My diary today is blank. Of course, the fact that I’ve nothing scheduled to do doesn’t mean that I’ve nothing to do. In the life of a consultant an empty day in the diary can be a Godsend allowing for the all important admin to be done, leading to a day filled with expense claim submission, outstanding paperwork being filed, laptops getting some much needed systems administration attention, personal projects being followed up on (like the in-house test servers I manage), and clients who haven’t been in touch for a while getting a courtesy call to ensure that everything is OK with them. These days are much needed and welcome. But not too often.
An IT Consultant with “nothing in the diary for today”
It can be easy as a consultant, who lives and dies by the contents of the diary, to look at their full calendar for the next few weeks and despair at how busy they’re going to be, overwhelmed by the volume of work coming their way and longing for empty days like today. I like to take a different, more entrepreneurial view of the diary and try not to think of it as merely a calendar of upcoming activities but rather as my order book, as a promise of future work, and that puts the whole thing into a more favourable light.
Regardless of how you look at your busy schedule, the fact is that managing the diaries of multiple people can be a complex task and should be handled with some care as mismanaging it can lead to disaster. With this in mind, here are some of my considerations for managing the diaries and therefore the time of consultants. Continue reading “5 Considerations for Brilliant Diary Management”
I was at the doctor’s office the other day as I’d fallen foul of the Man-Flu and needed serious help. While I was in the waiting room a mother came in with her two young children, a boy about 3 or 4 years old and a little girl of about 18 months. It was pretty obvious, even to the untrained eye, that there was a significant problem of sibling rivalry growing between the two kids, with the boy especially in need of that careful balance of attention and discipline. He was climbing over furniture, pulling things from his mothers bag, and picking up his sister in unsafe ways, all in all being the kind of child you don’t want sitting behind you on a long flight!
I mentioned what I’d saw when I got home as I wasn’t impressed with the mother’s lacklustre attempts to deal with her son and I was surprised at the response I received: “Supernanny has ruined a lot of parents out there”
Supernanny, with her naughty spots and rules about never raising a hand to child, has made a lot of parents believe they’re child psychologists, so they go around trying to reason with three year olds in the same way that they’d try to talk to a thirty year old and then simply give up in frustration when they inevitably get nowhere. In reality, I don’t think Supernanny herself is actually to blame for this as I think what has happened is that parents have misinterpreted the message the TV show was trying to convey.
Supernanny Jo Frost… looking for her paycheque
Continue reading “Supernanny = Super Consultant”
A video on the Lifehacker website caught my interest recently, so much so that I found myself repeating some of the content to a friend who was going for a job interview. In the video, author Ramit Sethi outlines what he calls the Briefcase Technique for use during negotiations for things like increases in salary or contract rates and so on. The technique is brilliantly simple, though perhaps more than a little gimmicky. The basic gist is you go into such negotiations totally prepared, so much so that you would be in a position to produce a document that outlines the benefits you could bring to a potential employer or client having developed an understanding of the issues facing the business and genuinely preparing a plan for how you would personally deal with those issues. The real heart of the Briefcase Technique is that you’re supposed to pull out this document (from your briefcase, hence the name) just when you get to the money negotiation section of the interview.
The Other Briefcase Technique
While the video is entertaining in an infomercial sort of way, I’m not sure how well the technique would work outside of the U.S., or outside any situation where money isn’t explicitly discussed (especially as many employers tend to make salary offers when later offering the job and don’t negotiate it during the interview – if you’re contracting that can be slightly different). However, in the video Sethi does make an interesting point about the difficulties around starting something, particularly a document that requires any form of serious creative thought. Continue reading “Overcoming Initial Resistance: A Guide for the Gun-Shy”
I’m a big fan of Starship Troopers. Before you run away screaming please note that I mean I’m a big fan of the 1959 book by Robert A. Heinlein and only a regular level fan of the 1997 Paul Verhoeven movie. Heinlein wrote science fiction about the nature of government and the role of the people in society. In a later novel he stipulated the things that a human should be able to do and one part of the quote always interested me, to paraphrase Heinlein: a person should be able to “…take orders, give orders, cooperate, and act alone” when necessary. Sound advice, especially the giving and taking orders part, and doubly so when it comes to project management.
Leadership, Starship Troopers style! Would you like to know more?
Continue reading “Leadership in IT Projects”
Project Management, on the scale that business managers are really considering when they talk about it, is radically different from IT Support as the nature of the projects under consideration moves to a different level.
Ask a senior manager in an Irish SME about project management as it relates to IT and they are unlikely to think about server upgrades or even moving from one version of an email system to another. What this term is more likely to conjure up is images of a suit-wearing professional organising large-scale projects; for the SME this would mean projects like Finance, ERP, and CRM system implementations.
Project Manager: A suit-wearing professional who organises large projects, drinks coffee, updates Facebook
Continue reading “The Nature of IT Projects”
Have you ever read your horoscope? Horoscopes are bunkum, a bit of fun that’s included in the newspaper to fill up white space and maybe make a few quid from the associated phone lines that you can ring for a more up to date version. The way horoscopes work is by laying down a very general little story for you to read and associate with by virtue of your date of birth. Horoscopes are so general that they have to resonate with someone somewhere. I think that whoever wrote the original templates for the daily horoscopes were also the people responsible for the majority of job specifications that you regularly see advertised.
The Zodiac – from the same people who brought you the award winning “Spec for an ERP Project Manager”
Excluding technical skills, like a certain operating system or other piece of software, the characteristics that get listed on job specs are normally very generic. Everyone is looking for people who are efficient, work well in teams, have a “can-do” attitude, and have good communication skills. Being a good problem solver is a trait that always comes in handy, as does being methodical and having a good eye for detail, and when was the last time you read a job specification for a role where being punctual and honest were frowned upon? Continue reading “The Nature of Technical Support”
In Ireland, as in most countries, there are more small and medium-sized businesses then there are large enterprises. These smaller firms are competing at home and abroad in a wide variety of industries spanning traditional manufacturing, sales & distribution, and a host of diverse services, but they all tend to follow a similar development path particularly when it comes to Information Technology. Companies with less than 250 employees tend to have smaller IT departments (if they have any permanent IT staff at all that is) excluding of course those that are directly engaged in the IT industry, or those that have a strong knowledge worker focus. Even some larger businesses often have fewer IT resources if they just don’t think they need them (on two different occasions in the past I’ve been employed as the sole permanent IT resource in businesses that each had over 500 employees, both engaged in high-volume manufacturing).
Large Enterprises like Reynholm Industries often have small IT departments
Continue reading “The Nature of IT in the SME”
It has been said that one man’s meat is another man’s poison and this is most evident in the way people order steak. Some like it well done, others like it medium, I like it rare, while some don’t like steak at all. This is all a matter of taste. Some people like one thing while others like something different. These differences make life interesting.
Even in The Matrix, Cypher knew the importance of a good steak
In the world of work people like different things too. Some like accounts, others engineering. Some people love to sell, others prefer to paint houses; the choices and options are infinite. Even within a specific profession, like Information Technology, there must be millions of career options available in millions of combinations. When faced with such a wide variety of choice we must remember that we are not all suited to all the options available to us, that’s how we narrow down our choices to what’s best for each of us, no matter what profession or trade we pursue.
I’ve recently had the good fortune to be in the position of interviewing people for a job. I consider myself to be extremely lucky in these dark economic times to be able to be offering work and I’m doubly fortunate to actually enjoy the process of recruitment as I find it to be deeply interesting, as is any area of life that exclusively deals with people and the infinite differences that we all manifest. Writing a job spec, contacting appropriate recruiters, and reading the CV’s that come in though is only the warm-up act for the main event: the interviews!
Continue reading “Marching to the Beat of a Different Drum”
Last week I found myself getting defensive with a colleague of mine in a conversation about the value of system prototyping. My colleague suggested that there’s a difference between IT people and everyone else and that it’s that two IT guys can look at a diagram and see how a system will work while everyone else needs to see the system in action. There is perhaps an element of truth to this but like most things in life I think it depends on the people involved (which is why I leapt to the defence of IT people everywhere as I don’t like generalisations being made that somehow mark us out as different). Sometimes I can look at a diagram and make the imaginative leap to how a system might work. There are other times when I like to play with a piece of software or whatever to get to know it, and at the end of the day there’s nothing like using a thing to understand how it operates.
Also last week I was discussing Oracle Warehouse Builder with someone. OWB (as it’s known) is one of those systems that I’ve experienced but would like to get more experience of and it offers some functionality that might solve a nasty little problem many businesses suffer from which has bothered me for a while.
Speaking of nasty little business problems…
Continue reading “The Quick & Dirty Guide to Oracle Warehouse Builder 11g”
The I.T. industry is made up of lots of companies who declare themselves to be solution providers of varying sorts but I wonder how many times a prospective customer really goes to one of these firms and says “I have a problem” and how many times the provider actually has to go off and come up with a solution.
Not too long ago I was presented with an interesting problem that really needed a solution. And an inexpensive one at that. Continue reading “Really Remote Live Internet Video Streaming on a Budget”