Ed. note: This week we are pleased to bring you a guest post from a managed service provider that’s breaking ground in applying agile methodologies to their business.
It’s time MSPs rethink how services are delivered if they are to survive. Traditional and accepted ITIL methodologies need to be challenged and improved. For several years, there’s been chatter about new and innovative alternatives but nothing has surfaced as a reasonable, well-thought-out alternative.
We believe agile methodologies are the catalyst needed to revolutionize managed services.
Agile began in manufacturing and has been long applied to software development. Studies show that using an agile framework leads to increased productivity, higher quality outcomes, increased business stakeholder satisfaction, and reduced cost of implementing solutions.
The same problems that plague manufacturing and software development also affect the quality of service delivered by MSPs. So we’ve implemented the best and most appropriate aspects of agile in our day-to-day.
The results have been tremendous: Within six weeks, our average open ticket count dropped by 50% and our customer satisfaction rating rose by 7%.
Here are four agile components we implemented and the successes they generated.
- Kanban to visualize work in progress
Keeping work moving is integral to increasing productivity and decreasing waste. Service boards are a great way to track and manage incidents, but they lack the visual elements crucial to fully understanding the status of tickets and projects throughout the company.
Kanban is an illustrative way to see work in progress and to quickly identify roadblocks.
We’ve been using ConnectWise to display customized ticket reporting and dashboards for years. But when we started down the path towards an agile practice, we realized the need for service tickets to be visually reflected on kanban boards.
So we paired ConnectWise with a software tool called Kanbanize. Using the robust APIs from both systems, we now have tickets from our service board showing on a kanban board. Changes in status from either system update the tickets appropriately.
“Before [agile], we relied on a simple list when reviewing our tickets,” says engineer Drew Dutton. “While it worked to remind us what we were working on, it didn’t do much to show us where those tickets were in the process. Now with a quick glance we can see … which issues might require immediate action.”
- Daily standup meetings
We begin every day with a 15-minute standup meeting. During these meetings, we show the kanban service board and each technician speaks to all of his open tickets. Conversations evolve with comments like, “Hey, I worked with Sally on that same issue last week,” or “Let me take that from you. You’ve got enough to do today.”
Patterns begin to emerge and efficiencies develop. This played a big part in our 50% reduction in open tickets.
Daily standup has become “the most collaborative and productive part of the day,” says Dutton. “It has gone from a progress report to something we look forward to every morning.”
An unexpected but welcome side effect to the daily standup is a greater focus on updating tickets. Like many MSPs, we’ve always been challenged to motivate technicians to enter their time on tickets and capture the details of the work. Turning it into a conversation rather than an end-of-the-day data entry nightmare has significantly improved the timeliness and completeness of our tickets.
- Real-time communication tools
A service provider’s backlog is fluid and can change dramatically depending on critical outages or other unexpected support requests. Ongoing conversation throughout the day really makes a difference to handling this constant flux.
To bring some order to reactive fixes while maintaining the constant communication needed within an agile team, we’ve implemented Slack. This collaboration tool archives and indexes chat messages within teams, company-wide groups, and between individuals for constant direct connection and absolute searchability.
We attribute the 7% increase in our customer satisfaction rating to the increased interaction that has emerged from real-time communication.
- Time-bound cycles aka scrum
Scrum is an agile framework that focuses work into tight incremental cycles that can be summed up as “create, review, improve.” Implementation is broken into smaller timeframes, and stakeholders can review progress early on and provide feedback to avoid costly mistakes.
The managed service business does not traditionally align with this method of delivery due to the random nature of issues, but we’ve found that scrum within our organization is very powerful.
Our service team now works in two-week sprints. At the beginning of each sprint, we plan what we’ll implement. Following the sprint, we stop and complete a review to capitalize on the things that worked well and to identify areas that could be better in future implementations.
We feel our successes are proof that agile methodologies can be leveraged in IT managed services, infrastructure/endpoint support, deployment projects, and general business. Join us in a movement that’s well past due!