Agile in IT Service desk

Active listening and interpersonal communication
August 24, 2021
Agile coaching models
October 7, 2021

Tech support is one of the harder customer support functions for businesses to handle. Having an agile help desk is a key factor in boosting agency productivity. They can eliminate gaps in communication, reduce response times, cut waste and create value. When done right, agile makes it easier for tech support teams to do their job.

How to Implement an Agile Methodology into Tech Support 

– Ashley Wilson

Why Agile Is the Perfect Fit for Tech Support

  • Tech support is one of the harder customer support functions for businesses to handle. The biggest challenge is the often large knowledge gap between agents and customers
  • Aside from knowledge gaps, organizations struggle to find the right people to work in tech support and to train them to meet expectations.
  • Finally, there’s always the concern of striking a balance between providing excellent service to as many customers as possible while maintaining efficiency in support teams. Can organizations find that equilibrium without upsetting either side?

Making Tech Support Better, One Improvement at a Time

  • In agile, collaboration is a key concept. Where traditional support teams relied on individual key performance indicators as benchmarks for success, agile flips the script by encouraging teamwork.
  • Agile provides the ability to use customer feedback to benefit tech support. Although support teams do not use feedback to build products, they can leverage customer input to find gaps in their service and learn from their findings to continuously improve their performance.
  • When done right, agile makes it easier for tech support teams to do their job—and the advantages don’t stop there.

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    • Tech support is a direct line to the customers, and how techs handle customer interactions will reflect on the whole company. Quick thinking is the most important skill here.
    • Tech support agents also often have to check previous tickets and reported issues to see whether this is a repeating issue and what solutions were used earlier to improve customer satisfaction.
    • Organizations should make use of kanban boardsin allocating tasks to tech support teams.  With kanban, you start with a few lists to categorize your tasks. Tasks are arranged from top to bottom in descending order of priority and moved between lists as their status changes.

    Make Task Ownership a Team Effort

    • For decades, customer support teams, even in tech, were fragmented as a result of organizations practicing a siloed architecture. For example, junior support agents who have problems with customer calls may pass it on to a senior agent. If the senior agent cannot handle it, the problem goes further up the ranks and the handoffs continue.
    • Not only is this annoying for customers, but businesses lose out as well. The solution is to assign the responsibility of tasks to teams or departments.
    • Instead of handling support tickets individually, theentire team works together to complete tasks, which aligns with the ideology of agile.

    Use a Pull System in Scheduling Tasks

    • We are used to project managers determining what tasks are to be done by team members. But to be agile, the opposite must happen.
    • Pull-based schedulingis a task scheduling technique allowing team members to “pull” tasks themselves rather than being assigned work separately.
    • This method helps organizations speed up work and increase productivity, as team members who finish a task ahead of schedule can pull someone else’s task to fill the free time.
    • Giving your tech support team the freedom to pick their tasks will go a long way toward establishing a positive agile environment.

    Continuously Practice an Agile Culture

    • All the work you put in to make your tech support agile will never amount to anything if your company does not practice a culture that allows it to happen.
    • Tech support has always been rigid and systematic in serving customers. To successfully implement agile, change needs to happen not only in support teams, but also across the entire company.
    • The agile methodology revolves around areas outside of pure tech support, like meetings and task check-ins. Schedule weekly 30-minute team meetups instead, and make it a collaborative session where everyone can speak up rather than letting only the manager lead the meeting.

    Agile service desk? Forget about Scrum, start using Kanban

    Annemarie Wolfrat

    Being the best yourself or outsourcing?

    • I know a number of service desks that have attempted to implement Scrum fully in the past. Unfortunately, none were ever completely successful.
    • What could be the reason for that? Scrum is a framework that was developed to get more of a handle on complex, hard-to-plan projects. It enables you to divide projects up into manageable chunks, set priorities based on added value for your customers, and release new features, services or software faster.
    • Most service desk work is much more predictable than the work of back office. Naturally, some calls get resolved faster than others, but more complex issues simply get forwarded to the back office. There is much to be improved upon at the average service desk, but introducing Scrum is often too rigorous a tool for doing so.

    What are your SLAs?

    Kanban is a method developed by Toyota in the fifties to improve their production process. It literally means ‘visual board’, which brings us to one of the main aspects of Kanban, namely making your work visible. This board consists of a number of columns for you to sort your tasks into, each column indicating a particular status. The statuses that are used differ among Kanban boards, but common ones are ‘To do – In progress – Review – Done’.

    See things from your customer’s perspective

    Kanban does not require you to introduce an entirely new working method, like Scrum does. Instead, you take your existing processes and roles as the starting point and implement small improvements from there. It is a much more accessible method, and often suffices to take care of the biggest points of improvement at your service desk.

    Working on a solution together

    On your Kanban board you visualize your standard process for handling calls. Which stages do all calls move through? By regularly looking at a Kanban board together with your team, you obtain more insight into how many calls are outstanding, which calls have more priority, and which calls have been suspended in service desk limbo for some time now.

    Green on the outside, red on the inside

    Kanban has 6 key practices that help you improve your work. What are those 6 key practices, and how do you implement them at your service desk?

    How to Use Kanban for Support Teams

    Rachaelle Lynn

    How to Use Kanban for IT Support

    Vertical Lanes = Steps in Your Process

    • A support process will include some of the following steps:
    • New Requests: Be sure to configure any integrations to drop all new cards here.
    • Follow-Up: When a customer replies to an initial response from the support team, or when an internal or external team member sends a card back to this board, it will go here.
    • In Progress: This is where cards should live when they are actively being worked on.
    • Requires Further Support: You can configure your board to automatically send a card to a specific location when it is dropped into this lane through integrations.
    • Waiting on Customer: If a team member is waiting for information/clarification from a customer, they place the card/ticket here until they resume work on it.
    • Done: Defining the Done lane is an important step in setting your board up for insightful analytics.

    Horizontal Swimlanes = SLAs

    • Horizontal swimlanes are a great way to visualize and sort tickets / tasks by their respective SLAs; if some of your contracts require immediate response, while others can wait for 24 or 48 hours, this is a helpful thing to visualize. We suggest creating a Critical / Immediate horizontal swimlane, with lanes below in order by decreasing urgency of the SLA.

    WIP limits

    • WIP limits help team members stay focused on delivering existing work before pulling new work into the system, keeping the system from getting overwhelmed.
    • In IT support, it’s difficult to set WIP limits across the board because work sources and prioritization are inherently more dynamic and complex. IT / production support team members have to constantly evaluate and reevaluate the priority of their existing tasks / tickets against new tickets.
    • The only lane where it’s really practical to enforce WIP limits is the “Waiting on Customer” lane. Although technically the burden is on the customer to respond, the due dates on your cards will inform you if you’ve been waiting on a response for more than a few hours.
    • Before moving on to a new card, create a team policy to first “nudge” customers who are not responding. If they still don’t respond, you can clean them off your board. If they do, you can resolve the issue and move the card off your board.

    Agile service desk? Forget about Scrum, start using Kanban

    Annemarie Wolfrat

    Never miss a thing

    Make concrete agreements with your team regarding when you move a call to the next stage. When do you move a call from ‘in process’ to ‘review’, exactly? Together, you determine which information is required in every stage to move a call on to the next stage.

    How do you handle off-the-menu requests?

    One of the most well-known pitfalls of service desks is working on too many calls at once, without completely resolving any of them. This approach is not only inefficient, it also results in a lot of stress, and gives your customer the false impression that their call is currently being handled. This is why Kanban is all about having as little ‘work in progress’ (WIP) as possible. Get together with your team to agree on so-called WIP limits. For example, you could establish that none of your service desk staff should ever have more than one call in progress.

    What are the roles & responsibilities in the team?

    Flow in Kanban means moving every call from ‘to do’ to ‘done’ as soon as possible. Doing that should drastically decrease the average lead time on your calls, from initial pick-up to completion. Make sure to regularly assess which stage calls tend to get stuck in, and how to fix that.

    From control to guidance

    An important aspect of working agile is to iterate often and make adjustments when needed. Kanban uses a number of different feedback loops, from daily to quarterly, but obviously you shouldn’t implement all of them at once. Start by using one or two feedback loops and see how you go. For example, implement daily stand-ups at the start of the day to make sure the work gets distributed properly, and schedule a more thorough assessment attended by the entire team every 1 or 2 weeks.

    What do you want your team culture to be?

    Resist the temptation to draw up extensive improvement proposals, but implement small changes one by one.

    Get together with the team frequently to assess what is going well and which aspects could be improved upon, and immediately implement one or more small changes. Then revisit those changes during the next team assessment to see whether those changes had any impact.

    Is drafting a service catalogue worth the effort?

    There is a fun way to find out whether Kanban could be of service to your team: the Kanban Pizza Game . This is an open-source, Do-It-Yourself workshop, developed by 42agile, and made freely available for anyone who wants to give it a try. It’s highly accessible and doesn’t take much time at all; it is intended to last one half-day session, but you can condense it to 1 or 2 hours.

    We have been using the Kanban Pizza Game – that is, a modified version thereof – to train our own teams for some time now, and we have been loving it! If you and your service desk played the Kanban Pizza Game, make sure to let us know – we’d love to hear about your experiences.

    3 Ways Agile IT Can Improve Your Service Desk Business


    Agile ITSM and the Agile Service Desk

    • Up to this point, Agile IT has been mostly confined to the world of software development. Well…that is changing. Simply put, Agile has proven too valuable to be excluded from any area of IT (and across the organization).
    • It’s undeniable that collaboration between cross-functional teams helps find quicker solutions. That’s why this project management strategy has grown so popular, and that’s why it’s time to expand it beyond one area of the business. The agile mindset and agile methodology has serious value to add across your ITSM efforts.

    Improve Your Efficiency With Cloud and Multi-Tenant Solutions

    • The agile approach to ITSM, as practiced at the Agile Service Desk, naturally drives efficiency and makes for faster service desk response times. This can be further accomplished through the automation of recurring and repetitive tasks using AI and self-directed processes to increase both customer buy-in and service performance. But there are other ways in which the agile mindset can drive efficiency at the service desk level. Cloud and multi-tenant solutions are a major advantage for agility in ITSM. Multi-tenant solutions update all instances of applications simultaneously, allowing customers organization-wide to work on the latest and best version.

    Managing People and Relationships With the Agile Service Desk

    • One of the primary challenges in ITSM is creating a feeling of personalization — a feeling that IT cares about each individual ticket and request. It’s a universal cliché that has spawned comedy sketches and entire sitcom episodes. We’re talking about the IT worker who has little patience for the technical understanding of those whom they are supporting, and little concern for their contribution to the success of the organization as a whole. Using an agile mindset when it comes to managing the people and relationships involved in the delivery of service can help you transform the negative bias that some of your customers may have into an improved reputation for your service desk.

    Agile IT

    • Delivering Agile ITSM will take careful planning, effort, and culture change. It may not happen overnight. But the benefits are certainly worth the effort it will take to convert your ITSM culture to the agile mindset, especially when it comes to building trust with internal and external stakeholders.

    Agile ITSM Metrics

    • The agile mindset focuses on people before processes. This can be illustrated in the business metrics that your service desk broadcasts and displays on the service desk dashboard. Too many IT departments get hung up on what is important to IT only, reporting only on the metrics that help get the business of ITSM done. While those metrics are important, there are other metrics that can help your customers understand the service desk, the IT department, and the impact of IT and ITSM on the organization as a whole. What are your customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores? How much time has your service catalog saved in the onboarding process? How many users received software or application upgrades from a recent release? These are different kinds of metrics than your classic cost per ticket, first touch resolution, or time to resolution statistics, and they can capture a tangible positive impact that leadership and employees will appreciate. Tracking and reporting metrics that illustrate the positive impact that ITSM is having on various departments, initiatives, and larger management and forecasting challenges is a terrific way to build the perception of the real value your ITSM efforts translate into, all across the organization.

    How agile is your IT help desk?

    – Jose Carlos Linares

    Agile government – GSA’s 18F

    • Agility is becoming a mandate for government agencies. The General Services Administration’s 18F digital services group introduced the wholly agile agency model in March of 2014, borrowing the lean development mantra of Silicon Valley startups and applying it to the agency environment. The organization’s primary goal is to transform government services by building exceptional software products and raising the standards of software development throughout the government, while minimizing waste and maximizing value production.
    • While GSA’s 18F was initially rolled out in response to the technical issues plaguing Healthcare.gov, the organization has experienced many successes since then. Its workincludes encouraging government domain migration to secure HTTPS connections; the rollout of Analytics.usa.gov, which provides a snapshot of how people are interacting with the government online.

    Agile and the IT help desk

    • Application and software development may be the most prominent use cases, but agility is being applied elsewhere as well.
    • IT managers can apply an agile delivery model to this type of service by hosting it on site and staffing it with dedicated IT professionals who have a comprehensive understanding of the issues and processes unique to that agency.
    • Running an agile IT help desk is like having a dedicated 18F team — a valuable resource that can successfully deploy and maintain technology, ensuring end users receive and create the maximum amount of value for their agency.
    • An agile, on-premise IT help desk must have the expertise to adapt to rapidly changing environments, while being able to improvise when needed.
    • Having an agile help desk is a key factor in boosting agency productivity. They can eliminate gaps in communication, reduce response times, cut waste and create value.

    Agile service desk? Forget about Scrum, start using Kanban– Annemarie Wolfrat

    How do we divide the transition into stages?

    • ‘To do’ column: are we overlooking any urgent calls? No, you do not have to assign priority to every single call in the long list of calls about password resets or routing orders. But do check your to-do list frequently to see if there are any calls that need to be picked up as soon as possible. Put these at the top of the list and determine who will be handling them.
    • In progress: are we not processing too many calls at once? Say you’ve agreed that every service desk member can only ever have a single call in progress at any one time. Make sure to check whether that’s actually the case, or whether there are people who are currently dealing with multiple calls.
    • In review: are there any calls that have been awaiting a customer or supplier response for a long time? Sometimes, your service desk may have finished processing a call, but you’re not sure whether the underlying issue has actually been resolved.

    Where Is the IT Service Desk in a DevOps World?


    DevOps – The Three Ways

    • In all definitions of DevOps, the three ways are key pillars to developing IT in a way that better serves customers. By undertaking work and improving through the three ways, DevOps teams can deliver requirements in a faster and safer manner, with all three ways designed to be used together and improved upon on a continual basis.

    Systems thinking

    • The emphasis of systems thinking is to look at the performance of the entire system, as opposed to that of a specific silo of work, e.g. a department. The focus is therefore on the business value streams that are enabled by IT, not just on IT itself. The key outcomes of systems thinking are to ensure known defects are not passed downstream and that flow is maximized by managing constraints within the system.

    ‏‏לכיד1ה Agile in IT Service desk

    Feedback loops

    • This is all about creating right to left feedback loops. By shortening and amplifying the feedback loop, corrections are made earlier and more accurately to meet the demand requirements of
    • the customer. The outcome should be responding to all customers and embedding knowledge within teams and individuals.

    ‏‏לכי44דה Agile in IT Service desk

    Cultural of Continual Experimentation and learning

    • This third way is about creating an atmosphere of experimentation, where risks are taken and failures learnt from, and gaining the understanding that can only be gained from repetition and practice. These are needed to both improve and be able to get out of situations when failures are made. It’s crucial that time is allocated during daily work hours for teams and individuals to do this, as well as providing rewards for taking risks.

    ‏‏לכ33ידה Agile in IT Service desk

    What’s the Service Desk Got to Do with All of This?

    • Systems thinking – The service desk already has visibility of the business impact of IT as the first line of support. It is they who speak directly with end users and customers on a daily basis. As a result, they often have a better business process understanding than the rest of IT.
    • Faster feedback – To create value in this continual interaction, the service desk is ideally placed to provide faster feedback that’s key to successful DevOps. Not only that, but because so much of it is human interaction, the feedback that can be provided by the service desk is often richer and more textured than data-generated feedback by technology alone.
    • Experimentation and learning – Finally, if we encourage a culture of experimentation and learning, then the service desk is at the forefront of understanding the implications and effects of any experimentation. Also, with control of the incident management process, they can build in steps to ensure the right teams get transparent feedback to fix the results of any experimentation.

    The DevOps CALMS Framework and the Service Desk

    • In addition to the three ways, DevOps has a framework of five attributes called CALMS – culture, automation, lean, measurement, and sharing. Although the service desk, as part of IT delivery, has a hand in each of these five, there are two that most stand out.
    • The first is culture. To benefit from DevOps, you need a culture that supports collaboration and communication. As the face of the IT department, the service desk is all about communication –outwards to the business and back in to technical teams.
    • The second is sharing. This means not only sharing practices but also being transparent about findings and data. Since service desk strategy is partly driven by data and the service desk is often responsible for operational reporting, the service desk should play a key role in successfully sharing among teams.

    Agile Practices and the Service Desk

    • In Agile software development, for example Scrum, the decision on what things to work on is done through product and sprint backlogs. This backlog is created by a team comprising product managers, developers, operations, and other staff who agree what work to prioritize.
    • Getting your service desk to feed into, and help shape, both the product and sprint backlogs is vital in keeping its content relevant. In addition, the service desk can also get involved in managing technical debt – the extra development work that’s required when easy-to-implement code is used rather than what’s the best overall solution, i.e. doing what’s easy creates additional problems or “additional interest” later on.


    • How Agile Is Your IT Help Desk? – Jose Carlos Linares
    • How To Implement An Agile Methodology Into Tech Support – Ashley Wilson
    • How To Use Kanban For Support Teams – Rachaelle Lynn
    • 3 Ways Agile IT Can Improve Your Service Desk Business – MATT COX
    • Agile Service Desk? Forget About Scrum, Start Using Kanban– Annemarie Wolfrat
    • Where Is The IT Service Desk In A Devops World?– Joe The IT GUY


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