Stephen D Buyze

“Empowering Managed Service Providers to Increase Profit”

4 Steps to Increasing Accountability at Your IT MSP

Managed Service Providers, Here’s Why Accountability is Key

A growth of 20-30% in 2019 is great, obviously. But, did your bottom line really grow 20-30%? That’s the real question!

Profitability is about holding the Support Team accountable. We’re not talking about beating a Support Team member over the head.  Instead, let’s build a collaborative partnership where everyone has a clear vision of what’s expected of them.

Click here for a copy of our 90-day Performance Improvement Program template

Accountability is Key for Managed Service Providers

Techs knowing what to work on next or Service Coordinators managing all open tickets and knowing which ones need attention is easy; even keeping the Triage widget empty seems to come naturally.

However, Techs embracing Real-Time Time Entry, and working on what needs to be done next rather than picking from a list does not come naturally. Or, Service Coordinators feeling empowered and leaning forward by collaborating with Techs, Managers, and Customers on the tickets that need attention also doesn’t happen organically (Don’t we all wish).

When it comes to moving from having the tools to using the tools and holding Techs and Service Coordinators accountable, it doesn’t take the Service Manager acting like a dictator or droning on until they are blue in the face.

Quite frankly, acting like a dictator or the walking away approach will not work! If I was on the support team and a manager kept harping about Real-Time Time Entry, I would dig in my heels and stick to my old habits. With this approach, there’s risk in ruining the enjoyable collaborative work environment that exists within most MSP Service Delivery operations.

Where is the Disconnect at Your IT MSP?

I also strongly believe that every Tech and every Service Coordinator is doing the best they can. So, what is the disconnect?

  • Communications – maybe
  • Education – most likely
  • Management out to lunch – I doubt it, so what is it?

My guess (based on years of experience) is old habits; a lack of consistent, sustained, collaborative management; a highly transactional environment; and no clear path forward to accountability.

As consultants, we are not in a good position to hold Techs, Service Coordinators, or even Service Managers accountable.  Especially when it comes to modifying their habits or providing an environment with consistent, sustained, collaborative management. What we can do is teach how to improve the processes and pave the way for a clear path forward to accountability.

Continuous Process Improvement is #1

Here is some exciting news that makes it easier to hold the Support Team accountable.  We’re finding that Automation is not limited to Workflow Rules, but also includes Dashboard/Widgets, the SLA module, and Contracts – specifically Contract Exclusions.

Check out these helpful articles on how to configure the automation:

So, what is the clear path forward? First, let’s assume the configurations are in place.

IT MSP’s, Here’s Your Path Forward to Accountability:

Step 1: Know the KPI goals

To borrow from Stephen Covey, let’s begin with the end in mind. There are only two major metrics that indicate the Techs and Service Coordinators are being held accountable, and 10 leading indicators (monitoring points) that the metrics will be moving in the right direction.

Key Metrics:

1) Resource Utilization (RU) – Customer-Facing hours vs. available hours is a ratio that shows how much of the tech’s time is being used to Service the Customer and how much time is being used for other things.

    1. The advantage of using a Consultant is that they see many MSP’s around the world, and they know what is:
      • Average (70%)
      • Common (50% – 75%)
      • Best in Class (>80%)
      • Highly profitable (85%)
      • Too much, leading to burnout (>90%).
    2. To find out what your RU # is, in Autotask: Roll over the big “A” —> Reports —> Resources —> General —> Resource Utilization —> Select the Techs (hold the CTRL key) —> Generate —> Read Billable Hours Goal %.

2) SLA performance – there are three sub-metrics

  1. Triage (First Response) is the time it takes from when the Ticket is created to changing the status from “New.”
  2. Tech Engagement (Resolution Plan) is the time from when the Ticket is created to when the status is changed to “In Progress”, and without the time the ticket remains in one of the “Waiting …” statuses.
  3. Completion (Resolved), which is time from creation to when the status is changed to either “Customer Verification Requested,” “Pending Closed,” or “Completed.”

When the SLA is first properly configured, the average is typically below 63% across all three metrics.  With active collaborative benchmarking, monitoring, reporting, and goal setting, that number can improve to above 95%.

Leading Indicators (or activities that impact the KPI’s):

  • # of Tickets assigned to each Tech is below 20.
  • Tickets in the Tech’s Ready to Be Resolved widget all have future Next SLA Event Due dates.
  • All Waiting Tickets have a Last Activity Date less than 3 days ago.
  • Projects, Installs, and any Service Request over an estimated 4-hours of work are all scheduled.
  • Team Hours Worked This Week (Kim Drumm’s widget) shows the Tech’s time entries are up to date.
  • The triage widget is empty most of the time.
  • SLA Summary widget is all zeros most of the time.
  • The Customer Responded To sub-widget is zero most of the time.
  • The Scheduled Tickets with No Future Service Calls report returns no qualified data.
  • The Tickets On-Hold report shows no due dates in the past.

Thankfully, we now know what to watch for so that we can celebrate positive movement from where we are to where we need to be. “Need to be” means staying competitive, so we can stay in business – and so we can continue to provide excellent Service to our Customers. 

Yes, we talk about increasing Company profits, but the purpose is not simply to line the Owner’s pockets – but to stay in business and provide the best work environment money can buy.

Step 2: Educate the Support Team on KPI goals – and why they are important:

Resource Utilization Explained:

Resource Utilization is a metric that shows the ratio of working for the Customer vs. Availability. The metric starts by highlighting how much total time the Techs work weekly.

In any other industry, if you do not turn in 40 hours on your timesheet, you would not be paid for 40 hours of work. Only in this industry are timesheets turned in regularly that do not show what was worked on for 40 hours per week.

Pay based on Timesheets rather than salary alone would drive Real-Time Time Entry and accountability. Without paying for time worked, the next best thing is to point out to the Techs in front of their peers how they are not pulling their weight.

Once the Techs start reporting all of the time they are working, the next step is to partner with them to figure out what the non-Customer facing work is and, as a manager, remove as much of the non-Customer time as possible from their work-life. This includes Regular/Internal Time and Company Time, along with one Regular Time bucket for “I have no idea what I worked on” (Unknown Time).

The last collaborative Resource Utilization report sub-metric is Non-Billable Time. All of this time should be reviewed for miscoded or coaching opportunities on what is billable and what is non-billable.

The objective here is to partner with the Techs to remove the barriers that keep them from doing what they love to do – relieve the Customer’s pain.

The goal of this collaborative, loving process is 80+% Customer-Facing Utilization.

SLA:

There are two ways to look at SLA’s:

  1. A goal to drive the Company to achieve (not recommended).
  2. A benchmark on performance, laying the groundwork for collaboration on how process change can improve the numbers (recommended).

You should benchmark and report where the Support Team’s performance is at, also, communicate what the Expectation is (>95%).

Start by looking at the Triage performance. If Triage misses the SLA, then it is a lot harder for the Techs to Engage on time or Complete the engagement.

Once the Triage SLA is >95%, you will notice the Tech Engagement SLA rising. To keep this number improving, the Tech’s Ready to Be Resolved widget needs to have all future Next SLA Event Due Dates, and the Service Coordinator needs to be proactively managing the Next SLA Due Date summary widget.

Completion is not an SLA reported to the Customer because there are too many things out of the MSP’s control. However, if the first two SLA’s are above 95%, and the Completion SLA is lagging, then look at the noise level and disruptions as the cause for missing the Resolved SLA.

Smart tip: Feel free to pull a Captain Kirk. If one type of engagement is dragging the number down, reclassify the type of work. Most likely, you should change the priority or configure a different SLA based on Issue/Sub-Issue.

For example: Backups. If the backups are scheduled to run once per day, engaging immediately after being alerted does not make sense, and therefore, a Priority High SLA will never be met. This is why we recommend a Priority High-Backup and configure the SLA for Tech Engagement 2-hours before the end of the day and Completion for tomorrow noon.  Which meets reasonable expectations.

Step 3: Communicate performance, so the Support Team can be self-managed:

This starts with management defining the right seat. Here are some examples:

  1. Tech and Service Coordinator Job Descriptions
  2. Expectations:
    • Techs: When not scheduled for specific Tickets or Projects with a Service Call in Dispatchers Workshop, work out of the Ready to Be Resolved widget from the top down.
    • Techs: When engaging, put the ticket Status “In Progress” so Employees (especially Service Coordinators) and Customers know what the Tech is working on.
    • Techs: Call the Customer before engagement, during engagement if needed, and before disengaging, followed by notes in the tickets as to what was done, next steps, and time entry.
    • Service Coordinators: Triage is the highest priority, followed by
      – Coming up on Next SLA Event due Date for Tech Engagement, Completion, and Tech Engagement Overdue but not yet Completion due.
      – Waiting … with no activity for three days.
      – Scheduled Service Calls with no future scheduling report.
      – On Hold with Due Date in the past report.
      – Project scheduling.
  3. Autotask Live Reports which are scheduled and delivered to Support Team Members:
  • Resource Utilization for the team with individual Employee details and markers for less than 36 hours accounted for and Weekly Billable Hours Goal percentage below 80%.
  • Individual SLA Performance report with areas of improvement highlighted.
  • Scheduled Tickets with no future Service Calls.
  • On Hold tickets with Due Date in the past.

Now what? Clearly, consistently communicate what the expectations are.  Saying something once and walking away is not enough to change habits.

Neutron Jack (Welch) raised the LEAN manufacturing flag for years before his executive team got it. The same is true for KPI’s. Peter Drucker is wrongly attributed with saying, “What is Monitored and Measured is what performance will improve.”  None the less, we have found the statement to be true.

Our top recommendations:

  • Introduce the topic in an internal Lunch ‘n Learn.
  • Have it handy and use it when umpteen dozen coaching opportunities arise.
  • Weekly/monthly 1-on-1’s for performance reviews.
  • Weekly broadcast of Company performance and next steps for improvements.
  • Quarterly internal communications reminding everyone of the KPI’s and why they are important.

Step 4: Collaborate with individuals to drive poor performance out of the company

Deming says that 90% of the cause of poor performance is the process, not Employees. Performance Appraisals are a collaborative instrument, not a “Come to Jesus” tool.

The four steps of Employee discipline is a tool to get their attention and turn a career around, not a mechanism to drive a poor performer out of the Company.  Remember, at each stage of the game, ask the question: “What is keeping you from doing what is expected of you?”  – If the answer is, “I don’t want to,” then it is time for a seat change.  Here are the four steps to press the point home.

  • Verbal conversation reduced to writing for documentation purposes.
  • Written warning including expectations, performance and agreed upon next steps of improvement.
  • 90-day Performance Improvement Program covering all aspects of job performance but keying in on the poor performance indicators.

In reality, you are not going to fire your top billable hours’ performer. But appealing to their professional ethics and depriving them of flexibility are ways to get the message across.

At the end of the day, if your top performer is not partnering with the Company to improve the bottom-line, are they a risk you can afford?  It may be good to start growing #2 or looking for another #1, so the Company is not being held hostage on such a critical aspect of the MSP’s Service Delivery Operation.

Click here for a copy of our 90-day Performance Improvement Program template

Note: one final thought… if it is one or two people missing the mark, then you have a personnel issue. If 75% of the Support Team is missing the mark, you have a Company Culture problem. If it is a company culture problem, then lower the expectations until only one or two people are missing the mark. Work with them to improve their performance above the rest, and then raise the bar to a point where the next one or two are missing the mark. This way, over time, you will dial in all Employees and have a good chance of not losing anyone along the way. Shoot, before you know it you will have a smooth running operation.

We know this article has been long. Thank you for staying with it. It is a tough subject to think about, write about, and even tougher to implement. We stand with you, we have sat in your seat, we know how difficult it is to hold an IT Support Team member accountable. We have provided our best advice on the subject, which comes from our Real-World experience. The methods and processes described in the article work. If you need help, please let us know. We are here for you.

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