Here is the secret sauce.

by Brian Flagg
Date Published April 1, 2024 - Last Updated April 2, 2024

A sound and well-developed strategy is as important for a support center as any other business functionThe strategy informs what measures are important and why, steers capital investment towards projects with a needed rate of return, and drives the prioritization of projects competing for fixed resources.

A frequent topic I still see in online discussions and too many Help Desk and Service Desk conferences is that of measurements; what measurements are important and why, and where should the measurement results be, what should I use as a baseline?  I always provide the same answerChoosing measurements, justifying the choices, and looking for industry benchmarks to set objectives, is simply the wrong approach or starting pointThere should be no mystery as to what measurements are important or why they are importantMeasurements must be derived from strategy and the targets for the measurements driven by strategic choicesFurthermore, strategy becomes a blueprint to guide financial, operational, and organizational decisions, and provide the needed customer focusStrategy should answer the question, “what do we do next?”

The focus on strategy in this article is geared toward Help Desks and Service Desks. The ideas presented here can certainly be used effectively within larger scopes, such as the broader IT support and service organization. However, Help Desks and Service Desks, beyond the very small, must incorporate channel decisions and disciplines such as workforce management into their strategy development activities. These topics are typically not covered in other material on strategic planning for IT.

The good news is that strategic planning processes and tools for the support center do not differ from the tools generally available to organizationsThis means the strategic planning skills and experiences available elsewhere in the organization are transferable to the support centerTop-down strategic planning needs to begin above the support center, at the level of the broader IT organization, and flow down through the support centerThis chapter will describe a strategic planning tool that is at once simple but allows for strategy to be very consumable for all levels of the organization. Strategy Maps is just one of many possible choices you can use to develop strategy for your support centerYour choice will be dictated by the size and complexity of your organization. A large IT support organization, already practicing and mature in ITIL may choose the Strategy Management practice defined in V4For this article, Strategy Maps were chosen for several reasons, they are relatively simple and straightforward for support centers to develop, they visually group the important categories of strategy making the development of measurements and a balanced scorecard straightforward, and their visual nature makes it easy to communicate both internally and externally.

Before defining and discussing strategy it is first important to understand what is not strategyWhile operational frameworks are good for benchmarking purposes and for understanding and sharing best practices, these operational frameworks are not strategic frameworks, and cannot take the place of strategic planning.

How to Build Strategy Maps

A basic and successful strategy framework was introduced in the Harvard Business Review in the early 1990’s by Robert Kaplan and David Norton1, the Strategy Map and the Balanced ScorecardKaplan and Norton describe a framework comprised of four perspectives; financial, customer, operational, and organizationalThe principle idea is that an organization’s strategy should be composed of a balance between these four perspectivesA properly balanced focus driven by objectives and measurements in each of these perspectives drives a balanced strategyKaplan and Norton did not state that the balance point must be equal amongst these perspectivesThe outcome of the strategic planning exercise using the Strategy Maps tool will set exactly where this balance point residesThis balance point is usually different for each organization.

Objectives and corresponding measurements within each category will be driven largely by the overall business model of the organization.  The financial and customer perspective objectives and measurements will be quite different between a support center serving customer according to a contracted service agreement, and an internal help deskThe former will be focused on margin and perhaps revenue per call, whereas the focus of the internal help desk is typically cost per call or ticket

This diagram shows the four perspectives arranged in a circle, depicting the influence each has on the others. 


Media Graph


The tabs behind each perspective shows potential KPIs for that perspective. The pie slices should show key objectives, goals and initiatives for the Internal Processes, Customer and Learning & Growth perspectives. For a Service Desk or Help Desk, costs, revenue and margins are important components for the financial perspective. 

The operational perspective is typically where IT support centers focus much of their time and energy. This is where the operational processes and hence where process development and improvement tools come into play. Tools and techniques designed to measure and make operational processes more efficient and quality-focused are used in the operational perspective, such as CMMI, COBIT, Lean and Six Sigma.

However, I cannot overemphasize the importance of a balanced framework.  Too many organizations spend the vast majority of their efforts on the operational perspective, believing that meeting objectives and goals in this perspective alone will drive success in the other three perspectives. For example, a drive to CMMI Level 4 for the operational processes of an organization cannot be achieved without some level of competence and maturity in the other three perspectivesIndeed, at some point the other three must be brought into balance with the operational perspective or gains will simply not be sustainable. 

Each perspective will have its own view of the organizational strategyOne important distinction made within the definition of the Strategy Map is that there is an internal view and an external view of the organization. The external view is comprised of the financial and customer perspectives, and therefore the internal view is comprised of the operational and organizational perspectivesStrategic choices are driven from the external perspective of the organization and supported by the internal perspectiveTherefore, that starting point for strategic planning must be in the external viewToo frequently, organizations begin from an internal view, a view of the internal capabilities, wants, needs and measurements, rather than beginning from the external view.

The needed balance between the four perspectives is made visible in the Balanced ScorecardObjectives in each perspective inform the needed measurements for the perspectiveThe measurements are not independent, and the dependencies must be identified, understood, and documented.   These dependencies determine the balance-point for the organizationExactly where the balance point resides will depend on the organizationWell established organizations servicing mature products in a mature market may have more of a focus on financial and operational perspectives, whereas a startup with an exciting new product looking to gain market share may have a higher focus on the customer perspective and to a lesser extent on the financial or operational perspectivesEach organization needs to establish its own balance point, which certainly can adjust over timeOrganizations that focus solely on one perspective do so at their own peril.

For a further description of the Strategy Map tool and its use within the strategic planning function of the organization, the reader is directed to the appropriate reference at the end of this chapter.

Whatever the strategy framework chosen, the most important step in the development of strategy and corresponding objectives, measurements and results has already been taken, the realization that a strategic framework is neededThe choice of measurements is no longer a mystery, or even a questionLikewise, the setting of goals for the results is no longer a questionThey simply are the result of having a strategy and developing measurable objectives to realize the strategy.

That's a Wrap 

I have covered Strategy Maps as one strategy tool in this articleThere are many others from which to choose, and you will need to choose the framework or tool that will be a good organizational fit and will yield the best resultsThe strategy map is a good place to begin, given its simplicity, but the most important first step is to choose one and get started. The Strategy Map should help you understand what measurements important, i.e. what perspective they support, and what is needed as a goal for each. In short, Strategy Maps help answer ‘what do I do next?

Tag(s): culture, employee satisfaction, professional development, supportworld


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