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Service Desk Challenges: Planned vs Unplanned Work

Unplanned work (things you didn’t know you needed to do when you started your day) gets in the way of planned work (things you should be doing). This is why most people end the day thinking “I didn’t get as many things done as I thought I would today”. That’s because of unplanned work.

The service desk is no different. Unplanned work steals time from the day. Sometimes it’s a catch-22 situation: A stream of incident calls about a certain issue get in the way of the planned work to solve that issue once and for all.

The question is this: What can you do about it?

The first step is to work out what “it” is. What types of unplanned work are getting in the way? How frequent are they? Which are the biggest problem here? You need visibility of the volume of different issues, requests and inquiries that come into the service desk.

Then you can think about what’s causing this unplanned work, and how you can prevent or divert it. This is where you begin to turn a corner from being a reactive service desk to be a proactive service desk. Unplanned work makes you reactive. Planned work makes you proactive.

With each type of unplanned work as a trigger, you are planning work to eliminate the unplanned work. One job done now means many jobs don’t need to be done later. This isn’t new. The phrase “a stitch in time saves nine” is 300 years old.

Once you have a handle on the types and volume of break-fix work which is tying up your service desk, you will be able to prioritize and analyse the various challenges. The blend of issues flowing into each service desk will be different, but there are a number of proven solutions which can be easily matched up to the challenges:

  • If service failures caused by infrastructure problems dominate your list of unplanned work, your service desk will be spending time working on failure streams (activities to recover services back to a state where value is available). Use the ITIL 4 Problem Management practice guidelines to resolve these and stop these stream of unplanned work.
  • If your service desk staff are bogged down with service requests, you will need to “get in front of it”. If you define value streams (activities to fulfil service requests) in your service desk solution, automate the process steps, and enable IT customers to trigger the process from an IT Service Catalog, future service requests will flow past the service desk and do not materialize as unplanned work.

These are just two very high-level examples of unplanned work and the strategies to deal with them. You will need to identify and analyse the types of unplanned work that are getting in the way of your service deskwhich will require some simple reporting to show your most frequent call categories ranked by volume per month. This will give you the insight you need on where to focus attention first.

By eliminating a chunk of unplanned work, the service desk can reclaim a surprising amount of time for service improvement initiatives, training, ITSM toolset implementation work, knowledge capture, and contributing to IT projects which push the organization’s digital agenda forward.

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