Effective Queue Management in a Crisis

InvGate June 17, 2020
- 5 min read

We think we can all agree that it’s not easy delivering the best IT support service to our colleagues at the moment. There’s a higher volume of tickets, a lack of people due to illness, social distancing, or self-isolation (with IT support staff remote working too), as well as limited equipment and delivery mechanisms. Plus, our customers are likely to feel differently, and isolated, when IT issues prevent them from doing the work they need to do while working at home. 

It all means that keeping normal service levels going is a real challenge. To help, this blog explains how you can manage your queues effectively such that you and your team can better keep on top of the most important things.

Start where you are 

It’s one of the ITIL 4 guiding principles that’s so important to remember when trying to improve just about anything. The chances are that your incident and request queues are busier than ever and it's easy for individuals and the team as a whole to get overwhelmed.  

Take charge by looking at everything you have in the queue at the moment rather than operating a first-in, first-actioned approach as you try to keep up with the growing queue. If it’s – as to be expected – all too much, focus on priority levels (that are tweaked for the changing times – see below), then service, and then departments and locations.  

Involve the rest of your team and ask for help from other IT colleagues. The COVID-19 crisis is one of those situations where, if you have IT in your job title no matter how long it’s been since you’ve done anything technical, it’s the time to pitch in and get involved. Even if you have colleagues who are normally project analysts or service delivery managers resetting passwords and unlocking accounts (if there’s no automated facility), it’s something that can help take the pressure off the rest of the IT support team. 

Tweak your priorities 

We all know that in a perfect world, we calculate priority by looking at the urgency and impact of an issue, preferably with a tool-based matrix, to make it easy to log tickets. This isn’t the best of times though, so we all need to adjust our priorities at the moment.  

Start with those who are vulnerable. Anyone looking after front-line workers or who are self-isolating. Then look at those experiencing connectivity issues. One of the biggest impacts of COVID-19, after the immediate health issues are addressed, will be the toll it takes on mental health. So, make sure people that can get online so they stay connected.  

Stay focused on the important things together 

It can be easy to slip into a silo mentality when everyone’s isolated and working from home, so schedule regular check-ins to make sure that things stay on track. It doesn’t have to be a long affair – a quick 15-minute call over Microsoft Teams or Zoom can keep your team updated and your key tasks on schedule. More importantly, it’ll help you to make sure that everyone on your team is okay and that no one is struggling due to the volumes, isolation, or anything else. 

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Deal with major incidents effectively and quickly before they spiral out of control 

The last thing you need in a crisis is having a major incident on top of an already overloaded IT service desk. So, get proactive. Make sure that alerts for critical services are being monitored and talk to your support teams. If that server is due a security patch or that network switch is looking like it’ll need a maintenance reboot, then now is the time to get those scheduled in so you can do maintenance tasks in a calm, controlled way out of hours rather than as an emergency in the middle of the working day.  

Take time to revisit your major incident process to ensure that it’s still fit for purpose given all the current COVID-19 changes and challenges. To make life easier, have checklists and templates for everything. Even if something seems basic or common sense, still template it or create a checklist. Pilots have checklists. Astronauts have checklists. They work because it means that no matter how busy or overstretched someone is, they’ll follow the process step-by-step such that nothing gets missed. 

Systematically tackle aged incidents  

There’s nothing worse than opening your queue in the morning to see that the unassigned tickets run into double if not triple figures. 

It’s bad for the business because the bigger the queue the longer it’ll take for things to be resolved. It’s bad for the IT service desk because when ticket volumes get out of control it can be hard to see what’s important.  

It’s also bad for morale and potentially the mental health of isolated employees never being able to get the queue down no matter how hard they work. So, make aged incidents an area of focus for your team. Report on them, make them an agenda item at team meetings, and schedule times specifically for aged tickets to be tackled to avoid frustrated end users. 

Automate notifications to help stay on track  

Use automation wherever possible to help with queue management. Examples include: 

  • Texting senior management when a major incident is raised 
  • Emailing a distribution list when a VIP incident is raised 
  • Notifying the service delivery manager if an SLA is in danger of being breached  
  • Notifying the incident manager if an incident has been reassigned a certain number of times 
  • Automatically flagging incidents if they remain open past seven days. 

So, that’s some ways in which to get on top of your IT service desk queue(s). What would you add to help others? Please let us know in the comments. 

For more information on how we’re responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, please see here how we’re offering our service desk solutions free of charge to anyone who needs them.

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