For more than 10 years now, over 500 of our clients have mastered the Sea-Level Operations Guide, which is based on our 10 Pillars:
- Get Your PSA Configured
- Life of a Ticket
- Establish Measurable KPIs
- Service Team HR
- Leverage Your Tools
- Get Your Accounting Systems in Order
- Client Facing Systems
- Get Ready to Grow
- Develop Your Outside Sales Strategy.
These 10 Pillars contain 87 different Operational Focuses that we have systematically coached our clients through the 5 Phases of Operational Excellence:
- Understand the Best Practice
- Document Your Way
- Train Your Team
- Implement Your Process
- Inspect What You Expect
Over the last 3 years, our effort has been on developing operational standards for each focus area and how they change through each of the 4 growth and maturity stages.
We are changing it up a bit in the coming months. We have concluded that our clients are looking for business outcomes. We have defined the 5 Business Outcomes as
- Deliver Support Services – Foundation,
- Deliver Support Services – Next Level,
- Manage the Company,
- Lead the Company, and
- Grow the Company”
Each of those Outcomes has several Business Challenges and each of those challenges has a collection of Solutions (our previous Focuses). In this illustration, you can see that the Outcome of “Deliver Support Services – Foundation” has several Challenges and two of them are “Quality of Support Services and Aligning Tools to Processes.”
Each of those Challenges has many potential Solutions. For the “Quality of Support Services” Challenge, there are several Solutions such as “Dispatch/Triage, Engineer Time Entry, Ticket Closing and Time Review.” The “Aligning Tools to Processes” Challenge contains “Service Boards, Workflows, and Ticket Cataloging.”
Clients always ask us how long it takes to get through all the Operational Solutions. Here is our best answer:
We have absolutely no idea.
Here is why we have no idea:
- No client has ever worked through all of them in one burst. Everyone first works on the required Foundation then starts a long cycle of phase 5 coaching (Inspect What You Expect), where we work on creating new habits around process compliance. This always takes somewhere between 2 and 5 times longer than owners would expect, but it is where the real traction toward business outcomes takes place.
- Leadership ability is always an unknown. Operational improvement requires real leadership. People do not like change and often Foundational Change is the hardest because it is the messiest and does not feel like forward progress is being made.
I like to use the restoring an old car analogy. When we pull that old car into the garage and start taking off old parts, we get a lot of dirt in our face and grease on our, well, on everything. As we take each part off, we clean it and tune it up. It feels like we are going backward. Some of the parts get replaced or upgraded. It is a much cleaner process as we put all of the new parts back together.
The hardest part is we need to restore this old car while we are driving it to work every day. While there is usually someone who understands the current process, they are usually not the person who should own the process going forward, and the new person does not yet understand all the background. Therefore, our coaches “control the mute button” when the owner is on the call. It takes time to process the concepts when the new leader is actively engaged, and when the owner starts driving the conversation, their subordinate, that they are trying to hand the process over to, just fades into the background.
Owners tend to feel that because they have come to their conclusions their staff must have also come to the same conclusions. Often after listening to one call on mute, the owns decide to stop coming to the calls, because they realize they are just slowing down the learning process.
- It takes real work on our clients’ part. We ask client leadership for 10% of their time to work “ON” their business. 1 hour each week with their Coach and 3 hours doing homework. This question is like joining a gym and asking your personal trainer how long it will take to get 6-pack abs. If you do not do the work, it will never happen.
- We do not yet know how crazy things are. During coaching, we are looking to make sure three concerns are addressed on each Solution: 1. Make it as simple as possible. 2. Train the new leader we are coaching on best practice so they can take over responsibility and authority. 3. Design the Solution for the next level of business maturity. For example, with one client we may find they already have 3 to 5 standardized agreement types and not much change is required; it takes only a few weeks to get through the 5 phases. In one case, we found over 25 agreement types that were causing incredible confusion for engineers, admin, and clients and took months to simplify.
- Just about the time we feel like things are running well, your business grows, and that forces new levels of maturity. And, you guessed it, we get to start training all over the next generation of leaders and re-architecting processes for the next level of maturity!
Whether you are on your own Operational Journey or engaged with a Sea-Level Coach, it is imperative to get your services Foundation right.
When we are looking for a Foundation Outcome here is the order we usually work on things:
- We start with defining your profit centers. We decide that we need to understand our product resale margins in at least 2 categories, HW/SW resale and Cloud Resale. Within Services, we need to understand the margins in Technical Services (Break Fix), Professional Services (Projects) and Managed Services (Fixed Fee). Every dollar of revenue and costs needs to go into these buckets. We also define what is considered Sales, General and Administrative (SG&A) expenses.
- Next, we work on ConnectWise Boards and Statuses/AutoTask Ticket Categories, Queues and Statuses. These need to be designed in a way that revenue and labor costs can be correctly categorized. We work on ticket categorization (Type/Subtype/Item or Issue Type/Sub-issue Type) along with Workflow Rules and ticket communication email formats.
- Service Level Agreements are defined.
- Billing Rates are defined through standardized and simplified work roles and work types, taking into account the types of work that are covered/not covered by the agreement types.
- Agreement/Contract Types are standardized and simplified. Written contracts are re-worked to accommodate a Master Service Agreement and associated Addendums/Statements of Work that are aligned with PSA configurations.
- All of the above need to be documented in an “Engineer Reference Guide.”
- We then operationalize the “Life of The Ticket.”
- Triage – Getting the ticket ready to be worked by an engineer.
- Dispatch – Choosing who and when the ticket will be worked.
- Time Entry – Ticket processing ownership by the engineer.
- Ticket Closing – Quality Control, administrative review.
Once all of these are understood, documented, and trained, it is time for a “Go Live” implementation of the new processes.
This is when the real work in Phase 5 begins, Inspect What You Expect. Pretty much any manager should be able to get through the first four phases. In many ways, they are the fun part. Phase 5 is going to test every ounce of leadership skill you have. Phase 5 involves measuring process compliance, then working with each individual in their own way to lead them to comply with new processes.
Keep in mind that most of this needs to be re-architected each time you approach the growth thresholds around 10, 20, 35, or 50 employees.
We will discuss “Deliver Support Services – Next Level” in the Q3 Sea-Level Newsletter.
Until next time, remember the words of Thomas Edison, “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
As always, your Sea-Level team is ready to help!
To your success,
Founder and CEO – Sea-Level Operations, LLC