The ongoing uncertainty in our working lives makes long term planning difficult. And though people and organizations are not assuming that their current approach will be the long-term way of working, it will likely last longer than first expected.
This means friction between two operational models: disaster recovery and the new normal. Not only that, there are differences in opinion between service management providers and their clients about what should be permanent and what should be temporary.
For now, however, there are certain realities that both sides cannot avoid.
Managing the changes to working conditions
Having staff continuing to work from home has many implications including the fact that working hours are changing. What I’m seeing is, for example, days starting at 8am and finishing at 10pm; spreading work intermittently across those 14 hours and planning it around other personal and family activities.
Where, previously, there was a regular routine with customers, this is now often replaced by bursts of activity (even in the middle of the night!). Operating in these conditions demands a high level of communication to understand current client needs and the level of quality they require.
One example is the Black Friday discount day: for this, customers need IT support at even greater than full capacity. However, unlike in previous years, services providers are now negotiating more limited response rates and delay deliverables if they’re not critical at that point. This allows employees and the company overall to take a breath and re-group.
We should avoid thinking about demand and capacity as straight lines. They will deviate with the changing environment, so we will need to adapt. Even better is getting ahead of the curve and trying to influence behaviour. The agility here comes with proactively understanding the level of quality clients need and offering them choices in advance.
Today, more than ever, it’s possible to achieve a balance for both sides, based on having the right discussions.
Long-term reorganization and ITIL 4
Thinking about a more long-term plan for organizations, I would look to ITIL® 4: defining the value chain, value streams and making sure everyone understands these concepts and each individual’s role in delivering them. By building this mindset, it establishes people’s responsibilities.
Unlike processes, value streams don’t follow a linear path; sometimes you move forward, but you also go backwards and sideways in your activities. People need empowering to work this way. For example, when a customer calls with an issue, the first activity is to engage directly to understand the problem. After outlining a basic plan, you line up people from different teams with varied knowledge to find the cause of the issue and a resolution (swarming in ITIL 4).
Also, the tendency for countless conference calls to report on progress needs to change. Instead, using visual methods to share progress with management will free more time for people to deliver value to customers.
Embedding Agile in everything
Organizations need to operate more quickly in response to opportunities that can’t be delayed. So, I see in the long run cross-functional teams with an Agile coach; collaborating, looking for deliverables and deciding on the minimum viable product to provide to the customer for feedback. The greatest benefit of this is not working on a project for months and then the customer says “no – that’s not what I want”. And whether it’s a piece of software or a sales proposal, the customer won’t wait months for a first iteration.
In my current organization we are now building SWAT teams to respond to major opportunities. This allows us to gather a group of highly experienced people and work with them on a daily basis. The most critical task is asking questions like: What is the level of detail the customer really needs? (as opposed to doing what we have always done), Can we engage with the customer to get immediate feedback on deliverables which are ready? (as opposite to waiting until the end), etc.
Certainly, this may push many organizations to the limit, but under this pressure they are forced to act or cease to exist. Finding the right balance means creating optimal efficiency between customers and employees, as people working collaboratively is now critical to success.
The multiple changes we’re now seeing in the so-called new normal present an opportunity – not just to recover but to grow and respond to the emerging demands for services that customers have.