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Published on June 18th, 2010

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Noel Bruton speaks – recreation, or redundancy?

The highly respected IT support specialists and author Noel Bruton has joined the team of writers here at ServiceDesk360.com, bringing his usual brand of insight, good humour and practical advice. In his first article, Bruton investigates the impact of holidays on support resources.

Summer’s here and the time is right. We’re going into a period where most of the IT support team will take turns disappearing for a week or two, enjoying the rare company of their families or a spot of extended rest and respite.  Good luck to them, we all could do with a break now and again.  But what will their absence mean for our service continuity?  Hopefully, there won’t be as many requests arriving, because the users too will be taking some time out, so the smaller support team matches the smaller workload.  You wish.  The probable outcome is that you’ll be a little less busy – but not much.

The issue raised by this situation is a perennial one, namely how to cope in times of reduced staff.  You always do, of course, because you’ve got a good team of people and they will rally round and briefly increase their productivity to take up the slack in the tricky times.  But of course the unspoken expectation then is, that if there is slack in the system to allow short boosts in output, why can that new level not be the norm?  And if it can be, can we dispense with, sorry I mean redeploy a team member?

You know you need that holidaying tech back in post and that you’re only just barely managing without him.  But you may well have no way of proving it.  That sad omission may not matter, because neither can your observers prove your absence of need, so it’s easier to leave things as they are.  But would it not be better to have a clear, numerical measure of the need for resources to meet proven, necessary levels of both the quantity and quality of output and the numbers of heads to produce that?

Parameters

The productivity of your team is not simply a matter of the productivity of individual members of staff, based on the number of hours in the day.  Their output is not just a matter of effort, but of a myriad of parameters, all of which are discretely adjustable.  These parameters include depth of diagnosis, speed of work, quality of answer, scope, paperwork completion, chatting with the user, learning from the experience, telling others about it, writing a report, depleting the backlog and so on.

Imagine all those factors and more as a series of faders on a mixing desk in front of you.  When everybody’s in and it’s a slow day, you can open the ‘quality’ throttles a bit wider and back off the ‘quantity’ ones without slowing the overall speed of response.  When people are away, you can de-emphasise one or two of the less crucial or public parameters so that service levels overall do not suffer as much as they might.  The thing is that you probably do this instinctively as a group.  You don’t have to tell your people to work faster when colleague numbers are down, they just do.  You don’t keep a detailed record of what you adjusted into the negative, and the undesirable effects thereby produced – because hey, you got by, job’s a good ‘un.  The problem is that you achieved it in an unorganised fashion as a collective effort.  You don’t know and so can’t prove what you did, so there’s no science.  That’s not really ‘managing’, it’s more like clinging on and hoping for the best.

Catalogue

Strangely, the Service Catalogue can help here.  See it not just as a list of jobs you do, but as a list of products you make and the production lines that make them.  Those lines consume your resources.  So with a solid measure of the amount of resource required in the manufacture of each product, you have a clear idea of the aggregate number of people your department needs.  Couple that with your ‘quality’ faders above and then you know for sure what suffers, or more accurately what doesn’t need to suffer when some of your people are absent.  It puts you in a position of negotiation with your customers and superiors – you can demonstrate and get agreement on where the adjustments can and should be made.

But before all that, you must of course first have an assured case that you are making the best use of the resources you have.  First, benchmark your outputs.  I know doing that makes people nervous, but for the sake of truth and making sure they’re not permanently overworked, it’s absolutely necessary.  Do that first.  The ‘productisation’ of your service catalogue, resource deployment to man those production lines and the subtleties of your mixing desk can come later.

Noel Bruton is a consultant and trainer who advises companies on the practicalities of IT support management and improvement, and the author of best-selling books on all aspects of IT service delivery.  See more of his work at www.noelbruton.com.

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2 Responses to Noel Bruton speaks – recreation, or redundancy?

  1. Chris Evans says:

    As insightful as ever. The ability to accurately quantify the work that we do is the perennial bug-bear of IT, mainly because measurement means accountability and accountability means ‘nowhere to hide’.

    In this current climate, it is ever more essential that we can prove what a good job we do. The challenge is making the measurement look like it is for this purpose and not to measure ‘how much you are skiving off during the working day’.

    Like many things it needs a good ‘hearts and minds’ salesman (not unlike Mr Bruton ;) to get the right message across and achieve staff buy in.

  2. Noel Bruton says:

    Thanks Chris – I’m convinced good measurement is at the heart of everything. That’s why I have my “NumberKnow” offering.

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