agency, managing 150 users, 100 desktops, 6 servers, and all aspects of technology. We have our email, database, app, file, and print servers, phone system (within a couple of weeks moving to VoIP), accounting and case management systems all in-house. The only thing I don't host or manage is the website, due to lack of time and flukey local utilities.

I have not been what I would call "diligent" when it comes to keeping change-logs when servers are set up and apps installed- I tend to keep the most relevant stuff in my head. This scenario, however, is a disaster waiting to happen. If something were to happen to me, 1) nobody in this organization would be able to fill my shoes even temporarily (social workers...) and 2) I would think a new person would have a hard time getting acclimated to the network, due to the lack of *settings* documentation. I did create a "LAN Book" that contains things like server names and hardware configs, LAN physical layout (which is quite convoluted), services and apps running on particular servers, and DHCP/DNS settings.

My problem is this: I built this network from nothing, and this has been my only work experience in the IT field, so I have no others to look to. I have been tasked with creating a manual that would allow someone to run the network in case I die in a car wreck on the way home.

What would you include, and where in the world would you start? To me, this seems like an insurmountable volume of data... I know that my CFO wants a domain admin account password kept in a safe deposit box, but where is the line drawn- do I include that the fiber between buildings is 6-strand 6.25 micron direct plant with SC ends, just so that person knows?

What say those in the trenches?

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Get an Expert In

by chipshopman In reply to What/how would you docume ...

If your CFO expects you to do this and your day job, it's never going to get done and it'll be like painting the SF bridge - never ending due to the changing technical environment. Not only that, but if you do it, you'll miss stuff - you're too close to the coal-face and you'll write procedures and documents that inherently take things you know about the place for granted and they'll fail should they have to be used.

Your CFO is obviously concerned about this single point of failure so I suggest you go back to him and persuade him to spend money on a technical author. A Tech author will speed things up and actually deliver it. They'll be expert at sucking information out of you and writing it down in the most useable format. It'll be money well spent and it'll let you do the job you're paid for and get the documentation done quickly.

Regardless, you should prioritise your documentation in accordance with the most likely scenario first and the least likely last, i.e. it's most likely that you'll be absent for a protracted length of time or leave the company. It's least likely that someone will **** the place up. So, concentrate initially on things that someone would need to know on Day 1 if you left the company - how would they maintain business as usual? Then concentrate on the other stuff.

Another option: Get close to one of your suppliers and see if they're interested in providing ad-hoc cover for you. If there's a bit of cash in it for them, they might be interested and they could put someone on site to learn about what goes on...

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Another Source

by jdmercha In reply to Get an Expert In

Check the local Universities. Perhaps they have an IT or Engineering student in need of an unpaid Internship. If you can find the right one they may be able to write this documentation for you. Or at least take over some other duty that frees you up to write the documentation.

But if you get a bad one you may end up wasting time training them.

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Is't just someone or an IT-skilled person.

by rob mekel In reply to What/how would you docume ...

This makes a lot of difference whether it would be just anyone or an IT-skilled person.

The breaking up in to smaller parts, as suggested by Jaqui is a good thing to do. If it is just anyone then add a manual on how to operate the simple things, user enrollment, adding authorization, etc. Or, but do check with your CFO if your company can effort it, setup a minimum of requirements as what this new person has to have on IT-skills.

Also the suggestion of n0tl0b to hire some to help you is a good one, so you can document the total system, as it will be time consuming.

As you can't document 100%, there will always be a certain minimum of what a replacement person will have to have on IT-skills.


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Add documentation time to your projects

by bschaettle In reply to What/how would you docume ...

OK, you've been given a mandate by the CFO for system documentation. It's become a priority for the organization, so they're clearly willing to pay for it in terms of increased project times. Add about 20% to the time estimate for every project for writing the documentation. Then be sure to actually write the documentation.

Realize, of course, that once you develop all this great documentation the CFO can easily outsource your job.

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don't document yourself out of a job

by mac1ne In reply to What/how would you docume ...

yes, you want the organization to be able to function if you should you get hit by a bus, but keep in mind that bus driver could be your boss cutting costs.

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Gastro Bipass

by Crikey In reply to don't document yourself o ...

Thats right. If you document everything it will take just short of forever. Your boss could decide to replace you but dont fear: IF they have less skills no matter how much you document they couldnt do it. Document a Network Topo, Admin Passwords to all their components and your equipment modle numbers and if need be components inside. If someone is going to stepin they need to be qualified.

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Be Valuable, Job Secure.

by Bork Blatt In reply to Gastro Bipass

If you want to keep your job, be valuable. Don't try to find artificial ways to hang on to your position. Usually the people fighting to protect their turf the hardest are the people who least deserve to be there in the first place.

1. Make sure you are an asset to your company. Don't just think about "your patch", but offer advice and work to move your company forward. A manager who fires this type of employee to cut costs is insane.

2. Make life easy for a replacement. Not only is this good if you want to leave, but it enables you to be promoted. Irreplaceable people are not promoted for that very reason - they cannot be replaced. If you want the same job title for the rest of your life, simply don't document, don't learn any new skills, and don't plan for a new position.

3. Stop worrying about stupid managers. Yes they exist. Yes they can make life painful, but if they are truly incompetent, they won't be around forever. Do the best you can within your boundaries, and know that you are doing your best. If nobody higher up in the organisation is capable of spotting a problem manager, you might want to find another company.

To summarise - be valuable. Be indispensable, not irreplaceable, and people higher up will take notice. If they don't, you probably need to find a better company to work for, so stick it out until you can move. If you do move, don't leave your current company in trouble, this will just damage your reputation.

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That's Crazy Talk

by chipshopman In reply to don't document yourself o ...

Sorry, but I completely disagree. Not documenting the technical environment is a very, very bad mistake. Any technician worth their salt should be working to standard, written procedure. To not do so is putting the whole company at risk and in my opinion is more likely to find the spotlight on you come budget review.

Documentation does not result in the neutering of a technician's worth to the business nor influence things during a budget process, particularly in a one-man-band IT department. In fact the CFO should recognise the work and appreciate it for reducing financial risk.

We are IT professionals, let's act like professionals and do a whole job, not just think about our own skins because that's real short-termism. IMHO you're more likely to find an outsourcer walking in through the company doors if there's no documentation as the CFO takes actions to reduce company risk which he gave you an opportunity to put right.

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Use your head

by stuck_in In reply to That's Crazy Talk

In a similar situation with 16 servers, as AS400, remote sites, etc. I have been told my documentation is excellent by the vendors that come in to work on systems. For me it's a selfish reason; I don't have time or the inclination to be a human tape recorder so I provide with enough information to get the job done.

I also have binders that tell you everything from how to add a user to fix the database. I only have a part-time person that I train and they leave which causes a hugh productivity hit. By having manuals I jsut direct them to the binder they need and tell them to read it. Am I worried that I could be replaced? Sometimes I feel 'do me a favor' but the truth is I know how it all inter-relates and which binder to go to for help.

My brain is my job security; my ability to learn!

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DO document yourself out of a job

by Emanon KM In reply to don't document yourself o ...

Alternatively, you want to work yourself out of a job - and into a better one - "Gee Bob, we'd like to give you that promotion, but we can't find a replacement for you, since no one knows what you do..."

If your job isn't documented, how can your performance be rated? How does your boss know what a terrific job you do?

People who refuse to document are usually trying to hide something. Maybe they're not as good as they think they are, or as good as others think they are. Maybe there's even some fraud/theft going on that they're trying not to show.

Docuement all policies, procedures, and what you do. Share that information. Don't assume that you'll be cut because of documentation.

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