Friday, May 18, 2012

SOP Friday: Technician Time Management Guidelines

This procedure covers the standard "routine" for a technician. Before you get into any details, please note one critically important thing: The point of all of this process is to

Avoid being Interrupt Drive.

By "interrupt driven" I simply mean that you allow yourself to be interrupted and therefore end up doing whatever interrupted you most recently. This is so important that I've addressed it in several books and many times in my blog. It's a simple phrase and a very difficult concept to implement. Just like exercise, if you get out of the habit of non-interruption for a few days, it can take some work to get back on track.

We allow ourselves to be interrupted by the telephone. How often is the telephone call more important than what you were doing? 2% of the time? We allow Outlook to pop up and beg for our attention. Then we have to go back to work. We let instant messengers from three different channels pop up and grab our attention. We check Facebook, Twitter, and our cell phones non-stop as if the world might actually end and we'd miss it.

This process does not end interruptions. But it does provide a framework for getting things done based on priorities rather than "most recent interruption."

Flowchart of the Technician's Day
The Technician’s Day

The Technician’s Day is a routine and it is expected that all technicians will follow it very closely. This routine is simply a continuously looping process of subroutines.  After each numbered subroutine, begin at the top of the list again.  For example, if you have managed to complete the subroutine "Work P2 Tickets" you go back to the top and work your way through the subroutines in order. See the diagram.

Don't let the diagram confuse you.
The basic process is this:

1) Check the time. Remember that scheduled work always takes precedence over "regular" priority-based service tickets.

2) Check email to process. You have two options here. You can have technicians check email every time they loop through, or limit it to a few times per day. For example, if the time is 8 AM, 10 AM, 1 PM, or 3 PM, then check email. Technicians do not need to hang out in email all day. Neither does anyone else, really.

3) Check for the highest priority items that you can work on. You cycle through these in the following order: P1 Tickets, High Priority Activities, P2 Tickets, Medium Priority Activities, P3 Tickets, Low Priority Activities, and P4 Tickets.

If you are very busy, it is unlikely that a technician will clear out all P1, P2, P3, and P4 tickets. If so, then you move onto

4) Other things that need to be done. This includes studying for exams, administrative work, cleaning up the office. Whatever needs to be done.

Since the entire process really amounts to beginning the day, working everything in priority order, and ending the day, it is easy to learn. Remember, one of our mantras is that nothing should ever be lost, dropped, or forgotten. That's why it is critical that everything be in your PSA system (Autotask, ConnectWise, or whatever). Once it's in the system, and every technician is cycling through this process, you will eventually work every ticket and every task.

The Warm Up

There is a bit of process that takes place before the technician starts the day. Because a service environment is always changing, it is reasonable to expect that a technician will check email and the PSA in the morning before heading into work (or perhaps the evening before).

The service manager might want the technician to show up at a client's office first thing in the morning. Or perhaps pick up supplies. Or whatever. The main thing you want to avoid is having the technician show up at the office and discover that he should be at a client's office instead.

In our project management, we sometimes use the "golden hour" of 7:00 AM to 8:00 AM to accomplish tasks before clients show up for work. If your technician is expected to be at a client's office (or working remote) at 7:00 AM, they need to know this before showing up for work at 8:00 AM!

Checking the service board and this bit of email are trivial tasks. They amount to "checking your work schedule" and are not paid time. Technicians are NOT expected to do anything else with the service board at this time. Technicians are NOT expected to process all of their email at this time. The only thing they need to do is figure out where to be to start the day.

Not Every Tech Can Work Every Ticket

If you have more than one technician, then you know that not every technician can work every ticket. This might be because of knowledge, skill, client relations, or whatever. In addition, some tickets will be assigned to specific technicians. So, if a tech looks at a ticket and sees that it is assigned to someone else, he should move on to the next ticket.

It is not uncommon that you will have a scenario such as this: Tom shows up for work and starts the process. He checks email and then looks at tickets. There are no P1 tickets and no high priority tasks (this is very common). He checks P2 tickets. There are five. One is assigned to Bob, one is assigned to Mike. One is waiting for client feedback. One is scheduled for Friday.

At this point, there is only one P2 ticket that Tom can work. When Tom reviews the notes, he might discover that it's a system he doesn't understand, or that it has escalated to a level beyond what he is able to do. That's fine. He moves on to Medium Priority tasks (internal "to do" items), and then on to P3 tickets.

There are two key things to remember here. First, each technician is expected to do what he can to move each ticket forward as much as possible. Part of the measure of a successful day is moving tickets through the system.

Second, you want to avoid (at all costs) the scenario in which a technician opens a ticket, looks through the notes, decides he can't make progress, logs time, and then logs out. Really good notes, and direction from the Service Manager go a long way to avoiding this scenario. Use the code WITNS (what is the next step) to flag the obvious next step. If the next step is to call tech support, then your technician should not begin this work fifteen minutes before the end of the day. If the next step is to deliver hardware on site, the tech can't work that from home.

Don't let techs log useless time against tickets. A good process will keep them from this is the first place.

A key piece of the service manager's job is to "massage" the service board. To the extent that it makes everything run more smoothly, he should also keep the technicians up to speed about what they should be doing. The formal process is a framework for success. But a little human wisdom and common sense go a long ways. Most of the time, most technicians will be working on P3 and P4 tickets, and low priority tasks. In other words, these are not time-sensitive issues. So there is some flexibility.

For example, if a specific program needs an update across several clients, you might have a technician work all of these at P3 tickets in one sitting. The tech will be more efficient, and you'll know that the issue has been handled. The formal process has no way of "knowing" that kind of information. But people can handle this very easily!


Implementation

This procedure takes a little time to implement. First, you need to create a flow chart similar to the one posted here. It needs to make sense for your company, so make adjustments as needed. Next, you need to write up the process and how it affects technicians. Finally, you need to train the technicians and then make sure everyone is working the system.

It will take a little effort for the service manager to monitor that everyone is working from highest priority to lowest priority. It means checking in with them, watching the tickets they complete, and reminding everyone of the process. You might even print up your flow chart and have everyone post it at their workstation.

Another one of our mantras is that we work from highest priority to lowest, from oldest to newest. This process is targeted at achieving exactly that goal. If that's your goal, then this is a good place to start.

Your Comments Welcome.

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Related articles:

SOP Friday: Schedules and Time lines for Running Your Company


SOP Friday: Time Tracking for Employees


SOP Friday: Setting Job Priorities


SOP Friday: Working in Real Time

SOP Friday: Managing Internal Administrative Tasks


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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business. Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at http://www.smallbizthoughts.com/events/SOPFriday.html.

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Next week's topic: Guide to a Service Call

:-)





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5 comments:

  1. Karl, a question for you.. If you work based on priority (highest first) and age of ticket (oldest first), how do you sell this to your customers as unfortunately they are used to "he who shouts loudest, gets immediate service".

    Fortunately, for me I am a new MSP and I'm aware that a formal process is a must.

    Would welcome your thoughts on selling the process to the client.

    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the question, Rory. There are several pieces to this.

    First, at several points in the process, I have mentioned that techs and managers need to make sure that the service request has the correct priority. That means that lower-priority tickets need to be P3 or P4.

    Remember, clients cannot set Priority 1. P1 means true emergency: Fire, flood, failed power supply, server down. That means they have three options (P2, P3, P4), which they can think of as high, medium, and low. We believe we have good response times for all of these.

    Second, if a client insists on elevating something to a P2 and wants to turn a "scheduled" item into an emergency, then we contact them and let them know that work will be billable at the urgent service rate - twice our normal hourly rate. If it is truly urgent, they will agree to this. For example, if the client has a huge presentation and their laptop won't open PowerPoint files, that's urgent to them even though it didn't look urgent to us.

    Most of the time, clients do NOT abuse the system. And, most of the time when they are faced with $300/hr labor for a minor task, they agreed to lower the priority.

    Interestingly enough, if they are willing to pay the big bucks, we almost always agree that it's a legitimate urgency for them and we do not charge the higher rate. This makes them very happy. In the PowerPoint example above, we would end up not charging the client once we realized that it really is a high priority item.

    Third, you would be amazed at how reasonable people are. They very rarely abuse the system. When we take a service request over the phone, we ask how urgent it is. Very often they say that we can just do it whenever we're in the office next.

    We've had a few clients try to make everything an emergency. This only happens with new clients. Eventually they see that P2 and P3 (and even P4) tickets are addressed in a timely manner. Remember that an older ticket will automatically get moved up to the next priority level when it gets too old. So we never have old tickets lying around.

    On one occasion we had a client that just couldn't get out of the habit of making everything high priority. We generated reports showing them how many tickets of each priority were created each month, average days to resolution, etc. They got much better after a few meetings.

    So . . . we deal with client expectations by living up to our service agreement. We meet our response times. We resolve lower-priority tickets in a reasonable time, and we communicate well with the client.

    Hope that answers your question!
    - karlp

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks Karl.

    So the "magic" is to demonstrate to the prospect/existing customer that the process works. They they realise that using priorities helps you to deliver a superior service and therefore the customer is happy.

    I see..

    Thanks.. One final question... You mention that issues priority is based upon two factors, urgency and the age of the ticket... can you elaborate on how an old P4 ticket moves up through the ranks to become a P2 (for instance).

    Thanks again and great series..

    ReplyDelete
  4. In the blog post on setting ticket Priorities (http://blog.smallbizthoughts.com/2011/08/sop-friday-setting-job-priorities.html), I have two bits on this:

    A P4 that is more than 60 days old is changed to a P3.
    A P3 that is more than 90 days old is changed to a P2.

    One of the first things I had to handle when I took over internal desktop support at the HP Roseville plant (way back in 1995) was the abundance of old tickets. With 7,000 computers on 5,000 desktops, that was a problem that needed to get squashed right away.

    Old tickets have a problem of being ignored . . . until the client has some other issue go wrong. Then you realize that old tickets age like bad cheese.
    :-)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great breakdown! I like the flow chart too.

    ReplyDelete

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