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How to Use Agile for Support Projects?

14 May 2019

Agile has proven to be much more than the latest buzzword.

It’s transforming the software industry and we can already notice the spillover into other sectors and areas. But, the benefits don’t kick in automatically or just because you wish it so.

The methodology has to be implemented properly. Creating a solid product is a good way to start, but it’s not enough to keep your clients happy. There are a lot of things that can undermine their satisfaction.

You still need a nimble product and customer support, don’t you?

Well, the good news is Agile provides all the necessary tools to get on top of the game. If you play it right, you can reap plenty of benefits by doing agile for support projects.

Working out the Angle of Approach

Support and maintenance processes are integral parts of modern business operations.

They also differ from company to company. That’s to say you have to customize them to meet your specific needs and goals. Agile is the most likely answer to most of your dilemmas, but there’s a problem.

Namely, several models of implementing Agile compete with one another. Scrum and Kanban, for instance, are at odds as they have some major differences.

Scrum may seem like a go-to approach to managing all sorts of projects, including support ones. Alas, this is not really the case. Support projects are reactionary and don’t call for such extensive evaluation.

Another problem is Scrum has fixed length sprints. At the end of each of these short bursts, Product Owner approves results. Apart from this role, there are only two others. The key metric is team velocity.

On the other hand, Kanban revolves around continuous flow and delivery. There are no preexisting roles. Cycle time plays a much bigger role as a performance indicator. Changes can take place at any time.

More often than not, Kanban will be better suited for your support projects.

Everyone on the Same Page

With Kanban, a typical workday consists of standard daily duties, prevention work, and urgent matters. It’s a mixed set of obligations that call for smart planning and execution.

This kind of effective management enables shifting of focus where it’s needed the most.

Kanban encourages you to finish one task before proceeding to the next one. That’s the way to eliminate issues such as queues and bottlenecks from the process.

Naturally, the crucial decision is which support cases to introduce to the system. Before you can reach it, there is a lot of ground to cover.

team in support projects

Firstly, make sure to visualize the work your team is doing by using a Kanban board.

If you have multiple cross-functional teams, you don’t need a column on board for each one. In fact, it would be wise to stick to three columns: “next” (or “to-do”), “work in progress”, and “completed”.

Notice you can break down support cases into tasks for easier overview. These tasks often involve technical problems that need to be solved.

After all, there’s (technically) a never-ending stream of support cases. So, you simply need to figure out how many cases you can process simultaneously.

A Tough Balancing Act

What most managers do is limit the number of empty slots on the board.

These limitations exist both on the team and individual member level. Extending them for whatever reason is a slippery slope— it can easily hamper your ability to close a support case. What is more, it dilutes the focus and leads to more burnout.

These are all major risks associated with Agile. To mitigate them, use the Kanban recipe and strike a fine balance between the capacity of the team and customer demand. Biting off more than you can chew is a hurdle you need to overcome.

Failure to do so hurts your chances of sustaining output. And even if you manage to do that, the throughput will shrink due to bottlenecks across the system. As a result of slower response times, customer satisfaction declines.

Sometimes, it’s better to do nothing for a part of the day than to waste effort on insignificant tasks.

That being said, you also want to factor in queue as input. This is a great way to even things out and account for unused capacity. Namely, you can optimize the capacity level based on one of two priorities: customer satisfaction and resource utilization.

An Ongoing Optimization

You’re not likely to find the optimum limits and cycle time right away.

It always takes some time to get things right. Learn from your mistakes and feel free to experiment. Tap into feedback loops, both positive and negative. Set key performance indicators to properly measure results.

The most common ones are:

  • Flow efficiency— refers to how often your encounter blocks
  • Lead time—the time it takes for a case to move through the system
  • Velocity—the total sum of cases you complete (on a weekly basis)
  • Quality—the amount of value your work adds in terms of customer satisfaction

Some of these indicators are not easy to quantify and evaluate. Nevertheless, you have to take them into account.

optimization in support projects

Finally, remember that circumstances and project environment change all the time. Hence, you need to keep up with changing requirements and adapt on the fly. This calls for Agility on all levels of the organization.

Ultimately, you have to embark on a journey of constant learning and fine-tuning. This is the fast lane to turning customer frustration into appreciation.

Full Steam Ahead

In our opinion, Kanban is the way to go if you wish to adopt agile for support projects.

Done correctly, it streamlines support projects and boosts productivity across the board. You’re also able to minimize unnecessary work and resource waste.

Of course, applying the model in practice is the toughest part. 

Here, you need to refrain from trying to impose a strict process on the team. Optimal solutions are born from work practice and trial-and-error. Kanban is the perfect evolutionary tool for this.


All images used in this post are illustrations by