Thursday, December 26, 2013

Help Desk or Hell Desk: Part 2 Using LEAN to Implement a World Class Customer Service

I have successfully implemented corporate IT Customer Services.  In this blog, I'll describe how to use PMI- Project Management and LEAN manufacturing concepts to do a help desk the right way.  Including the ROI and why you need to do this for your company.


Please recall from my first blog:  A poor help desk is often an indicator of the overall company's financial health and long term viability as a competitive force.  If the employees are not committed to the service they provide, they certainly are not providing the best that they can.  Customers will and do get fed up and find other providers. Link:  Part 1


Lean manufacturing, lean enterprise, or lean production, often simply, "Lean," is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. Working from the perspective of the customer who consumes a product or service, "value" is defined as any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for.  -
Except that LEAN is not only for production manufacturing processes.  In any process, you have a customer, including Help Desk or Customer Service.  What does your customer want?
  • No run-around
  • Issue or problem resolved promptly
Your customers want to be in and out as quickly as possible.  Do your customer service value stream and Pareto charts.  There is a delineation necessary here between resolution of customer issues, product development issues and actual service desk issues. 

In a nutshell: 
  1. Project Management:  Develop a LEAN vision for your Customer Service.  Do the gap analysis.  How far are you today from your ideal?  Develop the plan to get them there.  
  2. Continuous Improvement:  As part of your continuous improvement, maintain and track your Pareto charts.  Twenty percent of the problems are causing eighty percent of your customer service time.  Track them, find them and address that 20% that are taking 80% of your customer service time.  Follow the Plan/Do/Check/Act cycle. 
    Diagram from:  Wikimedia Commons
  3.  The 5S:  Don't have complicated automated phone menus.  Be LEAN.... no more than 3 choices for your customers.  Don't waste your customer's time.  Besides being rude, it isn't LEAN either.                   
  4. Empower your customer service desk to actually do something.  Let them give back to the customer for the inconvenience.          
  5. PM 101 - Treat your customers and employees well.  A little good will goes a long way in retaining customers and quality employees.  Retaining repeat customers is of more value than getting new customers as these are the customers that will bring in new customers, so it is well worth your company's time to invest in good customer service.  Sales and Customer Service are the most visible positions, take care and keep these folks positive.  
  6. Address Complexity through 5S:  If the savvy level of your customers can range alot, then you also need to address that variation through your customer service.  Like wise a complex product will also require multiple levels of support for the product.  
  7. Project Management problem resolution and more Kaizen:  Fix your product problems. Give your Customer service folks access to engineering and policy makers in order to fix the problems. 
  8. Delivery and Value Stream:  Don't make the customer do your job.  I don't know how many times, my mobile phone and even the land line, want me to do their troubleshooting and talk with their engineers.  I don't have time to do their work.  Unless they decide they are willing to reimburse me for my time. 
  9. Value Stream:  Remember your Customer Service is not to make their jobs or lives or even your job and life easier, but to make your customer's life easier.  Too many companies forget this key point.  They are there to service the customer.  Process improvement is not an improvement if your customers are spending more time instead of less on the phone waiting on your processes. Again check your

Although it looks simple it can be daunting.  If you need assistance with PM, Lean concepts, value stream mapping please feel free to contact me and I can refer someone to assist.  .

Friday, November 22, 2013

Leading Large Teams and Reducing Project Risk

As the project manager you cannot be expected to develop a personal relationship with every single project team member on a large project.   But, everybody on the project team needs to understand the project plan.  Comprehensive kick-off presentations with references to more detailed documentation are great, but they will only get you so far down the communication paths.  So what do you do when you have 50 people calling you all at once needing answers because they don’t understand one piece or another?  


It is all in the project planning, because before you even get to this point, you rely on your project management tools: The project hierarchy chart and the communication plan.  Appropriate use of these tools will significantly reduce project risk and ensure project success. 
I look at leading a large project like leading a small company.  The average size of a small company in the US being somewhere between $500,000 and $1,000,000 in annual sales and companies that size will not have anywhere near 200 employees.  So you are kind of like a president of a small company every time you are leading one such project. Sometimes you have to hire your team, sometimes it is already provided for you.  You have a board of directors aka. your stakeholders or their delegated liaisons to them.  Just as a company has vice presidents, managers and supervisors, you need to have your vice presidents for your project.  

Project Organization

This is where organization of the project team is very important to project success.  Remember you can’t possibly develop a personal working relationship with everybody on a team of 50 members, let alone 200 or more team members.  Do your project planning and define a core project leadership team, or in other words vice presidents for your project.  These are the folks that you develop the personal working relationship with.  As the project manager, work with them and develop a good project hierarchy and communication plan.  Delegate specific areas of responsibility to each of your project leadership members.  And delegate communications through them as selected points of contact. 
For this example I will discuss integrated enterprise changes that must be changed throughout a great number (40 or more) of enterprise applications.  But I have used the same approach for new product development with dozens of vendors as well.  When such a project comes to me, the solution is not always known, but the need is.  Depending upon the scope, I obtain one or more project business analyst(s) for the requirements, and one or more project architect(s)/engineer(s) for the design.  I work with them to develop a project plan that includes the project hierarchy and communication plan.  Upon completion of the plan, they understand exactly what is expected from them.   Later, if there are questions on requirements, because a project hierarchy and communication plan is in place, those questions are channeled to the project business analyst.  If there are questions on overall design or integration, they are channeled to the project architect/engineer.
When a high level design has been completed and agreed to, then the development or engineering teams are brought on board.  Again, you cannot hope to develop a personal relationship with each of the engineers, analysts, developers, designers, quality assurance, production control folks and more.  So each development team must have a single point of contact.  That single point of contact will act as the application or engineering lead for that specific development team.  I bring on board these leads and again present the plan, layout the expectations and delegate them as the single point of contact for their team and area of responsibility. 
This not all that it takes to lead large projects, but by adding this organization of a good project hierarchy and a clear communication plan, you significantly reduce the over all project risk by giving clear lines of communication and responsibilities to your team and stakeholders.