MSPs: How to effectively manage your service board backlog

Karl Palachuk

When you have a busy service board, it is important to make sure that you don't lose something "between the cracks." Here's a process to take care of that and then attack any backlog that may exist. Please note that a backlog is not necessarily bad! It's better to know that all your techs are busy than to have pockets of inactivity. 

This process is to be completed by the Tech Support Manager/Service Manager or the Service Coordinator. It should be somebody that can make decisions to re-allocate resources to get tickets “un-stuck” and moving toward completion. 

The Service Board needs constant attention, but the complete process of prioritizing, assigning and scheduling resources really needs to be done at most two or three times a week. Early Monday AM is a must and toward the end of the week is good to help bring the next week into focus.

Since all service requests are to be acknowledged within a set time of creation during business hours, that process is at the top of the to-do list.  

Basically, the goal is that that Service Coordinator – and everyone who touches the ticket – needs to verify the ticket title, priority, work type, service agreement, etc. Here's the result of that process - every time you touch a service request, you update as many fields as possible. So, the next time you refine your search in an attempt to reveal service requests needing attention, you actually find fewer tickets that need attention.  

What you'll see in a minute is that we use a variety of sorting methods to view all the tickets. The reason for reviewing the entire list of service requests after changing the sort order is to be sure that you have a complete understanding of the overall workload on your company and the needs of the clients. If the list is viewed in several different ways this will become apparent. 

While reviewing service requests, ask for a status update from the assigned tech(s) on any request that you believe to either be in the wrong status, incomplete or that has incorrect information. 

Don't be overwhelmed 

If you don't regularly massage your service board or review tickets, you might have a huge number of tickets that need to be cleaned up. If you have totally neglected your service board, it might take you a whole business day to go through this the first time. But four days later, it will be much cleaner and easier. 

The following Monday, this process will actually be pretty fast. This is due to the fact that you've now touched every ticket in the system at least once in the previous seven days and you know which tickets are correct and don't need to be evaluated again. Your checklist should read like this: 

The first time you go through this, be sure to read each step very carefully and do exactly what it says. After you've gone through the process three or four times, you'll get by with just a checklist that says:

  • Acknowledge New Tickets
  • Review Completed Tickets
  • Sort by Priority
  • Sort by Age
  • Sort by Hours
  • Sort by Status
  • Schedule Work

Eventually, this will become second nature and you will have a very good handle on your board. Also it will probably take you less than half an hour. 

The first time you go through this process, you will move many tickets to "Closed" or "Completed" status. You'll re-prioritize a lot of tickets. You will probably combine some tickets into one, and you'll set reasonable time budgets for all tickets. 

That will be a huge relief and greatly diminish your perceived backlog. Through this process, you'll learn about your PSA system, how tickets flow through your system and what you need your technicians to do better. Of course, you will fine-tune this process based on your ticket statuses and procedures, but this is a place to start. 

Tackling the ticket backlog 

Step One: Open the Service Board and review the Primary Sort  
Our service board is set up with a default sort of "By Status." With this, you can determine which status you want first, second, third, etc. We have the system put "New" status on the top, followed by:

  • Acknowledged
  • Assigned
  • Schedule This
  • Scheduled
  • In Progress
  • Waiting . . . (Results, materials, customer, vendor)
  • Customer Reply
  • On Hold
  • Completed

Step Two: Acknowledge each New Service Request 

Step Three: Review all service requests in the Completed Status 

Tune up these service requests as follows:

  • Verify that everything is in order and update as necessary
  • Review the time entries and other pertinent information
  • Pay close attention to all time entries and the Service Agreement applied to the ticket. These determine whether the work will be billed or not.
  • Change the status to “Completed” when all fields and notes have been updated

Step Four: Sort the Board by Priority (Highest to Lowest) and review the entire list of Service Requests

  • Review the entire list to verify correct priority
  • Pay close attention to the age of high priority service requests and why they are getting older
  • Update other fields as necessary

Step Five: Sort the Board by Age and review the entire list of service requests

  • On Mondays (or the first day of the week) pay close attention to service requests that are 0 to 3 days old as they have come in over the weekend and need to be addressed right away
  • Verify that any service request over 60 days old is at Priority 3. Update other fields as necessary.
  • Verify that any service request over 90 days old is at Priority 2. Update other fields as necessary.

Step Six: Sort the Board by Budget Hours and review all service requests with a Budget of 0 hours remaining

  • Estimate and update the Budgeted Hours
  • Update other fields as necessary
  • Starting from the bottom of the list (largest budget hours) review all service requests that are over budget.
  • Update other fields as necessary

Step Seven: Sort the Board by Status again and review all service requests in the following order. Scrutinize the status and update as necessary

  • In Progress – Verify the status is still valid and update as needed. Is it moving forward right now?
  • Scheduled – Only items with a status of “Scheduled” that have a scheduled date in the past need to be reviewed. It is most important that if the schedule was missed or moved that it be re-scheduled immediately. If necessary, determine why the service request was not worked when planned.
  • Acknowledged – These tickets need to be moved to Assigned, Scheduled, or some other status that will move them forward.
  • On Hold – Only the Service Manager can place a ticket on hold. This basically means that no one should work on the ticket until further notice. If there are tickets on hold, determine whether this is still appropriate. For example, if you are waiting for a payment from the client, you might leave a ticket on hold.

Step Eight: Assign tickets to technicians and schedule work that needs to be done on a specific day or at a specific time

  • If the status is “Schedule This”: Work from highest priority to lowest and from oldest to newest. It is the best practice to schedule the technician who is already assigned to the service request if the work is an on-going issue that would not easily be passed from one technician to another.
  • Sort the Board by Required Date. Verify that all tickets with a due date approaching are assigned to a technician so we don't miss the required target.

The process of managing backlog and massaging the service board is intended to make sure that all tickets are moving appropriately through the system. You should never be happy with “stuck” tickets. 

It may help to picture the paths through your service board like a giant board game. There are several paths that can be taken. There are detours and shortcuts. Sometimes you have to go backward, but the general flow is always forward. Eventually, every ticket moves through the system and off the board. 

And everybody wins. 

Notes 

There are no specific forms for implementing this standard operating procedure (SOP). You should write up a brief checklist, based on what we've presented here. Everyone who might be called upon to go through this process should do it at least once with a supervisor before being left to do it on their own. 

It is important that you keep track of the total number of backlog hours. It will almost always be shorter when you are finished with this process.  

Sometimes you will increase the backlog because you have tickets with zero estimated time remaining and you need to add hours to that. But, more often, you will find some tickets that are almost done, or completely finished. So you will reduce the hours on these or close them altogether. 

Whether the backlog increases or decreases, you should track it and chart it at least once per week. Put that chart on the wall in the service department.

Closing thoughts

I think it is useful to sum up this blog in the following three points:

  1. Backlog of work is one of the key health indicators in your business. Track it rigorously.
  2. The point of keeping your backlog under control is to provide excellent service and verify that you know the current state of your service board.
  3. Once the backlog is under control, you’ll know what is normal. You can’t return to normal until you know what it is. And if normal changes, you’ll only be aware of that because you are aware of what it used to be.

(Used with permission of Karl W. Palachuk, SmallBizThoughts.com)