Tag Archives: it support

Coach employees the fundamentals of IT support

Excellent client service does not happen on its own. It happens because IT managers create the proper environment and teach their IT employees what is required to deliver effective client service.

 

A big part of a manager’s job is teaching and coaching. It doesn’t matter if you are on a sports team or in a professional IT support environment.

 

Good managers coach and reinforce the fundamentals of what it takes to be successful. They teach at the individual level to help each employee succeed. When individuals succeed collectively, the team succeeds.

 

What are IT support fundamentals?

Well, my list is pretty simple as you might expect. They include the following:

 

1.  Follow-up  –  This is one of the most important of all traits we need. Simply put, when something is committed to a client, our staff needs to follow-up and close out their promise. In other words, “Do what you say you will do.”

 

2.  Communicate effectively  –   IT people tend to lack good communication skills. It’s important for you to coach your employees on what and how to communicate with our clients, senior management, and each other.

 

3.  Project management  –  Delivering  projects successfully is how IT organizations achieve credibility. You may need to teach your employees how to work on projects or how to manage them. In fact, you may need to create a project management culture if it does not exist.

 

4.  Quality  –  We want our employees to do the job right and to do their tasks completely, , , high quality. Finish the job and do the work once by doing it right.

 

5.  Productivity  –  At the end of the day, how much an employee accomplishes is as important as how well they do something. Time management is essential and is a great coaching opportunity.

 

6.  Professional conduct  –  “Dress for success!”, they say. Coach employees how to conduct themselves at work and understanding the importance of looking professionally is very important for IT success.

 

7.  Being on time  –  Seems like a small point but it’s a major issue. Being on time for meetings, completing tasks and other commitments on time says a lot about you as an individual and an IT organization.

 

8.  Be conservative  –  When making a commitment, be conservative so you can “over deliver”. No one gets upset if we complete the work earlier or less costly than expected.

 

9.  Teamwork  –  Whether working with a client or with other IT employees, we are all on the same team. Respect for one another and working together as a team is an absolute requirement to achieve success.

 

10.  Positive attitude  –  People who have positive “can do” attitudes achieve higher levels of success than those who do not. IT managers must not only coach this but they need to lead by example and become the IT organization’s best cheerleader.

 

Don’t assume your employees understand all of these fundamentals.

 

Professional sports team coaches constantly teach and reinforce the fundamentals of a player’s position with them, , , and these guys have been playing the sport for years.

 

What you see consistently is that teams who execute the fundamentals of their sport the best are the winners.

 

Instill the fundamentals of IT support within each of your IT employees and your IT organization will achieve many successes.

3-day training this weekend for only $27.00

I normally would not share this, but I plan to attend Armand Morin’s 3-day WebCamp program on October 4-6, 2013, , , this weekend.

The $27.00 registration is almost ridiculous for 3 full days of training. A recording will be made available to all who register if you can’t attend or miss part of the training.

Armand will deliver WebCamp live from Las Vegas and will stream it out to those who register and attend from home (like me).

Check out the 3-day agenda and watch the promotion video at http://webcamp.cc/x.php?af=905629

I attended two of Armand’s WebCamps this year that he streamed from his home. What I can tell you is that he educates you by showing exactly what to do, , , step by step.

If you or your company need to discover ways to promote your products or services, you owe it to yourself to attend or tell someone in the marketing or sales organization of your company. One tip could be highly valuable for your company.

I highly recommend Armand. I’ve invested quite a bit in this area over the years and he is by far the best I’ve seen, , , and mainly because he teaches you what to do and how.

What does this have to do with IT management?

Good question. What a resource like this offers is to develop your ability to help your company promote its business by potentially introducing innovative internet marketing techniques. We need to discover ways to help our company succeed and introducing new approaches that use technology fits into this category.

I’m constantly surprised at how many companies do not know about Internet marketing and the cost effectiveness it offers a company. For example, traditional mass mail costs about $15.00 per visitor to your web site, , , Google “pay per click” costs me about $ .26 per visitor, , , significantly more cost effective.

Another example, , , a training technique I introduced to a hospital this year came from what I learned in one of Armand’s classes last year, , , and I use it for my own training program development.

Learning how to promote things via the Internet, social media, using Google ads and other innovative techniques makes you more valuable to your company plus it gives your IT organization an edge in supporting your company.

I can assure you that it will be worth many times your $27.00 investment and thought I should share it with you.

Learn more at http://webcamp.cc/x.php?af=905629

Client Satisfaction Survey to assess IT support

phoneHow well is your IT Support Organization doing?

The real answer lies “in the eyes of the beholder” as they say. What this means here is that your client’s perspective is what’s important, , , not what you and your IT staff think.

I’m not trying to stir up trouble but I do want to make a point.

IT managers usually have the same perspective – almost always they view how their IT support organization is doing this way:

  • “Our IT employees work very hard and on the right things for our company.”
  • “Our clients do not understand nor appreciate us.”
  • “Clients do not do what they need to do to use our technology effectively.”
  • “We don’t have enough money to do the job.”

Some of this may be true but the bottom line is that when you focus IT support, your client’s perspective is what’s really important.

Do you know what your client would say when asked about their IT support?

There are a few questions you should always have a good grasp about what they will say:

  1. “Is the IT support organization responsive to your needs?”
  2. “Is IT support effective in resolving your technical problems?”
  3. “Is IT support focused on your needs and issues?”
  4. “Are IT support employees professional and courteous in providing IT support?”

At a minimum, you need to evaluate and understand these issues on a somewhat regular basis. To do this, you can use a simple IT Support – Client Satisfaction Survey. There are only 5 questions and requires only a few minutes to complete.

IT Support Survey

CLICK HERE to download the survey tool.

A STRONG Recommendation in conducting surveys
Rather than sending a survey out and hoping your clients will fill them out and return to you, , , visit or call your client to conduct your survey and fill out the form yourself.

There are several reasons:

  • You will get a much higher response, , , no one likes to fill out surveys.
  • If the response is negative, you can ask a follow-up question or ask for an example to better understand your client’s perspective. You will learn much more than if they simply fill out the survey.
  • Visiting your client and communicating with them one-on-one is always a good thing for you to do.

If you conduct a client survey, be sure to follow-up with results of the survey and actions to be taken to improve IT support. Otherwise, “Why do one?” It helps you gain credibility when you follow-up with specific action items.

Another thing to consider is to conduct your surveys twice a year, , , at least annually, and use the same questions each time. Doing this will help you monitor trends and see if you are making progress in providing support for your clients.

Communicate ‘Cost of Downtime’ to get through to senior managers

questionHave you ever tried to get an infrastructure project funded only to discover that it is like “pulling teeth” to get your senior manager’s approval?

If so, it is probably because your senior manager is having major difficulty understanding what you are talking about. All he hears is that you are asking for lots of money, , , and that’s not something he lets go of without understanding the value of what he will receive from the investment.

Senior executives normally do not understand technology, , , and they don’t want to.

Well, if that’s the case, , , how do you get a technology project funded that’s critical for the stability and support of your infrastructure? You know how important it is but you aren’t getting the message across to your boss, the CEO.

Something that will help is to discuss the project in terms of business value, , , and certainly not in technical terms.

Discuss “WHY”, , , not “WHAT”!

“WHY” deals with benefits, , , i.e., business value. “WHAT” deals with technology.

Unfortunately as former technical people, IT managers tend to discuss the “What” and not the “WHY”. It’s a guaranteed way to put your CEO to sleep or give him a major headache.

Business value includes one or more of five very specific things:

  • Increase revenue
  • Decrease cost
  • Improve productivity
  • Differentiate the company
  • Improve client satisfaction

When you change your presentation to highlight the business value your company will receive by making the infrastructure investment, your senior manager hears and understands you, , , and when this happens, he makes a decision that usually goes your way if there is sufficient value for the investment.

A tool that can help significantly is to paint a picture of the ‘cost of downtime’ that your project recommendation will help eliminate.

Calculating “cost of downtime” is straightforward, but first you need to visualize what we are talking about. Below is a simple infrastructure scenario:

Cost of Downtime example

In this example, we literally “paint a downtime picture” to show the following:

  • Corporate HQ Office is home of the Data Center where there are three servers.
  • There are five remote offices (Atlanta, Denver, New York, etc.)
  • In each office we list the number of Users (500 at HQ, 100 in Atlanta, etc.)
  • We estimate the average salary of a company employee is $20/hour.
  • The green filled circles are routers.
  • Three downtime scenarios are highlighted:
  1. If the Atlanta office router goes down or they lose connectivity, the productivity loss at 100% is $2,000/hour.
  2. If the HQ router goes down (green filled circle on the Corporate HQ box), all remote offices lose connectivity and 100% productivity impact will be $20,000/hour.
  3. If the E-mail server crashes it affects productivity of all 1,500 workers. At 10% productivity factor, the impact is $3,000/hour.

Using these assumptions you can quantify the ‘cost of downtime’ for any component in your company, , , even a zone printer or a single PC.

Once you and your client can visualize the downtime scenario we created above, you can list key components in a downtime chart and refer to it when trying to justify an infrastructure project.

costofdowntime

CLICK HERE to download the Cost of Downtime tool.

Downtime has huge cost and productivity implications for your company. If you need to implement a redundant router at the HQ building to reduce the risk of having a single router point of failure for 1,000 of your remote office workers, it is pretty straightforward and easy to get funded when the CEO sees the potential productivity cost risk of downtime with a single router.

Are Your Escalation Procedures Better Than the Keystone Cops?

How would you describe your IT Support Organization when a critical problem occurs – like with a mission critical business application or server?

Better yet, how would your clients (non-IT managers and employees of your company) describe your support organization when a major mishap occurs?

Would they say your organization is highly organized, knows exactly what to do, and takes care of the problem proactively and efficiently?

Or, would they say your organization looks a bit like the “Keystone Cops”?

keystone copsKeystone Cops – circa 1912-1917

You may be a bit young to know who the Keystone Cops were. In essence, it was a very early silent film cartoon series of a group of incompetent policemen who scurried around like “chickens with their heads cut off” trying to chase the bad guys. They did virtually everything but capture the crooks, ultimately succeeding almost by accident than by efficiency. Charlie Chaplin did a cameo appearance as a Keystone Cop in 1914.

To respond to catastrophes efficiently and in an organized way, you need an escalation procedure that takes your team step by step to identify, diagnose and troubleshoot the problem. It’s about preparing for “what might happen” and organizing your support to take care of it in the event it actually does happen.

When thinking about escalation procedures, the first thing you want to do is identify the potential situations where you might need an escalation procedure. There are dozens if not hundreds so what I like to do is to target key support areas and make one of my staff the “expert”. Let’s use e-mail as an example.

The staff member who is assigned to be our “e-mail expert” has three key responsibilities in regards to e-mail support.

  1. He or she is the knowledge expert on the topic of e-mail, , , the “go to person” for e-mail support. I don’t expect this employee to know everything there is to know about e-mail, but I do expect the expert to know where to go to get answers to issues and to develop outside resources to help in times of need. Being my e-mail expert means “you own e-mail”.
  2. My expert needs to help us develop more experts. We will identify 2 or 3 more people to become e-mail experts so we have backup and depth. Our primary expert will develop with me a curriculum to target appropriate training to develop our expert candidates and will be responsible for making it happen.
  3. I want my expert to develop escalation procedures for his “expert area”, , , in this case, e-mail. I’ll ask the expert to identify things that can go wrong with e-mail and we will target the situations that we think need escalation procedures. Then, we will ask the expert to draft the escalation procedures so we can fine tune them as a support team before putting them into place.

When you target mission critical support issues, assign specific staff to be the expert for each area, and expect them to take care of the three responsibilities listed above. It will help you support your business better.

One recommendation is to take the escalation procedures developed by each of your experts and put them into an Escalation Manual. Share this documentation with your IT support team and maintain a copy at the Help Desk so they can initiate the escalation steps as soon as a critical problem occurs. Be sure to train key staff on the procedures so they fully understand what to do when problems occur.

Escalation procedures do not need to be complex. Keep them simple and to the point so they are easy to follow.

Download the Escalation Procedure template I use and take a look at the sample escalation procedure for “Loss of Connectivity” where we define the steps to take when a remote office drops a telecommunications circuit and loses connectivity with our Data Center servers.

Keep a Vendor Contact List handy for quick support

manager_chicken littleI remember joining a new company as a new CIO early in my career. It was a small company and my first CIO position. I discovered quickly I had a lot to learn.

One day soon after my start we experienced a problem with one of our key business applications and needed vendor support to resolve the problem. When we began looking for “who to call” and a phone number, none of the staff seemed to be able to find the information.

The application was a mission critical application meaning much of our company employees depended upon it to do their jobs and to support our business. It had client service ramifications as well as cash flow implications.

Well, you can guess that we started feeling the pressure pretty quickly because the system was down and we needed to escalate vendor support, , , yet we didn’t seem to know who to call or have their phone number.

The good news is that we finally discovered what we needed, , , I think by reviewing a contract to get a phone number. Once the vendor got involved we were able to resolve the problem fairly quickly.

From that moment, I decided to never let something like this happen to me again. Nothing bothers me more than to be in a situation where we need help and don’t know who to call. When you have a problem is not the time you want to go scurrying around to find your vendor’s contact information.

When you join a new company or assume additional responsibilities, make it a priority to quantify your mission critical systems (hardware and software) and list the vendor information you might need to escalate support.

Use a simple Vendor Support Contact List to identify your key vendors and the contact information you will most likely need at some point. Download the sample version I use and modify it for your specific needs.

vendor contacts

Give this list to other managers and to your Help Desk.

CLICK HERE to download the Vendor Contacts template.

Something else you should do, , , take your mission critical vendors to lunch or have them take you to lunch. You need to get to know them and you want them to know you. If you do need to escalate a support call to them, it helps when they know who you are and they will tend to respond better for you.

Do you have an Escalation Plan?

escalation planWhat does your IT organization do when a mission critical event takes place in your company?

Does the appropriate IT support component spring into action to minimize the risk imposed by the problem, , , or have you even sat down to think about and determine what these issues are and what you should do if they occur?

Sadly, many IT organizations wait until a major problem occurs before thinking about it. Unfortunately, this is a terrible time to start analyzing what you would do in the event of a major problem.

Major issues can occur in any industry, , , some things are unique to a particular business or industry. Here are some situations to think about:

  • Server or network failure
  • Remote office loses connectivity
  • Data interface between applications or outside entities goes down
  • Anything that endangers patient care in a hospital
  • Anything that puts employee safety at risk
  • Issues that can cause financial risk to the company
  • Things that significantly jeopardize client satisfaction

fireman1It’s important for your IT support team to respond quickly when major problems occur like the examples above. To do this, you need some type of high alert process that causes your team to take action when key events happen.

It will be much more effective when your employees know what causes an escalation event. what their action steps need to be, and have the knowledge and tools to be able to troubleshoot and resolve the problem, , , even who the escalation owner will be to manage and close out the response activities.

You want escalation to take place automatically so think about these things now. Trying to figure it all out when you have a problem is not a good time to start.

Understand supply and demand to manage client expectations

One of the keys to success as an IT manager is being able to manage your client’s expectations. There are many other keys to success, but this one is critical.

To manage your client’s expectations, you must know some things about the concept of “supply and demand” and how it applies within an IT support organization.

Demand is the technology support needed by your clients to address their business needs and issues.

Supply is your IT organization’s capability and capacity to deliver IT support.

In most situations, there will be more demand than supply, , , your clients need or want more from IT than the IT organization can deliver. This is normal and exists for most IT organizations. That’s OK, but to succeed, you are going to have to balance the two somehow.

Let’s take a team of five programmers and use them as an example to discuss these issues.

Here, you see we have one great team of five programmers. Let’s assume they all work on the same software application to make our example easier.

The Demand Side
Our demand for programming work is defined by a couple of things:

  1. Day to day support required of the programmers
  2. Backlog of programming enhancement requests

Your Help Desk should give you some sense for the “disruptive nature” of day to day support issues that hinder a programmer’s coding productivity. If you don’t have anything, do a 2-week time study and have each of your programmer’s chart where they spend their time for every hour of the day.

You might be surprised, , , and this simple exercise will tell you a lot about what’s being pulled out of your team’s capacity to handle daily support issues.

Maybe you think your team is totally isolated and immune from day to day support. Don’t be fooled, , , do the time exercise and discover the reality of your situation.

The second part of Demand is detailed in your Programming Backlog. You should have a database of some type (maybe it’s just an EXCEL spreadsheet) that lists every programming request and an estimate of how many hours it will take to program the project.

If you aren’t managing your backlog like this, then you don’t know what your demand for programming is, , , and if you don’t know, you can’t manage client expectations.

The Supply Side
On average, a programmer can produce about 100 – 120 hours of productive code per month. There are 160 hours in a normal month of work (4 weeks at 40 hours each), and when you pull out time for meetings, training, sick, vacation and holidays, , , what is left is the actual productive coding time you get from a programmer.

Some months will be less than this average of 100 – 120 hours of productive coding time, some months will be better, , , but over 12 months time you should see this average work out.

If you are delivering less than 100-120 hours per programmer per month on average for 6 or more months, you have a productivity issue that needs attention.

OK, if we have 5 programmers that means our supply of productive coding (or capacity) is somewhere between 500 – 600 hours per month as a team.

Let’s assume the demand for coding new reports, enhancements, and new features for this application is considerably more than our capacity. How do we increase our output, , , our supply?

There are several ways to increase the output of a programming team:

  1. Improve the existing team’s productivity
  2. Have the team work more hours
  3. Pay programmers incentive pay to do certain projects on their own time (on weekends and holidays or in the evenings after work)
  4. Hire new programmers
  5. Contract programmers from the outside

I’ve used all of these and every option will work to improve your programming team’s output. One caution though is that “requiring the team to work more hours” will work to an extent, but long term use of this approach can create morale problems and put your programmers at risk of leaving your company.

You essentially have three options to address a programming backlog that exceeds your capacity, , , reduce the amount of backlog, , , take longer to do the work, , , or increase capacity to attack the backlog.

The bottom line though is that you aren’t going to get twice the capacity with the five programmers you have on board now. If need is truly higher than your capacity to deliver, you have to manage your client’s expectations. There are several ways:

  1. Reduce the demand
  2. Increase your capacity to deliver
  3. Take longer

Usually the answer lies within all three of these. However, Item #3 (Take longer) really isn’t doing anything different. You attack the problem when you do something about reducing the demand and/or increasing capacity.

The next thing you need to have a good grasp on is, How much of your capacity goes to day to day support?”

It might be 80% of your total programming capacity to troubleshoot issues, fix things, or provide day to day support for the users. If it is 80%, that doesn’t leave much to develop real enhancements.

You need to have a realistic estimate of what day to day support requires from your team, , , without it, you are doomed.

To manage client expectations, you have to know what your capacity to deliver is and of that capacity, , , how much of it is required for day to day support.

Without this understanding, it is virtually impossible to manage your client’s expectations.

Be conservative
The next thing is that when you are making commitments to your clients, you must be conservative. Remember the “Golden IT Rule”, , ,

Always position your team to over deliver. No one gets upset if you exceed their expectations.

One method I use is that I always start managing a new programming staff with an expectation that we can deliver 100 hours of code per programmer per month, , , the bottom of the 100-120 hours a month range you typically see.

Now, when you do this, you need to know that I consider these programmers to be truly isolated from day to day support issues, , , their full time is focused on software development.

I know that if we are operating properly, each of these programmers will actually deliver on average more than 100 hours per month. When I give my client a forecast that we can deliver up to 500 hours a month for the team (5 programmers * 100 hours), I’m positioning the team to over deliver.

Summary
Four key things will help you manage your client’s expectations:

  1. Understand the demand for your resources
  2. Know your capability and capacity to deliver
  3. Realize how much is used for day to day support
  4. Be conservative in your commitments

Do these things with your programming staff and other parts of your IT support organization and you will be able to manage your client’s expectations much better.

Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing?

Early in my management career I inherited a small IT support group of programmers and business analysts. It was a very bright and capable staff although they were pretty young.

We had a client who always had problems during their month-end process. I had heard about these problems before I joined the group. Sure enough, at the end of the very first month I’m the manager, the client had problems and I take a call from their CFO.

I asked several questions but did not receive any feedback that told me what the problem was. I discounted the issue and thought that maybe it was an anomaly. This would prove to be a mistake.

At the end of the 2nd month, guess what happened. Yes, , , they have problems again. This time I call the client and we decide to have a couple of people visit their office during the next month’s process.

I took two of my most capable people, , , a BA and a programmer to the client to observe the End of Month process during the 3rd month I was the support manager. Our mission, , , identify what the problem is and why it is happening. Once we know what the situation is, we can fix the problem.

The key problem was identified quickly. What was happening was that the client had to run several large detail reports prior to their month end backups every month. Because these reports were not completing in time, several people were kicking off the same report, , , in other words, the same report was being run three or four times simultaneously.

This level of systems activity was slowing the system down significantly, , , so much so that before the reports could finish they had to be cancelled so the client could run their month end backup processes.

We recommended the client put into place a “Month End Jobs Coordinator” to insure only one request of a job could be run at any given time. This improved systems performance and these large reports now had plenty of time to finish running in the months ahead. This simple management supervision corrected the problem completely.

This issue of the “right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing” can cause a lot of problems. Often, the pain is significant and the remedy is something that’s very simple.