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Mistakes That Matter

Everyone makes mistakes. Sometime it’s okay to make a mistake: perhaps you made an educated guess or assumed risk and the results were not as expected. These “mistakes” are good ones, particularly if the rationale and results are documented and shared so that others can learn. These mistakes are signs that you’re thinking, pushing limits, and are open to new ideas.

And then there are the other mistakes. For these mistakes, documentation does not serve a learning purpose; it serves a “permanent record” kind of purpose. You don’t want to make these mistakes. If you screw up, and you will because, … Continue Reading

At Risk IT Jobs

According to baseline mag, here are the IT jobs for which demand is most likely to decrease. So, expect to see these folks knocking on the door of higher ed:

  1. ERP developers
  2. E-Commerce developers
  3. Business Intelligence experts in the financial sector
  4. Operating system specialists
  5. Tech-oriented project managers (I feel a certain lack of sympathy here because I’ve seen so many bad PMs–though I know how vital a good one can be)
  6. Middle managers (ditto comment as above)
  7. System administrators (I’m sorry)
  8. Help desk (like we didn’t see this coming)
  9. PC Technician (who?)
  10. Specialized security experts –I would love to capitalize on any glut here–we could really use one!

Rip Off the BandAid ™

Recently, we’ve had to give some staff some bad news. I was stressed about the conversations and in all cases the primary feeling afterward was relief, and the staff members involved–I could tell–felt some measure of relief in having a resolution. There was a study at Emory University that showed people prefer a stronger electric shock if it comes more quickly than a milder one. That is, “dread” is such an unpleasant experience that people will accept a certain amount of greater pain just to avoid it.  Consider our economic climate and the uncertainty people have….how many of … Continue Reading

The Key to Good Performance Reviews: FYI

It’s performance review time of year. Last year when I did them I’d been at work for, oh, let’s see, um, 3 DAYS! So last year’s focused on goals. This year’s reviews will be about performance objectives, and for this I turn to The Good Book of performance reviews: FYI: For Your Improvement. This book is worth the price–worth twice the price, actually (it used to cost more…). It does a great job of objectifying behavior so you can make suggestions and criticism without appearing to insult the person. It says things like “leadership looks like x. Do … Continue Reading

Cost Reductions

Today I had to report on how we’ve reduced costs. Here are the key phrases in a very dull report: server virtualization, duplex printing, Intel/Linux architecture, contract renegotiation, and facilitating online meal point purchases. Feel free to cut and paste these into your own report!

Survived Budget Presentation

I survived my first budget presentation here. It went fine. I feel a little uncomfortable because I used only 35 minutes of the hour allotted and got out early. But I had time for everyone’s questions, so maybe ending early isn’t such a bad thing.  Plus, keep in mind that my request was only 6 pages long as opposed to last year’s 54 pages.The questions were good ones–supportive generally. I got the vibe that folks want to fund our projects; they’re looking for reasons to say yes, not excuses to say no.

Budget presentation submitted

Huge weight off my shoulders. This is a presentation required if you want a budget increase. To put this in perspective: last year’s submission (before my time) was 54 pages long and sought $450K in ongoing money and about $625K in one time funds…. mine is 6 pages long and seeks $130K ongoing and $400K in one time funds. Last year, we received $140K ongong and about $300K in one time funds. In my presentation I show how we’re reallocating to redistribute another $130K more effectively. So, I figure I’ve showed them how I’m saving $130K, thereby preventing this from … Continue Reading

Fun Activity? It’s what’s on the agenda….

Next week I lead the monthly team meeting for the university’s senior leaders. Leadership rotates each month, as does “recording” duties. One could actually record the meeting but this would deprive someone of the joy of writing on a flipchart. Each month, the leader leads everyone on a “fun activity.” We’ve looked at the worm farm/compost area, toured the new facilities building, and learned about campus trees. What next? Maybe we could visit Second Life and have virtual “fun”? Ideas?

LARP’ing at the staff meeting: a new low? or brilliant?

I’ve written a customer service-oriented LARP (Live Action Role Playing to those of you too cool to know this) which I will inflict on my staff at tomorrow’s all staff meeting. I think I’ve finally achieved some sort of peak? pit? in my career; basically my inner geek is merging with my inner pointy-haired manager to create this horrific form of self expression: a 30-minute LARP which aims to improve our customer service skills by requiring people to Really Listen to What People Are Saying in order to “solve” the problem. What next? I know, time to finish “IT: The … Continue Reading

The Great Service Cost Project

We’ve started a big service cost project. I’m looking at all the services we provide and am trying to ballpark the costs of them. As the bean counter and I travel from office to office to gather data, folks are starting to look more and more stressed. All I can do to help alleviate the fear (a composite of outsourcing fears, economic stresses, organizational stability, etc.) is talk about what, how, and why of this project and solicit feedback. But, in the end, some people may not be able to grow and so will have to go. We shall see.

I … Continue Reading

What to do when “to do” isn’t happening, aka, Calgon ™! Take me away activities

Sometimes you face one or more of the following conditions:

  • your to do list is heinous
  • you’ve looked at your email and just can’t face it
  • you have a few minutes between meetings and don’t need to go to the bathroom or get coffee (interesting how these relate–one could just buy a cup of coffee and dump it directly in the toilet and eliminate the middle man, as it were)
  • you just need a break

So here’s my list of stuff you can do that inches toward productivity while still providing a “break-like” feel:

  • remove really large files from your mail, assuming you’re a luser like … Continue Reading

If the world is flat, why aren’t our organizations?

I know some hierarchy is useful and efficient, but sometimes organizations get top heavy. Personally, I’ve always thought a manager can reasonably supervise 7-9 people in addition to performing other job responsibilities. 10 is possible, but gets unwieldy. Right now, I supervise 5 people, and each of these supervises 0, 5, 6, 4, and 3 people. Of these teams, only one has another tier. So, using my metric, I could flatten my organization significantly. Why shouldn’t I do this? We might function better as a team, improve communication, and be more agile. In the future, I think we’ll all be … Continue Reading

I did the math and our budget is too high. No, really.

What happened? Where did I go wrong? I’m preparing my budget presentation for next fiscal year and so I thought I’d get some comparison data from peer and “next step” school. I used Educause’s Core Data service and looked at operating budget, compensation budget, and IT budget as percent of institutional operating budget. In all cases our numbers were higher than our national peers and our regional peers, and we were almost the same as our “next step” schools (the more highly ranked and competitive schools). And as excellent as we are, I’m 100% confident we’re not that good.

In my … Continue Reading

2 Jethros and the biggest Ella Fitzgerald ever: Ocean’s Eleven on Staffing

Two jobs ago, I hired my old work-study student from two jobs before that. And now I’m trying to bring him here. A recent staffer at my old job went into consulting. You bet I called him for help with some of our administrative applications. A colleague from my last job now works for a major firm, let’s call it “Crimson Beret,” and I think I’d abandon hope if I couldn’t turn to him for help. The former security czar at my last job doesn’t know it yet but he’s on my mind as we budget for security consultation. Etc. … Continue Reading

Outsourced? I call it “differently sourced.”


Either way, you’re OUTTA here, Jack! Nah, I’m just kidding. Except, well, maybe not. Today I met with an alternative help desk provider. Like alternative medicine. Here’s what they will do: everything the current help desk does, but better and for less money.  During the vendor presentation, one of the slides showed their current customer list. Of the 15 or so current customers, at least half of them had CTOs/CIOs who’d been in place for less than three years. So, maybe this is “low hanging fruit” for some of us?

Kyle, is this where you reply with, “help … Continue Reading

One Hit, One Miss, and Some Confusing Sounds

Hit: A member of the President’s Cabinet complained to me about the number of meetings here. I suggested that instead of scheduling a meeting in the next “free” slot on her calendar she limit herself to no more than 12 hours of meetings a week. This leaves room for sanity and some time for emergency or last minute VIP meetings. She will have to get used to telling people things like, “I can meet with you in three weeks.” My experience is that people can wait–no one’s ever complained to me or my boss about my lack of availability. She … Continue Reading

The Rules

I was looking through an old file today and found an article I clipped from CIO magazine in 2005 about “The Rules of IT.” This reminded me of a white board where I used to work which had random but excellent rules about systems administration.

Here are my favorite rules from the CIO article:

  1. Open systems succeed.
  2. Proprietary systems fail in the long run.
  3. Know your estimation factor (know how off you generally are in your resource estimations)
  4. Technology is not a problem (people are..).
  5. Never say no to a user–just put a price tag on yes. (I … Continue Reading

Pivot Table: What You Want

At my old job I had a guy who was the Master of the Spreadsheet. Whatever I asked for, this scenario, that scenario, etc., he could render via Excel faster than I could print the money on our color laser printer. Ah, the sweetness. Now, I do not have The Spreadsheet Guy. I just have me and this is kind of lame. So, here is what I learned after making a giant workbook from all our various IT goals: the key to spreadsheet happiness is the pivot table. Do not even start making a spreadsheet without first asking yourself … Continue Reading

Tactical Incompetence: Paul Erdos on Skill Development

I’m at a workshop in Princeton on Project Bamboo. I have many notes to share from today’s session, but for now I’ll just repeat a phrase I heard at our table: tactical incompetence. Tactical incompetence is sometimes seen by IT staff when talking with faculty or staff who simply claim they “can’t do” certain things. As a ruse it’s often deployed in the name of gender stereotypes, e.g. the woman who “can’t” change a tire or the man who “can’t” sew on a button. I will claim Paul Erdos to be the … Continue Reading

Dump it on IT; They’ll Take Anything: the Mikey Approach


Today I wasted an hour in a meeting on creating our emergency response center. Yesterday, I wasted an hour in a mass notification system meeting. On Monday, I wasted an hour in a meeting about our new survey software. All of these hours were wasted because the people in charge of these projects did not understand their responsibilities. Each is hoping that IT will just take over the project so he can (a) not do work and (b) blame it on us when it goes awry. Just because we run the systems does not mean we manage the … Continue Reading

End of Fiscal Year

Today is the last day of our fiscal year. We underspent our budget by $155,000. This is very sad and my only excuse is that I’ve been here for just 4 months. Soon, I will have no excuse. Overspending and underspending your budget by more than a percent or so is, imho, a sign of bad management. I’ve seen many more leaders underspend than overspend, so I think people don’t understand how much you look like a failure when you don’t spend your budget. Basically, severe underspending says, “remember all that work you did to get me the money … Continue Reading

10 Ways IT Staff are Different

Baseline has an interesting slideshow on the subject, but here are the reasons in brief. Apologies to those who are offended by the term “geek.” Also, I think I understand why I like working in IT so much.

  1. Geeks are a self-selected group.
  2. The nature of geek work is different (requires creativity).
  3. Power is useless on geeks.
  4. Geeks are more attached to the technology than they are to you.
  5. Geeks are judgmental.
  6. Geeks are introverted.
  7. Failure is normal to geeks.
  8. Geeks at the keyboard know more about the technology than their managers do.
  9. Geeks are goal oriented, not task oriented.
  10. IT creativity springs from the environment, … Continue Reading

You don’t need a weatherman: Bob Dylan on Metrics

Everyone loves numbers. Numbers are easy: you can add them up, subtract them, divide them, and it’s all so clear. And percentages are like numbers made easy: people give you a percent and it’s like all the work’s been done–you didn’t even need to do the math. Even more removed from actual numbers are dashboards and graphs, the pretty pictures Jaeger mentions in his comment to yesterday’s post.

People often measure what’s easiest to measure, not what’s most important. Help Desk managers might measure response time or call resolution time, not customer satisfaction. And when you do try to … Continue Reading

Sittin’ at Ye Olde Help Deske

I forgot my computer today. I started to walk back to the car to go home and get it, but then I thought, “Why? I have 4 hours of meetings, I have my PDA, what’s the point?” So I went back inside and decided to sit at a vacant seat at the help desk to check in with my mail, calendar, projects, etc. Folks offered me a loaner laptop, but it’s a nice change to sit at the help desk.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • I seem to be an expert in PDA support relative to the other help desk’ers. I’ve … Continue Reading

Staff Turnover, Or, Are They Dropping Like Flies or Like Rats Leaving a Sinking Ship?

It seems as if every day another staff member quits. At first, I told myself (and the President’s Cabinet) that this was healthy. A healthy organization should have a steady turnover, and it seems like 8-10% is a regularly accepted rate for a healthy organization. Now, though, with two new resignations, 14% of my staff are OUTTA here, Jack.

Because I’m new, I’m actually not worried. I figure this is an opportunity to get fresh blood. Hell, it’s not MY fault they quit, not yet. But what are the danger signs to a CTO regarding staff turnover?

Continue Reading

Tammy! on our organizational goals

Today I met with the directors in a 3-hour goal setting meeting. At the end of the 3 hours, we had a bunch of goals only quasi-related to our teams, our strategies, our to-do lists, etc. A lot of our goals had to do with reorganization. I asked everyone who had a reorg/restructure plan to indicate what problem s/he thinks this reorg will solve. That way, when we present our plans to the broader staff, we’re presenting a set of problems with proposed solution. It will be easier to get feedback if folks know the problems we are trying to … Continue Reading

Managing vs Leading

At today’s directors’ meeting, we discussed the differences between managing and leading. We were inspired by this quote from Warren Bennis:

“Leaders are people who do the right things. Managers are people who do things right. We are underled and overmanaged.”

Leaders direct, align, motivate, strategize, engage, coach, empower, communicate, and reward. Managers plan, organize, coordinate, control, monitor, allocate, communicate, and reward.

Here are two signs that you may be managing more than leading:

  1. you focus on the immediate at the expense of the important
  2. you think “working harder” is an actual strategy

Here are antidotes to the above:

  1. understand that … Continue Reading

Days Without Meetings

I was planning to write about the future challenges facing already challenged liberal arts colleges. Essentially, the number of kids graduating from high school in America is declining which will reduce the potential market, forcing more competition. It’s gonna be a rumble!

But I got sidetracked because I’ve had to consult with my assistant many times today over scheduling more of my dreaded advisory board meetings. Scheduling three faculty, one student, and three VPs is like solving one of those really tricky traffic puzzles devised by the NSA to elicit your pattern recognition abilities. You … Continue Reading

The Auditors est arrivee

I met with the university’s external auditors today. They come twice a year, apparently. First to ferret stuff out, and then to report on our failures and make their demands. So today was the ferret mission. About 15 minutes before they came, I dug out my cheesy printouts of both the SAGE Code of Ethics and the IT Value Matrix and hung them in my office. And they actually commented on the Code of Ethics–they really liked this. And now I’m cursing myself because I didn’t demand to … Continue Reading

When in doubt, just make the policy really complicated

We pay for a bizillion cell phones and pdas because we say we want people to be available for emergency communications. Let’s assume we have useful definitions of “emergency communication” and of those roles which require that type of response.

This practice has caused many people to carry around two phones (or pdas): their personal and their work devices. This seems like a waste and wouldn’t it be easier if everyone could just have one device? So, it was proposed a while back that we simply give people who fit the criteria we’ve assumed were outlined above a monthly allowance toward … Continue Reading