Friday, July 01, 2011

SOP Friday: New PC Checklists

We've all had the "nightmare install" of a new computer. Everything should just work, but it doesn't. Everything should be smooth, but it isn't. Everything seems to be working now . . . until you drive away.

There are few example of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that are more important to an I.T. consultant than the New PC Checklist. If you want to set up every machine the same way, no matter which tech does the work, and have a "perfect" install each time, you need a New PC Checklist.

Let's take a look.

SOP Friday: New PC Checklists

- Overview -

A "New PC Checklist" is just what is sounds like: A checklist for setting up a new computer at a client office. If you don't have one, start today!!!

Setting up new computers is a very common thing in any business. Whether it's a new PC or moving people to new workstations, you need to make sure the hardware and software is set up so your client can sit down and just start working.

You have a certain way that you want machines set up. So do I. The chances that they're the same is about . . . 00.000001%. There are too many variables. Even within your office, different technicians will set up machines differently.

This is bad for several reasons. Uniformity always means greater efficiency. Even doing setup tasks in a different order can increase the time needed to complete the job. Many clients have strange requirements (like a specific combination of patch levels) that need to be maintained.

In addition, of course, every client has a unique set of requirements. One client uses Adobe Acrobat; another uses PDF Complete. Some clients map all printers for all users; others map specific printers for each department. And so forth.

- Benefits -

Checklists also have the following benefits:

Sharing work.
One of the great benefits of any checklist is the ability to put down a job and then hand it off to someone else. One person can start a job at 4 PM and another can pick it up at 8 AM without duplicating work, forgetting anything, or having to start over. This makes it easy to hire temporary assistants from the local I.T. Pro user group. Yes, they could set up a computer "their" way. But with a checklist, they can now set it up YOUR way.

Guarantee that everything gets done.
At small as this sounds, it is critically important. Did you remove all the "free" junkware that shipped with the computer? Did you install the Adobe Reader? Did you remember the shared printer for the label-maker on Josie's workstation?

Guarantee that everything is done in the correct order.
Almost as important as the last point: It can make a huge difference to perform tasks in a specific order. For example, we like to keep machines disconnected from the network until fairly late in the process. That allows us to install all the software before we install the anti-virus. Few things will slow down an install more than a virus scan. Plus, of course, some software works best if you know the optimal order of installation so that newer .dll files don't get replaced by older files due to a poorly-behaved installation program.

You can handle more clients because you don't have to remember the peculiar setup of each one.
Huge. Once you have a template checklist for each client, you can free up your brain cells to work on other things. Knowing that you can just print off a checklist and knock out an installation for any client is a very powerful tool to have in your tool belt.

The bottom line: Consistency. Consistency means profit.

Without a checklist, even you will set up a machine differently every time. The client has no hope.

- Implementation Notes -

First, you need a master New PC Checklist. This will probably be 3-4 pages long, depending on how detailed you are. The master should be good enough to guarantee a good, clean installation on most new (or existing) clients. After all, 90% of what you and I do is the same. It's how we do it, the order in which we do it, and the peculiarities of the specific job that make the difference.

Second, you will create a unique New PC Checklist for each client. The client-specific checklists will include their IP address range, their printer configurations, their software products, and so forth. These lists should be stored on your server. Either on your sky drive, SharePoint, or wherever your company stores files for technicians to access. You can keep a copy at the client site, but "the" master file for each client should be on your server. This is primarily for consistency, but is also handy when you make a change across all lists (clients).

Third, when you start a new installation, the first thing you will do is to read through and make corrections to the New PC Checklist. This is true whether you're setting up one machine or 25. Have you revved from Vista to W7? Is there a newer procedure for the anti-virus? Did the client environment change in some way that affects workstations?

Fourth, if you are setting up more than one machine, you should execute the (revised) New PC Checklist as you set up one machine. That allows you to make notes about all updates and changes. Then you can update the master New PC Checklist for that client and run off copies for each new machine.

Fifth, you print out this checklist and tape it to each machine. At that time, you enter the machine name on the New PC Checklist. This guarantees that there's only one checklist per machine, and you know exactly where it is. Whoever sits down at that machine can begin at the beginning or pick up where someone left off.

Using a Checklist

As strange as it sounds, you need to agree on ONE WAY to use a checklist. You'd be surprised what people come up with. Here's what I recommend:

1) Read the task
2) Execute the task
3) Check the box

I know, I know. What else would you do? But I'm telling you: people are clever.

The worst offenders are those who go through three or four steps and then check the boxes.

The worst offenders are people who "know what they're doing" and execute steps out of order.

The worst offenders are those who sit down, check all the boxes, and then proceed to execute the steps.

See what I mean? The worst offenders are those who want to go fast and NOT follow the process. The process exists for a reason. Trust the process. Love the process. Use the process. The process is your friend. The process will make you rich!

Sixth, if you're working in a team, someone will be the "clean up" expert who tackles the weird stuff that comes up (even though it never should). That person must be able to sit down at any machine in the office and know for an absolute fact what has been done and what has not been done. They may need to back-track a bit. But they will know exactly where they are in the process.

And when that person is not killing monsters, they'll need to be able to jump in as just another technician . . . and pick up exactly where someone else left off.

Seventh, you'll take notes as you go along so you can update the checklist. It's amazing how fast things change. After only 30 days, you'll find that some thing's different. Windows, Office, anti-virus, Internet settings, spam filter, . . . something. So you'll update the checklist and load the update onto your server.

PLEASE don't put this off. You're there. You're in the middle of it. Your mind is fresh. And right now, today, it's billable. If you want a day or two, your notes may be less useful. And you might feel bad about charging for it. Just do it. Make a little, save the client some money in the long run, and make yourself more profit in the long run. Just do it.

- Forms -

The basic form for this is one you probably have in your head. You can begin creating a new one by simply use a Trouble Shooting and Repair log (see discussion and example of TSR log in The Network Migration Workbook). You can also use a blank writing tablet.

Simply write down every single thing you do. Remove the PC from the box. Make sure the cards and memory are tight. Plug into UPS. Etc.

Every little detail.

Wherever you skip specific details, the technician will do whatever makes sense at the moment. Sometimes that's fine. Sometimes is adds an hour to the job, which costs you money.

Once complete, begin using the checklist per the instructions above. Ideally, every technician will have the skills and common sense to improve the checklist every time it's used. Once you put this process in place, it is self-perpetuating because the last item on the checklist is Update the checklist!

This kind of policy requires that everyone on the team

1) Be aware of the policy

2) Practice the policy

3) Correct one another's errors

4) Support one another with reminders

Your Comments Welcome.


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