How to manage a new PC network

Lessons learned in putting in a new state-of-the-art system in a large firm can be applied to firms of any size


[Dana H. Schultz]

Several months ago, I was retained by a San Francisco-based firm as project manager for the roll-out a new, state-of-the-art PC network. While the firm (more than 1,000 users in offices across the U.S. and abroad) is larger than most, the lessons we have learned should apply to firms of any size.

Outside resources

The firm has a substantial MIS department. Nevertheless, between the need to keep the existing system going and the burden of learning about the new system, it became clear outside help would be required. Here are some resources we are using:

  • Technical development. While most members of the technical team are firm employees, we brought in system designers and software developers familiar with key system components (Microsoft WindowsNT Server, Exchange and WindowsNT Workstation) to make sure the network is set up properly.

  • Training development and delivery. The training curriculum and documentation are being developed by an outside organization. This organization also will provide instructors, plus floor-support personnel to answer newly-trained users' questions as soon as they arise.

  • Hardware and software implementation. Firm personnel are taking care of cabling, hubs and routers. Servers and PCs will be shipped by the manufacturer directly to the firm's offices, where a network integrator will install the hardware and load software using automated-installation programs created by the technical team.

    Planning and communication

    To make the roll-out manageable, and to make it easy for users to absorb the new technology, applications will be rolled out in phases. The first phase, currently under way, addresses communication: internal and external electronic mail (Microsoft Outlook) and Internet access (Microsoft Internet Explorer). The second phase will focus on document creation: word processing (Microsoft Word), document management, document assembly and related tools.

    Another benefit of a phased approach is explicit recognition that building a system is an ongoing process. My client has addressed this point by specifying different lease periods for different types of products, depending on their expected useful lives.

    In a project of this size, communication is essential. The technical team was consolidated and moved to a separate facility, away from the rest of MIS, to increase interaction among team members and reduce interference from day-to-day MIS problems. The technical team holds weekly meetings to keep all members apprised of latest developments.

    Overall responsibility for the project rests with four people: the project manager, technical manager, training/support manager and the firm's executive director. This management team, and selected other individuals, meet weekly to assess project status. From time to time, the management team meets with representatives of the firm's technology committee to report progress and receive feedback on issues requiring attorney input.

    So far, our approach to project management seems to be working. We are making progress, and no major problems have turned up. I plan to revisit this topic in the future to let you know about significant developments as they occur.


    In my January column, I mentioned that one of the advantages of Norton Navigator over the Windows95 Explorer is the ability to open a second drive window. There is a way to work around this limitation in Explorer: Open Explorer a second time.

    This approach is not quite so clean as Navigator's. Most notably, the two Explorer windows need to be sized and arranged by the user. Navigator, in contrast, automatically sizes and arranges its windows when the second drive is opened. Nevertheless, the work-around works.

    Many thanks to Julie Hankin, assistant editor of the Oregon State Bar Bulletin, for this tip!

    Dana H. Shultz is an Oakland lawyer, certified management consultant and speaker specializing in office technology and online marketing. He may be reached by e-mail at dhshultz@ds-a.com and on the World Wide Web at http://seamless.com/ds/.