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Tech Manager—Pitfalls

There are many ways to approach leading and managing technology and people, but there are also things that can trip you up. You may have the best plans and processes in place, the best people skills, and budget... but still struggle to make progress on key initiatives. That may be because you have pitfalls. Pits built for trapping animals are dug on purpose and hidden to fool the animal or catch them unaware. The dictionary define pitfall as “a hidden or unsuspected danger or difficulty”. In management, pitfalls may not be so hidden, but they can be dangerous to progress and difficult to navigate around. The pitfalls might catch you by surprise or they may remind you that “you blew it again”. Some can be easily avoidable, and others may need more work. I will start sharing a list of some that I have stepped into over the years and will continue the topic next month.

PITFALL ONE: NOT DOING RESEARCH AND TESTING

Technology is always needing a ref resh. There will always be a desire for innovative change. An upgrade to the status quo. But if you do not do the prep work needed, you can get trapped in a tough spot. What needs to be done before any upgrade or new purchase is the research and testing.

For new purchases, start with a list of requirements. Have a conversation with all stakeholders and find out what problems the new tool solves, what it needs to do and what it should prevent. Make the requirements list as complete as you can and then assign a value of Must Have, Nice to Have and Optional. Search for vendors that provide the Must Haves and start reviewing their offerings. If some features of a tool do not provide a Must Have feature, then stop looking at it. You have defined the things that it must have, so if it is not there, move on.

In Excel (or whatever tool you choose), put each item in the row with check boxes, a column for stated needs (must have, nice to have or optional) and a column for each vendor. Check off each items row if the vendor has it and then compare the vendor columns against each other. The winner will have all (or most) of the Must Haves, most of the Nice to Have and a few of the Optional features. The tool that might fit best will have ticked the most boxes. For more info on vetting new tools, go back and read my articles on Buying Technology:

Notice I said, “the tool that might fit best”. This is because you must test it after selecting it. You may test many tools during a f ree trial downloads before final selection, or just test the one you are going to buy. The testing is key, and it is done by IT/CAD/BIM staff and a few select users. You need to verify that what your vetting uncovered is actually true.

Testing in your environment is crucial to making sure that your assumptions are correct. Testing proves that the tool will perform as expected and that others will see the value in this new solution. Do the testing yourself, have others try it out and get some input about their impressions. Try it on different machines and in different offices locations (not all offices have the same culture and approach on technology). When your testing shows promise, you can now start the process of buying and deploying.

The steps in purchasing new tech or upgrading older software are roughly the same. For upgrades the research may be quicker and selection is already done. The research will include reading the release notes and talking to others who have already upgraded to find the “pitfalls” and avoid them. You also need to define the value in the upgrade and what problems it will solve.

Here are the steps in brief:

Research > Selection > Testing > Proof of Concept > Pilot > Training > Proliferation

To read more about the final four steps go back and read my articles in August-October 2015 of AUGIWorld.

PITFALL TWO: OVER MONITORING

Managers must monitor progress. They must supervise others. But they do not have to go overboard. Asking for status reports is not micromanaging. Expecting others to share details with you on their planning is not over monitoring. Asking for more effort f rom a team member is not overbearing (if done right).

But sometimes a manager does go too far and ends up offending a co-worker by asking too much or expecting too much. The best way to avoid over monitoring is to get agreement on when reporting in should be done. Set meetings based on milestones that are natural times to check in. Do not check back on a task or effort unless something changes. Anything that impacts a project may require an update. New deadline, change is scope, team member out on medical leave, changes in staffing, budget reductions, or anything that might cause you to have to rethink the progress and timeline. When you have to check in without a meeting, let the person know why you are doing that. “The big boss wants an update. We are still on track – right?” or “The client just called, and they want to add to the scope, can you tell me where we are, exactly, right now on the design?”

PITFALL THREE: CREATING ARTIFICIAL DEADLINES

No one likes fabricated deadlines and needless emphasis on arbitrary dates. It may put undue pressure on staff to make something happen quicker than is wise. It may cause quality to go down and oversights to happen.

I suggest that you negotiate deadlines. Whenever I assign a task to an individual or team, we discuss possible due dates. When defining deadlines, let the person who is doing the most work define a date. If it is a team, have the team work through it. The date will either be spot on, too early or too late. If it is spot on, and you agree it can be done by then and that it is not delayed unnecessarily, then all is good.

If it is too quick, then add some days on for good measure. Some team members might not have a good grasp on the work to be done. Or they may not know what else might be coming down the road. If it is too far off, then ask them why it will take that long. There may be things you are unaware of or hidden steps that need to be considered. Discuss details as needed, then slide the date around until everyone agrees, then lock it in.

Until next time, keep in mind that by looking for the pitfalls that might trap you, you become a proactive manager that desires to avoid troubles that might come upon you. You also become easier to work with. More to come next month.

Mark Kiker has more than 25 years of hands-on experience with technology. He is fully versed in every area of management f rom deployment planning, installation, and configuration to training and strategic planning. As an internationally known speaker and writer, he is a returning speaker at Autodesk University since 1996. Mark is currently serving as Director of IT for SIATech, a non-profit public charter high school focused on dropout recovery. He maintains two blog sites, www.caddmanager.com and www.bimmanager.com.

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