Thursday, January 30, 2014

SOP Friday: Honesty Integrity and Teamwork

This SOP is more about culture than a simple checklist. It's about how you treat your team members, clients, and vendors.

When I worked at HP in Roseville, CA, I met every week with a team of managers. Between us we ran every division responsible for the internal systems on campus: All the servers, the network, the hardware, the software, etc. One thing stood out to me from the first meeting I attended.

Every person on that team - in fact, ever manager I met at HP - simply assumed that everyone else at the management level was completely competent at their job. They each assumed that everyone else who ran a project or team did so because they were chosen carefully.

As the months rolled on, I became more and more convinced that the assumption of competence was a tremendous asset to the organization. I didn't have to prove myself to someone as the first step to working with them. And I didn't have to question whether someone I worked with was good at their job. I could ask about skills and experience and know that the information they gave me was accurate.

The great advantage of this "assumed competence" was the assumed honesty that went with it.

When someone made a mistake, they didn't hide it. In fact, they let the appropriate people know as quickly as possible so we could meet, discuss, and begin working on the fix as soon as possible.

When someone did not have the information they needed, they asked for it freely. When they needed help because their team was too busy, they asked for help. When they had a slow time, they offered their team's services to others.

The result of all of this was an amazing amount of team commitment and camaraderie. People didn't fear that they would lose their budgets or that they had to constantly see other departments as "the enemy." The closest I experienced to any conflict was with the Hardware Team. I was in charge or the Software Support Team. And on some minor cases it wasn't clear whether the problem was hardware or software. When that happened, I talked to the head of the Hardware Team and we developed a plan in about sixty seconds.

In my own business, I have always tried to emulate this behavior. I tell all employees, especially new ones, that mistakes are not the worst thing in the world. In fact, mistakes just happen. We're all human. The question is not whether humans will make mistakes, but how you will react to them.

We make it clear that mistakes are not "good" in any way. But honest mistakes are not a firing offense. It is critical that mistakes be reported as quickly as possible so we can get to work on the fix as soon as possible. I always tell clients and employees: You can't break something so bad that we can't fix it!

We all assume honesty is a good thing. We all assume honesty is to be expected. But all too often we create cultures of distrust, of unnecessary scarcity, and cultures in which team members shame and belittle each other. These are unhealthy for the company as a whole.

We've all met technicians who overstate their abilities, keep all the client information to themselves, and refuse to be team players. When you hire folks like that, you need to have a culture that teaches them another way. You need to make it safe for them to be honest. You need to make it safe for them to make mistakes.

It is critical to your success that your team knows they can rely on each other and trust each other.

When you ask a team member what happened on a specific client visit, you need to know that they will tell you the truth, even if it's unpleasant or demonstrates that they need more training. That happens when they know that they will be treated with respect and that the focus is on fixing the problem rather than placing blame.

A similar thing happens with third party support. When you tell them exactly what you did and did not do, they respect you and are very open to helping you. If you act like an arrogant jerk and make it sound like it's their problem, they are less inclined to help you.

I have found time and time again that high end tech support people believe what you tell them. They assume you'll be honest and that you're both working on the same team to solve a problem.

If you promote an ethic of honesty, there must be zero tolerance for dishonesty. The reasons for this are obvious. Even though we all think honesty is a good thing, and we all say we're in favor of it, people are suspicious when you proclaim it as a company value. If honesty and integrity were not hallmarks in the past, then every move will be seen as a test.

More than anything else, employees will look to the owner and managers for models of integrity. If you treat everyone with honesty and integrity, your employees will see that. If you do not, they will see that as well.

So while honesty and integrity are central to your business, they do not magically appear. You need to state this standard, live this standard, and then broadcast this standard. When one technician turns to another and says "That's just how we do it here," then you know your policy works.

Comments welcome.

- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

- - - - -

Next topic: Vendor/Distributor Record Keeping

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Friday, January 17, 2014

SOP Friday: Information Sharing

Information is the backbone of our industry. In fact, "IS" or Information Systems used to be what this industry was called. Now it's called "IT" - Information Technology. So what are we about? What do we do? We design, build, and support the infrastructure that makes information usable.

It seems fitting that we should manage our internal information as effectively as we manage our clients' information systems. And like everything else, we need to document our processes.

There are many ways that teams share information. You might use SharePoint, shared drive space, or keep notes inside your CRM. Ideally, you will use some combination of all of these. In addition, you will have printouts. I know, everyone says they want the paperless office. And we use a lot less paper than ever before. But the truly paperless office will arrive shortly after the paperless bathroom. :-)

You need policies about how your team will share information for the same reason that you need an SOP for where you will store data. Remember the article about the !Tech Directory? ( That policy allows everyone on the team to know exactly where to look for certain information (in this cases software and drivers).

If you don't have a standardized policy then, by definition, everyone on the team will put stuff wherever it makes sense to them at the moment they are saving data. So one person will store documents in their personal folders, a second person put throw up spreadsheets on the SharePoint site, and a third will use the common department share on the cloud drive.

And when you go looking for that information, where will you look? You certainly won't look in someone else's personal folders. Will you look on the server share? In SharePoint? Or within the CRM/PSA? Unless you're a mind reader, you will waste time looking for information - every single time you need it.

Document Types and Sub-Types

Personally, I think the easiest way to organize data is to start with the team or function. Then, within that, you can sort by project or file type. For example, your shared public folders on the server might include individual sub-folders for marketing, finance, tech support, etc. See the article on Organizing Company Files and Folders (

Within each team folder, you can then divide documents in a way that makes the most sense. For some documents that means by project, for others it is by month. Additional sub-folders might be for clients, legal, drafts, etc. The key thing is to choose ONE organization method per team and stick with it. It should make sense.

You will know you're successful if documents are consistently in the first place you look for them.

Team Standards

Once you divide information by teams, you need to set up standard for each team. This is necessary because teams will access information in different ways. For example, our tech support team stores most client-related checklists on a SharePoint drive so we have total access to them while we're in the field. Because we don't map client computers to our cloud storage, getting files from the cloud drive is a little more cumbersome.

All of our other teams work out of the office. Finance, office management, and sales are all connected to mapped drives all the time, so they have no real need for SharePoint.

Specific information is stored in the CRM/PSA. This consists primarily of information about client configurations (routers, firewalls, etc.). The PSA is hosted and therefore available from everywhere. So technicians can easily access this information in the field. Similarly, certain information from the Sales Team is also put into the PSA for each access by the technicians. For example, license documents and keys will be added to a client's configuration information by the sales person as soon as we get it. That way the technician will have it when he goes to install software.

Team Policies

Don't get carried away thinking this has to be a big, formal policy. One sentence for each type of information is all you need.

I recommend that you create a document for each distinct team that simply lists the kinds of information you normally deal with and where is is stored. This is basically a "cheat sheet" that new employees can use until they instinctively know where to put things. It's also useful for documents that are rarely used, such as quarterly or annual reports.

As your mother (or somebody) used to say: "A place for everything and everything in its place."

Your comments are welcome.

- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Honesty, Integrity, and Teamwork

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Friday, January 10, 2014

SOP Friday: Document Pouches

This article is very practical in nature and geared toward the service delivery folks. It is a great procedure for client machines as well as your internal operations.

One of the best decisions I ever made in my business was to buy a number of the "pocket" file folders to store information about hardware and software. We use them to store all the information for a specific purchase. It is easy to set up a new folder when you are setting up a new computer.

It is a major pain in the neck and waste of time if you don't do this!

Let's start with an example. I recently bought a new video camera. The first thing I did was to grab one of these pouches and label it. Into the pouch goes the receipt, the warranty information, unused cables, and all the little paperwork you get with a new purchase. The folder is labeled and dated.

In this case, the instruction manual did not go in the pouch because I wanted to read it. Once that was accomplished, in it went.

I recommend that you adopt this policy for all machines you touch or manage internally and at each of your clients. There are many good reasons for this.

First, this is an easy way to keep all the information for that machine in one place. This includes add-ons such as documentation and warranty information for DVDRWs, sound cards, video cards, etc.

Second, this is a great place to make sure you keep track of all the stuff while you're building a machine.

Third, down the road when you want to know where you can find the factory re-installation discs, they are easy to find.

Fourth, if there's some kind of warranty issue, or software needs to be re-installed, you've got all the information in one place.

Fifth, in case of a fire, flood, or theft, you've got the information you need for an insurance claim.

Sixth, when it's time to send the machine to recycling, you can just send this pouch along with it. If you've been diligent at keeping up with this process, then everything related to that machine is in the pouch.

This collection of paperwork and software - plus the Machine Spec Sheet - will make for much faster service when needed.

The alternative is all too familiar to us: There's a junk drawer with unorganized discs and paperwork. It contains video and network drivers for all kinds of machines - most of which you don't own any more. And there are some missing because they were put in another drawer or not filed at all.

When I started my business, building machines yourself was a lot more common. So the most common place for "documentation" was the box that had shipped with the motherboard for the server. It was a handy size, held lots of paperwork, and was large enough for stray jumper wires and bits of hardware. But even those were normally out of date, included drivers and paperwork for machines that no longer existed, and had important software missing. Normally, the missing software was the thing you were actually looking for.

With the pouch system, you have one pouch for each machine and one pouch for important software packages. For example, if you have Microsoft Open licenses, you'll want to keep a good set of DVDs in the pouch along with the license certificates, license keys, etc. The same is true for Line of Business applications, multi-user QuickBooks or Business Works programs, etc.

Yes, a lot of this information is also electronic and is also in your PSA or on your company SharePoint site. But ALL of it should be in this pouch.

At the "end of life" for a given machine, you get rid of this file. That way, your filing system contains all the important files and software for everything you own, and none of the old files for equipment you no longer own.

You should dedicate a file file drawer (or several) to these folders so that you can always find them quickly. Some clients put this information into paper file boxes and keep them on shelves next to the server. So you might have one file box for servers and network equipment and additional boxes for desktops and laptops.

Note that I mentioned network equipment. You will create files for routers, switches, firewalls, scanners, printers, label makers, shipping scales, etc. Everything that you touch that has warranty information, drivers, or software needs to be filed in a pouch.

The answer to the question "Where is the information on this ...?" should always be: In a pouch, where it belongs.

Everyone on your staff needs to get in the habit of making these file pouches with every new computer sale, every server build, every monitor delivery, and so forth. Just do it. 100% is easy to achieve. Make sure the creation of the pouch is part of the New PC Checklist.

And it's not a bad habit for your home equipment either.

The Big Bonus: This kind of standard operating procedure makes you look really good to your clients. Think about how many new clients you've taken on that had a simple system like this. It adds instant value and demonstrates that you know what you're doing. You do this a lot - and you've got a process for making easy easy.

Comments welcome.

- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Information Sharing


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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

D&H Wants to Buy Your Ticket to the Emerging Technology Tour January 31st

Just got a memo from HarryB over at SMB Nation. Looks like D&H distributing is buying the first 100 seats for the Emerging Technology tour in Silicon Valley at the end of the month.

Register quickly and join me there!

- - - - - 

SMB Nation Emerging Technology Tour Silicon Valley

Tour Stop: Silicon Valley, CA
Date: January 31, 2014
Location: Microsoft Silicon Valley
Registration and Info:

Cost: FREE for first 100 Attendees
Discount Code: DandHTicket2014

Here’s a look at what the Emerging Technology Tour is all about:

What you get?
  • Hands-on deep dive into the changes and "gotchas" in Exchange 2013.
  • Four-hour deep dive into Powershell and its uses to replace the wizards that will no longer be available in Microsoft server products.
  • PowerShell Instructions on automating many of your day to day processes and a disk of tools and resources.
  • Learn SOPs Standard Operating Procedures that will instantly increase your profits with Karl Palachuk.
8:00 – 8:15


8:15 – 8:30

  Welcoming Address

8:30 – 9:00


9:00 – 11:00

  Automation and Scalable Management with PowerShell (Part 1)
  Speaker: Jason Yoder

11:00 – 11:15


11:15 – 12:30

  Keynote Lunch

12:30 – 2:30

  Exhibit Hall

2:30 – 4:30

  Migrating your SBS Exchange to Exchange 2013
  Speaker: Dave Shackelford

4:45 – 6:45

  Standards and Procedures That Will Instantly Increase Your Profits
  Speaker: Karl Palachuk

7:00 – 9:00

  Automation and Scalable Management with PowerShell (Part 2)
  Speaker: Jason Yoder

Registration and Info:


Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Tune into My Fifth Annual "State of the Nation" Address for IT Consultants

Mark your calendar now and don't miss this once-a-year podcast. Since 2010 I've produced a podcast on the "State of the Nation" for small technology providers.

Don't miss this year's podcast.

Karl's Annual State of the Nation Address
Wednesday, January 15th
9:00 AM Pacific

Here's the Link you'll need:

No cost. No registration. Just log in and listen.

Paste that into your calendar so you don't forget!

Topics Include:

  • Highlights (lowlights?) from 2013
  • The Economy
  • The Death of SBS - Final Thoughts
  • The Pace of Technology
  • Systematic Success in 2014

- - - - -

Our business is extremely fast paced. And - no B.S. - the pace of change is increasing. You have never been able to keep up on "everything" out there. But now more than ever you need to be very intentional about the technologies you stay informed about.

We'll talk about living in a world of change where the ground is constantly shifting underneath us. And more importantly, we'll talk about what's ahead and how you can build a business designed to take advantage of the changes ahead.

Tune in to learn more.


Friday, January 03, 2014

SOP Friday: Time Entry and Note Entry in Service Tickets

The notes and time entries in your ticketing system are perhaps the most important documentation that exists within your service department. It's the key to solving problems, defending your billing, justifying payroll, and much more. As a result, you need some standard procedures about entering service notes (time entries).

In a sense, your ticketing system/CRM is a massive asynchronous communications system. If you work in real time, the service board will always reflect the exact state of your service delivery. You'll be able to watch tickets open, close, and all the statuses in between.

Here are the key things a technician needs to do with each time entry (case note):

1) Triage the ticket. See Service Ticket Updates. This means that the first thing the tech needs to do is to verify that they key fields of the ticket are still accurate. Is it the right description, in the right queue, with the correct status, etc.?

2) Client notes should be in every time entry/case note. These are notes that would be visible to the client either on an invoice or in a report. The client may never read these. Sometimes I think no client ever reads these. Then I get a client complaining because she didn't get a report last month. So she expects one, even if she doesn't read it.

The point is: A client might see these notes.

Whether or not the client sees the notes, the service manager will. So they should be good. Talk about what you did and focus on the fix, not the road that got there. The notes should be as minimal as possible, but enough to justify the billing.

3) Internal notes are not required. But sometimes it's useful to have direct communications between the tech in the field and the service manager. Appropriate notes might be: "This printer grabs a new IP address all the time. We should either hard code it or figure out what's going on with DHCP." Inappropriate: "Client is stupid. We've shown her how to do this four or five times."

Treat internal notes like Facebook. Assume it's private right now. But also assume that one day everything you type her will be indexed and widely available. So keep it professional and constructive.

4) Time Entries should be accurate. You company should have a policy about the time increments you use (e.g., 15 minutes) and time entries should be consistent with that. See Time Tracking for Employees.

5) WITNS. There's a key item we like to see on every tick that is not closed: "What is the next step?" - WITNS. There are lots of reasons why tickets do not close. It is five o'clock and you'll be back in the morning; you're waiting on parts; you've passed the issue to Sales; you're waiting on a vendor; you've done what you can do and you need to escalate; etc.

When a ticket does not close for whatever reason, the tech should give some guidance to the next person who will open that ticket. Do we need to schedule a memory test? Does the sales manager need to talk to the client? Are we waiting on parts?

A great example involves going through a New PC checklist. If a tech finished half the job and goes to lunch, where can I pick up that job and finish with as little re-work as possible? WITNS tells me that information.

6) Documented Work. Every time entry - whether the case is closed or not - should end with the phrase Documented Work. This means three things within your company: First, it means the tech put these notes into the system before leaving the client's office. Second, it means the technician is working in real time. Third, it means that all relevant information has been entered into the appropriate documentation. This might be paper documentation on site, documentation online (such as a SharePoint site), in the CRM, or simply in the case notes.

I have no idea what it means to the client. But it sounds good.

- - - - -

If you've never taken time entries (case notes) seriously before, you should. They are a critical element of communication. They require a certain level of precision. And they are a good way to make sure that the service manager is tuned in to what's going on at the client's office.

Imagine the telephone conversation when the service manager has no knowledge of a service request, but he can bring up the case notes and understand exactly what went on. That allows him to have a productive conversation with the client and sound like he DOES know what's going on with the network.

As always, you don't need to do things exactly this way. But you should do them very consistently and systematically within your service department.

Comments welcome.

- - - - -
Related articles:

Service Ticket Statuses to Use and When to Use Them

Massaging the Service Board

- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Document Pouches


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