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Thought leadership from SAI to accelerate your performance

Systems Alliance Blog

Opinion, advice and commentary on IT and business issues from SAI
Date: Jan 2016

No job imageOn a number of organizational design and CIO advisory projects, I’ve had the opportunity to help screen and evaluate candidates for jobs ranging from entry level support to IT Directors. When I am in the office, I am occasionally able to participate in screening candidates for open positions here at SAI. (Shameless plug: We are hiring.)

In the recruiting world, candidates are divided into two separate, yet equally important groups: the well-qualified and thoughtful who are ready to bring value to the team and. . .the others who leave interviewers confused and whose bizarre behavior always comes up at happy hour.

These are their stories as shared by members of our team:

  1. During a phone interview, one of our VPs was put on hold by a candidate so she could take a personal call. After a long pause, she came back on the line to continue the interview. There was no second phone screen.
  2. A candidate for a client showed up 20 minutes late, started banging on the glass door instead of using the courtesy phone, and followed it up by being rude to our office manager. This hat trick of bad decisions led to a very, very short interview.
  3. Following an interview that clearly went off the rails, a candidate invited our CEO and me out for drinks the next time we were in town. The offer was declined but we did check one bar out on yelp.
  4. While screening for a client, one candidate spent 10 minutes explaining how terrible all of his former employers were. If that red flag wasn’t enough for us, the liberal use of F-bombs throughout the call was.
  5. One of our VPs had a candidate fail to show up on time for an interview. After calling her and sending an email, she showed up out of the blue two hours later. No explanation was given and she still expected to be interviewed.
  6. We tend to “Google” candidates to get some info on them before they come in. One candidate, fairly junior, had a pretty open social media profile which included lots of drunken party photos and posts about getting high.
  7. When asked what his technical interests were, a candidate struggled to explain what he’d written on his application. He did however spend 10 minutes talking about how much he likes playing in a mariachi band. I am still unclear if this was an episode of Punk’d.

Got a horror story of your own? E-mail me at We’ve got enough material to make this a recurring blog post series but would love to get more gems!

Self-operating Napkin CartoonStandard operating procedures (SOPs), work instructions and other process documentation can have a significant impact on your business—either positive or negative. An organization’s documentation forms a baseline for procedures or practices that can be reviewed and improved, and they are an important form of communicating an organization’s requirements to employees. This should not be a “set it and forget it” chore. Most should be living documents that are kept up-to-date to be useful for employees. Good documentation makes training easier, reduces errors and adds value to the business.

Creating great procedure documentation requires some thought and attention, but great documents are achievable. Follow these steps to produce documents that are relevant, accurate and available—when and where you need them most.

1. Make them simple and understandable. Poorly worded procedure documents only serve to make tasks more complex.  Here are some tips to keep your employees focused on the task at hand, and not on deciphering complex commands.

  • Use an active voice
  • Use clear and concise language
  • Use headings to convey a fundamental action, with supporting details in the body of the step

2. Use multimedia to reinforce instructions. Even with well-worded instructions, nothing beats imagery and video to demonstrate how to complete a task. Incorporate images and videos to reinforce your instructions. 

3. Use a consistent format. Use templates to ensure that your documents are formatted in a consistent manner. By sticking to a consistent format, your employees will spend more time focused on work and less time digesting document content.

4. Use task lists to ensure accurate execution. You've spent considerable effort defining the "one best way" to do a particular task, now put it in to practice! Leveraging checklists ensures that important steps aren't missed.

5. Solicit feedback. Just because you're an expert in a particular procedure doesn't mean you don't have more to learn. Solicit feedback from the folks putting your procedures into practice. Getting feedback from practitioners leads to better outcomes by:

  • Capturing valuable tacit information
  • Uncovering inefficiencies in existing processes
  • Instilling a sense of ownership throughout the business

6. Implement an appropriate approval process. Inaccurate procedures can lead to disastrous outcomes. Ensure that your procedure documents are accurate by establishing a review and approval process prior to making them available to your workforce.

7. Determine a review schedule. Process documentation isn't meant to be static. Technologies, techniques and knowledge all evolve over time. Make sure your process documentation is reviewed on a regular basis to ensure it is accurate and up to date.

8. Make them available. What good is a procedure document if it's collecting dust on a bookshelf, or locked away on a workstation? Here are some tips to ensure your documents are available in the right place, at the right time—and on the right device.

  • Leverage the web for content delivery anywhere it's needed
  • Leverage Search and metadata tagging for document discovery
  • Format documents so they look great on any device

General Alfred M Gray Jr., Former Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps once said, “Communications without intelligence is noise; intelligence without communications is irrelevant.” Software can make the job of creating, managing and distributing documented policies, procedures and work instructions easier. These tools help organizations stay up to date and organized. Acadia Performance Platform™ is a cloud-based SaaS solution that is workplace tested and continuously improved with features that directly impact performance and results.

Visit us at PEX Week 2016, booth 17. 

businesswoman slipping It happens to the best of us. We set a date for something and, for reasons unanticipated, that date comes and goes like MySpace. However, there are some things we can do to minimize the risk of missing that date (which, in some cases, can decide a project’s success. . .or failure). If your new website has to launch in time for that annual conference, or publication or board meeting, then it’s vital to make sure communication is clear and prompt, procedures are followed and risks are identified throughout the project. Don’t be the next victim of a lapsed deadline! Here are six things you can do to make sure you meet that all important date.

1. Respond to email.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes something as simple as a pending email response can push a delivery date back. Failure to respond to emails quickly can cause a domino effect that can delay a website from launching. For example, if a firm is waiting on approval or feedback on a deliverable, they often cannot move onto the next phase of the project without official signoff from a main project point of contact (POC).  If one of my clients is slow to respond, I’ll follow up with phone calls, but swift replies on both sides of the fence will help reduce risk and keep the project running smoothly. So, don’t forget to check your “nagging from my PM” folder for important questions and requests!

2. Don’t ignore the content Goliath.

We’ve heard it a thousand times: content is king. All of my clients know this, and we emphasize the importance of content planning from day one of any website project. However, failure to establish a feasible content writing, editing and approval schedule is one of the most common reasons why websites don’t go live for weeks—and even months—after the desired launch date. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of work required to identify, write and enter website content, so start early! I work with my clients to establish a content schedule that coincides with the main project schedule, but it’s up to the client to see it through. Waiting until development is complete to start thinking about content never ends well!

3. Get it approved.

A horror story I’ve heard from several clients is finding out at the last minute that a previously unknown stakeholder has to approve a website before it goes live. For example, a university may elect a committee to oversee a website redesign and, at the eleventh hour, finds out the president wants to weigh in before the switch is flipped. This could amount to hours of rework and long delays. Seems like a longshot, but it happens more than you think. To avoid this, make sure all stakeholders are identified at the beginning of the project. Even if day to day contacts are involved in 99% of project activities, make sure you know what has to happen before a website goes live, and who has to give the thumbs up to make it happen. If the president/CEO wants to be hands off until there is a finished product, account for this in the project plan and identify the risk early on. You can never be too prepared!

4. Document everything.

We all like to think our team members will be with us forever, but as we all know, people leave. This can sometimes be unavoidable, but if a main player leaves at a critical point in the project, this could cause major delays as we wait for a replacement to be identified and brought up to speed. It’s always tough when stakeholders change midway through a project, but thorough documentation can help ease the transition. Don’t rely solely on your vendor to do the knowledge transfer. (We’ll do our best, but, you know your organization better than we do!) Setting the new person up with documents, notes, designs and other resources they can review can keep the project on track and minimize delay.

5. Know your infrastructure.

Picture this: you’ve spent the past 12 months redesigning your website. It’s approved and ready to go - and then you realize. . .you need a domain. Also, you need a place to host the site. These are things I address with my clients early on, but you’d be surprised how often a website sits on a development server as a client figures out where it’s going to live when it launches. Or, sometimes you discover the server you thought it was going to live on does not have the proper storage, database or infrastructure to support your fancy new site. This snafu is easily avoidable. Make sure server requirements are identified well before launch!

6. Redundancy is your friend.

When it comes to a website project, the Highlander approach is not ideal. For small organizations, it may make sense to have one person act as the main contact to coordinate activities, but if that person leaves, great documentation alone will not ensure a smooth transition. Keeping at least one other person in the loop can be hugely beneficial in this situation, and even if the project team remains intact, having another person to take point on a busy day or over a vacation can help keep the project moving. Unlike the Highlander, there does not have to be only one!

These are by no means the only reasons websites are delayed. But, considering the sea of other unanticipated reasons outside of our control (procurement delays, alien invasion, nuclear winter), if we can limit any potential issues we can anticipate, we will increase the likelihood a website will launch on time! 

Resolutions Your CIO Will Break – and What They Should Do Instead

The New Year is here and with it comes the flood of well-intentioned blog posts, emails and other announcements that things are going to be different this year. These posts, full of noble goals, will quickly be forgotten. Research has shown that at least 8 out of 10 of New Year’s Resolutions fail. Many are discarded within just a few days.

IT leaders are just as guilty as anyone else when it comes to failing to see their resolutions through to completion. One reason for that may be that while well-intentioned, their goals perhaps ought to be tweaked.

Here are a couple of hypothetical IT resolutions and their upgraded versions for IT Leaders to consider for this coming year:

1. Killing Off Shadow IT vs. Implementing a Flexible SaaS Policy

Shadow IT is not going away. The ubiquity of SaaS solutions makes procurement, deployment and regular use of shadow IT easier than ever. More than 80 percent of users admit to using at least some shadow IT resources on a regular basis.

This growth remains a grave concern for CIOs everywhere. Not only do they have rogue lines of business (LOBs) purchasing IT services, but they have data that is being exfiltrated into the cloud in ways that no one anticipated. The security concerns alone are enough to make IT leaders want to go on the warpath. Thus 2016 is the year to finally kill off Shadow IT, right?

Knocking back Shadow IT is the ultimate Sisyphean task. Not only will it require a huge expenditure of effort but it will alienate end users who are only trying to get their jobs done. This is a fight that IT leaders will not be able to sustain over the long haul.

A better alternative is to develop more a more flexible and responsive policy toward SaaS solutions. Make “yes” the default answer when it comes to LOB users wanting to try new things (or they will go behind your back and do it anyway). At the same time, to mitigate common security concerns, give users the tools they need to do things like encrypt files before putting them in the cloud.

2. Hiring More Staff vs. Implementing Change Management

A common perception in many IT departments is that they are understaffed. The daily deluge of tickets, phone calls, requests and e-mails has them buried in work from sunrise to sunset. Frequently they are running from crisis to crisis, never having the opportunity to knock out any of what they planned. Half-completed tasks are the norm and stress levels are sky high.

On a recent project at a software company, we encountered this issue. If the client had been asked to come up with resolutions, this would have been at the top of the list. Every member of the team, including the VP, was convinced that they desperately needed to increase the size of their team just to keep up. End users were outraged by the lack of support from IT. The team needed to grow their headcount right away and they needed those new hires to hit the ground running—so everyone needed broad experience and deep technical skills.

What actually happened? At the end of the day, they hired only one additional entry level support engineer.

What changed? The entire IT Team got focused around working smarter instead of harder. Effective but lightweight change management policies were put in place around production infrastructure. After just one week of having a Change Control Board, the firefighting stopped and stress levels dropped. IT staff were able to actually plan out their work and accomplish some long-deferred projects that enhanced services for the company and its customers.

Seeing this in action made believers out of skeptics who were convinced that growing headcount was the only solution. Today they are regularly discussing issues like technical debt with their developers and thinking about adding new hires to expand capabilities rather than just demanding more firefighters.

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Jan 2016