And we’re off!

To my dear audience: I apologize to BOTH of you that I’ve been missing! I spent the last two weeks updating some of the missing articles in my “Certifications” section since they were simply sitting there empty, sad, and alone.

Today’s topic will be an amalgamation of several ideas related to running a team. I was recently given the responsibility of managing a team of two at work and we’ve been absolutely crushing. I credit much of our success to ideas I took from books I’ve read recently. I figure we’ll dive in.

You can’t manage what you can’t measure

This is a quote from Jack Welch, W. Edwards Deming, Peter Drucker, or another management guru, but I’m sad to say I forgot whom. The point is: get accurate data on your work.

For our team, instead of using external tools for project management, we built an employee-facing community and now have everyone on staff submit cases into Salesforce.

This has three benefits 1) no need to pay for licenses for project management software like Asana 2) Salesforce has a fantastic suite of reporting tools that we’re already familiar with using from our day jobs, that we now can utilize to track our own output 3) by learning how to best service our internal “customers” using Salesforce, we improve our understanding of the platform and can thereby build better solutions with it.

Cases in Vs Cases Out

With everyone on staff submitting cases it became extremely easy to track the number of cases coming in and the number of cases going out. The difference between the two numbers is called “Throughput”.

For example, 1 case is created every day and 1 case is closed every day. The difference between these is 0, therefore throughput is 0.

Another example: 1 case is created every day and 2 cases are closed every day means that throughput = 1.

Clearly higher throughput is better. We had a backlog of around 80 cases in other project management tools that we entered into Salesforce. Our key insight was that with throughput equal to 1, we would clear our backlog in 80 days. This is true because if throughput equals 1, it means that we are always closing one more case than is being opened – no matter how many cases are being opened.

Average Cases Opened / Day in the Last 30 Days

For the number of certifications I have, I spent WAY too much time trying to figure this report out. In the end, I made a report of all the “Help Desk” cases made in the Last 30 Days (using the relative date features) and simply created a custom summary formula to divide the report row count by 30.

Average Cases Closed / Day in the Last 30 Days

Same as above except for Closed Cases.

How to Ramp Up Throughput Like Crazy

Throughput is the difference between these two numbers and can therefore be attacked in two ways 1) Close more cases 2) Open fewer cases

To close more cases faster, we focused on managing Work-In-Progress. We created a holding queue and dumped all the open cases there. This way the outstanding cases were more like “options” and not actually on anyone’s plate. Then we only assigned a maximum of 5 cases to any member of the team. This allows that team member to focus on only those most important items and reduces the endless multi-tasking and distraction that is caused by a case workload that is too high. Before this, some team members had over 40 cases assigned to them. Lolwut.

We also reduced the number of statuses from several to only four: New, In Progress, On Hold, Closed – simple.

We instituted “kill” rules that automatically emailed the users who created cases when their cases were placed in “On Hold” status. If the case sat in “On Hold” for 10 days or longer it was Closed and sent to the back of the line.

We hold 15-minute morning scrum sessions to answer three questions 1) Which cases did you close yesterday? Which cases will you close today? What obstacles are in the way? A simple discussion to move us forward.

We made daily “Closed By” reports showing the number of cases Closed By each team member, and posted them on a public dashboard that tracked individual and team stats for the week.

On the flip side, opening fewer cases has been a challenge we haven’t yet fully solved. We found that as we started closing cases faster, our employees began to realize they could count on us more and therefore began submitting more cases.

Eventually, we will leverage the Knowledge article features of our employee-facing community to force users into an FAQ section before they are able to submit cases.

Additionally, we put a renewed emphasis on exceptionally thorough testing before deployment so as to prevent rework, which is a huge form of waste.

When to Kill a Project

Not all incoming cases are worth doing. We established a few principles for when it might be acceptable to decline or end a project early. They are:

  1. Project provides low value, low revenue, or low cost reductions
  2. Work arounds exist
  3. Will be made irrelevant by another feature
  4. Too complex for the reward
  5. Extremely old, greater than 90+ days of no contact
  6. Been “On Hold” for two weeks or longer
  7. Requested by a Low Believability person
  8. Combination of above factors

Going through this checklist once a week on projects is a great way to reprioritize. This checklist leads to another list…

What other cut to the quick principles will help us succeed?

  1. No such thing as a one off
  2. Don’t attend meetings without an agenda
  3. Value is produced at my desk, building things
  4. If we don’t have a case for it, it doesn’t exist
  5. 1-hour of studying Salesforce a day will take us to the top
  6. If someone else can do something 70% as well as we can, delegate it
  7. Respond with Thank You! and No Problem! whenever possible
  8. Driving to other office locations isn’t useful work
  9. Waste is a crime

Incentives

We added bonuses to make things really shine.

1. With throughput above 1, we can work remotely 4 days a week.

There is a monthly Salesforce “priorities” meeting where all managers and supervisors across the company meet in a room and request Salesforce projects are built for them in Darwinian style oratorical battle. Seriously. And no, this was not my idea. Anyhow, 6 projects are selected for completion by the team, from requests at this meeting, within 1 month.

2. Throughput above 1 (or no backlog), and successful completion of the 6-item monthly Sprint.

The structure of this bonus is that by the entire team meeting the Sprint each month, we get a 10% total bonus over the course of the year. Each month that works out as 10% of salary / 12 = Monthly Bonus. This is a team bonus, all-or-nothing.

3. Get 5 Certification by 12/31/2019 and earn 5%

Aggressive individual certification targets for the next 6-months will promote the aggressive studying we want to pump out high-quality cases faster. The team leader’s bonus is based on getting 2-certifications and ensuring the rest of the team achieves their target of 5 certifications (which the team leader already has).

Conclusion

These ideas have boosted our productivity by 171% in three weeks and will certainly increase for the remainder of the year. We’re doing the best we can, we’re an awesome team, and hopefully these ideas are helpful to you as well!

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!” 
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

-Nick

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