Sometimes teams must take up work that exceeds their capability. Consider a company policy that says ‘The call desk picks up calls within 60 seconds’. This policy forces a call desk team to pick up new calls within 60 seconds. Saying ‘No’ to new work would be a sensible thing to do. But just not in this case. When in such a position what can you do to overcome overburdening and still keep happy customers?

In this blog post I’ll show that by looking at the workflow one can discover new options to overcome the overburdening and still not say ‘No’.

Alternative ways are described in The Business Support Team Pattern and Help! Too Many Incidents! – Capacity Assignment Policy In Agile Teams.

Overburdening: call desk team

The ‘Wolves’ support customers with questions about the service they receive from the company. The company delivers consumer goods through use of their website. The ‘Wolves’ are one of the four global call desk teams distributed over the continents. Part of the company’s motto ‘Make my day’ is to let customers experience a ‘Best day ever’. As the call desk teams are the front office to the customers, the company has set the following policies – of course with all good intentions:

  • The call desk picks up new calls within 60 seconds of arrival,
  • Calls arriving before 17:00 are processed the same day.

The – unintended – result of this is that the ‘Wolves’ often aren’t at home before dinner and have to work till 7:30 pm. This is one of the main frustrations of the team. The second frustration is that there is no time to work on improvements. Management acknowledges this and tells the ‘Wolves’ that there is no budget to hire new team members and that the customers are extremely happy.

The board of directors has set the these policies and – for now – these are a given that the ‘Wolves’ can’t influence. What options do they have?

Work flow

Overburdening: work flow showing the first commitment point.

Work flow showing the first commitment point (green star) at the point when the call arrives.

Let’s follow STATIK (Systems Thinking Approach To Introducing Kanban) to find options that will make the ‘Wolves’ be in time for dinner at home. Now that we looked at the (internal) frustrations let’s turn our focus to the work types. Up till now there is one work type being customer phone calls.

In normal circumstances the ‘Wolves’ have enough capacity to cope with all incoming phone calls. It’s just that when there’s a sudden increase in the number of calls or many calls just before 17:00 they have difficulty to cope of all the demand.

The picture on the right below depicts the work flow. Phone calls arrive (implicitly committed by company policy and indicated by the green star) and the ‘Wolves’ take the call. After they complete the call the ‘Wolves’ document the call in their database. This comes in handy when the same customer calls a second time and the ‘Wolves’ know the details about the support done earlier.

Discovering options

Examining the work flow in more detail reveals that it splits in two parts:

  1. Speaking to the customer and closing the call,
  2. Documenting agreements and what the call was about.
Fixing the overburdening: updated work flow showing second commitment point and changed policy for archiving the details of the call.

Updated work flow showing second commitment point and changed policy for archiving the details of the call.

Especially, the second one is interesting to the ‘Wolves’. The next day, the ‘Wolves’ have a discussion with their manager about this. Together they decide documentation completes within 24 hours. The basically allows them to pause the work on the documentation and pick up new calls. They will do the documentation later on when they have less calls to process. Effectively, this introduces a queue for the documentation part and defers commitment as to when the team completes the work item.

The picture on the right shows the updated work flow. Phone calls arrive and company policies implicitly commit to process the customer requests. After the call completes the team commits to document it within 24 hours. In Lean Kanban this is known as the second commitment point. This also changes the class of service of the work item to a ‘Fixed Delivery Date’ item.

Meanwhile, the manager of the ‘Wolves’ starts discussion with the board of directors to have the global company policies match the team’s capability. Until the manager accomplishes this, the ‘Wolves’ found a way to deal with the incoming phone calls.

This is a great example of how Kanban’s two phase commit helps: the first commitment is to pick up the call within 60 seconds, but committing to when the documentation is finished is deferred until the second commitment point.

Conclusion

Overburdening of teams may be the direct result of company policies. Often the team has no control of influence over these policies. By examining the flow of how the work is done new options are found to overcome the arrival the new work that you just can’t say ‘No’ to. Kanban’s ‘Two phase commit’ helps to defer commitment of certain work and relieve the team from overburdening caused by variation in when and how much work arrives.

The solution found in the case of the ‘Wolves’ is one that is particular to their situation. I’m sure that by following the steps in STATIK you will find those options that will help you cope with irrefutable demand.