A team that is continuously improving is continuously introducing change. This runs counter to one of the most important goals of support organizations, that of stability. Stability helps us produce excellent support experiences all day, every day. Maintaining great support experiences while continuously improving is what separates good teams from great teams.
Everyone wants to work with a great team, and great teams continually improve, but people are not wired for change. The good news is there are tools and techniques employed by great teams to overcome our reluctance to change and help create a culture of improvement.
All teams have a common mindset, and teams that have an improvement habit are said to have a growth mindset. They are ready to identify items that can be done better and take on the challenges required to improve them. Counter to this, teams that are always too busy, believe improvement is too difficult, and say this is the way it’s always been have fixed mindsets.
Improvement initiatives are daunting. When beginning, look for incremental change, seek evolution, not revolution. Consistent progress supports the habit of improvement, and once a habit is formed, it’s hard to stop.
With our growth mindsets and a list of incremental improvements, who is going to do all this work? Your teams are already putting out fires and supporting customers. In a perfect world, we would split into those responsible for operations and those responsible for innovation. In the book The Other Side of Innovation, authors Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble state that companies need two teams to effectively execute - an Operations Engine and an Innovation Engine. For our purposes, improvement is a worthy substitute for innovation, so we need an Improvement Engine.
Here are some additional tips:
How do we split our lean teams in two and run both engines? You don’t. Instead, you manage the responsibilities. To do this, focus on idea generation, outcomes, effort, and prioritization. When managing operations and improvement work side by side, how we prioritize outcomes of each engine is critical. Because the two sides will always push against each other, organizing and planning the work is key. There are tools that help with this. No tool is perfect, so the right tool is one that generates value for your team.
- When starting your Improvement Engine, build on service management skills and blend in a little agile. Create a backlog of improvement ideas that are realistic for your team to complete. The backlog is not a wish list; if the idea is unrealistic, save it for later. Backlogs only contain improvements within the capability of your Improvement Engine.
- Once ideas are established, assign a value score. This reminds us of which improvements yield the highest return on investment. This score is informational and is not the only factor in prioritization.
- With ideas recorded and a value assigned, it is time to estimate effort for each item. The effort score should be accurate enough to understand the impact each item has on other responsibilities. There are no rules to value and effort scoring. However, scales that have distinct differences are best. The small/medium/large scale works well, while 1- 5 generally does not. Investigate the use of Story Points and Fibonacci Sequences. When adopted, these concepts improve prioritization conversations.
- Now that your backlog is scored, organize items into two-week to three-week sprints and plan six weeks to eight weeks ahead. Use the effort scores to determine which items can be accomplished. Can the team complete one high-effort item or are three small effort items better? In addition to value and effort, record the percent complete, basic status, and the assigned sprint. These are the core items needed to begin. Anything else is just noise.
Remember organizing the sprints is about completion. If everything in the backlog is realistic and produces value, then the completion order doesn’t necessarily matter.
As service management professionals, we have perfected our operations engines. Now it’s time to build our improvement engines. When both are running at capacity, your teams won’t just be important; they will be a strategic weapon.
To discuss this subject in greater detail, with more tips, tricks, and psychology, join me at SupportWorld Live 2023, session 603: Plan for the Future and Future-Proof the Plan: Creating a Culture of Improvement.
A business-focused technology leader with experience in Fortune 200 engineering and oil and gas companies, Steve Evans serves as the Chief Technology Officer for Energy North and is responsible for technology services and security across its five business entities. Before joining Energy North, Steve worked for Global Partners and Marathon Oil focused on business technology development and global service and support. A recognized change agent who started his IT career on the Service Desk and worked in multiple Service Management, Infrastructure and Application management positions, Steve brings a unique mix of experience and passion for improvement to his teams and peers.