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“If we don’t have a clear picture, then we don’t act!” ** – Organizing Product and Process Knowledge

May 22nd, 2020 Comments off

For centuries, people took for granted that the sun and heavens moved around the earth. Against that night sky was the surprising, independent and often retrograde movements of the planets. How does one make sense of that? How does one grasp, in principle, that contrary movement?

Of course you know the answer, as does every child who grew up with a ceiling-mounted mobile of our solar system. We now think of the (1) sun as stationary. We (2) imagine circular motion around the sun, and then refine that new conceptual model by adding more knowledge. We learn that those planetary orbits are (3) elliptical. Then, we discover that (4) not all planets orbit in the same horizontal plane. (Mercury and “sometimes-a-planet” Pluto are tipped a bit.)

As we learn more,  the mental picture does indeed become clearer. If our job is to launch a spacecraft to another planet, this clear picture is vital. We need as complete an inventory as possible of what is known about the solar system and its moving parts. We don’t stop at four metrics. Organized Knowledge is power.

Businesses can often make quantum leaps in their ability to deliver value, if someone takes an independent and  objective look at how workers and managers think about their jobs. If product and process learning has slowed or stopped, you may need a fresh approach that “puts the sun at the center” of your thinking.

Take a look at the difference a clear picture makes:

  • A tech support team dreaded every phone call. A fresh look at their processes led to change, and they were confident in their job after a week!
  • A metal machining operator reduced job setup time from four hours to 15 minutes when a fresh look at the process reduced the setup of hundreds of parts to just a dozen or so basic configurations.
  • The wrong mental picture caused a service desk to deliver worse performance while their metrics showed improvement! A fresh look at their metrics turned this around immediately.

It is hard to make things easy.

Your high school English teacher probably warned you about too long sentences. Many people will not get a clear picture unless you break ideas down into manageable sentences with nouns and verbs. Product and process knowledge should be organized in absorb-able chunks for similar reasons.

We often say that properly organized process and product knowledge is a mechanism to learn, share, teach and improve. It documents dependencies between ends and means – what are the prerequisites for successful results.

We call this approach to improvement: factoring. We have been coaching, teaching classes, writing books and running on-site improvement projects based on these methods for over two decades. If you see opportunities to apply this in your operation, we are here to help.

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** “If we don’t have a clear mental picture, then we don’t act!” This is one of the most memorable gems from Dr Charles R. Hobbs, but there is more to unpack than the surface meaning.

Re-Engineering a Contact Center’s Support Desk Processes, Tools and Metrics

May 15th, 2020 Comments off



Actionable metrics are conclusions that rest atop a careful pyramid of reasoning that has first-hand observation at its foundation. This is true, even in the realm of precision measurement where we quantify things too small, too big, too fast, too slow or too abstract the see with unaided senses.

Attribute measurement, where we drop events into categories, is very common in contact center metrics. When, where and how many cases by type is often where categorical analysis begins, but if the measurement foundation if flawed, then the conclusions will be weak and uncertain.

True Story!

One client had well over 100 agents providing Technology support for the company’s workers in all 50 states. Their old Remedy ticketing system always had them start a new call and a fresh ticket with a “Category, Type & Item”  ticket type. An audit of calls showed that most of these tags were so vague as to be useless or simply wrong.

Here is what we did to re-structure the process.

First, agents were trained to understand that the classification was provisional. It could be reclassified once all evidence was in.

Second, we looked at the anatomy of their Technology  infrastructure, and reconstructed the category, type, item choices accordingly. (We have successfully used this anatomical approach to clarify the scope of support  in other organizations.)

Now, the most important part!

We added three fields with behind the scene changes to the ticketing software, and modified the agent process like this:

When each call came in, we documented “Symptoms”. The field names and work flows reflected this early first step – and pick lists of previously reported symptoms suggested a provisional category, type and item.

Every support call starts with at least one symptomatic behavior in tech, but analysis cannot stop there. A given symptom may have a benign cause, a serious cause, or may be a complex interaction of two or more causes. So the next modification to the process was this:

We trained our agents in the basic anatomy of the systems that they support so that they could attempt to code a “Diagnosis” the cause of the problem. Too often, support centers are happy to simply make a symptom disappear instead of identifying causes and dependencies. Our process approach emphasizing cause identification allowed the support organization to take preventative action for all users that would be impacted by that same cause, but who had not yet experienced trouble!

Finally, the process of closing a ticket now included “Outcome”  (a case resolution discussion) and a final classification of category, type and item.

Obviously, there were nuances. We created simple dependency diagrams that allowed agents to quickly grasp technology anatomy. There were TIER I and TIER II division of labor and escalation issues, and sub-tickets and master tickets were used to collate up cases by cause. Re-organization of TIER I into teams that specialized in specific and related systems had a positive impact on training time and call outcomes. Of course, call routing had to be analyzed and re-engineered to reflect all process changes.

However, the result was a new and improved paradigm in that organization for support center “best practices”, and since this project, we have seen some of these ideas imported into other organizations and into later generation ticketing and contact center software.



Tactical Management in Business

May 13th, 2020 Comments off

Often a difference in degree should be viewed as a difference in kind, and there are two fundamentally different kinds of decisions, metrics and activities in business management.

We call those management activities that are constrained by current staffing, facilities, technology and operational budget: “Tactical Management”. Tactical Management works to maximize an operation’s ability to deliver value, within the constraint of available means.

In contrast, “Strategic Management” provides a context for tactical decisions. Strategic decisions are focused on achieving goals in the face of risk. Green-lighting new products, approving staff increases and making major technology purchases are primarily strategic decisions that can fundamentally change the nature or purpose of the business.

Businesses prosper when both strategic and tactical managers understand their scope of responsibility and the management concepts appropriate to the kinds of decisions that they must make.

Do you have a good “Tactical Management: vocabulary? Take a look at my book, “Thirty Seven Ideas For Tactical Managers”, for a thorough overview of the basic ideas and concepts every tactical manager should know.