A step-by-step process for maximizing technician productivity

Karl Palachuk

This procedure covers the standard "routine" for a technician. Before you get into any details, please note one critically important thing: The point of all of this process is to avoid being “interrupt driven”.

By "interrupt driven" I simply mean that you allow yourself to be interrupted and therefore end up doing whatever interrupted you most recently. This is so important that I've addressed it in several books and many times on my blog. It's a simple phrase and a very difficult concept to implement. Just like exercise, if you get out of the habit of non-interruption for a few days, it can take some work to get back on track.

We allow ourselves to be interrupted by the telephone. How often is the telephone call more important than what you were doing? Two percent of the time, maybe less? 

We allow Outlook to pop up and beg for our attention. Then we have to go back to work. We let instant messengers from three different channels pop up and grab our attention. We check Facebook, Twitter and our cell phones non-stop as if the world might actually end if we miss anything.

The process I’m about to share does not end interruptions. But it does provide a framework for getting things done based on priorities rather than "most recent interruption."

The technician’s day

tech_diagram.jpgThe technician’s day is a routine and it is expected that all technicians will follow it very closely. This routine is simply a continuously looping process of subroutines. After each numbered subroutine, begin at the top of the list again. For example, if you have managed to complete the subroutine "Work P2 Tickets" you go back to the top and work your way through the subroutines in order. See the diagram (right).

Don't let the diagram confuse you.

The basic process is this:

1. Check the time 

Remember that scheduled work always takes precedence over "regular" priority-based service tickets.

2. Check email to process 

You have two options here. You can have technicians check email every time they loop through, or limit it to a few times per day. For example, if the time is 8 AM, 10 AM, 1 PM, or 3 PM, then check email. Technicians do not need to hang out in email all day. Neither does anyone else, really.

3. Check for the highest priority items that you can work on 

You cycle through these in the following order: 

  1. P1 Tickets
  2. High Priority Activities
  3. P2 Tickets
  4. Medium Priority Activities
  5. P3 Tickets
  6. Low Priority Activities
  7. P4 Tickets

If you are very busy, it is unlikely that a technician will clear out all P1, P2, P3, and P4 tickets. If so, then you move onto the next step.

4. Other things that need to be done 

This includes studying for exams, administrative work, or cleaning up the office. Whatever needs to be done.

Since the entire process really amounts to beginning the day, working everything in priority order, and ending the day, it is easy to learn. Remember, one of our mantras is that nothing should ever be lost, dropped, or forgotten. That's why it is critical that everything is in your PSA system. Once it's in the system and every technician is cycling through this process, you will eventually work every ticket and every task.

The warm up

There is a bit of process that takes place before the technician starts the day. Because a service environment is always changing, it is reasonable to expect that a technician will check email and the PSA in the morning before heading into work (or perhaps the evening before).

The service manager might want the technician to show up at a client's office first thing in the morning. Or perhaps pick up supplies. The main thing you want to avoid is having the technician show up at the office and discover that he should be at a client's office instead.

In our project management, we sometimes use the "golden hour" of 7AM to 8AM to accomplish tasks before clients show up for work. If your technician is expected to be at a client's office (or working remote) at 7AM, they need to know this before showing up for work at 8AM!

Checking the service board and this bit of email are trivial tasks. They amount to "checking your work schedule" and are not paid time. Technicians are NOT expected to do anything else with the service board at this time. Technicians are NOT expected to process all of their email at this time. The only thing they need to do is figure out where to be to start the day.

Not every tech can work every ticket

If you have more than one technician, then you know that not every technician can work every ticket. This might be because of knowledge, skill or client relations. In addition, some tickets will be assigned to specific technicians. So, if a tech looks at a ticket and sees that it is assigned to someone else, he should move on to the next ticket.

It is not uncommon that you will have a scenario such as this: Tom shows up for work and starts the process. He checks his email and then looks at tickets. There are no P1 tickets and no high priority tasks (this is very common). He checks P2 tickets. There are five. One is

assigned to Bob, one is assigned to Mike. One is waiting for client feedback. One is scheduled for Friday.

At this point, there is only one P2 ticket that Tom can work. When Tom reviews the notes, he might discover that it's a system he doesn't understand, or that it has escalated to a level beyond what he is able to do. That's fine. He moves on to Medium Priority tasks (internal "to do" items) and then on to P3 tickets.

There are two key things to remember here. First, each technician is expected to do what he can to move each ticket forward as much as possible. Part of the measure of a successful day is moving tickets through the system.

Second, you want to avoid (at all costs) the scenario in which a technician opens a ticket, looks through the notes, decides he can't make progress, logs time and then logs out. Really good notes, and direction from the Service Manager go a long way to avoiding this

scenario. Use the code WITNS (“What is the next step?”) to flag the obvious next step. If the next step is to call tech support, then your technician should not begin this work 15 minutes before the end of the day. If the next step is to deliver hardware on site, the tech can't work that from home.

Don't let techs log useless time against tickets. A good process will keep them from this in the first place.

A key piece of the service manager's job is to "massage" the service board to the extent that it makes everything run more smoothly. He should also keep the technicians up to speed about what they should be doing. The formal process is a framework for success. But a little human wisdom and common sense go a long way. Most of the time, most technicians will be working on P3 and P4 tickets and low priority tasks. In other words, these are not time-sensitive issues. So there is some flexibility.

For example, if a specific program needs an update across several clients, you might have a technician work all of these at P3 tickets in one sitting. The tech will be more efficient, and you'll know that the issue has been handled. The formal process has no way of "knowing" that kind of information. But people can handle this very easily! 

Implementation

This procedure takes a little time to implement. First, you need to create a flow chart similar to the one posted here. It needs to make sense for your company, so make adjustments as needed. Next, you need to write up the process and how it affects technicians. Finally, you need to train the technicians and then make sure everyone is working the system.

It will take a little effort for the service manager to monitor that everyone is working from highest priority to lowest priority. It means checking in with them, watching the tickets they complete and reminding everyone of the process. You might even print up your flow chart and have everyone post it at their workstation.

Another one of our mantras is that we work from highest priority to lowest, from oldest to newest. This process is targeted at achieving exactly that goal. If that's your goal, then this is a good place to start.

Three takeaways from this blog:

1. Create a “flow chart” that makes sense within your company. Train techs and hold them accountable.

2. Determine when techs should check email and then enforce it. Verify that people do not camp out in Outlook all day.

3. Working from highest priority to lowest priority, everything should move faster. How will you measure that?

 

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