Schedule Your Diagnostic Consultation

4 Ways a Computer Support Company Can Tackle Big Projects with Ease

4 Ways a Computer Support Company Can Tackle Big Projects with EaseIf you own or manage a computer support company, sometimes taking on big projects can be a little overwhelming at first.

In this article, you’ll be introduced to four ways to tackle major projects with ease – with some step-by-step instructions that simplify the task:

Step 1 – Plan

To be a computer support superhero, spend a lot of time with the client before, during, and after the project.

  • Learn what’s driving the project -- During the planning stage, develop high-level objectives with your main contact person at the client and learn what factors are driving this big project. Is it a desire to replace obsolete PCs, to migrate to a cloud-based network, or to reign in BYOD usage? Resist the temptation to sell the client on the benefits of your firm and solution. Instead ask open-ended questions and listen.

  • Discuss the benefits of hardware standardization -- Many small businesses have a diverse base of custom-assembled systems – such as PCs assembled internally from components, PCs purchased as complete systems from independently-owned local shops, and PCs bought from obscure online vendors. Consider yourself fortunate if you’re working with a small business that has consistently bought from a top-tier, brand-name PC vendor.

  • Explain how “pay me now or pay me later” works – Detail the magnitude of work involved to track down device drivers for dozens of different hardware permutations and combinations. This approach is the antithesis of standardization and one of the main reasons professional IT managers stay loyal to one or two brands and product lines over time. After you’ve discussed the findings from some preliminary site-survey system inventories, reiterate these points regarding standardization.

  • Write a project plan to help manage expectations -- Use your initial meetings, discussions, objectives, personal experience, and this article to draft a preliminary project plan that includes a list of steps and action items, project time table, contingencies, and estimated costs. And don’t forget to add in a few hours of time for Step 1.

Step 2 – Gather Information

While tackling a big project with ease starts with having a good plan, next your computer support company needs to gather the right information to keep the project moving forward.

  • Communicate with end users -- After the small business owner, or your main point of contact, has signed off on your project plan, he or she should send a short e-mail announcing that your company will be managing this project and invite end users to a meeting, or webinar if employees are geographically dispersed. Make the session informative, brief, interactive, and fun – or at least, keep it “light” in tone. Following the meeting or webinar, ask users to provide a few times when they would be available for a brief site survey by a member of your computer support company.

  • Conduct individual site surveys -- Survey each end user’s system to assess and document the installed hardware and software – and find out what’s actually being used

  • Analyze site survey results -- Meet with your client again to discuss your survey findings and recommendations for purchases.

Step 3 – Test

OK, so far you’ve kicked off this big project with planning and information gathering. What’s next? Testing, testing, 1-2-3!

  • Develop a prototype for each supported device category -- This prototype should be built on the same type of hardware being supported for this major project installation. At the minimum, these prototypes will more than likely include a desktop PC, notebook, tablet, and smartphone.

  • Conduct technical testing -- At this stage and going forward, it’s critical that your computer support company differentiate between the needs of two vastly different groups: (a) the highly technical users that will be empowered with at least limited administrator roles, and (b) the end users. For this step, test the technical merits of the proposed standards – taking into account performance, stability, security, scalability, project objectives, and technical testing parameters.

  • Manage end user testing -- Have a diverse set of employees from the client’s staff conduct end user testing. At this critical stage, ask users to evaluate features, ease of use, reliability, project objectives, and usability testing parameters.

  • Develop a rapid deployment procedure -- If a particular client has only a few users, you could kind of, sort of “wing it” – definitely not a best practice, but generally the only financially-viable approach with fewer than 10 employees. Then again, most computer support companies wouldn’t have even engaged in much, if any, up-front planning or information gathering if the client was simply too small to effectively support. But for big deployments with small- and medium-sized businesses, you should definitely automate. The level of hardware standardization will make a big difference in how easy, or difficult, this rapid deployment turns out to be.

  • Develop technical documentation – Again, keep in mind that there are both technical users in quasi-administrator roles and end users focused more on business results. For this first category of users, prepare technical documentation that’ll be used prior to deployment to train your client and your own staff -- and after deployment to better support your client. Include plenty of screen shots and screencasts.

  • Develop an end user instruction guide – Depending on the nature of your client and their users’ level of IT sophistication, sometimes paper-based instructions are best. Other times, a small library of training screencasts, which can be watched on demand, is more effective.

  • Announce pre-deployment training -- The owner or your main client contact person should send another e-mail to announce the completion of testing and mandatory training – either in a company meeting or a webinar.

Step 4 -- Deploy

Now that your computer support company has planned out this major protect, gathered the relevant requisite information for success, and tested to make sure that you’re on the right track, it’s time to deploy. Notice how three of the four steps are actually done before deployment – kind of like the computer support equivalent of “measure twice, cut once” borrowed from the construction industry. Here are the key steps:

  • Conduct the training session – Just as you did earlier on while still gathering information for this big project, keep the session short and upbeat. Make sure people know what’s changing in terms of hardware, supported devices, applications, procedures, backup and restore, network drives, network printers, and help desk coverage. Invite questions and answers. Make sure people who’ve attended this session sign up for a time slot for their upgrades. As a best practice, record this training session. Then make this archive available both for review and for others who were unable to attend the live session.

  • Back up all of the data on each device -- Before installing the new upgrade, work with each end user to back up data files, including browser favorites, e-mail messages, photos, and any other critical configuration settings identified during inventory and testing. Use this backup image to create a permanent archive of how each system was configured prior to deployment.

  • Deploy the new devices and applications – With all of the keys steps completed earlier for this major project, most of the deployments should be pretty non-eventful.

  • Complete a quality control checklist Professional computer support companies managing big projects like this use the testing guidelines developed earlier on in Step 3 (technical documentation and end user guide) to outline 15 to 20 points that must be checked for quality control following each installation. A systems engineer from your firm should review this checklist, as well as the end user.

  • Spend a few minutes with each end user following deployment – This small, but often-overlooked step can do wonders to eliminate panicky help desk calls, ensure that you’ve answered questions, and keep your client’s users happy--- extremely important for client retention!

 

The Bottom Line

Managing a major project is more complex than merely installing software. A successful project takes up-front planning, testing, and ongoing communication. To be a computer support superhero, spend a lot of time with the client before, during, and after the project.

Regardless of whether your computer support company is relatively new or has been around for decades, taking on major projects can sometimes seem a little overwhelming.

Use the steps outlined in this article to make sure you’ve covered the basics.

What have you found to be most important to tackling big projects with ease? Please share your tips and war stories in the Comments box below.

And to follow-through on the tips introduced in this article, be sure to download your free copy of the special report on How to Start a Computer Consulting Business: 6 Proven Ways to Build Your Initial Client Base. 

Click me

 

Creative Commons Image Source: flickr missy

Schedule a Free Consultation