Unresponsive Communications: A Corporate Affliction

While working on making our IT service desk leaner, we started gathering and visualizing some statistics about our performance as a support group. The main question we tried to answer was: “Why can’t we process requests faster?” So we did what the Toyota Production System recommends and applied the genchi genbutsu principle, we went and see what was happening. What we discovered is an issue we knew intuitively but for which we did not have a full appreciation of the depth and impact of it. The number one problem right now at our service desk is the lack of responsiveness in communications. This presents itself in multiple forms:

  • Waiting for information
  • Waiting for confirmation
  • Waiting for approval

What we noticed by talking with our service desks technicians is that the vast majority (75%+) of our active requests are waiting and therefore blocked because of this issue. We’re not talking 5 minutes of wait time here, we’re generally talking about days. This was somewhat hidden by the fact that requests don’t usually have the appropriate status. For instance, a lot of blocked requests were still under the status In Progress simply because the technician forgot to set the right waiting status.  Here are some of the side effects of unresponsiveness:

  • Extra work generated in constantly following up
  • Wasted effort in constantly switching contexts because of blocked requests
  • Inventory pileup of requests

In most cases the technician will do all of the following multiple times:

  • Send an email
  • Call user and end-up leaving a voicemail
  • Attempt to contact the user via instant messaging

Email seems to be the worst mechanism to contact or get information from someone. If you can get an answer within 24 hours, you have to consider yourself lucky. Since it’s usually challenging to have clear written communications, you can pretty much expect the receiving person will have misunderstood part of what you were looking for. Let’s not even get in the whole discussion of:

“Only a small percentage of communication involves actual words: 7%, to be exact. In fact, 55% of communication is visual (body language, eye contact) and 38% is vocal (pitch, speed, volume, tone of voice). “

The way I see things, if a lean assembly line would stop for 24 hours between operations, the production line manager would have to fix that issue pretty quickly. It’s still amazes me of how little attention is paid to this problem in most service organizations while everybody is complaining that it takes forever to get anything done because they are most likely waiting on someone to respond to an asynchronous communication. This major inefficiency is buried under the glorified skill of multi-tasking which is usually just a way to mask that you’re waiting on something.

We have now promoted at our service desk that synchronous communication (phone, IM) is the preferred contact mechanism instead of email. Sure, it’s more invasive but it gets the job done. Scheduling is another workaround but when all else fails, we highly encourage escalation to management when one of the party is not responding in a timely fashion.

It makes me wonder about the full impact of this problem within our company… How is this affecting our employees, customers and time to cash? How much should be invested in resolving this issue?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to measure this. It would require some CRM like software where employees are clients of each other and response time of emails would be tracked and reported on. Email SLAs would be a nice feature to add to the next version of Outlook and Exchange. Send an email and the recipient would have to respect some sort of pre-determined delay. When the SLA is not respected, automatic escalation could occur. Just a thought!

I have a feeling that issue won’t be resolved tonight! 😉

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