Kanban for IT Support Teams

Kanban is a natural fit for most functions in IT; it’s great for managing project-driven development work and is especially useful for prioritizing requests in operations and maintenance work. But have you ever thought about using Kanban for production support?

When you consider the unpredictable nature of support requests, and pair that with the organization and discipline required to prioritize support requests with varying SLAs, it might seem obvious that a visual, workflow-based project management method like Kanban would be the best choice for managing this type of work.

However, even in IT organizations that use Kanban software for their dev and ops teams - many organizations decide against using Kanban in IT support, opting instead to use tools that were designed specifically for support - which makes sense, right?

Help Desk Tools Only Help So Much

Help desk tools are purpose-built for helping support teams provide higher quality support than email or other homegrown support systems. They have the capabilities that support teams need to more effectively track and manage support tickets, and usually reduce response times, among other benefits. They’ve been around for a while, and the goods ones are good at what they do.

So what’s the problem? The answer lies in the difference between IT (or production) support and other (primarily customer-facing) support teams: An IT support team’s customer base isn’t just the end user of the product; it’s usually primarily the internal teams who are relying on their support to serve those users.

In the most successful IT organizations, support works closely with product development and operations.

They help inform product strategy, identify potential future and current issues, and help dev and ops teams prioritize work based on their daily interactions with customers. They don’t just help the end user learn how to better use the product, they help internal teams develop the product to make it better for the end user.

Many organizations elect to use a help desk solution in an effort to improve support for their users without realizing the pitfalls of having support “living” in a separate tool from product development:

  • No clear workflow for turning customer requests into prioritized work for product development
  • If the support team does still use Kanban to manage some of its work, inefficiency of managing work is created in two places
  • Lack of visibility (lack of input) into what Product Development is working on
  • Problem of throwing work “over the wall.” i.e. encouraging a push system instead of a pull system

The ideal solution would allow IT/production support teams to enjoy the benefits of a purpose-built support tool, while still allowing them the visibility, accountability, and collaboration of a shared tool with product development. They would be able to:

  • Track, resolve, and analyze tickets
  • Collaborate with support and external team members on project-driven work
  • Identify recurring issues and communicate them to product teams
  • Triage atypical tickets with cross-departmental teams

Enter Kanban.

Kanban for IT Support Teams

IT support is a mix of unplanned, project-driven, and break-fix type of work, all of which requires consistent, timely communication with end users (and internal teams) and adherence to strict SLAs. As we discussed above, using just a help desk tool, or just a Kanban board, for production support, creates either logistical or communication issues that can result in a highly fragmented IT organization.

Integrating support/help desk tools with a robust Kanban solution provides IT support teams with a solution that bridges the communication gap between support and product teams while empowering support teams with the power of visual management.

How to Use Kanban for IT Support

The first step of using Kanban for IT support is to create a Kanban board! If you are new to Kanban, we encourage you to review the Kanban Roadmap and go through the included exercises to familiarize yourself with the basic concepts. But before you select a Kanban tool, do some research to ensure that the tool you select integrates well with the existing tools in your development team’s stack.

Then it’s time to create your team’s first board. A basic Kanban board for IT support follows the same basic pattern of all Kanban boards - To Do > Doing > Done. Here are some other lanes that support teams might need:

  • Follow-Up (after Default Drop lane): When a customer replies to an initial response from the support team, or when an internal or external team member sends a card back to this board, it will go here.
  • Requires Further Support: This is where cards should go when they cannot be resolved by support team members. You can configure your board to automatically send a card to a specific location (another lane or board) when it is dropped into this lane through integrations.
  • Waiting on Customer: If a team member is waiting on more information / clarification from a customer, they place the card / ticket here until they resume work on it (at which point they would place it back into In Progress). Done: This is where completed cards go! Defining the Done lane is an important step in setting your board up for insightful analytics. Click here to learn how to ensure your Done lane is set up correctly.

Once you have the board set up, you can begin to explore integrations with other tools. The best Kanban software has the capability to integrate with the existing tools in your stack to help create a highly collaborative, data-powered support system, as well as many development / operations tools. While the specifics of how these tools integrate with your Kanban board vary depending your unique use case, the value that using a Kanban board for IT support can provide remains the same:

Kanban provides a shared, single source of truth that enables teams to not only manage support tickets more effectively, but also add infinitely more value to the product organization.

Integrations can help automate, manage, measure and record information about support tickets, as well as project-driven and urgent work, all on one Kanban board (or a portfolio of boards). Without a shared source of information, this information would remain hidden in disparate tools. It would be nearly impossible to keep information flowing quickly enough between teams to keep everyone on the same page, which is why in many organizations, there is a damaging lack of communication between support and product teams.

Using Kanban for IT support teams bridges the communication gaps between support and product teams, enabling more responsive, richer support and more data-driven and customer-focused product decisions.

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