Kanban for Service Teams – Easy Way to Take Control
Service teams are a crucial part of any business. It is them that fulfill customer requests and ensure a positive end user experience no matter the circumstances. However, managing such teams can be tough as there is a need to control a vast flow of customer requests and ensure they are dealt with in a timely manner. Implementing Kanban for service teams can be a great way of creating a steady flow and ensuring steady delivery.
Not sure how? Let’s see.
Typical service team
There are various service teams out there – we got help desks, infrastructure teams, consultants and even car services that all operate in a similar fashion. They register all customer requests, prioritize them based on specific factors and provide the customer with a solution. Depending on the team specifics and industry these requests differ in their size and difficulty, but no matter the differences each service team has to accept and answer them in a timely manner.
Traditionally this is done through a single manager. Whose responsibility it is to review all requests and then assign them to the team members. Which means a single person is responsible for reviewing the whole queue and deciding what is going to be done and by who. This is a lot of work and responsibility for the manager as they are almost solely responsible for making sure the team runs effectively. While the team members focus on completing the tasks which are assigned to them.
Issues with the Push approach
Being that the manager prioritizes and decides all assignments, this can be called a Push approach. (Where tasks are pushed on the team members) Without the immense responsibility faced by the manager, this approach suffers several other issues:
1 – Separate backlog for each team member. By reviewing and assigning new tickets to the team members, what the manager actually creates are separate backlog for each team member. Instead of having a single queue of requests, there are now as many queues as there are people on the team. This makes it more difficult to plan and assign new items, as the manager has to go through all the backlogs and evaluate each individual workload.
2 – No clear full backlog view. Since each team member operates in an individual backlog, there is no shared backlog to oversee. Meaning that it becomes more difficult to prioritize urgent requests. By assigning new items, the manager has to check each individual backlog for urgent requests and make sure to assign them to a person that will be able to do it the quickest. Opening a possibility that a new urgent item gets assigned to a team member that only has other urgent items in their backlog and thus it won’t be completed in a timely manner.
3 – Long wait for new tickets. Having multiple backlogs means there is a longer wait for new tickets in general. As it is harder to prioritize not only the urgent items but all items. Imagine having 15-20 people on your team and 100 new requests coming in daily. Sorting the work items by urgency and then assigning them to your team by reviewing 20 different backlogs there is a lot of room for error.
4 – No team collaboration. By having everyone focus on their own tasks, there is no real team spirit within such service teams. The team members are not interested in what their colleagues are doing or if they can help solve an urgent request, all they worry about is their own workload. Which means that the full team potential is not utilized and operating at full capacity is more difficult.
5 – No clear bottleneck identification. Lastly, by having such separated workflows for each team member, it becomes more difficult to identify and solve bottlenecks. Spotting a task that has been in progress for longer than usual is much easier if the team is working from a single backlog instead of several separate ones.
These 5 issues bring a lot of waste to the service team processes. It becomes harder to notice issues, prioritize the most important work and collaborate when the team members have no control over what they are working on. Sure, if you have an experienced manager that is great at workload management, some of these issues can be dealt with. But what if there was an easier way to manage service teams?
Kanban for service teams
I have mentioned the Push system before for a reason – many issues service teams face in their process management can be fixed by implementing an opposite Pull system. Let me explain.
Contrary to the Push, the Pull system lays more control in the hands of the team. Here the manager is responsible for reviewing and prioritizing the requests, but it is the team members themselves that decide which of them they are going to complete. So, the whole team works in a single backlog and can take on the most important requests first based on their availability.
One of the best-known Pull systems is the Kanban system. Kanban works by visualizing the team tasks on a physical or digital Kanban board, prioritizing the most important tasks in the backlog, and then limiting the work in progress to create a continuous flow. What this means for service teams is that all of the customer requests are visible in a single backlog that is managed and prioritized by the team manager. The board can be divided into several rows to differentiate urgent, regular, and non-urgent requests and the backlog usually features several priority columns letting the team know which tasks are the most important.
Once the team manager prioritizes the requests it is up to each team member to go and pick which item they will be working on. Moreover, to ensure teams effectiveness each team member can only work on one item at a time. Meaning they are completed quicker and it is easy to spot any issues preventing the request from completion. By giving the team members control over their tasks, team manager can focus on task prioritization and ensuring urgent requests are delivered in a timely manner.
Get more familiar with the framework by reading what is Kanban board or get inspired with these Kanban board templates.
Benefits of Kanban System for service teams
If you are still unsure if introducing Kanban for service teams is worth the effort, let’s take a look at the benefits that this change would bring.
1 – Support for continuous flow. Instead of waiting on the team manager to review and assign tasks to the team members individually, they are responsible for pulling tasks on their own. Which means there is continuous flow of work going on. By implementing Kanban for service teams, the managers can focus on prioritizing work and be sure their team will deliver the most important work items on time.
2 – Easier to spot issues. By having all requests visualized on one board and all team members working on one request at a time, it becomes much easier to spot any issues. The team members can no longer switch back and forth between tasks and instead must focus on completing what they have already started.
3 – Team collaboration. By having a single backlog for the whole team there is also more chances for collaboration. All team members can now easily see if someone is struggling to complete a work item and offer help when needed. Implementing Kanban for service teams nurture the team spirit and shows everyone they are working towards a shared goal.
4 – Better capacity management. Implementing a pull system also means there is no more need to worry about managing workloads for all team members. Everyone is working one task at a time and taking on the most important requests first. So there is equality amongst the team.
5 – Overall easier planning. Lastly, Kanban brings easier and more predictable planning. Kanban for service teams is no different. The team members are able to see how many requests they have as well as their importance and difficulty. Which allows to make more accurate estimations on when each of those requests are going to be solved. Making clients happier as they get a reliable service.
Using Teamhood for your service team
If you are looking for a tool to implement Kanban for service teams, Teamhood can be a great fit. Built to visualize the team’s processes and easily track progress, Teamhood offers a variety of project management and Kanban features. Add in various task details, monitor progress in live reports, track time and improve your process with Agile productivity metrics.
Choose the template from this issue tracking kanban board example to use Kanban for service teams and you will immediately get a task board calibrated just for you. Rows will help you determine the severity of the request – high, medium, or low. While the backlog columns will allow you to sort work items into blocked or ready to be solved. This way, it will be easier for the team members to know which requests should be taken on next and which can wait a little. The In progress section will let you keep track of the status of the work items – whether the team is resolving them or waiting on confirmation. And the Output section will mark which requests were resolved and which failed.
Starting with the built in template you can immediately start using Kanban for service teams and then improve the digital Kanban board in any way your team needs. With Teamhood request tracking and solving become visual and easy.
Wondering if another Agile framework could be a better fit? See this comparison of Kanban vs Scrum vs Scrumban to make your choice.
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2020 - Present Marketing specialist at Teamhood.
2014 - 2020 Marketing manager for Eylean.