Prioritisation: when and how to help.

Published by Matt Setchell on

I’ve just looked back over my previous blogs to see if I have written one on this subject before, and I don’t think I have – but it’s such an important element of what my role is now I wanted to get some thoughts down.

Everyone wants everything, now.

Of course, this is true for many jobs. But in IT – people are only interested in you when something has gone wrong. If it’s gone wrong, then it’s disrupting their workflow at best, at worst is affecting everyone in different ways

The big question is always how, when you have multiple problems to fix, do you decide which to prioritise.

Even internally, every one on our team fights for their customers needs, whether that is a customer experience manager wanting action for their customer, or, a colleague needing support to resolve an issue for their customer.

This is before you get to the proactive stuff. Incident and issue resolution quantities is driven by the lack of proactive preventative works you do.

So how do you juggle the competing priorities, in a team with limited resources? How do you meet SLAs and XSLAs? How do you look after your team and your customers needs fairly?

It’s incredibly difficult

By the very nature of who I am, I want to solve problems. I want to move colleagues and customers forward. But being the type of person who says yes to everything has the adverse impact. You end up letting people down and losing trust. And that’s horrifying.

Obviously you need enough staff to meet the needs of your workload, but it will never be enough. There is always something happening, and it’s hard to plan, schedule and budget to support something.

So the key tool in this area is making it clear to customers, internal and external, what they can expect in terms of a response, and a resolution. It’s important to look at these individually, because a response can be as good as a resolution.

If you meet those expectations, customers and colleagues understand them and plan accordingly. If you have SLA targets and don’t monitor and promote them – then you are not protecting yourselves or supporting your customers. Whilst we want to fix everything as quickly as possible, it’s important everyone is aware of the reality. you can’t just whip out an SLA as a line of defence. It’s a partnership, and the customer can’t be part of a partnership they know nothing about.

How do you manage it?

By proper prioritisation of issues you are ensuring you are in the best place to meet SLAs, and, if you miss them, you can be sure that the highest priorities will be in the % achieved.

This means your technical and CX teams have to be aware of the timelines, and not demand unrealistic resolutions, and making unkeepable promises to customers.

Empowering colleagues to understand how to prioritise their workloads helps with anxieties – it’s okay to not respond if you can justify prioritising another issue. if you don’t have the team to allow this to happen, you are understaffed or over promising.

How we prioritise

In one word: impact. You cannot write a list of issues and a response time. There are too many. What you can understand is the impact.

We determine the impact by asking questions: who, what, why, when and how. Pretty basic stuff, but I’ve never known them not to then align an issue to a priority.

Of course, it’s not just the technical impact we need to look at as a commercial MSP, but I’d argue this applies to internal teams as well – reputation damage is also a key factor. Whether that’s on a wide scale or key individuals.

Sometimes a quick win is needed, but that can be drawn back to impact on an SLA

But most importantly, it’s the impact made on our promises. Promises to colleagues or customers. If we communicate and keep those promises, that’s all a customer can ask for. They will have confidence it will be moved forward. They will still be pissed at the issue, but it’s important that they don’t get pissed at you.

Be honest.

I hate letting people down. I’ve said year to far too many things I can’t do without not looking after me, or colleagues over the years.

I’ve learnt over the past couple of years that honesty is the best policy. I work better when I’m not scattered. I can’t say not under pressure, as my role is all about being under pressure – but it’s more manageable and I haven’t set myself up to fail.

It’s still something I’m working on. I need to be empathetic yet firm when delivering the news – but I’m getting there.

One of the biggest challenges is modelling this to colleagues. If you focus on metrics, people default to speed. But actually, quality over quantity is what we need. If you are hitting your SLA but CSAT and NPS is poor, then you need to change your SLA or your ability to meet those targets – because it won’t improve whilst staff are chasing speed. Because reliability and quality beats speed in the long term.

Take F1, Mercedes have been rubbish this season, but they are second in the constructors. Their drivers are not 2nd in the individual table.

Their consistency in results, whilst not always brilliant individually, provides a combined experience that means they are performing well as a team, and even if one day someone doesn’t perform, the team have got it covered.

If you hit your SLA 95% of the time, your team will be in a good position. Remember, you are allowing yourself to not hit that target 5% of the time. 5% of the time you don’t score SLA points, but I bet you score points with your customers.

Don’t bullshit the figures

Lastly, if you bullshit your figures, the only people you are harming is yourselves. Why promote a service level you can’t meet. Why affect your staff with targets you can’t achieve?

Be honest, let the figures tell the story, and then see what you need to do to change the ending.

Categories: Blog