Starting a new project is fun. Making that project a success can be a challenge. A project becomes a greater challenge when a company has few or no processes in place to support it.
There are undoubtedly technologies that you want to learn about, people you want to meet and new places to visit.

The first task for any new project is to agree upon the prerequisites :

  1. Purchasing.
  2. Timescales, changes and expectations/goals.
  3. People.
  4. Hardware.
  5. Software.

Communication is key to the success of any project.
Spread the word.
Announce the project like a fanfare.
Sell your services and your team to your customers.
Plan and agree the timescales, manage the expectations.
Plan the changes.
Plan for the possible outcomes and to move the finished project into handover and future support.

“Do not be afraid of delays especially where impatient project managers are concerned, it is much better to do a job properly, than to half finish a job and then to have numerous support calls about it afterwards.
If the project is never going to work, it is better to be brutally honest from the start. “

Anon Project Manager

Contractors often arrive at companies to find old fashioned, adhoc methods that do not function efficiently, delaying projects and increasing workload/stress.

Companies often struggle to recognise that they require more efficient processes or better tools.

Sometimes when a company finally realises there is an issue, they don’t have the time to implement a new process, so the problems continue.

Companies often don’t have the tools to complete a task successfully or if they do, the process is so vague or difficult nobody adheres to it.
It is a balancing act between getting tasks/projects completed, keeping everyone happy, providing those same people with ideas and improving the overall service.

Increasing efficiency can be a frustrating thankless task that often goes unnoticed and sometimes those seeking to make improvements will be told that they are “too helpful” or “too proactive” at best and actively fought against or prevented at worst.

What is the alternative?

Contractors have to become 40% salesperson and 60% technical to persuade and coax team members into doing things in ways that aren’t likely to come back to haunt them.

One of the most important factors in preserving technical sanity is to produce quality documentation.
Subtle persuasion/manipulation is required at companies where they have always done things “this way and that’s the way it’s going to stay.

So here are the processes and tools every company should have to make projects and tasks easier :

  • A well maintained and accessible vendor contact list.
  • A prerequisite communications list for project engagement.
  • A quotation process followed up by a purchasing process that is transparent and works.
  • A simple timescale planning process for timesheets and project projections.
  • A deployment mechanism for server and workstation build templates / standards.
  • Provision of data centre standards for server rooms and cabinets.
  • Switching standards, cabling and patching schedule.
  • Adherance to health and safety, security standards, anti virus, firmware, software updates and network security standards (NISD & GDPR).
  • A functional change process, peer approvals, communications, stand up meetings, handover meetings.
  • Short cab meetings. Changes should be documented and presented before the cab meeting so that the cab meeting is efficient.
  • A well maintained asset database.
  • An automated IP address management database.
  • An efficient and comprehensive backup system.
  • Business continuity documentation when designing and deploying infrastructure.
  • High quality handover presentation/meetings where project documentation and service level agreements supporting the project infrastructure are agreed upon.
  • Disaster recovery documentation for each project. If DR is taken into account at every step of a project considering all aspects, it’s much easier to restore an environment.
  • Motivating staff to want to help. As Wolter Smit says you have to employ “self propelled people“.
  • Often staff are penalised or given a lot more work to do when they try to make things more efficient which leads to them working quietly with their headphones on without uttering a word to anyone. This destroys motivation.
  • Communication methods should be in place between teams, other staff, customers, and the infrastructure itself. This is where monitoring is so important.
  • Monitoring is like another team member constantly querying and noting down every issue in the infrastructure. Value it and you’ll see how much time it saves you allowing you to get back to precious project work. Monitoring also reveals problems that nobody realised were problems.

“When opening a can of worms, nobody will appreciate you, you may even become the enemy”

The Unknown Engineer

So many engineers talk about working within toxic cultures / situations, especially in contracting.
A good contractor is all about reducing toxicity if given the chance.
Some may not realise that.
If a company can adopt more efficient working practises along with simple processes then less siloing will occur, people will be happier and the environment will be less toxic.

Companies opt to hire contractors because they lack skills and processes within the organisation and contractors bring in fresh skills and processes.

I have seen great engineers marched out of businesses simply because the business could not recognise they had a process issue, communication breaks down and the engineer gives up trying to sell his/her ideas for improvement to the company.

Solving the problems and fixing the issues is standard procedure for a contractor.

It is what we do!

Put a little bit of work in now and it makes a task a lot easier and if it doesn’t work out, then don’t worry.
There are lots of opportunities out there.
Take a deep breath and dive back in and remember to be patient.

If you have any thoughts about processes I’ve missed that are useful to you in your project engineering, leave them in the comments below.

Thank you to the contributors to this article.

They know who they are.