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Fundamentals of Systems Management

Fundamentals of Systems Management

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Fundamentals of Systems Management

134 pages
1 hour
Jul 12, 2013


This is a tutorial on basic general and systems management concepts. It is a must read for anyone involved in or considering managing computer departments or programmers.
Jul 12, 2013

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Fundamentals of Systems Management - Daniel Riopel

Fundamentals of Systems Management

Fundamentals of Systems Management

2nd Edition

Copyright © 2013 by Daniel E. Riopel

All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-304-22612-9


The purpose of this book is to explain the essence of Systems Management. It is intended to be studied by systems managers at all levels, and for those who are considering a move into systems management.

I have found in my years as programmer, systems manager, middle manager, and management consultant that a considerable number of managers simply do not understand what the position requires, and have not learned to think like a manager. Many systems managers simply move into a manager job from a senior programmer job without training when the opportunity arises. They follow the style of previous managers that they have worked under, who oftentimes have little or no idea what management is all about themselves. I believe that anyone in a systems management position, at any level, should understand all the lessons in this book, in order to be minimally qualified.

In order to demonstrate a number of management principles, I have chosen poor management practices that I have experienced over the years. The intent is not to be negative, but to explain the consequences of poor, but often common, management practices, and explain the proper management practice that would have resulted in positive results. I have found this method to be very useful with respect to understanding proper management thinking.

If this seems strange, think of a project that a friend of mine participated in. His team was made up of very smart people, who worked very hard, but the project was a dismal failure. They invested millions of dollars in a vendor application. When the system was up and running, they proceeded to write reports to extract information from the system that the users were relying on. The system did not store the information, and the system was not usable.

You may choose to dismiss this as a team of incompetents, but another approach is to use this project as a learning opportunity. The lesson here is the importance of evaluating a vendor system by the data storage and data structures of the system. They emphasized user interface and navigation instead.

In some instances, I have invented terminology to express a management concept. I want to make it clear that learning the terminology is not the lesson. The reader is welcome to use whatever terminology is desired. It is, however, very important to learn the management concept. It is simply easier to give a name to a concept in order to refer to it later. I suspect we have all taken many psychobabble management classes that invent a word or phrase, and attempt to delude us into thinking that we have learned something because we learned the made up word or phrase.

Once you learn the essential management concepts involved in Systems Management, you are ready to start thinking like a manager.

Levels of Thinking

Before we start learning to think like a manager, let's study thinking a bit. I have reduced the different  styles of thinking into three categories. These can be further extended and complicated quite a bit, but the three categories I use are sufficient for my purpose here. From more highly evolved to lower, we have:

1)    Good subjective thinking

2)    Strict procedure or rule based thinking

3)    Poor subjective thinking

We are all subject to rules, procedures, corporate standards and laws in our businesses as well as society. We could not function without policies, corporate procedures, traffic laws, and so forth. Let's simply call these rules for now.

Level 1 thinkers know the rules applicable to their decision making, but have a filter that evaluates the situation and occasionally overrides the rule. They may follow the rule  99% of the time, but always look out for and recognize situations where the rule is irrelevant, outdated or simply unreasonable. Rules are respected, but are seen as a means to an end.

Level 2 thinkers always follow the rules, and let the rules define their actions. Whenever a decision is appropriate, whether a management decision or traffic situation, a level 2 thinker always thinks about the rule. What is the corporate standard here, what does the vehicle code specify for this situation, and so forth. Level 2 thinkers see the rules as top priority, and as such sometimes fail to achieve results.

Level 3 thinkers simply use their own judgment when making a decision, and have poor judgment. They either don't know or don't particularly care what the rule is. When driving a car, they will drive whatever speed they feel is safe, without regard to the posted speed limit. When managing, they will ignore corporate procedures and use their gut feeling when issuing directives.    

It is easy to dismiss Level 3 thinkers. You do not want these people in your organization. They are simply toxic. They cause problems in society as well as businesses. I have, however, met several of these people in management positions, including higher level positions. They accomplish nothing and they demoralize staff. Top level managers need to recognize these people and rid their organizations of these pests.

A major indication of a weakly managed organization is the preference for Level 2 thinkers in the staff, and especially in the management. Many organizations select Level 2 thinkers for the management team, foolishly overvaluing the strict interpretation and enforcement of  internal standards and procedures. This creates an environment that stifles creativity and change, and lowers quality and morale. I was once told by my manager that the primary responsibility of a staff member was to follow corporate procedures, and the primary responsibility of a manager was to enforce corporate procedures. This is an excellent example of someone who should not be in a management position. Let's evaluate a few examples.

•         It is near the end of the 20th century, and a programmer is developing a work management system that will be populated with dates for work to be performed with centuries of 19 as well as 20. He is told by the manager that he cannot store dates with the century, only the year, so as to not violate the corporate standard of storing dates with month, day and year, chopping off the century. When he explains that the system will not work properly, the manager explains that whether or not the system satisfies user requirements or works at all is not important, that his job is to follow corporate standards. The manager says that contract programmers can be brought in after the system is installed to fix the date software, since they would not be employees and thus not subject to following corporate standards.

Take note that this is a very good example of what the media liked to refer to as the Y2K problem.  There are many ways to store numbers on a computer, and there are consequently many ways to store dates, and to perform what computer professionals refer to as date arithmetic, which is the comparison, subtraction, addition and so forth of dates. There are some methods of performing date arithmetic and storing dates that are preferable to others, but chopping off the century is nothing but technical incompetence.

For a clear example of date arithmetic, think of a payment processing program that compares the payment date with the due date for each payment received. If the payment date is greater that the due date, a late charge routine is executed. Without the century, a very wrong late charge can be calculated. It is widely estimated that business invested hundreds of millions of dollars to fix this Y2K problem that was caused almost entirely by one of two management mistakes:

•         Management delegated software development of date arithmetic programs to incompetent software developers.

•         Management enforced incompetent date arithmetic standards on programmers.

If you wonder why I make an issue of this years after the problem was addressed, it is because the same management problem persists, affecting organizations in different ways. If you follow the management skills that I will address in this book, this sort of problem can be largely eliminated.

There are a few more points that are applicable to the above example. First, recognize that the manager is enforcing an incompetent technical standard. In an organization that is heavily dominated by Level 2 thinkers, it is next to impossible to ever reform or eliminate a corporate standard.

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