Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How to Tell if an Email is Real or Fake

Fake emails, also called "spoof" or "phishing" emails, try to look like they are from real companies or people you know. They are a common way criminals use to steal your personal or financial information, such as bank account details, credit card information, passwords, etc. Fake emails often link to fake ("spoof") websites where your information can be collected as you type it. So, be very cautious!

Here are some ways to determine that the email you received is a "spoof":
Fake Sender's Email Address
You can check who sent the email by looking at the sender's address. For example, the message may say it’s from "South Bank", but the email address may be something unusual like "southbank_support@hotmail.com". A reliable company's email should not be using a public internet service provider account like Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo!, etc. Typically, real companies have their own domains. So, you should expect the email address to look something like "support@southbank.com".

Requesting Private Information
Companies contacting you will not ask via email for your private information. Be very suspicious of emails requesting your social security number, account number, security code, personal identification number  (PIN) or other sensitive information.

Not Addressed to You
A legitimate email from a business with whom you have a relationship will address you by name rather than as “Valued Customer” (or something similar). Since a reliable business likely has a customer file with your contact information, they will address you directly.

Emails which have misspellings or grammatical errors, or grammar that indicates they are not properly formatted for the language in which they are written, are additional signs that the message is a fake.

Incorrect Links
Some email message will make a request for you to click on a link (e.g. View your account statement here). Hover your mouse over the link to see the content of the link. Similar to "Fake Sender's Email Address" above, the link should have the company's URL in the beginning of the link (e.g. "www.southbank.com/customer/statement.aspx"). Don't click on a suspicious link. Clicking on a fake link will likely allow a hacker access to you computer and stored information, or will download malware to your computer.

Low Resolution Images
Another tip-off to a fake email message is poor image quality of the company’s logo or other images in the message.

What if the Sender is Someone you Know?
Spoof emails from people you know usually ask you for you to do something that a friend might not ask you to do, such as to click on a link to an unusual website. Sometimes, you will see that the "friend" sent the email to a number of email addresses in the "To" box. In this case, it is likely that your friend was "spoofed", which is causing that email account to contact you.

When you suspect you received a fake email from a company with whom you do business, call that company's customer service department. Ask them about the content of the message. If the message is legitimate, the customer service department should be able to assist you with the message request. If the message is not legitimate, delete it right away.

When you suspect you received a fake email from a somebody you know, send that person a separate, new email asking if they sent the prior message you received. Do not reply via the suspected message which may (or may not) be sent to them. If the person replies that the message is not legitimate, delete it right away.

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...

David Schuchman

Monday, December 1, 2014

Beware of Project Scope Creep

Scope creep in project management refers to uncontrolled changes or continuous growth in a project’s scope. The addition of, or changes to, a project's requirements and features can occur when the goals of a project are not clearly defined, documented, or controlled. Project managers have been plagued by scope creep since the beginning of project management. However, managing scope creep is achievable. 
How Does Scope Creep Happen?
Even when there’s a clearly defined project scope, you still have to beware of scope creep. This generally tends to occur when new features are added to product designs that have already been approved, without providing equivalent increases in budget, time and/or resources. The main causes of scope creep are:

  • Poor Requirements Analysis: Clients don’t always know what they want and can only provide a vague idea. Therefore, their needs are not fully expressed or well defined.
  • Not Involving the Users Early Enough: Thinking you know what the users want or need is a serious mistake. It is important to involve users in the requirements, analysis and design phases.
  • Underestimating the Complexity of the Project: Many projects run into problems because they are new in an industry and have never been done before. In those cases, project managers and participants don't fully know what to expect, or who to look to for additional guidance.
  • Lack of Change Control: While you can expect there to be a degree of scope creep in most projects, it is important to have a process to manage these changes.
  • Perceived Additional Value: This refers to exceeding the scope of a project in the belief that value is being added. However without proper analysis of the change request, there is no guarantee that the change will increase value or customer satisfaction.

How to Control Scope Creep
Managing scope creep in project management is a challenging job that needs to be addressed at the beginning, and throughout, each project's life cycle. Here are some basic guidelines to set for yourself to successfully control the scope of your project:
  • Understand the priorities of the project sponsors: Make a list that you can refer to throughout the project. Items should include budget, deadline, feature delivery and customer satisfaction. You’ll use this list to justify your scheduling decisions or to support your need to defer additional requests once the project has commenced.
  • Define your deliverables: Deliverables should include general descriptions of functionality to be included within the project. Make sure you have them approved by the project sponsors.
  • Break the project down into milestones: Complete a thorough project schedule and make sure you identify the critical paths within the timeline. Be sure to leave a little room in the project schedule for change requests or an error. If your schedule is tight, reevaluate your deliverables to see if any can be deferred until after the team completes the primary project requirements. Seek schedule approval by the project sponsor, then notify all key project participants.
  • Expect that there will be scope creep: Implement a change process early and inform the project sponsor and participants of your processes. A basic change control process must include a means to identify the affect on the project timeline, budget and resources. In addition, it must require an approval for the changes to be implemented and a recognition of any impact.

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...

David Schuchman

Sunday, November 16, 2014

More Secure Than Your Password

Hackers break into corporate computer systems and release lists of usernames and passwords on the open web. Home PCs are vulnerable to malware, viruses and other tricks to access your personal, financial and private information. These have now become regular occurrences. The most common weakness in these types of hacks is the password. Passwords are a technology from a time when our computers were not inter-connected. The age of the password has come to an end. 
Here are some security technologies that, once implemented, will replace the traditional password.

Biometrics authentication is used in computer security as a form of identification and access control. It refers to using physical human characteristics and traits instead of a manually entered password. Examples include, but are not limited to, a fingerprint, palm print, facial recognition, retina pattern and even DNA. The products that allow client access will have biometric readers that interface with the host security system.

No one method of biometric security is said to do the best job of protecting system access. When you consider biometric security, you want to select a physical characteristic that is constant and does not change over time, and are also difficult to fake or can be changed on purpose. You also need to consider that some biometric security metrics are consider more invasive than others (e.g. DNA vs. facial recognition). Some methods take a lot of time to execute, such as a retinal scan which can take as much as 15-30 seconds. In addition, ethical use issues have been raised over some of the biometric security metrics. The details of the methods and issues will not be addressed in this post.

A fob, also called a key fob or token, is a small security hardware device with built-in authentication used to control and secure access to a network and data. Typically, the fob randomly generates an access code, which usually changes every 60 seconds. These one time use codes are the "password" used to validate system access, and they work as long as timing and code algorithm synchronization exists between the client's fob and the host authentication server.

Disconnected fobs are the most common type of security  fob, and do not have a physical connection to the client's computer. They use a built-in screen to display the generated authentication code, which the client manually enters via the keyboard. Bluetooth technology is also used as a disconnected fob.

Connected fobs must be physically connected to the client's computer. Authentication is automatically performed once a physical connection is made, eliminating the need for the client to manually enter the authentication code. Smart card technology is also used as a connected fob.

A "wearable" refers to a mobile device such as a cell phone or tablet computer. With wearable security, authentication is a 2-step process. The client enters an account identifier code via a keyboard. The security system then transmits a one-time use pass code to the client via a pre-registered email address, or device for an SMS (text message). Upon receipt of the pass code, the client enters that code via the keyboard. That code is not used again. Typically, the security system will accept the transmitted code only within a set period of time before the code expires. If the code expires before successfully entered, the client must request a new code.

In the Mean Time...
Until you implement stronger security measures, the first step in improving security is to have strong passwords. In SplashData's recently released list of worst passwords, the 2-time annual winner (or loser) of the most common (and therefore worst) password is "123456". Following that is "password". People continue to put themselves at risk by using weak, easily guessable passwords. Individuals and organizations must encourage the adoption and enforcement of stronger passwords.

Microsoft's tips for creating strong passwords are:
  • Is at least eight characters long
  • Does not contain your user name, real name, or company name
  • Does not contain a complete word
  • Is significantly different from previous passwords
  • Contains characters from each of the following four categories:
    • Uppercase letters
    • Lowercase letters
    • Numbers
    • Keyboard symbol characters (e.g. !@#$%, etc.)

For example, a password of "troubadours" is not considered very strong. A stronger choice would be "Trou8@d0Ur$".

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...
David Schuchman

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Conference Call Etiquette

A conference call is when one or more of the parties are in different locations and situations. We have all been on a conference call where people show up late, become a distraction by forgetting to put their phone on mute, or have sidebar conversations (we hear) with others not on the call.

Here are a few guidelines you should strive to follow when attending a conference call.
Set the Ground Rules
If you are the one that initiated the conference call, let the others on the call know some of the basic ground rules pertaining to etiquette. Ahead of the call, provide the meeting start time, duration and agenda. You can also identify what will not be discussed on the call.

Keep Track of the Conference Call Start Time
Make sure you know when your conference call begins, and be sure to keep the conference call number and pin handy so you are not scrambling to find it at the last minute. Your meeting reminder should not come from a call or email from someone who is waiting for you to join the call.

Never Put Your Phone on Hold
If your hold feature plays background music it will play into the conference call and make it very difficult for the other participants to continue the meeting in your absence.

Mute Your Phone When You are not Speaking
Mute your phone to avoid distracting sounds, conversations, or noises that are not applicable to the conference call. Muting your phone will help you avoid embarrassing sighs, munching noises from eating your lunch, sidebar conversations, or other background noise.

Be Prepared
Like with all meetings, you should do some prep work or write down questions that you would like to address on the conference call. Like any meeting, you want the conference call to be productive and not spawn other calls/meetings because of lack of preparation.

Pay Attention
When you call in to a conference call there are other distractions in front of you: emails in your inbox, coworkers asking questions, work piling up on your desk, etc. If someone asks you a question on the call and you do not realize they are talking to you until the end of their question, it will be obvious that you were not paying attention. Don’t be the person who always has to ask others to repeat their question.

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...
David Schuchman

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Consider Hiring an Older Skilled Worker

Until recently, companies had smaller budgets, which led to some people being promoted into higher positions or management with little experience. However, good workers do not always make effective managers. To stay competitive in today's marketplace, companies now need to make an effort to attract and retain older workers.

Here are some reasons to attract older workers:

A Less Risky Hire
Companies invest many hours and financial resources into the screening, hiring and training of new employees, only to find that many employees leave for “greener pastures” in order to ascend through their career path. Older workers tend to be more interested in stability where younger workers might be more concerned about moving up the corporate ladder as quickly as possible. In addition, making a poor employee selection will cause your management to look poorly upon you and your decision.

They Are Focused
Older people have been working their entire adult life and are often not searching for the next opportunity at another company or a new role like younger workers. They know exactly what they want to do, are typically satisfied with a good work opportunity, and are focused on getting the work done. 

Compared to their younger colleagues, older workers have years of experience you can't teach or replace. Maturity comes from years of life and work experiences, and makes for workers who get less "rattled" when problems occur.

Their years of experience in the workplace give older workers a superior understanding of how jobs can be done more efficiently, which saves companies money. Companies can save the cost of many man hours lost to inefficiency.

Older workers have confidence, built up through the years, which means they won't hesitate to share their ideas with management. People without that confidence may keep their ideas to themselves because of an irrational concern that they won't get credit for their ideas.

Battle Tested 
Many industries are cyclical and older workers have experienced the highs and lows, making them more the wiser. The great recession and housing market crash of 2008 was something the country also experienced in the early 1980s. Old members of the workforce learned valuable lessons that helped them weather the recent economic storm and prepare their companies for the next one.

They Have Strong Networks
Older workers have been in the workforce longer and they've had more time to meet people and network along the way. Hence, they have stronger professional network of clients, vendors, partners and other professionals that serve within their industry.

Reduced Labor Costs 
Some older workers have insurance plans from prior employers or from a spouse/partner. In addition, some have an additional source of income and are willing to take a little less to get the job they want. They understand that working for a company can be about much more than just collecting a paycheck.

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...
David Schuchman

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Not Everyone Wants More Responsibility

As a manager, one of your most important obligations is to make your staff feel truly valued and letting them know that your company, department and you would be worse off without them. In many cases, you recognize the successes of your top performers by giving them more responsibility. However, you must consider that not everyone may want more responsibility.

The Peter Principal
The Peter Principle is named after Laurence J. Peter who co-authored the humorous book, "The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong." One of the theories discussed in the book is that management stops promoting employees once they can no longer perform effectively. In some cases, employees have determined their own level of where they perform effectively. Hence, they are hesitant to accept more responsibilities or a promotion when they have reached that point.

They are Happy With Their Current Responsibilities
Hopefully, your staff are good at what they do. In some cases, they are very happy doing the job they have already attained. When that happens, they simply may not want new responsibilities or a different job within the organization.

It will Cost Other Opportunities
Some staff will consider the added responsibility a "dead end", that it will hurt their professional reputation, or that it will cost them other career opportunities. Most people want their next position to allow them to grow their skills and experiences, and to be applicable to their career path. They may turn down responsibilities that contradict their professional vision.

They Recall Their Work History
Some staff have previously been rewarded with new responsibilities. They recalled what their initial and long term performance was when they received it and felt they did not adjust well. They experienced difficulties with the added work, new client interactions, new time demands, etc. Some people do not want new additional responsibilities because they expect it will cause them to become overloaded or unproductive again.

No Offer of a Salary Increase
Some people hesitate to accept new responsibilities when the amount of new work and time demands are not accompanied by added salary. It's not to say that all added responsibilities deserve added salary. You need to reflect on this perception when giving more responsibility.

What are You to Do?
  1. Be sure to give your good performers praise.
  2. Offer new responsibilities to staff. But, do not force it upon them. Let them know why you are making the offer, and discuss how the new responsibilities will benefit their career path in addition to your organization. If they express concerns, assure them that you will be supportive during their transition. In the end, let them make the final decision.
  3. Compensate fairly. If the new responsibilities are worth more to the organization, then it may be justified to align that employee's compensation with the new work opportunity.
  4. Consider that if you team is consistently working at their most productive capacity, it may be time to add staff to your team. You may need to document the team's productivity vs. the work demands in order to make the case to your management.

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...
David Schuchman

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Keep your Next Meeting on Track

There’s nothing more annoying than a meeting that goes on and on. Whether you’re getting ready for a weekly team meeting or convening a larger group to discuss your company's or department’s strategy, as a manager it’s your job to make sure people don’t go off on tangents or hog speaking time. But how can you keep people focused without squashing their creativity?
Make the Purpose Clear
You can head off a lot of problems by stating the reason for getting together right up front. Create and send an agenda and any background materials ahead of time. This way, everyone understands the objective of the meeting and the necessary preparation. The agenda will also act as a schedule for the meeting and outline all of the topics that must be addressed. Consider including a list of things that won’t be discussed in the meeting as well.

Control the Meeting Size
Meetings can get out of control if there are too many people in the room. Only include those who are critical to the meeting topic and can provide enough diversity of opinion.

Manage the Ramblers
It can be tough to cut off someone who is a rambler or speaking off topic. However, it's sometimes necessary to do so. For someone who is prone to rambling, talk with him/her ahead of time or during a meeting break. Ask that s/he keep comments to a minimum to allow others to be heard.

Meeting Timing
Consider scheduling meetings that end either at lunch time or at the end of the work day. You'll be surprised how few people will ramble when they want the meeting to finish on time.

End the Meeting Well
End on the right note to set the stage for the work to continue. Identify what you see as the next steps, who should take responsibility for them, and what that time frame will be. Record all of the points discussed and the open questions to be answered. Then, send out a meeting summary email so that everyone is on the same page.

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...
David Schuchman

Monday, September 1, 2014

Good Interview Practices: The Hiring Manager's Perspective

As a hiring manager, you may underestimate the value of a well-planned interview and interview process. It makes good sense to go the extra mile to ensure that the process is thorough so that the final result is rewarding for you and the organization. Not taking this process seriously can mean a poor employee selection, which will also cause your management to look poorly upon you and your decision.
Do Your Homework
If the position is a new one, make sure that all stakeholders agree as to how the position will fit within the company's priorities. Revisit the job description and review how each credential, skill or personal quality fits into your company's operating priorities.

If the position fills a vacancy, you need to consider why the prior employee left the position. Did the prior employee have difficulty with the role, team or organization? If so, identify and take corrective measures before you select candidates to interview.

When you are sure about what you want, you are more likely to identify professionals who fit the bill.

Evaluate All Candidates Based On Similar Criteria
Before starting your interview process, determine which skills and priorities are most important for success. Next, create a list of assessment benchmarks for each. Then, evaluate all candidates based on your check-list. When all candidates are asked to meet similar criteria, you can trust your result when one emerges as the candidate of choice.

This approach is helpful when you are reviewing two equally qualified candidates. You can use your checklist and the priorities you have set to objectively determine which candidate is the better fit for the role you want to fill.

You will also find the written checklist helpful when you discuss and defend your final candidate selection to your department/organization's management. When having that discussion with your management, refer to the checklist document.

Ask Direct and Relevant Questions
Your job is to get to know each candidate as well as you can. Chances are the candidates will prepare well. They will have searched the web, read your literature and have a working familiarity with your operations. Use your questions to figure out which candidates are responding with stock answers and which are thinking critically about the challenges you face.

Successful candidates will reveal themselves because of their command of the issues, their constructive suggestions, their humor, and the ease with which they communicate. You will discern a level of honesty, clarity and hopefulness in their responses. You will want to ask more, talk more and engage them more fully in the process.

Less qualified candidates will avoid difficult questions, may refrain from frequent eye contact, and communicate their uneasiness both through their responses and their body-language. Such candidates may even jump into a salary or benefits discussion before you have had the opportunity to assess their abilities and credentials fully.

Filter Out Poor Candidates Quickly
If a candidate commits a significant interview mistake or discloses that s/he lacks key credentials for the job, have a way to politely and firmly terminate the interview. This will eliminate the annoying situation where you have come to judgment on a candidate and are forced to spend time on a full interview. 

Sell Your Organization
Candidates come to an interview to pitch their skills and their willingness to work with your organization. You should do the same when you meet well qualified candidates. Come up with a list of departmental and company attributes worth mentioning: organizational culture, profitability, performance within the industry, etc. You want the promising candidates to continue to consider working for your company after the interview.

Making a good hire depends, in part, on having a positive interview experience with your preferred candidates. The more you have thought about the interview and interview process, the better your chances are of making an outstanding hiring decision.

I encourage you to leave a comment by clicking on "...comments" below...
David Schuchman

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Making a Good Presentation

Many people are troubled when they have to give a presentation in front of a large audience. It's important to know that it's normal to experience stage fright.

Some presentations feel like magic and grab our attention. While enormous credit goes to the skill of the presenters, there are a few things we can all do to make our presentations great.
Prepare for Your Presentation
Start by considering the information you will be providing and the makeup of your audience. Whatever your topic is, some things should be emphasized, like highly technical or vital information. Often, less relevant information might distract or disengage your audience. Take the opportunity to explore resources that you may want to include in your presentation, such as charts and images. The right content makes all the difference to your audience, especially when you pass on an idea that they may not have considered before.

Storytelling helps your audience to remember all of the vital points that you want to get across. Try to tell stories that most of them can connect with. By framing the information into the context of a story, your audience is more likely to retain it over time.

Be Truthful
Don't give your audience a reason to doubt you because you won’t be taken seriously. You could damage the whole presentation with just one wrong statement, and you will have lost your credibility with the audience. If the audience thinks that you are presenting false information during your presentation, they’ll simply take out their smartphones to quickly check what you tell them.

Interact with Your Audience
It’s not simple to keep everyone interested, especially if you give a long presentation. One of the best ways for you to increase the impact of your presentation and improve the audience's attention is through questions. Asking and answering questions helps to break up the presentation and improves audience concentration.

Questions help your audience become part of the presentation. Encourage brief discussions between you and the audience as you make your way through important points. This maintains audience attention during the more complex points, clarifies new or confusing information, and helps conclude your presentation by allowing you to revisit the covered topics.

Visualization Attracts Attention
If you decide to make a PowerPoint presentation, use a crisp common slide layout. Keep text brief and direct. Use the text to introduce each point, then you will talk to each point. Don't make your audience have to read each slide to pass on information. You do not want your PowerPoint slide deck to be your presentation. You want to use it to emphasize the information you are presenting.

Include images and videos, where able, to help emphasize various ideas in a clearer manner.

When You're on the Stage
Know your presentation, topic, and supporting material. Do not to use any notes so that you can make as much eye contact as possible. This way you will engage the audience make them feel important. Unless you are giving a very technical presentation, do not use too many big/fancy words because the audience may consider you arrogant. 

Have a Back-up Plan
Sometimes, not everything will go according to the plan. If you experience a technical problem, you need to find a different way to keep your audience interested and informed. Consider yourself a showman while you’re on the stage. You may have to improvise. Keep hard-copies of your slides to work from.

It may take some time to plan it, but practice makes perfect. All you need to do later is sit back and wait for results.

David Schuchman

Friday, August 1, 2014

Do You Need to Backup Your Cloud-Stored Data?

Do You Need to Backup Your Cloud-Stored Data? by David Schuchman
Some organizations assume that because their enterprise data is already stored in "the cloud" that they do not need a separate backup solution for that data. That assumption is wrong. Cloud based solutions for data and application storage require the same diligence for backing up data as for locally stored data and applications. Plus, there are other situations you need to protect against that you may not have considered.

Backing up data is vital for businesses. Lost information can cause a major crisis or worse, lead to business failure. Individuals who don't backup computer data run the same risk. You need to treat your solution for data backup completely separate from your cloud-based solution for data and applications storage. Your cloud-based data and applications must be viewed simply as the virtual equivalent of having the data and applications hosted in your own facility. Therefore if you would have a data backup solution for your in-house facility, you must do so for your cloud based solutions.

Reasons for backing up your enterprise data are:

Point-In-Time Recovery
You may have business or regulatory needs to recover data from a specific point in time, such as the end of the year close. This could be for audit, tax or meet other requirements. Some databases have this feature built in, while others do not. If your cloud applications or databases do not support a point-in-time recovery, then you need to ensure your backup solution satisfies that requirement.

Accidental Deletion
Most applications allow the users to delete data. Users typically can delete network files they no longer need. When you need to recover lost data, the only means to do that may be via your backup solution.

Protect Against Virus or Corrupt Data
While it is likely that your cloud based service provider has virus protection within their operation, it may not be in force on your instance of the application or data storage. In that case should your data become corrupt, you will need to recover the data from your backup solution.

Reasons to backup your enterprise data stored in the cloud:

Don't assume the cloud provider is backing up your data
The cloud provider will agree to do whatever is in your contract. They may have their own virus scanning, backup and recovery procedures for their operations. However, that may not be applicable to you or may not meet your specific needs or timing.

Your Cloud Provider Goes Out of Business
If your cloud based data and applications storage provide goes out of business, you lost your data. You may be able to quickly contract with another vendor to host your applications and install the software. If your only copy of the current data is with the vendor that is out of business, you have likely lost that data forever. Even if you could sue the vendor to recover the data and/or damages, it will take much too long for your needed recovery.

Your choice for a data backup solution and provider will be made based on your data recovery needs. You primary consideration must be that your data backup solution provider be different than your production application and data provider. That's because of my final point above. If you have one provider and that organization goes out of business, you lost your data even though its backed up.

David Schuchman

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lean Tools for Managers

Lean Tools for IT Managers by David Schuchman
"Lean" is a practice that considers the effort & cost of resources for any task, other than those that create value for the customer, to be wasteful. Those tasks are targets for elimination. While Lean principles originated in the manufacturing industry, all industries have adopted Lean to make the effort needed to complete production goals more efficient.

Here are two Lean tools which can be useful to a manager for the prioritization of project tasks, and for root cause analysis when issues arise.
PICK Chart
When faced with multiple tasks, a PICK chart may be used to determine the most useful or important. Originally developed by Lockheed Martin, a PICK chart organizes tasks or ideas into 1 of 4 categories. The acronym PICK identifies those categories as  Possible, Implement, Challenge and Kill.

A PICK chart is set up as a grid, two squares high and two squares across. The PICK acronym comes from the labels for each quadrant of the grid:
  • Possible  - tasks that are easy to implement but have a low payoff.
  • Implement  - tasks that are easy to implement and a high payoff.
  • Challenge - tasks that are hard to implement and a high payoff.
  • Kill  - tasks that are hard to implement and have low payoff.

Low Payoff
High Payoff
Easy to do
Hard to do

Once each idea from a brainstorming session has been placed on the most appropriate square, it becomes easier to identify which ideas should be acted on first. In a group setting, PICK charts are useful for focusing a discussion and achieving consensus.

Fishbone Diagram
A fishbone diagram, also called a cause and effect diagram, is a tool for categorizing the potential causes of a problem in order to identify its root causes. The design of the diagram looks much like a skeleton of a fish. It has a head (which states the problem), a backbone (connects the head to the ribs), and it has ribs (which categorizes the causes). Hence, the name: Fishbone.

This is useful in brainstorming sessions to focus the conversation. Fishbone diagrams are typically worked right to left, with each large "bone" of the fish branching out to include smaller bones containing more detail.  After the group has brainstormed all the possible causes for a problem, the manager will lead the group to rate the potential causes according to their level of importance and likeliness.

Fishbone Diagram

Lean aims to make work processes simple enough to understand, do and manage. These tools are easy to document and apply in your workplace.

David Schuchman

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Use Blogging to Achieve Your Professional Goals

David Schuchman
This post is the first to start my 2nd year of blogging. As I look at the performance of TechTopics4U over the past year, I am impressed by how my following has grown, both organically and with my own self-promotion. For example, this site no longer has any zero-view days.

Here are my observations as to why you should use active blogging for achieving your professional goals:

Establish Yourself as an Expert in Your Field
As you write more posts and share more of your expertise, your blog site will change from "just another blog" into a strong demonstration of your knowledge in a field. When somebody visits your site and sees the insights you have shared on a subject, along with the comments of people who respect and seek that insight, it will be clear that you are genuinely an expert in the field. Being an expert is a good thing. You may get consideration for new business, career advancement, or consulting opportunities.

You Will Become a Better Communicator
Just the discipline of sitting down and writing will improve your writing and communication skills. The more you blog, the more you write. Therefore, you will become a more effective communicator of your ideas.

Take Control of Your Online Identity
Whether you are a person or business, there is probably a lot of information about you online. When somebody searches for you or your company online, you want to make sure that they get an accurate and complete picture of who you are and what you are passionate about. A blog is a great way for you to control your online identity and make sure that the top search engine results make the right first impression.

Build Your Professional Network
Starting a blog is a great way to expand your professional network. A blog is a good platform for reaching out to others, who in turn will look to contact you. Interesting and relevant blog posts attract readers who will then comment on your site, and can send you personal messages through your "contact us" widget or page. Some of your readers will ask for help, while others will look to help you.

Improve Your Visibility and SEO
People search for and discover information online more than ever. Search engines want to deliver results that are helpful and relevant to their users. When you write a series of in-depth and valuable posts around a topic, search engines such as Google takes notice. Each blog post that you publish is another opportunity to get traffic from search results. In addition, the comments you receive on your blog posts implies that your blog postings are relevant, which will also improve the SEO visibility of you and your blog site.

David Schuchman

Monday, June 16, 2014

Do You Need to Test Your Cloud Applications?

Software accessed via the "Cloud" is a deployment model that provides access to software remotely. It may also be referred to simply as SaaS or as hosted applications. Since the software is vendor-hosted remotely, it removes the need for organizations to program, install, buy a lot of hardware for and regularly maintain the software.

Even though the implementation is a cloud-based, do you still to test the software? Yes, and here's why...
Risk Management
Testing verifies that the software and its delivery meet all of your requirements including functional, performance, security, integration and so on. This verification is done to ensure that you, along with the cloud vendor, have implemented the system correctly and as expected. In addition, testing validates that the system is what the user needs. In the end, validation is performed to help with risk management.

Meets User Needs
Functional testing is the most apparent tool you will have to validate that the product meets your corporate needs. The requirements are the foundation in effective functional testing. Using the original requirements, you can plan and manage tests that are focused on your specific business and user functional needs. Involve the user, either by them directly performing the tests or have them review and sign-off on the test results.

Performance Meets Service Level Agreement (SLA)
Load and Stress testing are a methods used to simulate real life scenario of a given system. It involves testing in real time beyond normal operational capacity in order to observe the results. Have anticipated metrics in place (e.g. maximum number of simultaneous users/connections, number of transaction per second, internet throughput, etc.). Then, measure your test results against the agreed upon performance. Work with the vendor to optimize performance that does not meet your specifications.

Meet's Security Requirements
Mitigating eternal security threats is a huge concern with cloud based software applications. You will rely on the security measures put in place by the vendor, which are largely outside of your control. You need to validate that the product meets the same password change control and user level security that your organization has set for itself. In addition, you need to continually monitor that the vendor is adhering to its own security protection (virus and malware protection, etc.). The level and types of security that you expect from the vendor must be put in the SLA and reviewed regularly by you.

Data Integration with Other Systems
If one of your requirements is data integration with other systems within your inventory, you need to validate that the input and/or output work as agreed. Don't assume that when cloud-based applications use standard data interface files (e.g. CSV, XML, etc.) that the field formats delivered will match those of the other systems. Testing of standard files must be done with the same level of diligence as for or custom interfaces. If you requested custom interface files for your implementation, be sure your contract with the vendor specifies that they will maintain the interface format for as long as you are a customer, and not just the length of the current contract.

David Schuchman

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Acknowledge Employees Who Perform Well

When your employees perform well and further the mission of your organization, you should acknowledge them. Their performance improves the bottom line, and as their manager, makes you look good. Acknowledgment gives employees incentive to continue to meet this high standard. Recognition does not only need to be by paying them more money. While a bonus check would be nice, employees will appreciate a more simple acknowledgment of their good job performance.
Place more responsibility on the employee
The new responsibility will be seen as an exciting challenge by the employee. Delegate duties that include work that you as the supervisor normally would perform. Above all, your employee may find this as another way to impress you with continued good performance.

Let the employee in on plans for the company
By giving information about the company that you have no obligation to give, you show the employee that you value and trust him/her as both a person and an employee. The employee may make career direction decisions within the organization based on the information you provide about the company.

Inform your management via email, and "cc" the employee 
This type of recognition really pays off. Not only will the employee know that you appreciate such good efforts, but the managers who read the acknowledgments will know that you appreciate the employee’s job performance as well, and likely give their own acknowledgment to the employee.

Give positive feedback
Have a private meeting with the employee in your office to give an evaluation of the performance. When the employee finds that you want to acknowledge good performance rather than criticize poor performance, the employee will likely leave your office with a smile and renewed energy for continuing to perform well.

David Schuchman

Friday, May 16, 2014

Not Everything that is Important is Actually Urgent

Some tasks and projects require more urgency than others. However, if we consider everything to be urgent, we clog our work queue and confuse trivialities with important priorities. Sometimes the challenge we face as a manager is to distinguish between what is actually urgent and what is not.

Consider these tips to help you determine what truly is urgent.

Don’t assume that “Urgent” means “Immediately”
Explore with the person that made the request of you what they are really trying to accomplish and when it’s actually needed. Sometimes the sense of urgency is just a way of conveying a person’s importance and power, or even a reflection of personal anxiety. Giving that person a little bit of your time before starting on their request may be sufficient for them to be assured you understand their request and its urgency. Then, you will have the opportunity to determine when you will actually need to address the request.

Distinguish between an urgent crisis and an urgent request
There are times when people making a request have issues that need to be resolved right away, and diving in immediately is the right thing to do. But depending on your business, this may actually be the exception rather than the norm. Probe the person that made the request of you about what would happen if you got back to them in a couple of days or the next week. Often, as long as you commit to a specific completion time, that will be sufficient.

Be prepared to say "No"
Good customer service doesn’t necessarily mean doing everything that the person requests. More importantly it means doing what is best for them, even when they may not realize it. Talk through the implications and outcomes of what the requester is asking for and make sure it’s the right thing to do. Explain your reason why in order to get them to understand and agree.

The PICK chart illustrated at the top of this post is a tool used for organizing and categorizing process improvement ideas in a Lean Six Sigma project. The acronym stands for Possible, Implement, Challenge, Kill.

David Schuchman

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Why You Need a Succession Plan

An organization uses succession planning to ensure that it recruits superior employees, develops their knowledge, skills, and abilities, and prepares them for advancement. You need to develop a succession plan to ensure that your employees are constantly developed to fill each needed role as the organization evolves.
As your organization expands, loses key employees and provides promotional opportunities, your succession plan guarantees that you have employees on hand ready and waiting to fill new roles. Through your succession planning process, you will retain superior employees because they appreciate the time, attention, and development that you are investing in them. To effectively do succession planning in your organization, you must identify the organization’s long term goals. In addition, successful succession planning builds bench strength to protect your organization against the challenges associated with these 3 occurrences:

Organizational Growth & Reorganization
Organizational growth has the potential to provide a company with a variety of benefits, including greater efficiencies from economies of scale, increased marketplace visibility, a greater ability to withstand market fluctuations, greater profits, and increased prestige for employees. While it spurs job creation, organizational growth also has challenges. A company may outgrow the skills or abilities of its leaders and employees. All those involved may quickly become stressed out trying to keep up with the demands of expansion. Without proper succession planning, the expansion may become ineffective and stall.

Loss of a Key Employee
Every corporation has key leaders or employees that make substantial contributions to the operation, profitability, and success of the business. Any individual who has critical intellectual information, sales relationships, product knowledge, and/or industry contacts that may adversely affect profits in the event of their absence, may be considered key. A succession plan will ensure that an organization can tolerate the short term and permanent loss of a key employee.

Easily Replace a Poor Performer
A poorly performing employee can negatively affect team and organizational performance. Sometimes, they can undermine their coworkers' efforts through their incompetence or uncivil behavior. When attempts to correct their behavior or improve their performance fails, it may become necessary to terminate that employee. A robust succession plan will ensure that an organization will have cultivated other employees to fill the void caused by a staff termination. In addition, it will allow you to plan ahead to replace that employee with a new recruit in a timely fashion.

David Schuchman

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Manage Your Email Onslaught

The volume of email we receive is one of the biggest productivity challenges that managers and their staff face. Sorting through the daily deluge can consume an incredible amount of valuable time that is much better spent elsewhere. The good news is that this is a solvable problem once you learn how to efficiently and effectively manage your everyday email communications.
Don’t Constantly Check For Email
Just like planning other important work activities during your day, schedule daily time for email. Depending on your typical email activity, plan to look at your email only at a specific time each day. For example, 30 minutes before lunch and 30 minutes before you end your work day. As an alternative for high volume email recipients, only check your email at specific time intervals, such as every two hours.

Read Only the Subject Matter
Learn to quickly discard irrelevant or unimportant messages right away by reading the subject matter and the sender’s name. You will likely purge more than half of incoming messages this way. Then, you can more efficiently attend to the important email messages.

Practice “OHIO”
Only Handle It Once. Immediately decide what to do with each email message. Answer the important ones quickly instead of filing them away. If you don’t, and you later are ready to answer them, you’ll spend a lot of time searching through folders to find the needed message.

Create Topical Folders
For messages that you must keep for a period of time, store them in a folder that is not your “Inbox” or “Sent Mail” folders. Name the folder based on your need, such as by customer name or product name. Once you conclude the nature of that business, delete those messages, and even the folder.

Email Trivia: "Crackberry" is a term used to describe the excessive use of checking email on a SmartPhone (initially on a Blackberry device) by its owners, and is a reference to the unfortunate addictive nature of crack cocaine. Use of the term "Crackberry" became so widespread that in 2006 Webster's New World College Dictionary named "Crackberry" the "New Word of the Year."

A Wonderful Reference: "NetiquetteIQ: A Comprehensive Guide to Improve, Enhance and Add Power to Your Email", by Paul Babicki.

David Schuchman

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Technology Training from a Manager's Perspective

Every manager who plays a role in researching, selecting or implementing enterprise technology needs to have a firm grasp on emerging technologies. In addition, managers serve the larger business purpose to ensure that technology is being used to the company's best strategic advantage. A program of continual information technology training is crucial to the success of any IT team.

Technology is constantly evolving, and it seems that there is a new product and service released almost daily that is meant to simplify doing business. This can be overwhelming if you do not stay current on the high-level trends of technology and their corresponding impact on business. As a manager, you must take it upon yourself to become proactive by keeping abreast of emerging trends. You need to understand them not only from a technical standpoint, but evaluating them from a higher-level, strategic standpoint. This type of knowledge will help you make conscious and informed decisions on what aspects of new technologies will affect your organization over the next few years.

IT employees have to continually engage in professional development to keep pace with new technologies and applications. They often become technology innovators within the organization, and can serve as internal advocates and trainers. Hence, the trained IT employees can bring the other employees up to speed as end-users of technology.

Employers who invest in employee professional development also tend to reap rewards when it comes to employee retention and job satisfaction. Organizations that encourage their employees to attend training are viewed as being caring and supportive. In such an environment, employees are more likely to stay for the long haul and to have positive attitudes toward their jobs and their companies.

David Schuchman

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Motivate Unhappy Employees

No one likes to manage unhappy employees. They can be tough to motivate and resistant to change. In addition, unhappy employees can negatively affect team and organizational performance. However, giving up isn't the solution. Being a true leader means getting the most out of your team no matter what the situation.

Here are 3 ideas to help you invigorate unhappy employees:
Work to Inspire
Employees sometimes lose their focus at work. Maybe they aren't sure what is expected of them or what the goal of the organization is. Your responsibility is to help them get a better understanding of these things. Schedule regular one-on-one meetings. Take the time to ensure that they know what they should be doing on their project, or maybe when their next deadline is. Explain why their work is important. Spending quality time with your employees and giving them a chance to talk out their thoughts allows you to see issues before they get too big, or even develop at all.

Develop Them
Resolving some issues may be as simple as giving an employee a more challenging project. Set expectations high so they'll become more invested in their assignment. A work environment without challenges, and their associated successes upon completion, can easily lead to boredom. That can turn a happy employee into an unhappy one.

Send the employee to a class to learn a new skill or technique. Allow them to attend a seminar. These are great ways to motivate people. Having something new to learn and bring back to share with others can motivate not just the individual employee. It can motivate the entire team and foster a stronger team bond.

Break the Tension
Take them to lunch. Managers tend to spend more time with people they like, but you may make your unhappy employees feel excluded. Make an effort to evenly spread your attention around.

For the overworked employee, grant some time off. Employees like to have a few extra hours or an extra day to recharge after (or during) a big effort, especially when it’s not part of their standard compensation. Just make sure it doesn't turn into an expectation for them or it could turn into a bigger problem for you.

For employees with a long or expensive commute, allow them to occasionally work from home if the nature of their work can be performed remotely. However, tell them your performance expectations, and make sure you measure their work results to ensure they are as productive working from home as working from within the office.

Create a workplace culture that’s conducive to overall employee satisfaction. When you see that an employee is unhappy, take quick action to improve their demeanor and performance.

David Schuchman

Saturday, March 1, 2014

What to Look For When Hiring a New Employee

Hiring the best people is more critical than ever. In a tight job market, you are able to be more selective about who you hire. However, the cost of finding, interviewing, engaging and training new employees is high. With so many qualified candidates, here are six things that you should look for when you review and interview job applicants.
Professional Competency
Does the candidate have the necessary skills, experiences and education to successfully complete the tasks to perform well? Look for evidence in a person’s past that shows that they can. This doesn't mean that each candidate needs to have done this particular job with this particular title before. Instead, it means the candidate needs to have a track record of success in the skills that the position requires.

Can this candidate get along with colleagues, and with existing and potential clients and business partners? An additional critical consideration is the person’s willingness and ability to get along well with you (his or her boss). If the new employee can’t get along well with others, there will be problems.

Satisfaction with the Organization
You want to hire a candidate who will stick around for a long time. You will  also want to hire a person who will be happy with the job. An unhappy employee tends to be less productive, become a drain on other employees' morale, and may quickly leave your organization.

Fit with Company Culture
Does the candidate seem like they will easily embrace the culture, or does it seem like they will struggle to fit in? Every business has a culture or a way that people behave and interact with each other. Culture is based on certain values, expectations, policies and procedures that influence the behavior of a leader and employees. Workers who don’t reflect a company’s culture tend to be disruptive and difficult.

Does the candidate have values that align with your organization? Are they honest; do they tell the truth and keep promises? Are they a team player? It's not enough to just show up at work every day and do the minimum required. Look for candidates who care about getting things done, and to do those things well.

Enthusiasm for the Job
Is this just one job of many the candidate is applying to? Or, does the candidate have a special interest in this one? You would rather hire someone who will be excited to come to work than someone who sees it as "just a job."

David Schuchman