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Career Advice: Moving Into Internet Security

I’ve been in IT support for a few years and now want to begin to focus on Internet security.

What steps should I take to prepare for such a move?

Being already in support, my first step would be to spend more time with security-related support. I’d suggest asking your manager if you can work to specialize on the security incidents that come in.

Being involved in security-related incidents will put you in the heart of Internet security and allow you to learn very quickly.

From there, you can move into many other areas of security-related IT.

I manage a help desk, but I seem to have few opportunities for growth. I’m feeling frustrated because I feel that many of my skills are going to waste.

What should I do?

The help desk (also called the service desk) is one of the most important areas of IT, and any good IT management knows that.

You are the interface between the entire IT department and the company’s user community.

You make IT look good, or bad. Doing the job well requires enormous technical, coordination, and communication skills.

Therefore, your management should see you as a key leader in the company, and someone who is part of the long-term success of the department.

With that said, you can leverage your skills in project management, program management and even software development.

Talk to your manager about becoming more involved in non-support-related projects.

If that doesn’t work, and management doesn’t see your value, then it’s time to look elsewhere.

What job in IT is a good place for launching a new career, with an eye toward fast advancement?

This is a very broad question. Project, program or portfolio management are great places from which to launch a successful career. They don’t require deep technical skills, yet have visibility across all levels of IT and the business.

These roles make or break the planning and delivery of everything IT does. Without these roles, IT can’t function properly. Therefore, success will bring you rewards and advancement.

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Project management guide: Tips, strategies, best practices

Managing any project can become a slippery slope when your organization doesn’t have a solid grasp of all the moving pieces.

Project management can be a complex discipline to understand and navigate. After all, there are enough key phases, knowledge areas, and project management-specific terms to fill a glossary.

To simplify the key components of successful project management, CIO has put together this guide to understanding project management — the phases, knowledge areas, tools and more.

First, it is important to identify why the formal application of project management skills and knowledge should be a necessity for organizations: because far too many projects fail.

Project management definition

Project management is the application of specific processes, knowledge and skills, techniques and tools, as well as inputs and outputs that project managers and teams utilize to successfully meet project goals and deliverables.

Project management goals

As a high-level strategic body, project management professionals first and foremost help drive, guide, and execute company-identified value-added goals. 

These goals should include:

  • identifying and executing high-impact, high-visibility initiatives
  • building a framework that shows how the PMO or EPMO aligns with strategic enterprise objectives
  • acquiring the right people, knowledge, and skills
  • providing senior managers with simple, unambiguous information
  • reporting on what the business really cares about
  • highlighting PMO or EPMO achievements
  • ensuring the PMO or EPMO continue to evolve to support bimodal IT and digital business

Project management vs. change management

Change management and project management are often thought to be the same thing. They aren’t.

Here’s how they differ: Change management involves people, processes, and tools to effectively help organizations manage all the changes that occur, whether as a result of project initiatives, or other factors that might impact the business.

Project management also involves the use of people, processes, and methodologies to plan, initiate, execute, monitor, and close activities. But it is designed to meet an organization’s project goals, and hopefully overall strategic objectives.

Project management methodologies

Choosing the right project management methodology to execute your project is a vital step for success.

There are many different and, in some cases, overlapping methodologies and approaches to managing project complexities.

Here are some of the most popular project management methodologies (PMMs) in practice today, but it’s important to know more than one methodology (a hybrid) can be adapted to a project:

  • Waterfall
  • Agile
  • Hybrid
  • Critical path method
  • Critical chain project management

One of the most utilized methodologies is agile. It uses short development cycles called sprints to focus on continuous improvement in the development of a product or service. Originally it was adopted primarily within the software development industry. Today agile is being utilized in virtually most industries.

PMO vs. EPMO

Successful organizations codify project management efforts under an umbrella organization, either a project management office (PMO) or an enterprise project management office (EPMO).

A PMO is an internal or external group that sets direction, maintains and ensures standards, best practices, and the status of project management across an organization.

PMOs traditionally do not assume a lead role in strategic goal alignment.

An EPMO has the same responsibilities as a traditional PMO, but with an additional key high-level goal: to align all project, program, and portfolio activities with an organization’s strategic objectives.

Organizations are increasingly adopting the EPMO structure, whereby, project, program, and portfolio managers are involved in strategic planning sessions right from the start to increase project success rates.

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Do You Understand Your Company’s Personality?

IT executives at Splunk faced a challenge.

They needed to provide training materials for employees who would be using a new security program.

The $268 million San Francisco company makes an application that collects machine data on everything from servers to elevators and heating systems.

“A lot of our employees have Ph.D.s and are IT geniuses,” says CIO Doug Harr.

Rather than lay down the law with these folks about what they can and can’t load on their desktop computers, IT gives them administrative powers and a few security guidelines.

So when it was time to train users, Harr knew a run-of-the-mill how-to would be a bad idea.

“We looked long and hard for training materials that would be acceptable to them,” he says.

Doug Harr

Eventually, Harr and his team found some animated videos, mostly black-and-white and wry in tone, similar to Virgin America’s 2008 safety video.

They worked, and as a further step, IT is now creating training videos of its own, featuring some of Splunk’s own employees.

If that sounds like too much trouble for a simple training video that employees will spend only a couple of minutes watching, then you’re missing an important point about IT in today’s workplace: To be effective, you must deeply understand and fully engage with the culture of your organization.

“I’ve been with Gartner 25 years and had thousands of conversations, and it’s very clear that technology is not the No. 1 challenge our clients face,” says Ken McGee, a research fellow at Gartner. “They get technology. The biggest issues are not technology but culture.”

It’s an issue that doesn’t get enough attention, he says. For instance, when a new CIO arrives to reorganize IT, or a merger requires that two formerly separate operations combine, conditions are ripe for conflict.

But many IT leaders ignore the danger.

CIOs who would never put a networking novice onto an important infrastructure project assign people with limited human dynamics know-how to projects where culture clash is likely.

“Then we’re surprised there are so many problems,” McGee says.

Dave Kelble, director of IT for the Abramson Center for Jewish Life, which provides residential and nonresidential services to seniors at its 72-acre campus in North Wales, Pa., considers organizational culture to be such an important topic that after getting an MBA in information systems, he went back for a master’s in organizational dynamics.

“It gives you a perspective you don’t get in business school or technical school,” he says. “I’ve found in the past the ROI calculations don’t necessarily get a project accepted.

You have to work with people to implement new technology.”

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Motivating the Mercenaries

Technology projects have long been staffed with a combination of employees and contractors, but now the balance is shifting toward a heavier reliance on hired guns.

If you’re a manager who’s being told to bring on contractors rather than hire full-time staffers, you need to be prepared for the implications of having a team that skews toward the temporary.

Your focus is on getting your projects done, regardless of who is doing the work. To get there, you’ll need to motivate your people to perform, no matter where their loyalties lie.

OK, I can hear your objections already: “I pay contractors lots of money to deliver. Their motivation is their own business, not mine.”

Sorry, but as much as you would like to think that you’re hiring a subservient bag of skills that will respond to your every command, you’re not.

Contractors are people too, and you don’t get out of the responsibility of managing and motivating them if you want to get your money’s worth. Some challenges come with the territory:

The traditional tools of motivation aren’t available with contractors. They don’t look to you for training, promotions, raises, bonuses or public recognition. n Contractors focus on fulfilling their contracted obligations. Driving the entire project toward success is beyond their scope.

They focus on serving you, the customer. That might not sound like an attitude that presents a challenge, but if you want contractors to really contribute to your project’s success, you need them to think of themselves as part of the team.

You get the most value when they focus their energies on what’s most important for the project rather than whatever you, the boss, requested.

So how do you motivate contractors? In some ways, it’s the same as motivating employees, but in other ways it’s not. Here are a few pointers:

Include them in all the project-related activities that employees in the same role would be included in. Keep them informed about relevant project and business issues. Involve them in the relationship with outside stakeholders.

Explain your expectations of them in terms of the role you want them to fill rather than the deliverables you want them to produce. They will interact with the team very differently when you explain that you want them to serve as the QA lead on the project rather than defining their work as developing and executing a test plan. Then manage to the behavioral expectations rather than only to schedules and budgets.

Acknowledge that you understand their concerns and aspirations as contractors. Let them know that you know that references and referrals are essential to their ongoing well-being.

Also, assure them that you understand that predictability is helpful for them; commit to giving them as much notice as you can about when you’ll need their services again or when you won’t need them anymore.

Your success as a manager depends on your ability to locate, assemble, organize, manage, and motivate people to deliver on your needs.

As the workforce continues to shift toward contingency arrangements, you’ll have to master the art of motivating people regardless of whether they are permanent employees or contract workers.

Begin by recognizing that it’s now an essential part of your job.

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Trek Bicycle Rides Project Management Tool to Efficiency

It’s that time of year when bicycle season begins in the northern hemisphere, and bike sales heat up right along with the weather.

For companies like Trek Bicycle, it’s a critical time of year. Because the cycling market is largely seasonal, its critical to get new products to market on time.

Until recently, that was a challenge for Trek.

Responsibility for on-time product launches was spread out among functions including product management, engineering, industrial design, and marketing and around the world from company headquarters in Waterloo, Wisc., to Germany, Holland, China, and Taiwan. And — quite literally — no one was on the same page.

Each group had their own set of preferred tools, from Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides to Word.

Updates travelled by email, phone, word of mouth, or — sometimes — not at all.

Individual projects managers — often product engineers who begrudgingly took on the role in addition to their full-time job designing bikes and related gear — spent as much as a third of their time manually retyping timeline items from one system or another into emails to send out to team members or cobbling together reports for executives.

Teams were forced to attend staff meetings several times a week in an attempt to keep abreast of project statuses.

The lack of visibility resulted in missing time-sensitive go-to-market dates for a significant percentage of Trek products.

Not knowing when a new product — quite possibly a replacement for an existing item–would land could result in excess inventory and increased discounting — or lack of inventory.

Marketing and sales groups weren’t able to effectively plan promotions and events. And when a hot new product didn’t make it to retailers on time, Trek missed sales opportunities.

“All of our miscommunication cost Trek a lot of money,” says Kris Lamp, a decade-long Trek veteran.

But given the lack of shared information, no one is quite sure what percentage of new products were delivered late or their actual impact on revenue.

“The information was in so many different places it was hard to get a good view of how our teams were performing,” Lamp says.

New SaaS Program Management Tool Puts Teams on the Same Page

A few years ago, Lamp took on the newly created role of program manager and began looking for a single system that all employees involved in new product development could use.

“We needed to have a tool that allowed us to all see the same thing at the same time, wherever we are in the world,” Lamp says.

She was looking for one that was user friendly enough that users could see what they needed in seconds, freeing them up from administrative tasks to focus on more important development and innovation work.

Trek implemented the software-as-a-service program management tool AtTask, starting with one product development group and systematically rolling it out to others over time.

That the tool was hosted by the vendor was a plus as Lamp and her team — not IT — had to support it. (“IT’s project list was pretty long,” Lamp says, which is why her team sought out a solution on its own.)

The system made a difference almost immediately, keeping teams on track and making sure everyone knew what needed to be done next for a given project. “Early on it was just getting everyone connected,” Lamp says.

“It really helped people understand how their role affected the next person down the line whereas before they were disconnected,” Lamp says Creating reports for management was extremely easy.

And the system provided support for seven languages enabling a truly global rollout.

Lamp kept customization to a minimum in the beginning. But as the company began to use the system and see what the possibilities might be. “We started to think bigger.

They created more customized views, imported more data, developed more detailed reporting. Trek’s test labs all over the world, for example, began using AtTask to better coordinated which new products go to which labs and when.

The company’s prototype lab and mold lab shop (which makes the tooling used to build Trek bikes) soon followed suit.

There were change management issues. “It was hard, but one thing that we did pretty well is we kept communicating to team members way ahead of time that this was coming and this was why,” says Lamp.

“We also received a lot of management support and they communicated to employees that using the new system wasn’t an option.”

Better Business Process and Delivery Rates — and ‘Time’ to Create

Trek’s on-time delivery rates have improved more than 20 percent, and new processes enabled by the system are contributing to the bottom line.

“It allowed us to communicate issues better than before, helping us resolve problems and deliver product on time,” Lamp says. Having product in stock on time is worth millions of dollars.”

Today, there are 800 different projects being managed in the system — and they’re proceeding more smoothly than when the company had just a fraction of projects in play. But the biggest benefit, says Lamp, is that it gives everyone “time to create.”

The keys were taking the time to select the right tool and get everyone prepared for it, starting small, and keeping things simple in the beginning.

“You can’t start with everyone or everything. You’ll go crazy and you will fail,” Lamp says. “Start with one team and work through the problems. Add functionality as you go.”

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Health Insurance Exchange Tech Winners and Losers

To say that building health information exchange websites wasn’t easy would be a tremendous understatement.

Though things seemingly work out in the end, with 8 million Americans signing up for healthcare coverage through the exchanges between Oct. 1 (roughly) and April 15, the Healthcare.gov launch was a textbook lesson in how to botch a software development project. Many of the states that opted to build their own sites similarly struggled. A host of errors confronted users, from lorem ipsum text to latency issues to woeful security.

That said, some bright spots did emerge. Healthcare.gov recovered from its disastrous debut, as did several state exchanges — including some operating in difficult political environments.

With the 2014 Obamacare enrollment deadline behind us, here’s a look at health insurance exchange technology’s winners and losers. (For a more comprehensive look at the exchanges, their impact and their projected growth, PwC’s Health Research Institute has you covered.)

Winner: Connecticut

Let’s start with something positive. When faced with the prospect of doing something that had only been done once before — in Massachusetts, in 2006, when that state built a portal as part of its healthcare reform bill — the Nutmeg State made the wise decision to hire Kevin Counihan, who’d been the chief marketing officer for the Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector Authority.

Counihan, CEO of AccessHealthCT since 2011, describes Connecticut’s website, built by Deloitte Consulting, KPMG and other private contractors, as an “exchange in a box.” It’s reliable, reusable and scalable, so it’s no wonder that Maryland and other unnamed states are looking into the Connecticut model.

Loser: Maryland

There’s nothing wrong with using someone else’s stuff when yours isn’t up to par. That’s what Maryland decided to do after its $129 million health insurance exchange website didn’t work. The Old Line State opted to use the same technology deployed in Connecticut. Deloitte says it will cost between $40 million and $50 million — or, much less than the original, failed project.

That’s well and good. You know what you shouldn’t do, though? Testify before Congress that something you did wrong isn’t your fault. According to The Wall Street Journal, Maryland officials blame the software vendors, saying that patching together a site instead of building one from scratch was a “major misjudgment.” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley got in on the act, too, telling The Connecticut Mirror, “The vendors we hired failed to build us the platform they promised.”

In particular, the state singles out IBM, which made the software intended to help Marylanders determine whether they were eligible for insurance. Maryland says the software “hasn’t worked well.” Big Blue says the state failed to manage the project. Regardless, Capitol Hill is no place to air your dirty laundry.

Losers: Oregon, Oracle

Speaking of what you shouldn’t do, let’s talk about Cover Oregon. In the long run, this may be more embarrassing than Healthcare.gov.

As of mid-March 2014, the site still wasn’t working — and that was one full year after Cover Oregon staff were “shocked” to see that the Oregon Health Authority hadn’t yet built a working site.

It gets better (or worse). That quote comes from a tort claim notice — the typical precursor to a lawsuit — filed by Carolyn Lawson, former OHA CIO. Lawson says she was forced to resign amid a “substantial cover-up” about the state of the project and was “privately threatened and publicly scapegoated” when she said she wanted to be truthful with the public. (The Cover Oregon CIO resigned, too.)

Lawson blames Cover Oregon, involved in the project since June 2012, for an “inability to articulate clear business requirements” and “provide effective leadership.” She also blames Oracle, saying the firm, acting as a systems integrator, “committed serious and fatal blunders in its work.”

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services tends to agree. In a report, it says Oracle failed to communicate with Oregon officials in a timely manner, to provide testing results and to plan for disaster recovery and business continuity.

That said, CMS also blames Oregon for never actually setting up a central project management office and relying on the vendor for that purpose. CMS adds that Oregon is using “the most complex mix” of Oracle products among those states working with the vendor.

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How to Keep Projects on Track

A Fortune 500 company recently learned, within the course of eight weeks, that six major projects were in trouble. In each case, the traffic light went directly from green to red, skipping a yellow warning. The CIO felt blindsided.

Executive management wanted someone to blame. Project teams felt the pressure, and the project management office was asked to explain how this could have happened.

The problems didn’t come out of nowhere, of course. But IT leadership can fix problems only if they’re known. And problems that fester are more difficult to fix.

Unfortunately, project staff can feel strong but subtle pressure to keep problems to themselves. They worry that they won’t be perceived as team players if they report any concerns.

Less experienced staff can feel an unfounded optimism that convinces them that the project team will be able to recover from missed deadlines by working harder.

In the case of the Fortune 500 company cited above, all six failing projects had executive sponsors who were politically powerful and known to attack bearers of bad news. Nobody wanted to raise a red flag and admit that their project was in trouble.

Here are some things that IT management can do to identify problems in a timely manner:

Require realistic project plans. And be prepared to defend them. Not always easy, but crucial. Teams at another Fortune 500 company came under intense pressure to cut project costs, so they reduced the time and budget allocated to training, testing and change management.

Those cuts resulted in poor quality and low user acceptance. Project plans without adequate time and resources are doomed from the start. Agreeing to them dooms you to paying a price later.

Use agile project management. The agile approach breaks projects into small pieces and requires tight collaboration between business and IT staffs, so problems are easier to spot.

In addition, agile projects produce frequent, visible deliverables, which can keep a small problem from turning into a huge problem.

Listen to the messenger; don’t shoot him. The tendency to punish the bearer of bad news was a phenomenon recognized by Shakespeare and Sophocles.

As far back as the fifth century B.C., the chivalric code in China prevented the executions of messengers sent by an enemy.

Sadly, many of today’s executives have still not learned this principle, or don’t practice it.

Make sure employees know they will not be punished for raising concerns, even when other project members deny problems exist.

An angry reception stops the flow of useful information. If you have traditionally been a messenger shooter, take steps to reform, and get the word out that you’re ready to listen.

Review projects periodically. Project managers often resent formal project reviews (internal or external), believing they take time away from “real work” and provide limited value. But good reviews help project teams step back and re-evaluate project status.

The review process should not be adversarial; it should focus on identifying and addressing current and potential problems.

While a comprehensive review cannot guarantee success, it can significantly mitigate risk.

All projects encounter difficulties. You need to make sure they turn into bumps in the road, not lethal crashes.

Give your project every chance to succeed by seeking information through every available channel and at every possible interval. Make it safe for people to sound the alarm.

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