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Bad IT Management Habits: Break Them Before They Break You

Bad habit: Poor time management

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Bart Hunter, IT manager at Effingham Hospital in Springfield, Ga., admits to a few bad habits, all of which are related to time management.

For one, he says he focuses too much on future projects that haven't yet received approval from senior management. "I'm always thinking 'What could be...' instead of what is," Hunter says.

Furthermore, he tends to put off small tasks that would take only a minute or two to accomplish -- such as dealing with a user request for a new toner cartridge or putting a shortcut to Word on a user's desktop.

And when he has a lot of work on his plate, he often finds himself unable to develop a plan for where to start.

Hunter believes he could address his bad habits by creating -- and sticking to -- a daily schedule, which would allow him to complete more tasks in a given day.

Using a scheduling/planning application, he acknowledges, would give him an overview of all help desk and IT tasks and then allow him to rank them based on priority to make sure that the most critical jobs get done. But even that solution creates a chicken-and-egg situation, because Hunter hasn't had the time to search for and test a scheduling app that fits his needs.

Redmond Inc.'s Gabrielson also admits to procrastination -- particularly when it comes to doing routine maintenance and security patching. "Sometimes patching can cause more problems than it solves. It's a hassle, and we tend to put it off," he says, adding that he believes this is a common problem among IT shops.

Here, too, technology could provide a solution. Gabrielson says he's looking into patch management packages that automatically detect vulnerabilities in applications and apply available patches where appropriate. "We know we need to do better with it. We have skipped months of Patch Tuesdays [Microsoft's monthly releases of security fixes] in the past, and then you have to do them all at once to catch up. But during that time, you could be at risk."

Good habit: Talk to the top ranks

Gordon Jaquay, IT manager for packaging company Venchurs Inc., reports directly to the company's CEO, Jeff Wyatt.

That, he says, is a good thing, because it forces him to understand his company's business processes as well as its technology and to be able to translate between the two as needed. "When things get lost in translation, it's difficult to find out exactly what people are looking for," he says. "There's an art to translating IT goals and projects, and it's important."

Jaquay attempts to share this good habit with his team as well. For example, members of the IT staff attend company project meetings outside of their department on a regular basis. For example, they might sit in on a plant production meeting to learn what the current hurdles are and what work is on the agenda.

Good habit: Walk the halls

Lorraine Spencer found a way to put a bad habit to good use. "I can't sit for incredible lengths of time alone in my office," says the IT project manager at Johns Hopkins University Office of Continuing Medical Education, where she supports 40 users.

"So I get out and talk to the people I work with who are not in IT, and I find things out. People may not come to you and tell you their issue," she says, "but if you ask about their problems, often you can find ways to make users' lives easier."

Given her druthers, Spencer would spend more time with users than she already does. "We do a pretty good job here, and we're included in the management team and take part in projects, but there's still a division," she says. If walking the halls can help break down those barriers, then she figures it's time well spent.

Tech managers, new and improved

Luckily, IT managers are in a good position to draw on their strengths as they face down their bad habits and vow to replace them with better ones. The process may take time, experts say, but it's generally time well spent.

"IT managers can typically draw upon their innate sense of curiosity and use that to, for example, learn what people in the business really need, want or desire from them," says Balance Coaching's Ehling.

"It may be slow going at first, but it's not at all impossible, and the benefits are many."

Garretson is a frequent Computerworld contributor in the Washington, D.C., area. She can be reached at caragarretson@gmail.com.

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