I'm a geek, help me pretend to be a Manager
April 8, 2014 4:55 AM   Subscribe

I've been essentially handed a brand-new small helpdesk, which I'm supposed to manage. How do you delegate/fairly share out the constant interruptions in your workplace, or what tools do you use to help manage things, when *snowflake criteria* you don't have admin rights to install apps?

Skip to end for my questions, marked *.

The Situation:
At the job interview - I think I misunderstood when they talked about a technical/team lead, and thought they wanted someone to solve the trickier technical issues, document fixes, and train my coworkers, with a separate manager, but actually, no, I'm the manager. It's all me.

I'm managing 3 fresh graduates (their first job even!), and getting 2-3 more people over the next couple of weeks. Currently it's a mess. No training. Every job is supposed to be picked up within 2 hours, and 80% completed within 2 days (no pausing, or ability to assign to external vendors). There are kind of 4 inboxes (2 email inboxes, 2 webpages) to check for these jobs.
Normally a support ticket/issue logging tool would be the answer, but that's currently the problem. It's awful, really hard to see what any job is, what progress has been made on it, and institutionally - because of the unrealistic deadlines, a lot of jobs get 'closed' but are still being worked on, or never even get into the ticket tool, because it'll run too long and bring upper management down on us. There is zero change I can change that in the short term.

I am not the sort of person who is great at being constantly interrupted, juggling too many tasks, or riding people about getting their jobs finished and closed.
So, long term, this type of management probably isn't for me. However, I might be just the person for the job at the moment, because I am pretty good at working out how to resolve a problem, or creating a new, clear process to resolve problems, even when everything is chaotic and no one knows what we should be doing.
Once I've got processes and systems in place, if I'm really not suited to the micro-managing thing, I'll leave in favor of someone more suited, but knowing I left things better than I found them.
I think of it as:
My teams job -> Everything we know how to do. My job -> Finding out how to do everything we don't.

We're only a few weeks in. My team started a week before me (it sounds like much happened in that week though), and they, our coworkers and managers actually seem impressed with what I've managed to get sorted so far. (But managers need [quite unrealistically] even more, even quicker, of course).

I threw a TiddlyWiki into an internal folder to use for basic documentation (people were emailing each other collections of notes and emails to get some kind of handle on things), and set up an email-templates folder in the shared mailbox, and people have latched onto those things with the relief of drowning people to a liferaft. I'm not kidding.

I need to know:
* How do you delegate work fairly? Best ways get those 4 inboxes checked at *least* hourly, while not leaving someone being constantly interrupted?
Use physical alarms/calendar? Roster one person to do it each day? Two people on alternate hours? One person to each different inbox?

* Tools I can use without admin install rights?
E.g. I'm already using the Tiddlywiki, and Firefox Portable for some of the websites we need to access.
I kind of want a ticket logging tool. My own one, so I can actually keep track of which emails I've sent have disappeared into the void, and not been responded to (an issue with a few vendors/people I need to contact), and which jobs are not-actually-closed, etc?

If only I could use Google Docs - I'm having to assign certain spreadsheets to be edited by one person only, so that nothing gets accidentally overwritten.

* Is there anyway to get Outlook to give me a notification that I've received an email in the Important Inbox, other than displaying a message that disappears in 10 seconds (staying on screen would be fine!), or playing a sound which goes to a headset?

* Is there some kind of webscraper or inbox checker that would actually just pop up a window for me if there has been an update to any of those 'inboxes', which I could actually view when I've finished concentrating on whatever task I'm on?

I've ordered a copy of Time Management for System Administrators, because it's no longer at the library. I'm counting the damn days til it arrives. I will take book recommendations, websites, what works at your office, or anecdotes about ways I definitely *shouldn't* delegate. Anything else that might help?

If you're thinking it is a little nightmarish, it kinda is, but the team is awesome, it'll look great on my CV, and to a limited extent, I am the person with the authority to fix things. I want to fix it!

(Seriously, wtf? I didn't realise I'd be a MANAGER)
posted by Elysum to Work & Money (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yuck, this sounds like a mess. I agree that you need one centralised tool to manage the tickets, but I don't have a specific recommendation. At a previous job I used a JIRA board, which would accept emailed issues and we could drag them from "started" to "in progress" to "done". Trello could easily be used for the same thing.

Do your employees have separate jobs in addition to managing the helpdesk, or are they solely there to fix issues? If the former, a rota (daily/weekly) would work well; if the latter, I think it makes more sense to have people pick up issues from a central queue as they get the time.
posted by katrielalex at 6:08 AM on April 8, 2014

I know this doesn't directly answer your question, but I'll put it out there anyway.

Figure out what tool, or set of tools, you believe will help you and your team meet your established goals (2-hour pickup window, 2-day completion window). Then come up with a plausible best-case outlook given your current setup (i.e. we can do the 2-hour pickup Monday-Wednesday and it will slide to a 4-hour pickup at the end of the week, but without a proper knowledge base and ticketing system the best we will manage on average is a 4-day completion rate). Back this up with any data you have from your short time there.

Go to your superiors and ask if they prefer to give you money to purchase the tools you need so you can meet their goals, or if they prefer to alter the goals to match what you've estimated as your current best-case scenario. Don't leave them with an option - it's one or the other, and despite the progress you've already made it won't get better than what you've suggested without the additional resources you are asking for.

Also - I would absolutely insist on admin rights, as that is absolutely essential to proper troubleshooting for the end-user. If the helpdesk doesn't have them, who the hell does?!
posted by trivia genius at 6:14 AM on April 8, 2014

How do you delegate work fairly? Best ways get those 4 inboxes checked at *least* hourly, while not leaving someone being constantly interrupted?

What are the strengths of your staff? Is there someone that prefers short-term tasks and something new all the time (versus someone that prefers to work long-term with few interruptions)?

I'd have the person with the variable attention span monitor the inboxes and handle all tasks that can be completed quickly (password changes etc) in-between checking the inboxes. They also delegate to other staff (with your oversight) what tasks need to be done (allotting an estimated time to them would be great but they may not quite have the skills for that). I'd also cut them a bit of slack on tasks compared to the other staff - multitasking is hard and not as productive as focused work.
posted by saucysault at 8:00 AM on April 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The first thing I'd try is a little specialization. I'd make one person the intake person. That person would check the inboxes, turn the requests into discrete actionable tasks, keep a tracker of those tasks (person assigned, status), continuously prioritize those tasks, and be the point of contact if anyone calls asking about their request.

You can't realistically expect to stick to a first-in, first-out rule, someone is going to have to insert new tasks in priority order. That is going to get contentious at times unless you have unlimited resources, which nobody does. You might have to get involved in the prioritization part.

Depending on how big a part of your process this is, I might consider having a second specialist: the routines person. Daily/weekly/monthly stuff. Reports, ordering supplies, that kind of overhead thing.

Everyone else works on the tasks, communicating status updates to the intake person.

You, don't do any of that. Your job is to monitor how well the system is working, looking for improvements (first attempt is never perfect). Your most important job is knowing about and aggressively solving stopped work. Someone's having a problem with doing the task, you're the fire truck that shows up to get the problem solved. Plus, handle the customers when they think they're more important than the other customers and disagree with the priority you assigned their request, which is pretty much always.
posted by ctmf at 12:59 PM on April 8, 2014

Ways you shouldn't delegate: don't stack up work on people in a queue with their name on it. It tempts them to cherry pick the easy things next, and definitely causes multitasking. No multitasking. Also, once they start a task, they finish that task even if a higher-priority one comes along.

People pick their next task off the top of the priority stack, not whichever task they think they'd like to do. You, the manager, might have a specific reason for a certain person to do a certain thing sometimes, but try to minimize that. It makes everything harder.
posted by ctmf at 1:09 PM on April 8, 2014

...because of the unrealistic deadlines, a lot of jobs get 'closed' but are still being worked on, or never even get into the ticket tool, because it'll run too long and bring upper management down on us. There is zero change I can change that in the short term.

It seems to me that this is really your problem, and as written it is insurmountable. If the system that is reporting the status of your workflow is reporting it incorrectly, and you are hiding that from management you are not doing anyone any favors by keeping it quiet. It sucks that they think the system is running more smoothly (more tickets being addressed in a timely fashion) than it is, but them thinking the system works better than it does doens't mean it DOES work better. They need to know what you (and they!) are facing before they will or should invest in more help, more realistic deadlines, better infrastructure, etc.

AND - if the thing goes pear shaped at the wrong moment, and someone audits your system and you are complicit in hiding the actual workflow/closure rates you are super screwed.

I think you need to have a heart to heart with somebody. Frame it like you just want to make sure that they understand why some tickets are taking longer than they were, that it is an accounting issue and not a time-to-service issue, and that the only way you will be able to improve the system is if it is actually in place.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:58 PM on April 8, 2014

No, it sounds like the OP is a scrupulous fellow in this organization, and has only recently become aware of the incredibly unhealthy practice of "hiding" work to make it look like teams are meeting impossible deadlines.

Honestly, it sounds like you're in a sick system.
posted by deathpanels at 3:07 PM on April 8, 2014

Response by poster: Just to reassure you all, yes, there's a certain amount of dysfunction, but it's also only 7.5 hours a day with a 2 hour shorter commute, and a good team. I feel like I'm coping with what they're throwing at me. So far?

To explain some of the oddities - nope, no install rights, because we are *a* helpdesk, but we are not the desktop support helpdesk. Given we are a tiny satellite helpdesk, and this is how things work over the larger company, then, again, I don't have much input. Yet. Which also relates to:

I've basically just had to accept that the issue tracker is only used as a metric to see whether our internal users have been responded to adequately within 2 days, and is not actually used to track our whole jobs, even if this isn't very efficient. Anything to do with deliveries, vendors, or following up with users - well, we've been setting up spreadsheets for it. And I'm using outlook tasks for a lot of stuff. Oldschool!

Current delegation: We're on for 11 hours a day, so I have my early person doing first 4 hours of checks, another doing middle hours, and my lates person doing last 4 hours of checks. We also have only one person updating those spreadsheets above (so, inventory etc). It seems to be going ok. I've been staying a bit longer than the above 7.5 hours, but nothing terrible. We're actually getting caught up on our queues.

Next they want me to write an ops manual. I'm trying to figure out whether I can just fancy up the Wiki, and then paste it into shape (and, hey boss types, do you want an ops manual to show other managers and companies, or one that we'll actually use to work off? Because one is much less pretty than the other). Still also trying to figure out how to be the person 'firefighting', which, given how new we are, is most of my day, and how to be the one to get some projects done, which require a bit more of the - uninterrupted time.
posted by Elysum at 10:43 PM on April 19, 2014

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