The FT Word – October 2006

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome to the October 2006 issue of the FT Word. Please forward it to your colleagues who are interested in support issues. Subscription information is at the end.

Topics for this month:

  • Effective project teams – how to ensure that your next team project works
  • Support dashboards – creating useful tools to monitor performance

Effective Project Teams

Ever participated in a team that simply never made much progress? (Or worse, did you put together a team that failed?) Here are a few thoughts about selecting effective teams. Whether you intend for the team to make process changes or to select a new tool, the same principles apply.

1. Include at least some hands-on folks. Managers do not know best. This is particularly important when making changes to the way the support staffers work. Managers are frequently cut off from the day-to-day process and simply do not know that the XYZ button is not working, or that knowledge base work never gets done the way the process says it should.

2. Select pragmatic, action-oriented people: you want decisions and progress, not just deep thoughts. I personally like to include a couple of theoretical thinkers on the team, but make sure that they are surrounded by others who will press for action.

3. Stay away from poor performers: if they cannot do their job well they won’t do the team’s work well either. This requirement will make your task more challenging as you beg managers for participants, but be strong!

4. Be geographically inclusive. Sure, it’s a pain to have to schedule all the conference calls early so that the European team members can participate, but they may well have a viewpoint that adds to the project. A team that represents a variety of geographies will also help you get the project accepted around the world.

5. Avoid people who prefer routine to innovation. People who are afraid to rock the boat won’t allow themselves or the team to think out of the box. It may take a bit of a push for the more junior and shy team members to express their iconoclastic ideas.

6. Include the informal leaders, even if they are troublesome. After all, if you can convince them that the project is worthwhile selling it to the other staff members will be a breeze.

7. Keep the team reasonably small – anything above 15 or so is asking for trouble. If you must use a large team for inclusion carve out a “core” team with no more than 15 people.

8. Make efficient use of the team’s time: this means meetings focused on decisions and communications, not for the sake of meeting, agendas defined and posted prior to the meeting, minutes of relevant decisions and action items. If you chose the top performers, informal leaders, and innovative thinkers you can be sure that (1) they don’t like to waste time and (2) they are already very busy.

9. Find a way to share information easily: having a spot to post all the documents related to the project will save oodles of time. It should be very easy to locate the most recent version of anything.

10. Define ground rules early on – ideally at the first meeting. This includes defining the required outcomes, agreeing on a decision-making process, and setting a rough schedule for the project. Action-oriented participants naturally appreciate and gravitate towards projects with clear end-goals.

One last thought: it never hurts to put an experienced project manager in charge of the team. Naturally, and experienced project manager would push to meet all 10 criteria before the project starts!

Support Metrics Dashboards

Thank you to Mark Magel for suggesting this topic and the useful links at the end.

There seems to be a great deal of interest in support dashboards, that is, the idea that we can gather up all the important metrics for support in one place that would make it easy to gauge how things are going and whether any area needs particular attention.

Unfortunately, dashboards are often awful, failing one or several of the following best practices.

Brevity. Dashboards should not exceed one page, although the best dashboards allow you to drill into any of the metrics, so you can always get the details if you need them.

Completeness. Dashboards should be “balanced”, so don’t just show cases closed, or some other easy, meaningless widget count. This requires multiple measurements: there is no one magic support metrics. I would suggest starting with:

  • case volume (in/out/backlog – and yes, it’s ok to count cases as long as you don’t stop there)
  • customer satisfaction
  • knowledge productivity along with some measure of knowledge quality such as the number of citations or customer satisfaction with the KB if you have it
  • financials such as support margin or support cost if you don’t charge for support.
  • status of major initiatives such as tool rollouts or customer escalations

Performance against targets. Each metric should have a target and show performance against the target. This helps outsiders who may not know what a reasonable target may be (is 90% of SLA achievement ok?) and it helps the support team focus on the key outcomes. You can move the targets from time to time, as needed.

Time progression. Snapshots are nowhere as useful as trends, again especially for outsiders (and let’s face it, if you’re below target it’s comforting to see a trend towards it, at least!) Depending on your business cycle you may need to go back a few months or compare year-to-year.

Visual view. Human beings are so much better at reading graphs and simple green/yellow/red lights than long lists of numbers!

Accessibility. Automate your dashboards so they can be available almost immediately at the end of the week or the end of the month

Need inspiration? Try Alas, no support dashboards there, but plenty of inspiring ideas, not to mention cute icons ( )

FT Works in the News

The Knova User’s Conference invited me and David Kay, the co-author of Collective Wisdom, to present a talk about knowledge management in support centers entitled “10 Mistakes Others Have Made – so you don’t have to”. If you’d like a copy of the presentation just ask!

Curious about something? Send me your suggestions for topics and your name will appear in future newsletters. I’m thinking of doing a compilation of “tips and tricks about support metrics” in the coming months so if you have favorites, horror stories, or questions about metrics, please don’t be shy.

Françoise Tourniaire
FT Works
650 559 9826

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