In praise of the support scrum

Many thanks to Alex Khatis for suggesting this topic.

I was surprised not to find a single post on the blog dedicated to the joys of the support scrum (or huddle, or case review, as I usually call it) — although I’ve been a great advocate of this simple but powerful technique for expediting case resolution and fighting backlog. So here’s a quick checklist for conducting case reviews — and a list of benefits.

What is a case review?

A case review is a regularly-scheduled, structured meeting between support engineers designed to share difficult cases and exchange troubleshooting suggestions.

What makes it work?

Case reviews seem to work best when:

  • They occur on a predictable, frequent schedule. There should be no time wasted scheduling the case review: it’s always at the same time. I like daily reviews because they don’t allow issues to sit for too long. For support organizations with multiple shifts or locations, a twice-dayly schedule may be warranted.
  • They are widely attended. I like to see all new hires attend as well as anyone else who is stuck on a case.
  • They focus on quick adjudications, not lengthy troubleshooting sessions. The format is much like hospital rounds: the support engineer gives a quick summary of the issue and why s/he is stuck, and the group provides suggestions for appropriate knowledge base articles, diagnostic tests to run, resources to consult. The goal is to have a clear next step for the case owner — and the next step could be an in-depth troubleshooting consultation with an expert, but that consultation does not occur in real time during the case review.
  • Partly as a consequence of the format, they are short. If case reviews go beyond 30-60 minutes, they become drags on everyone’s schedule and should be broken up by specialty, or scheduled more frequently during the day. (Remember that only new hires and engineers who have a difficult case must attend, which makes for action-oriented meetings.)
  • They are led by an experienced support engineer — maybe not the expert on everything but someone who knows his or her way around the issues, the knowledge base, and the resources of the company, and someone who is comfortable with the triage format of case reviews. If the leader cannot cut to the chase and cut off overly lengthy discussions about cases, find another one.
  • They often occur without a manager present. Case reviews are essentially technical exercises and can exist autonomously of line managers. Note that the line managers may be reviewing cases in parallel, typically focusing on cases that have sat for too long, and often the remedy will be to “take that one to a case review”.

Why does it work?

Case reviews expedite issue resolution and maximize productivity because:

  • They put the power of the group to work on difficult problems.
  • When coupled with a Knowledge-Centered-Support (KCS) approach to knowledge management they reinforce the power of the knowledge base and organically suggest opportunities to add to existing knowledge.
  • They transform 1:1 mentoring and training into 1:n, just-in-time discussions — thereby freeing up the time of your precious experts.
  • They avoid lengthy waits in getting technical help.
  • They avoid wasting troubleshooting time by allowing engineers to get a quick confirmation that they are headed into the right direction before expanding lots of effort.
  • They avoid unnecessary handoffs. Often a case is handed off when in fact a quick assist would have allowed the original owner to complete the troubleshooting independently, saving time and effort (and without forcing the customer to start over with a new contact).

Do you use case reviews/huddles/scrums? How do they work for your organization?

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  • Nora Reply

    Yes –my organization does this. We call it “Hot Case Meetings”, it’s scheduled 2-3 times per week in each major office. They are widely attended, great way to share knowledge on the fly, get quick feedback, and they also serve to regularly reinforce a team attitude, get everyone working together to solve issues. I think it’s a challenge to keep the meetings consistently short and to engage remote folks when the majority of the team is in one location, but it’s certainly time well spent anyway!

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