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Diary of a Network Administrator: Project Management

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All IT implementation needs a solid plan to find success. Far too often, projects spin out of control due to a lack of vision, planning, and technical leadership. In this network administrator diary entry, Joseph Phillips discusses the importance of project management.
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So I'm sticking my head into the drop ceiling, insulation is finding its magical way into my shirt, and I'm sweating like Richard Simmons in a pastry shop. As I swivel my flashlight around, I see two red dots just a few feet away from my face.

No, I've not been eating mushrooms. I'm starting a network upgrade project for my new client, and it all begins with planning. Of course, not all of planning is done on white boards, in Microsoft Project, and on the back of napkins. Planning, real planning, requires that you get familiar with all of the work the project entails so you can plan—and price—accordingly.

The first article in this series introduced you to my new client and all the excitement the staff is having with their network. As a reminder, they've got a bunch of NT 4.0 domains, servers that Noah had on the ark, printers by Gutenberg, lousy network cables, and workstations the Smithsonian has inquired about. As you can imagine, their network has more errors than the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

After my initial review of the network, it was time to create a project plan. A what? If you're like many network administrators (wait, it's not you, it's a friend) you may be tempted to just hop in get to work on any assignment. You can't just yell, "Release the hounds!" and then rush through IT projects. Why?

What starts out as a simple upgrade, or adding a new switch, or configuring some IP properties turns into nights and weekends of agony. Not to mention the time lost to complete the work—and the hours of production time that may be impacted. Production time? Sure. Consider the time lost by your company's employees if your "upgrade" puts them out of work for even 10 minutes. Consider 10 minutes or 10 hours of lost profit.

Welcome to IT Project Management

What needs to happen at the onset of any project is to create an effective yet flexible project plan. This is project management. Project management is the ability to envision the end result of a project, create a plan to reach that vision, and then implement the plan to arrive at the vision.

So what's vision? Vision is the ethereal substance that allows network administrators to see the invisible and to feel the intangible before either exist. I know, I know, after reading that sentence you're convinced I'm eating mushrooms. I promise you I'm not.

Simply put, vision is the ability to see the end result before you begin. Without vision, how can you adequately plan?

My client had a vision not of a Windows 2000 domain, with multiple domain controllers, file and print servers, roaming profiles, and policies, but of a network that just works. Their vision was a day of not suffering through slow transfers, printer spools hanging, and server crashes. They didn't care what technology got them there—just that they would indeed arrive.

My job (and yours)is to take the vision of clients offer and snap-in the realities of technologies to reach those goals. The only way, okay the best way, is through IT project management.

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