IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Agile Service Delivery: Taking a Page from DevOps

With a focus on managing work rather than people, agile service delivery will decrease lead time, cycle time, and queue length. By Manuel Palachuk

COUPLE THE FAST-PACED and dynamic changes happening in the IT industry with the ever-increasing performance demands of clients and their end users and the message is clear: You had better keep up or move aside! At the heart of this never-ending relationship is the IT service delivery mechanism.

New tools and best practices are pouring into the mix every day, making it easier for a single tech to see and manage more endpoints than ever before. Managing the actual workflow, though—from an issue being reported to a tech addressing and resolving it—is still largely the same kludgy process it’s always been.

This is where the biggest bottlenecks are today. The “stack-and-run” methodology most PSA systems use, which piles issues on techs until they buckle under the load, is outdated and slow.

There’s a better way to manage the workflow, however, and it’s right in front of us! The secret to closing tickets faster and more efficiently is to use the same agile DevOps methods that software developers employ. “Agile service delivery,” as I call it, makes the workload you’re dealing with more visible and allows you to focus on managing work rather than people.

You might wonder how two completely different types of work could benefit from the same methods. Service delivery, after all, involves a large list of mostly unrelated requests about thousands of endpoints and applications used by hundreds of different companies. Software development addresses a finite list of features and bugs that all have a home somewhere in an application.

In truth, though, the agility that DevOps enables can be directly applied to service delivery with amazing results. Many companies I’ve worked with measured a 50 percent or more increase in technician performance once they moved to agile service delivery.

Just how do agile processes work when applied to service delivery? Though we can do little more than scratch the surface here, there are three basic mindset and method changes that will make your team agile.

  1. Stop scheduling every bit of work and assigning every issue to a technician. This loosens up the schedule and frees up the team to “pull” work from the queue as fast as they can execute it.
  2. Focus on limiting Work in Progress (WiP), the sprawl of issues opened but not resolved. This keeps issues from getting too old or too out of hand to maintain high customer satisfaction.
  3. Train your service manager to pinpoint “rogues” (issues that are growing old or have been touched but not resolved) and group issues together by type of work required rather than just by client. This allows a tech to resolve multiple issues affecting multiple clients at once.

Why is agile service delivery better? Because it will decrease lead time, cycle time, and queue length. Lead time matters because it determines how long clients wait before someone puts their hands on an issue after it’s been reported. Cycle time matters because it indicates how fast the team can pick issues up and put them down. Queue length is most relevant of all because it measures the team’s total backlog of workload.

So now that you know there’s a better way to manage tickets, you must answer a managed services version of the red pill/blue pill question from the movie The Matrix. Even if you’re not clear on exactly how it would work, will you take the red pill and begin your journey to enlightenment toward agile service delivery? Or will you take the blue pill and slump back into complacency, content with the sorely lacking stack-and-run methods and their poor performance?

MANUEL PALACHUK is a veteran managed services consultant with over 30 years of business, management, and training experience in the computer and electronics industries, including owning and managing successful IT and MSP companies. He is also the author of Getting To The Next Level: A Blueprint for Taking You and Your Business to the Top and co-author of The Network Migration Workbook, the definitive guide to zero downtime network migrations.

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