Leading service desk teams through change in a continuous delivery environment

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Continuous delivery is the ability to get changes into a software solution, into production, or into the hands of users, safely and quickly in a sustainable way. Think of new features, configurations, bug fixes and tweaks to existing programming. The benefit of this approach can mean immediate fixes to problems that previously sat for months in the traditional waterfall approach. Ultimately, continuous delivery (CD) approaches to development can mean high-performance teams can consistently deliver services faster and more reliably.

In previous approaches, typically the waterfall models, release management involves the planning, scheduling and controlling software delivery throughout the cycle. Now, continuous delivery changes this entire model. Through the approach, organisations are able to be more responsive and agile to manage these quicker development terms. Essentially, software development has become an always-on product like most of the other consumer ventures we participate in.

Because of these developments, we’ve got a new problem for members of the service desk. With these constant developments, how can members of your service teams stay up to date on the technical specifications and providing support for users of the technology? Along with the agility required of the software development teams, agility is required of the service desk teams. The agility required to keep up with the constant software developments is more purposeful than simply responding as necessary as they are used to in a reactive approach.  

Historically, software development went from research and planning to the general availability of a service, taking several months with infrequent updates. There was a dedicated time for planning and a long stabilisation period with a sufficient buffer window. In the new era, code to production is constantly moving and there is a constant cadence of delivery. Thus, there is the constant need for education of the updated solutions by members of the service desk team.

Identifying training needs

Developing teams in these environments requires diligence, but where to begin. A good place to start is understanding your team members' developmental needs. According to MindTools, leaders should watch, talk and ask questions to reveal your employee’s knowledge and skill gaps and begin to work through how that member of the team can best plug into the continuous delivery model of support. Gathering specific information about individual needs for role success helps team members feel positive about their professional development.

During your analysis, it may be worthwhile to consider following the 70:20:10 model. The 70 per cent of learning happens through experience like daily tasks. Twenty per cent of learning comes through conversations with other people, and the remaining 10 per cent of learning occurs through traditional training courses. This insight can mean your team members receive the skills they need to develop, discuss them with more experienced practitioners then train appropriately. Some of the more common ways to improve people's skills is usually on-the-job training where someone works alongside a more experienced colleague. Performance gaps can be closed, too, through communication efforts rather than through the use of a training program. One-on-one conversations with members of your team helps you to identify any potential issues as they arise or challenges with the newly released software.

Obviously, the question becomes how to keep up. Some of the most obvious solutions include knowledge management. This can make service management responses accessible and fast. For example, at TOPdesk we have members of the team that writes the product manuals and release notes join in on sprint demos so they can start writing explanations while the functionalities are being created and put those in manuals or knowledge items. Another opportunity for capturing knowledge in the ever-changing environments can even be as simple as conducting standup meetings in the morning where team members can update the entire support desk of upcoming releases and/or product functionalities. These events can be a significant for staying up to date about what changes might be approaching users and how the service desk team can improve regular operations.  

Delegate to learn

Don’t forget, too, about the benefits of delegating tasks as appropriate. This can strengthen your team while letting individuals become product experts, who can then educate other team members as need arises. Delegating educational active learning to individual members of the service team lets you manage processes better to achieve the best outcome for all users. Hand over a task carefully and help the team member who takes it on to succeed, providing support and guidance as needed to complete it.

Next, consider succession planning. While a continuously delivered environment may reduce the need for teams to have a long-term institutional or product knowledge, succession planning is a great tool in your chest to maintain the leadership and quality of your service desk for leaders. Once you have identified your team members’ abilities and performance levels, you can put plans in place so that you don't lose vital skills and knowledge if any decide to move on as new opportunities arise. Succession planning allows for individuals to pass on their skills, experience and knowledge to their colleagues even before they leave. Being prepared and managing these transitions help you deal with the changes more easily.

Training to stay up to date on technology changes

Members of the service desk team shouldn’t overlook the importance of training and staying up to date on changes from the products being used in the organisation, even if these products change continuously. If the training of these developments is part of the product management process, your training team should have more visibility into what changes are coming and can plan ahead for the changes. Updating training content can be started before changes are released, giving the training team a chance to keep up.

If possible, consider contacting and working with your vendor partner to see how early and often you are able to become part of the release or the go-to-market strategy. There is a good chance that your partners will allow your support team some sort of access to the production cycle to help prepare the product’s use for your user and so that your organisation gets the most benefit from the product.

The same goes for staying up to date on the release notes. Release notes often are written as part of a release cycle – or provided for the most notable or important changes during the CD cycle. This may be less common in a continuous delivery environment, but any such notes can be used for your service desk training team to create training content that relates to the foundational components of the technology used.

In the end, users don’t need a full-scale dissection of every product you release for their use. They simply need enough functionality to get their jobs done. They only need to use the features that apply to them to get their job done. This means fewer feature explanations are needed. Likewise, the more feature-focused software training required, the more difficult it is to keep this content up-to-date. Features change frequently, but job tasks not nearly as often, the newly released features must be understood and covered, and service desk members must stay current (as much as they can), but there’s a very strong likelihood that not every single feature needs to be covered regularly even in a CD environment. If an issue does come up that any of the service desk experts need to address they can educate themselves about the specific issue then escalate the ticket as appropriate.

Continuous delivery can be challenging but can be overcome

Does a CD environment make the work of a service desk more difficult? It can, yes. But, this is not something that can’t be overcome. Likelihood is that first interactions in a CD environment might be challenging, even frustrating, but the steps outlined above might save your organisation and its users time. 

The steps mentioned here may also keep the service desk efficient. Perhaps, too, you might empower members of your team to reach new heights while benefitting everyone. While the difficulty of supporting these changes may be challenging, there can be opportunity ahead for you, your team and users.

Nancy Van Elsacker Louisnord, president, TOPdesk USA
Image source: Shutterstock/niroworld