IT Managers: Managing Engineers vs. Managing Support Staff: Page 2

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One way or another, an event represents a "context switch" for the support professional. Without an event there is nothing for a support professional to do. Even if the “event” is represented by a ticket queue or an email backlog it is still a form of event.

Having a truly efficient support desk requires careful management of the event process. Having a never-ending queue of support issues is exhausting for the support professionals and it also means that no amount of staff is ever in an “idle” state awaiting high priority items. Because of this, high priority items are either not addressed as quickly as they should be or else in-process items are neglected.

Understanding the event driven nature of support staff is critical to understanding how to approach the management of these teams. There are no simple answers, and metrics of support staff are often even more meaningless than those of engineering staff - so use with extreme caution.

But by empathizing with the support role we can begin to see where our role as a support manager plays into the bigger picture of supporting and promoting the support team members.

The most important concept, from my experiences, is providing a good flow of the interrupts going to the support team. Often support teams are handling a number of different avenues for support, such as email and telephone. Restricting and funneling events to appropriate channels is critical.

The problem with telephones is that they are aggressive and demand an immediate context switch whether the recipient is idle or if they are currently supporting the most critical production outage in corporate history. The person calling is guessing that their immediate need outweighs the current needs of whomever the support person is currently supporting. Telephones cause this problem everywhere they’re used.

Think about the last time that you were at a pizza parlor placing your order at the counter. You waited in line patiently as each person was served. You did the right thing. You arrive at the front of the queue. You begin to place your order when, the phone rings. The person taking your order puts you on "hold" even though you are standing right there, picks up the phone, takes the order, hangs up and returns to you.

What this says is that for the person calling, being the "squeaky wheel," is more important to the restaurant than the people actually in the restaurant. This same effect happens on many support desks - in process work is interrupted by calls going to a group line or directly to the support person. This is, at best, inefficient and at worst may disrupt critical support processes for highly critical issues.

So when thinking about how to manage IT professionals, think about the purpose of their role. The goal of an engineer is productivity. The goal of a support professional is availability.

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Tags: support, developers, IT Jobs/Salary, IT manager, IT managers

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