Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Can a customer support team be agile?

Mattias Skarin recently posted a useful 2-page summary of his approach for managing a support organization using agile techniques and a kanban board.

I recently led a team of Solutions Consultants (who supported our customers development efforts) at IP Commerce. The challenge we had was that there was ALWAYS a full backlog of customer support tasks, and those tasks are virtually always a higher priority than project-based work that the team needs to get done - stuff like improving the process, creating sample applications, writing documentation.

What I did to solve this dilemma was to allocate 20% of each person's time for project work, with 80% for ongoing customer support. The team members scheduled their time to carve out 4 or 8 hour time blocks during the 2-week iteration where they could focus on project work.

For iteration planning purposes, I kept a backlog of project-based user stories only - no customer support tasks - and the team planned how much of that backlog they could knock out in 20% of their time. The customer support stories/tasks weren't considered during planning - we knew those would flow in steadily.

This worked well for us, but let me know if you have other advice on managing support organizations.


Anonymous said...

You gotta be kidding me. Forget all this crap and just hire people who know how to code. You really think desks on wheels is a substitute for just paying up for the good people?

Brad Swanson said...

I think you're mixing contexts of 2 different posts I made. The Solution Consultants doing customer support DO know how to code. Their primary job function is to help our customers develop their applications using the IP Commerce platform and tools. The 'project' work for this team consists of a variety of tasks other than directly working with customers. These projects include things such as building sample apps and writing documentation; things to make it easier for customers to use our products. These 'projects' tend to be small.

The company also has a separate development team responsible for building the products.

I used desks on wheels at a different company where we had an open office space that accomodated such a layout.