At the start of every year or quarter, senior managers across the organization get pulled into the tug-of-war of budgeting and headcount planning. And few feel the pain as much as IT. If your team is viewed as a cost center, as IT more often than not is, asking for a bigger budget or head count increase can be a daunting task. But not doing so is not an option either. If you don’t properly plan and make a compelling argument to senior management for those extra resources you need, teams that are stretched get even more stretched resulting in a decrease in quality of work and employee burnout; neither of which helps the employee, the IT team, or the company.
They say if you can’t measure it you can’t fix it. Equally true is, if you can’t measure it, you can’t justify it to management. It’s time for IT teams to learn a lesson from customer support.
Why Customer Support?
I don’t mean wearing a headset and wishing every one a nice day. Though your co-workers would probably like that. I am referring to the practice of building a strong competence in measuring how much work the IT team is taking on, how quickly they’re responding, and how satisfied are the people who depend on them. Sounds simple? It should be, but astonishingly many IT organizations are so mired in the day to day blocking and tackling that they don’t remember to remind everyone how much they’re getting done.
Customer support organizations for years have become masters of analytics. They live and die on measuring key performance metrics like average response time, number of requests solved per person per day, and customer satisfaction.
The benefit? Support organizations can tell you exactly what their team utilization is and how good of a job they’re doing. More importantly, they have the numbers and analysis to credibly ask for a budget and headcount increase when they need it.
Not just IT, but every internal business team could think of themselves as a customer service organization across HR, Finance, Legal and others. Though no one is closer to customer support than IT. IT is the internal customer service organization, troubleshooting software and hardware problems for employees. If IT is similar in many ways to the external support organization, then they also need to mimic support’s best practices on gathering the right data and using that information to show their value to the business.
Here are 3 steps internal teams can take to report the kind of performance metrics that executives understand and respond to.
Establish and Document Processes for How Work Gets Done
The biggest barrier to measuring anything is a lack of a consistent method of execution or in other words, a process. If all requests for work, be it in IT or outside such as reviewing a contract or updating an employee benefit plan are executed in an inconsistent manner with varying levels of efficiency, it’s hard to get a read on how long a task takes and at what rate it can be executed. Further, if all requests for tasks are received and responded to over email, it’s easy for teams and managers to lose sight of the total volume of work being serviced by the entire team over any one quarter and how that volume is either increasing or fluctuating in that timeframe. In the support world, processes are well documented and automated so customers get quality and consistent service. Requests for help from customers come through applications and systems that document not just when the request came in but the time it took for each step in the support process from inception to resolution. While many IT teams do use ticketing systems they rarely have the same sophistication as those used by external support. And if they are not user friendly and zero-effort to use, employees bypass them with email or fly-bys to the IT agent’s desk.
The common mantra for many teams is that no day is typical. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a process that accommodates flexibility. Often there will be an 80-20 rule; 80% of requests will follow a certain pattern while 20% might be outside the norm. By shying away from documenting and following a process at least for the 80%, IT departments are missing out on a crucial ability to not only better track their work but also service their stakeholders better by bringing increased consistency and quality control into their daily tasks.
Measure Everyday Activities
This might seem overkill at first but it’s the only way to truly understand how long it takes for you or your team to fulfill common requests. Even rough measurements will go a long way to give you an idea of how to plan your day or week. As teams grow and become geographically distributed, understanding how long tasks take is critical to planning capacity. Software developers often use a method called agile development where each task gets a number score that indicates how long the developer thinks that task will take. This allows a product manager to ensure a product release is adequately planned, staffed, and on track. Lawyers and consultants regularly clock their hours since they need to bill clients per hour. There are many examples of different functions bringing an increased measurement rigor in order to not only track progress more efficiently, but also help managers better plan and staff every quarter.
Best of all, there are many work management or task management systems that make it easy for employees to track time spent on a task, similar to the many apps for your smart phone that will help you count calories and track exercise routines.
Use Processes and Measurement to Build Your Personal Analytics Dashboard
Once you have documented the process and put in place steps to either manually measure time taken or in an automated manner through a tool, you’re ready to start building your own personal analytics.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could answer questions like:
- Last quarter with 3 people we supported 342 IT related requests for help from employees and on average were able to provide a response within 2 hours.
- The number of requests were up 12% from last quarter
- For the next quarter we expect a 8% increase based on company wide headcount growth
Imagine the possibilities you have armed with those kinds of numbers?
Now you no longer have to say – “I think we need more headcount, because we’re swamped and working late most nights.”
Instead, you have real numbers, tied to measurable results, that executives love and respect. To further spice things up, you could add employee satisfaction surveys to demonstrate your successes.
So now your analytics read:
- Last quarter with 3 people we supported 342 requests with an average employee satisfaction score of 77%.
- The #1 issue many employees cited was the length of time it takes to get help
- For the next quarter, we’re looking at a potential 8% increase in # of requests.
- With an extra headcount we are confident we can scale to meet demand while boosting our overall customer satisfaction to our stated goal of 90%
While you may not get what you ask for, if you ask for it enough times in the right way, often good things will happen.
It’s time for IT teams to embrace the best practices that have led to customer service organizations becoming the lean mean fighting machines that they are. There is no substitute for good analytics, but that comes at a price; the need to follow a process for how work gets done and measure the time taken to perform the steps along the way. But the upside is huge. Not only are you able to build the type of reports and analytics needed to succeed, but the people who depend on you get fast, consistent service they can trust. There are many tools and systems in the market to help you on your journey.
So in 2015, think like a customer support organization. Your company will thank you for it.