Spanning Tree Protocol (STP)

Many of you have probably heard about the news coverage surrounding the downtime of the WordPress.com website (link). Perhaps the biggest lessons learned here is the complexity of spanning tree (STP), and perhaps more significantly, how the technology is taken for granted. The question for the week: do you know exactly how your spanning tree is operating within your organization? Which is your root bridge?

Without specifically designing your switching network intentionally, you leave things basically up to fate to decide on which switch is your root. Sometimes the worst connected or non-redundantly connected switch ends up being the root. Imagine a level 1 technician connecting in a basic managed switch in their cubicle to provide additional ports, but because the MAC address is the smallest, it becomes elected at the root. Probably not exactly what you want to have happen, but that is exactly what I’ve seen.

Here is a quick refresher:
http://www.cisco.com/univercd/cc/td/doc/product/rtrmgmt/sw_ntman/cwsimain/cwsi2/cwsiug2/vlan2/stpapp.htm

Along with a great list of common problems:
http://www.cisco.com/en/US/tech/tk389/tk621/technologies_tech_note09186a00800951ac.shtml

Getting Started with Corporate Procedures

Last week I was having lunch with a business associate who owns a computer consulting firm in the East Bay Area. We were discussing the way his business works with Corporate Procedures for their business operations. As a small business typically we begin with one person per task, and they are an expert at what they do, more because they created their process. However, as a company grows we begin to delegate tasks and then eventually form teams of people who do the same processes. At this point, it becomes important to have a written procedure.

Procedure manuals can become large an tedious. For the small business, it is important to scale your procedures – even beginning with the very simplest bits of information. We have seen employees come to the owner/manager/etc and sometimes say, “their should be a procedure” or other-times, it is more simply stated, how do I do this task. Those should be the indicator to begin a written procedure policy.

It does not need to be something complicated. Even a simple: 1-2-3 checklist of bullet items – no detail. But begin somewhere. Start simple and as the needs grow, expand your documentation.

What you don’t need to do is replace formal education, industry standard training or other certifications with documentation. In the computer consulting industry, your technicians should know “how” to create a user, or setup a “security group” — but as a company you may have established a “methodology” that you want to remain consistent.

Another good example is creating checklists — such as a Quality Assurance – before we return a computer to the customer, we will always check….bla, bla, bla.

As a small company, really there is no hierarchy, nor is their a technical writer. So what I’ve helped some business associates do is to setup a wiki, such as MediaWiki and permit all of their employees to add content to their hearts delight. It is search-able, and has great version control. You can then empower them, if they think there should be a policy, they can create it. Even if it is a simple 3 bullet point list of what you need to know when…

Begin with a culture of documentation early. There is no need to perfect it, just start getting procedures down on paper. Let it grow from there. Commit to spending 15 minutes per day, or at least an hour per week contributing and growing what you have. Brain dump your knowledge. Once it becomes something used frequently by your staff, you’ll find you have a bit more time — and your employees will be more empowered with the information and knowledge they need.

Fast Acting… Long Relief…

In the matter of all things legal, or potentially legal, it is best to respond quickly — do not confuse this with “react” quickly, as that can cause problems. Rather do your due diligence and respond promptly, and appropriately. If it is a legal notice, court documents, or even simple billing or finance matters. Responding to these issues immediately will go a long way towards a smooth process. When you delay, you can have automatic penalties go against you. The longer you let a legal matter go, the more difficult it is to prove your innocence, or even if you’re guilty, the worse deal you’ll be able to make. With billing issues, neglect causes accounts to start accumulating finance charges, penalties and collection costs – even if you cannot pay your bills, be in open communication early and often many of these fines can be reduced.

Documentation – Legal

Here is a quick tip — when it comes down to the matter, the person with the more documentation, paperwork, records, etc., will win. Second to that is communication – the person who communicates the most, via e-mail, letter, phone, will win. Whatever you are dealing with, from customers, clients, employees, or the government — in any legal (or potential legal) matter, the one who can substantiate their side with documentation will prevail. It really doesn’t matter who is right or wrong, it is who can prove their case better with solid documentation.

Do you have a corporation? Then you do have all of your corporate minutes, annual shareholders and directors meetings? Written consent agreements for all director level actions?

How about employees? Are you documentation disciplinary action, raises, verbal notices? How about proper timekeeping records?

And what about your clients/vendors? You always have a written contract, documented project descriptions, project scopes, payment terms?

Keep that printer and scanner busy — wear them out with the amount of paperwork and documenting you perform.

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