Getting out of Bootstrap Mode

Support Maturity Model
A couple weeks ago, I presented the FT Works Support Maturity Model at the SX Live conference. In the model, I call the first level bootstrap because it’s where it all begins. A bootstrap organization does whatever it takes to get the job done, in a permanent state of improvisation and fast change.

A big thank you to Michael Yetter for posing this question, “We’re a startup, what is the best strategy to get out of the bootstrap stage?”

Here are 5 suggestions for Michael and everyone else who heads a startup support team.

Take stock of what you have. Many fledgling support organizations already have some tools in place, or some kind of definition around support plans (offerings). That’s great! On the other hand, you may not have a prescribed set of processes yet, or not have any formal metrics. Make a list for the next step.

Set priorities. Usually startups begin formalizing tools and processes first, before they tackle offerings, people, or metrics. It does not mean it’s the only way to go (or even the right way to go for your specific organization) but it makes sense to focus on a couple of areas at a time. If you feel pain in a particular area, start there; for instance: if you do not have a tracking tool get one now!

Consider focusing on your offerings since they drive much of the rest of what  you do. What do you want to offer to your customers in terms of channels (hint: self service is a channel), hours, response time? You may not publish those details to customers, especially response time targets since you are serving consumers, but you need targets so you can track your performance. Then, work your way towards processes, people, tools, metrics.

Define SMART goals for your prioritized initiatives. For instance: define and publish a standard support plan including SLAs by June 15th (not, “formalize the plans”).

Embrace good enough. Bootstrap organizations rarely benefit from overdoing the formality of their progress. For instance, if you are creating processes, don’t expect to have perfectly formatted documents. Listing the right steps, bullet-list style is sufficient to ensure that everyone uses the same process–and a rather rough format will remind everyone that improvements are needed and welcome.

Be clear about the resources you need. If your team is constantly overloaded just keeping up with the influx of questions, you will not get out of bootstrap mode! Justify reasonable investments in tools or headcount—and then use those resources to build what you need, not just respond to customer issues.

My experience is that it takes 6 months to get out of bootstrap mode, assuming that you can get the resources that you need. You will know when you get there because you will not be constantly running from one fire to another (there will still be fires, mind you!) and new hires will have some kind of a path to get up to speed that does not involve a daily frantic search for what they desperately need to know to do their job.

And one last thought: if you yourself are new to support, find blogs, conferences, and other opportunities to learn from more experienced peers.

Have you recently moved up from bootstrap mode? What other advice would you offer?

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