Traditionally the Lean and Six Sigma approach was taken only in manufacturing organisations but when the early champions of lean applied its tools and techniques to the service side of their businesses they found significant opportunities to remove non value adds from their processes. Applying lean to IT services is not without its complications and these are abundantly evident in the intangibility, inseparability and variability of the service offering of the managed services provider. The successful application of lean and six sigma takes a creative use of its tools and an organisation whose team and leadership have a willingness to change.
Trilogy embarked on a Lean initiative with the aim of adding even more value to its customers by initiating its first lean IT project at the service desk. The initiative key aims were:
- Review the processes, identify then eliminate waste and activities that add no value to the customer
- Examine the service desk operation from the customers perspective
- Make the voice of customer present in all decisions in Trilogy
- Reduce the turn-around time of service desk tickets with quicker right first time
- Switch focus of service desk resources from a responsive service desk and reducing down time when an incident occurs, to proactive interventions to maintain uptime for clients.
From the perspective of the service desk, Trilogy adopts two key approaches:
- Transactional: Managing the day to day activities of its client infrastructure, responding to issues as they arise and bringing them to a speedy and successful resolution.
- Transformational: Trilogy goes beyond day to day and through an in-depth understanding of the voice of customer and the technology it aims to develop technical strategies to assist their clients in the pursuit of success.
The Trilogy application of Lean in the service desk process set itself a challenge to create more value-added activities for the client while successfully applying these two approaches:
The Lean Process
1. Understanding the backlog
The first step in the process was to understand all open tickets, separate the tickets to those which the company had the ability to complete the next step and those that they did not and create a new backlog called the actionable backlog with these tickets receiving the highest priority.
All the service desk team including engineers and administrators were given focused training in lean with an emphasis on what lean considers waste and what activities we do that add no value to our customers. The concept of follow the ticket was introduced to focus on the wastes and value-adds that the ticket encounters as well as our own actions.
3. Visualisation of wastes and non-value adds
The non-value adds in the existing process were visualized based on the analysis of the backlog, the key Lean wastes identified were waiting and work in progress (inventory) and interdepartmental communication was a function of the business that needed to be improved.
4. A3 Projects
Nominated senior engineers were given extra training in the DMAIC approach to problem solving and the ownership of A3 projects to address key issues flagged on ageing tickets and waiting tickets.
5. The migration to Single Piece Flow
The existing system involved each engineer managing their own queue of tickets. This meant that the dispatcher had too many queues to oversee, a significant portion of the engineer’s time was spent on the management and administration of their queue and engineers split their time working on several tickets and bringing them only to partial completion. All of which were considered to be non-value add.
The Lean concept of single piece flow means one engineer working on one ticket until completion and then moving on to the next ticket. This concept was a radical shift in the behaviour of the engineers and one that would evidently prove difficult to implement. Engineers were keen to have no queues to manage but were unsure of working on just one ticket. Embedding single piece flow was critical to the success of the lean programme as it was the key step to bringing stability to the process and having achieved this stability, capacity could be established and continuous improvement projects could be started.
6. Trilogy Bespoke Application
Changing people’s behaviour is always a challenge even when the end goal is desired by all. The decision was made to develop a custom application internally by Trilogy’s development team. The custom application would sit over our connectwise service management system and manage the process to single piece flow.
The application delivered the following to the engineer:
- The highest priority ticket based on age and priority setting
- The correct information necessary for the engineer to complete the ticket effectively and efficiently
- Relevant Client information- other open issues, infrastructure upgrades planned and a history of issues.
- A target time to complete this ticket based on statistical analysis of this type of ticket.
The custom application provided the following to the dispatch role:
- Automated queuing system based on age and priority setting
- Automated allocation of highest priority ticket to next available engineer
- The HUD: the heads up display, a visual representation of all engineers, their status, tickets being work on, and the performance of the ticket based on statistical analysis of this type of ticket.
7. Voice of Engineer and Voice of customer through Engineer
On completion of the each ticket the engineer completes a brief exit survey designed to capture if the company provided them with the right tools, training and information to complete the task. In addition they rate the customers experience through a Net Promoter© styled question. Whilst not as accurate as carrying out this research with client directly it allows Trilogy to capture this snapshot up to 500 times per week, a quantity of measurement hard to attain directly with the customers.
8. Dispatch Role, Cells and the Escalation Process
The move to single piece flow, follow the ticket and the custom application brought clarity and stability to the Service desk process. It reduced stress levels for engineers and allowed them to focus on their business, providing technical solutions to client issues.
To facilitate the throughput of tickets it was critical that there was no obstruction to the flow. The dispatch role evolved to be the driver of the flow until such a point in time when the behaviour adapts to the new system. The elimination of obstacles to flow were addressed by revising and carrying out the escalation process. Each ticket Service type had a median time point, that is, the point by which 50% of all other similar tickets had been closed. This was the first stage in the escalation. To facilitate escalation, engineers were assigned to cells, within which they could informally discuss tickets before a formal escalation. This allowed for first time fix to be a priority whilst maintaining flow.
Measurable results were achieved as follows:
- 29% reduction in average ticket turn-around time
- 25% reduction in average ticket time
- 44% reduction in average daily backlog
- Clarity and visibility for management team
- Reduction in non-value add activities
- Improved productivity in engineering team
The impact of the lean review has been clear in the reduction in numbers as illustrated above but also in the intangible, difficult to measure areas. Lean provided clarity and visibility to the management team, reduced non-value add activities, reduced stress in the engineers and provided ownership of the process by engaging input in every step of the way.
The success of this project lay firmly with the fact that there was buy-in for the change from team members of all levels. This was achieved through involvement of the project team and decision making; consensus is key with such widespread organisational change. As the process stabilises, the move will be made towards directing resources to increasingly proactive client management in addition to reactive resolutions. This is clearly an area where Trilogy can provide further value to clients.
The issues within the processes were straight forward to identify but would have been difficult to resolve had the company, the team and the management, not been flexible and open. The success of this project was in large part due to the willingness of the organization to change and that is critical if any organisation wishes to succeed.