The First Hundred Days

Geoff Halprin's third tutorial session of LISA '12 was titled "The First Hundred Days." New this year, this tutorial provided guidance for senior system administrators and managers beginning a new role. Geoff ran this tutorial almost like a workshop, engaging the audience throughout. We started with a discussion of situational leadership. Four types of situational leadership are defined on two axes: task behavior and relationship behavior.

When first learning a skill, people require a directing leadership style that is high on the task axis and low on the relationship. Eventually, they move up the relationship axis into needing a coaching style of leadership. When task competency is achieved, the needed leadership style is supporting, which is low task and high relationship. Finally, people move into where they need low task and low relationship -- the delegating style.

One of the keys to success is exploring the new landscape. This requires organizational awareness, which has to be carefully developed. The first step is to realize that the most important person in your workplace is your boss; that is who you have to keep happy. Find out your boss's pain points and what his/her agenda is.

Once you understand your boss, it's time to learn the company. This includes both the formal organizational chart and the informal structure that people interact in. Watching the body language and interactions of people in meetings is a great way to figure out who the informal leaders are in the organization.

It's also important to get to know the team you'll be working with. In order to learn the skill level of team members, don't rely on second-hand reports, work with each person closely on something to observe them. Give everyone an immediate stretch goal and see who they respond. It also helps to identify where each team member spends time, and to identify skills gaps, the team's "glue member", and any troublemakers.

Finally, it's time to focus on the systems and processes. In round zero, you need to figure out what's going on. This includes understanding the visibility of the workflow and changes. In round one, the wounds need to be cauterized. Basic change management and workflow managementĀ  should be implemented. In round two, score early wins. Some candidates for early wins include your boss's pain points and unmet items on the Limoncelli test. Finally, the "big three" are dealt with in round three: network monitoring, disaster recovery/business continuity, and change management.

The temporal view of this plan starts with meeting the team on day one. Set the tone and hit the reset button, stopping the pipeline until you have a handle on the situation. In the first week, learn the organization, having fireside chats with leaders in other departments and attending as many meetings as possible while still spending at least half of each day with team members. Major changes should be planned in the first month, and some of the early wins should be accomplished. In the first 100 days, have team brainstorm sessions at least monthly, and keep reviewing the list to make headway where possible.

And remember: the single most important number an IT manager can know is the cost of downtime.