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Selecting the right tools and software to run your service desk is just part of what makes your customers and engineers successful. Creating a collaborative, self-service environment where people can develop and implement the most effective ways to solve complex challenges – be it from customers or internally – will result in a chamber of innovative teams tackling any issue and adapting to ever-changing business needs.

Encourage laziness – work hard, but only once

I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it. – Bill Gates 

This famous quote from Bill Gates is based on the idea that if you’re lazy, you’ll find the easiest and most strategic ways to solve any given problem. For instance, if you’re lazy and have repetitive tasks ahead of you, there’s a good chance that you’ll find a workaround to avoid losing time performing a repetitive, manual task.

Many of the ideas that help our daily work come from a similar mindset. Multiple Atlassian products started as project ideas during ShipIt, a quarterly competition between our teams aimed to revolutionize the way we work.

One way to embrace this idea of strategic laziness is by making your knowledge base as public as possible. It’s not the privilege of technical administrators to search for solutions to their problems online, so providing access to the information can get you a step closer to customers who solve their issues themselves.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 2.15.06 PMBut wait, what if you encouraged customers who tend to avoid self-service in a subtle way?

You can integrate a self-service, service desk solution to your knowledge base and make suggestions for possible solutions pop up while your customers are requesting help. Even prior to their first human interaction, there’s a good chance that the relevant knowledge base article will be displayed based on the question already entered and — BOOM! – You just saved yourself another ticket.

You can even take this a step further. Connect the in-product self-service to the same knowledge base and not only provide suggestions when problems arise, but proactively notify product administrators about any risks and known issues. Embed health-checks within the product and make sure that errors are addressed before they become problems.

Free up time and use it wisely – Love self-service

If your customers can learn and love this idea of self-service, your engineers will save a lot of time that can be used to do something creative. When it comes to efficiency, financial aspects would dictate rationalization of the support organization. It’s smarter to invest the savings. In this case, you’d invest in the time of your engineers, rather than going for the quick profit.

If an engineer is handling an issue reported by a customer, the first step is to see if somebody else has already tackled such a problem. Search the knowledge base and browse past cases. If a self-service solution is already documented then the task is easy. Simply provide the existing article that will guide them towards the resolution. If there’s no self-service documentation available on the topic, the steps will have to be written up for the customer in the ticket.

But why work twice? The engineer might as well format the response so the article can be published and shared with the customer. That will create a publicly accessible how-to saving many support hours for fellow engineers encountering the same problem.

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A classic, vertical organization may limit individuals from coming up with revolutionary ideas. Investing your engineers’ saved time into creating better tools, smarter procedures, and training fellow engineers not only improves efficiency, but creates an innovative environment that’s fertile ground for ideas. Here are some basic guidelines to encourage innovation:

  • When designing standard operating procedures, write down what works, instead of what needs to be replaced.
  • Encourage engineers to decide where and how to invest the time they saved. Involve them in the thought process to see which projects could help their daily work the most and let them come up with solutions to their road blocks. You’ll need a perspective to find the optimal solutions, but hands-on experience is essential to decide which of those will work in real life.
  • Global dashboards help teams around the world work on the same set of tickets with universally agreed upon prioritization, which sets the right expectations for your customers.
  • Engineers should not be looking at dashboards 24/7. Setting up proactive notifications over instant messaging/chat or via email will improve efficiency.

It’s equally important to quantify the time you’ve saved; relying solely on anecdotal evidence can derail your focus. Have as many analytics in place as possible so that your team can identify where it’s most effective to invest the time saved. Measurements will give you insight into which procedural improvement projects were successful, and which were not. It also helps to identify tasks that take up the most accumulated time and how frequently they are done.

Share, engage, collaborate

Create an environment where new hires are empowered by senior colleagues, taking their questions as their highest priority. Realize that time saved in the broader team is time saved for them by the end of the day. Helping customers to be successful is more effective when you’ve helped fellow engineers to be successful.

Competition between colleagues is a good thing and should be encouraged, but why not compete on who can help the most customers measured by who can help the most engineers? If you can solve an issue through a proxy, it makes sense to facilitate this way of working, training on-the-job, and “learning by doing”. When less experienced engineers ask for help, senior staff should jump to pair up with them to work out the issue together, explaining the solution with the practical example in front of them.

Your team is most likely comprised of diverse technical backgrounds and a variety of strengths and weaknesses. Build on strengths by leveraging internal knowledge with ad-hoc, informal training initiated by those with specific expertise. Why pay for an external trainer when you have the mastermind in-house?

Happy, successful engineers will make happy and successful customers.


It’s challenging to create this organization and atmosphere, and scale it across offices, regions, and teams. If done right, daily or weekly stand-ups, quick meetings to update the team on day-to-day challenges and tasks, can be a great platform to ensure team bonding. Moreover, it’s a good channel for highlighting tips, tricks, and best practices that would otherwise be lost within the daily email flow.

Distribute the ideas

Let’s imagine you have successfully found a way to save time among your teams and invest into developing new ideas. The next challenge is to spread the best of those inventions across geographically distributed teams and offices. A truly collaborative environment sees no borders. Working with somebody across the ocean should be as effortless and fruitful as working with an engineer sitting beside you.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 2.16.40 PM

Use collaboration tools like an internal knowledge-base or live chat application for real-time interactions and asynchronous communication. This includes publishing internal blogs, chatting, or jumping on a video call. At Atlassian we share and challenge our ideas daily over local stand-ups, which are joined by teams from overseas on a weekly basis through live video so that our thoughts can be discussed and agreed (or disagreed) upon quickly.

The best of these ideas are voted on by the teams and if proven beneficial, become implemented gradually across all regions. Even with all the collaboration tools available to facilitate this process, it can be a challenging task, since different cultures approach challenges differently. Instead of letting these cultural differences divide us, we build on the strength of diversity through what we call secondments, when team members work in a different office for a couple of weeks to experience how remote team members live our values.

These secondments are not only cross-office but often cross-function, as many of the procedural innovations are to improve work in very different teams, from HR to IT, Marketing, and Finance. Not only do specific ideas make it through distant locations, but every engineer visiting will bring some of their local atmosphere and cultures to enrich the host office and help build even stronger bonds across teams.

Takeaways

An ugly term that has been floating around IT teams is “human resources”, which for engineers may pollute the innovative mindset that can make a support organization successful. Consider your engineers sources of ideas – not resources – and challenge them and their often habitual approach for customer interactions and troubleshooting methods. Create an environment where they can grow and feel successful, facilitate knowledge sharing, and reward helpfulness.

Make sure the first priority of senior engineers is to train less experienced members of the team as frequently as they can. At the same time, make sure that new hires realize that the only silly questions are those that remain unasked. Encourage them not to feel intimidated just because a fellow engineer has more experience, and profit from it instead.

 


Learn to love your knowledge base. Self-service saves time and empowers users. Check out how Confluence with JIRA Service Desk keeps your customers happy and your IT team happier. That’s a win-win.

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