Tag Archives: productivity

Fight the chaos: Design your toolbox properly

You need tools and methods to accomplish your daily tasks. No one will deny this insight.

I would like to give you an insight into my box of tools and methods. These tools and methods work for me, but they do not have to work for you. The design of your personal toolbox depends on your job.

Depending on who you ask, my job role consists of several roles: Currently, I am working as a consultant, head of the business unit, pre-sales consultant and technical account manager. That’s what you get when working in a very small company… And because of these different roles, my personal toolbox may differ from yours.

Daily Toolbox

Independent of the task, role or customer, some tools are always in use.

Google ChromeBrowser
Microsoft OutlookMail
Microsoft OneNoteKnowledge Management
MyLifeOrganizedTo-Do list, task management & personal organizer
XMindMind Mapping Software

Google Chrome and Microsoft Outlook don’t have to be explained. I use several extensions for Chrome, like OneTab, chromeIPass, Clip to OneNote, Adblock Plus, Ghostery and SwitchyOmega.

Microsoft OneNote is my personal notepad, I use it for notes, snippets, sketches, code dump etc. I don’t take paper with me.In the past, I used it on my iPad and my laptop, but for about a year I only take my Lenovo X250 with me. And if I do not have my laptop with me, a simple Internet browser or my iPhone is enough to get my notes.

MyLifeOrganized is similar to OmniFocus. It’s a very powerful tool for to-do lists and task management. I’m currently testing it, and I really like it. But it’s not cheap (MOL Pro for Windows $59.95,  MOL Pro for iPhone $29.99, Cloud Sync for 12 month $14.95).

XMind is available for free, but there is also a Plus and Pro version. I switched from Mindjet MindManager to XMind, because XMind was capable to read MindManager files. Mindjet MindManager is really expensive, and after leaving the FernUniversität Hagen, I was not entitled for academic discounts anymore. But XMind is really similar to MindManager. I like the concept of mind maps and I use it quite often for project planning and management.


Microsoft WordWriting docs,  proposals etc.
Microsoft ExcelCalculations, data processing, proposals
Microsoft PowerPointPresentations
Internet ExplorerSometimes you need it…
Notepad++Powerful text editor

Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint are self-explanatory. Sometimes I have to use the Internet Explorer. It is 2016 and there is still software out there that simply does not work properly with Firefox or Chrome. It’s a pity… Notepad++ is a free (GPL licensed) source code editor and Notepad replacement . Good piece of software and it’s free!


When I’m working for customers, I mostly need three tools: An internet browser, something for RDP connections, the vSphere C# client, and a SSH client.

Royal TSConnection Management Software
VMware vSphere C# ClientStill necessary for some tasks…
KiTTYA PuTTY clone

Royal TS makes my life so much easier! Royal TS is a connection management software for RDP, VNC, SSH based terminals or web-based interfaces. It also includes credential management. Very handy!

The vSphere C# client is mandatory. Even if I have not explicitly listed it, I also have installed the Client Integration Plug-In in the vSphere Web Client, as well as the VMware Remote Console.

KiTTY is a PuTTY clone. KiTTY is a fork from version 0.67 of PuTTY and includes some features like portability, automatic password, session filter, send to tray and many more.


HPE SalesBUILDER for windowsPre-Sales configuration tool
HPE Ninja STARS for HPE 3PARSizing tool for HPE 3PAR StoreServ

I often work with HPE products, and because of this, the HPE SalesBUILDER and the HPE Ninja STARS tool are quite often in use. Both are available to HPE Partners only.


I’m not a developer, but sometimes I have to write code, mostly PowerShell.

Windows PowerShell ISE with ISESteroidsPowerShell IDE
VMware PowerCLIPowerShell interface for managing VMware vSphere
GitHub DesktopVersion control and source code management
Python 3.5 IDLEIntegrated Development and Learning Environment

For PowerShell, I use the Windows PowerShell ISE with ISESteroids. ISESteroids is an  add-on for the Windows PowerShell ISE, which extends the ISE with many, many useful features. I have written a blog post about it.

VMware PowerCLI is self-explanatory and a must, if you are frequently working with VMware products.

I have rarely used GitHub Desktop to manage my code, but I have decided to change this for 2017. I use GitHub Desktop to sync my code between my two laptops (one for work, and the other for lab, projects etc.).

I’m still in the process to learn Python, and I have written a blog post months ago why I want to learn Python (Hey infrastructure guy, you should learn Python!). I played a bit with PyCharm Community edition, but now I’m using the Python IDLE again. It’s basic functionality is enough for the moment.


A fool with a tool is still a fool. You are nothing without supporting methods. I mainly use three different methods:

You may be wondering about this list, because GTD and Pomodoro are both time-management methods. And you may wonder how Kanban fits into this list. It’s all about the flow.

The idea behind GTD is to get tasks out of your head by writing them down, and breaking them down into smaller work pieces. This allows you to focus on accomplishing tasks. Btw: Mind mapping is a great way to graphically depict this.

Pomodoro uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 20 to 25 minutes, separated by short breaks of 5 minutes. After four intervals, a break of 15 minutes is given. This technique can improve mental agility, and help you to focus on the currently active task. But what if a distraction pops into your head,? Write it down, then get back on the active task. That is the link between GTD and Pomodoro.

Kanban implements the pull principle in Lean Management. It limits the work in progress, thereby avoiding waste through multitasking and context switching. Kanban uses visual elements (cards on a board) to visualize the current state of the work and the workflow.


This box of tools and methods works for me in my current situation. Feel free to leave a comment, or write a blog post about your tools and methods.

PowerShell ISE on steroids

I’m not a developer. I deal mainly with infrastructe, things like virtualization, storage & backup, networking etc. Sometimes I had to write scripts, primarily PowerShell, batch or Bash. Many years back, I also wrote Csh and Ksh scripts. In the past years, automation was one of the rising trends in the infrastructure segment. And with automation, new challenges came up. Today I have to work with Windows PowerShell, in case of VMware with PowerCLI (which bases on Windows PowerShell), and sometimes I have use with REST APIs. I’m still not a developer. Due to this fact, I need tools that help me getting my work done.

So I was searching for a tool, mainly for PowerShell development, and I’ve tried some tools. Microsoft Visual Studio was to complex. Microsoft Visual Studio Code was light, but offered not the features I needed. The Windows integrated PowerShell ISE was nice, but it also lacked some features. So I asked on Twitter:

The answer was simple: ISESteroids.

What is ISESteroids?

ISESteroids is not a standalone product. It’s a PowerShell module that extents the built-in PowerShell ISE. That’s nice, because you don’t have to install anything. Simply extract it. You don’t need any special privileges to install it. Load the PowerShell module, done.

ISESteroids offers a broad feature set and transforms the PowerShell ISE into a full-featured PowerShell IDE. Visit the ISESteroids homepage for a full feature list. Nothing I want to copy & paste here.

Why is ISESteroids helpful for me?

As already mentioned: I’m not a developer. Therefore, I’m thankful for all hints and tips to make my scripts better. One of the features that I noticed immediately was the light bulb on the left side of the scripting area. The icon indicates that there is an automatic fix. In my case, this is usually converting double into single quotes.


Another often mentioned fix is the replacement of aliases with the full command names. Another feature I really like is the risk analyzer. Sometimes you use commands and functions, that might not work with future releases, or which involve other risks. The risk analyzer is an easy way to highlight these risky commands and functions.


Green indicates: Everything’s fine. If something risky is found, you will get a explanation why this was marked as a risky element. If you still want to use it, you can add the marked element to a whitelist. Some risks, are not a risk at all. The risk analyzer will mark the usage of the cmdlet Move-VM as a risk. This is because cmdlets with the verb “Move” will move things. IN case of Move-VM, this is intended. That’s something you can certainly whitelists.


One of my most used cmdlets is Get-Help. Intellisense is nice, but sometimes I have to look up the correct syntax or similar. ISESteroids offers a context sensitive help. Click on the icon with the question mark,


and you will see a new add-on tab on the left. Very handy. Click on a command, and the help will appear help add-on tab.


You might notice another add-on tab in the picture above: Variables. This tab belongs to the Variables monitor, which can be useful to watch the content of variables. I use it frequently in conjunction with the debugging function.


You can set breakpoints, add variables to the monitor and then watch the content of the variable.


But you can also take a look at the current content of variables, in this case $VMhostScsiLunPaths.


The last feature I’d like to show, is the AutoRefactor. Usually, I tend to follow best practices (mostly my own…) to make my scripts more “readable”. The AutoRefactor feature of ISESteroids helps me to make my scripts cleaner and more readable. It’s customizable, so I can tweak it where necessary. You can enable the refactor add-on tab by clicking the small icon with the check mark.


Write down the code and click “Fix Script Now”. Then watch the magic. ;)

Why didn’t I highlight the other cool features, like code signing, file version control, keyboard shortcuts or test arguments? Because I’m still not a developer. The features I mentioned in this blog post are worthy enough to buy a PowerShell ISE license. Check the full feature list, download and install the trial version. I really recommend to take a look at the trial version! I was sceptical until I worked with ISESteroids. It was a great recommendation!


ISESteroids is available in two commercial licenses:

  • Professional
  • Enterprise

The Professional license is available for 99 €, the Enterprise license costs 249 €. Latter offers more features. For individuals (natural persons), a discounted Enterprise license (99 €) is available. Startups, MVPs, trainers etc. can request a discounted license. Check the order website for more details.

Organize your work with Kanban

Everyone has their own technique to organize work. As you maybe know, I’m a big fan of Lean. And you know maybe also, that Lean is a philosophy based on the aspect to create value for customers and eliminate waste of resources in production processes. Taiichi Ōno, the father of the Toyota productionsystem, defined seven forms of waste. Womack and Jones developed Lean Production, which is based on TPS, and highlighted five principles to achieve a lean production.

  • Value
  • Value stream
  • Flow
  • Pull
  • Perfection

There is especially one principle, which is used to schedule work: The pull principle, and Kanban is a method to realize this. Ōno stated, that Kanban has to follow strict rules and two rules are very important: Downstream work stages relate on the work of upstream work stages. The amount of the requested demand is indicated by a signal card. The upstream work stages produce only in the quantity demanded, and only if the demand has been requested by downstream work stages. Downstream work stages “pull” work from upstream work stages and the demand is delivered just-in-time. This sounds reasonable, if it’s a production process. But how can this help me to organize my work?

Use Kanban to organize work

Kanban literally means “signboard” or “billboard”. The board is used to visualize the work flow. The board is divided into sections, to which Kanban cards will be attached. A Kanban card signals that something must be done and it can be moved through the different stages. This is a simple three sections board for visualizing to-dos.


Now you can add Kanban cards to the board.


When you switch from “To Do” to “Doing”, simply move the Kanban card of the Task to the “Doing” section. If you finished the task, move the Kanban card to “Done”.


To create a flow and minimize task switches it’s important to add a Work-in-Progess limit. This is indicated by the [2] behind “Doing”. This means that at maximum two tasks can be in the “Doing” section. Why is a WiP limit important? The WiP limit limits the number of tasks in a section. New tasks are pulled, when there is free capacity, e.g. when another task is finished. This limits the number of switches between different tasks. You can focus on a limited number of tasks and in the end, you will be able to increase the throughput, and due the limited task switches, the quality will also increase.


Because there are two Kanban cards in my “Doing” section, the section is colored. If I move a third Kanban card to it, the section would be coloured red. As you can see: You have to follow the rules so that Kanban works. Feel free to create multiple sections. I use Kanban for my personal to-dos and for my work. The visualization helps to get a quick overview. I also use mindmaps, because it’s also a good instrument to visualize complex things.


I use Trello for my personal Kanban. You can use it with a web browser, on Windows 8, iPad, iPhone, Android and Kindle Fire. I use the Chrome app along with the Kanban WiP for Trello extension. I also have the app on my iPhone and iPad. I really like Trello. It’s lightweight and customizable. You can add dates, labels and attachments to Kanban cards. You can also add comments, check lists and a description to it. I really recommend to simply try it! Kanban is not as hard as it seems. Use it. Strive for perfection.

TeamViewer Connection with Royal TS

Some of my customers use TeamViewer to provide a quick access to their systems, without the need to configure VPN connections, install software on hosts etc. TeamViewer provides fast and secure access without the need to install software. Simply start the teamviewer.exe and choose if you want to connect to a host or use the session id and password to allow someone else access your computer. TeamViewer is free for all non-commercial users! So it’s a great choice for remote support all your family members.

I use Royal TS as my primary tool for remote connection management. Most of my connections are Microsoft Remote Desktop, VNC or SSH. But I also need TeamViewer. In opposite to Remote Desktop Manager, Royal TS doesn’t has a plug-in for TeamViewer. But I found a hint in the Royal TS knowledge base how to solve this: A command task.

Create a command task for TeamViewer

Open Royal TS and rightclick “Tasks” in your connection document. Select “Add” > “Command Task”


Enter a descriptive name. You have to create a Command Task for each TeamViewer connection you want to save.


Enter the path and the working directory to your TeamViewer executable. The arguments are the key: Session id and password will not not directly entered, but provided through custom fields.


Select “Custom Fields” and enter the session id in the first, and the password in the second field. If you want to protect both field, you can use the protected fields. Then you have to change the custom fileds in the arguments.


Save the connection and start the task. After a few seconds you should see the desktop of the remote host.


Because session ID and password may change by time, you have to change them in the command task. This is a bit unhandy, but if you not frequently connect to random hosts, this should work fine.

Problem analysis with Kepner-Tregoe

When you deal with problems in IT, you often deal with problems where is root cause is unknown. To solve such problems, you have to use a systematic method. Only a systematic method leads to a fast, effective and efficient solution. One of the most commonly observed methods in my career bases on approximation. We all know it as “trial and error”. Someone tries as long until the problem is solved. Often this method makes it worse than it was before, and it often leads to wrong conclusions, and furthermore wrong results. If someone draws a wrong connections at the beginning of the analysis, this leads to a totally wrong path. I would like to illustrate this with an example:

John Doe tried to monitor VMware ESXi hosts with a HP Systems Insight Manager (SIM). The VMware ESXi were running on different HP ProLiant models. John noticed, that some of the ESXi hosts showed more information than other hosts. After a very quick Google search he quickly concluded, that this was related to iLO 4 Agentless Monitoring, because those hosts, that showed all information, were ProLiant Gen8 models.

As you can imagine, this was dozens of miles away. The solution was simple: The Gen8 models were installed with ESXi images from HP, which includes the necessary agents. This example shows another very ugly behavior: Googling around, in the hope to find a problem description that sounds similar. This is often done by entering a error message into Google, selecting a search result and trying the proposed solution. And quite often the article is not even read, simply scrolled down to the solution. It’s unlikely that the same error message can have different causes, which need different solutions.

What could be a systematic method to solve problems? I’d like to introduce to Kepner-Tregoe (KT). KT stands for two things: A consulting company founded by Charles Kepner and Benjamin Tregoe, and for a method. KT is mentioned by ITIL as a component of the Problem Management in the Service Operation phase. You can use KT for problem solving, decision making or potential problem analysis. I will focus on the situation analysis and problem analysis. The situation analysis is common for problem solving, decision making or potential problem analysis.

The Kepner-Tregoe method

The KT method is based on a rational process and it’s divided into four different processes:

  • situation analysis
  • problem analysis
  • decision analysis
  • potential problem analysis

Behind each process is a question you should ask.

The situation analysis

During the situation analysis the question is “What’s going on?”. At this point, the problem analysis hasn’t started. Before you can analyse the problem, you have to clarify the situation, outline concerns and set priorities. Ask yourself about the current and future impact, how much time do you have to find a solution, and at which point a solution could be impossible (limitations because of time, budget etc.).

The problem analysis

 The problem analysis consists of five consecutive steps:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Describe the problem
  3. Create hypotheses about the cause
  4. Test the hypotheses
  5. Verify the root cause

Use the 5 Ws to define the problem. Only a problem description, that includes the 5 Ws is capable to fully describe a problem. Such a description will help you, and your colleagues, to understand the problem.

  • Who is affected by the problem?
  • Why is this important to solve the problem?
  • What are the symptoms?
  • When does the problem occur?
  • Where does the problem occur?

If you created you problem description with the 5 Ws, you can concretize the answers with “IS” and “COULD BE but IS NOT” aspects. Let’s pick up the example from above:

Who is affected by the problem? HP ProLiant G6 and G7 models running VMware ESXi.

A HP ProLiant G7 model with VMware ESXi image “IS” affected. A HP ProLiant G7 and Gen8 model with a HP custom Image for ESXi “COULD BE but IS NOT” affected.

As you can see, this will dramatically reduce the number of possible causes, especially when you add the problem description and the symptoms. But this also shows another fact: You have to take a detailed look at the affected components/ systems, and you have to take care, that you not miss any deviations between the components/ systems (in the example all hosts were running ESXi 5.1, but some of the hosts were running a VMware image, some hosts a HP custom ESXi image). You also should identify what changes are made in the past. This may be answered by the “When?” question (When does the problem occur? After demoting one of the four Active Directory Domain Controllers).

Now it’s time to create hypotheses about the possible cause. Depending on the problem description, the past changes and the “IS” and “COULD BE but IS NOT” aspects of the problem, it should be possible to create one or more hypotheses.

With one or more hypotheses, you have to test each of them against the “IS” and “COULD BE but IS NOT” aspects. The question is: Can the hypothesis explain the “IS” and “COULD BE but IS NOT” aspects? One of the hypotheses will best explain the “IS” and “COULD BE but IS NOT” aspects. This is the most probable hypothesis.

Verifying the root cause is the last and trickiest part. You have to verify your assumptions and reflect the way, how you have come to the decision what the root cause is. If you are sure that you have identified the root cause, you can develop and implement a solution. After the implementation, you have to verify the result. Is the problem solved? Yes? Fine! If not, you have to involve this into the test of the other hypotheses.


Kepner-Tregoe is a totally rational method. It’s hard at the beginning not to make quick assumptions and to reflect. It’s something you have to train. I guarantee that you will get better with each problem you solve. KT problem analysis was used during the Apollo 13 mission. And what should I say? It worked! So give it a try.

EDIT: Kepner-Tregoe informed me over Twitter, that there are two groups on LinkedIn, where you can get more information and talk to other KT practitioners.

Reducing the friction: On-site installation

Scott Lowes “Reducing the Friction” posts inspired me to write a bit about a part of my job.

A significant part of my work is the on-site installation of newly purchased equipment. That’s one thing my customers really like. I’m not only the pre-sales guy that is doing designs and workshops, but I am also the guy who installed the things which he has thought up. This prevents finger pointing if something isn’t working as expected. I usually come into play after the rack installation and cabling. At this point I’ve done a lot of work. After the order confirmation one of my first activities is a meeting with the customer to plan the installation. This meeting is the formal project kickoff and a result of this meeting is a project plan, milestones, goals etc. You should note that project management is a important part, but It’s not done by a dedicated project manager. A dedicated project manager is only involved in bigger projects, but not for the usual “4-hosts-1-storage-dual-fc-fabric-1-vsphere-cluster” projects. At this point I start to structure the project. I create work packages, define activites, goals and configuration details with the customer. I use mind maps for it. In the end I have a big mind map with all work packages, activites, milestones etc. The process of thinking through the project is the hardest part. You need a certain amount of project experience. You should define as much as you can with the customer. Hostnames, IPs, VLANs, volume names, pros & cons of certain configurations, define a default password with the customer etc. – the more you define with the customer, the less you have to discuss and ask during the installation phase. You shouldn’t discuss the design with the customer at this point. If you have to discuss the design during the kickoff, either the requirements have changed or you sold something that don’t satisfy customer requirement. Now the task is to implement the design. After the kickoff you should have all you need, to go through the installation. I try to use digital media during those kickoffs. Either I use my iPad for notes and sketches, or I write it directly into a mind map. I use UPAD with a Bamboo Stylus Duo on my iPad and Mindjet MindManager on Windows.

Before you begin with the installation you should ensure that you have all software, all licenses and all information you need. It’s annoying when you start during installation to download software. Sometimes you can’t avoid it. In this case you should ensure that you have a fast and working internet connection. Another cause of delay and friction is a laptop that isn’t working, a empty battery, a missing power outlet, missing tools and software (for example terminal emulation, missing serial cables, tools etc.). To me it’s uncomfortable to ask the customer for cables or tools. It looks disorganized.

During the installation you should make sure to keep the track. Follow the work packages and activites. Do it step by step. If you’ve more experience, you can try to do thing parallel, for example install ESXi onto the hosts and update the FC-Switch firmware. Document your work and what you’ve configured. If the customer is with you, explain what you are doing. This shows that you don’t do this for the first time.

installation caseWhen I go to the customer, then I have a medium-sized box with me. Everything I need is in this box. You can see on the picture: HP 6450b laptop with Windows 7 (used only for installations), tools, different serial cables, different TP-cables in different length, serial port ExpressCard, a Juniper 5GT firewall, power supplies & socket strip, antistatic mat, USB disk (offline WSUS, Windows Server VMware templates, lots of software etc.) and velcro.

Of course I only have the box with me when I’m working with HW. For example updating vSphere enviroments, firewall, networking or pure consulting projects I do without my box. :) For my daily work I use a Rimowa Salsa business trolley, in which I store notebook, iPad, power supply etc.

Disorganized work is something I really can not stand. It looks unprofessional and it’s error-prone. The better you prepared, the better the result will be.

How do you organize your work in case of a on-site installation?