How to Use Kanban for Support Teams

If you’re knowledgeable about Kanban, you’re likely familiar with its applications in software development and operations. But can you use Kanban in IT support? Yes!

Many teams, especially those in Lean and Agile IT organizations, rely on Kanban boards to visualize, track, analyze, and measure their work. Read on to learn how using Kanban in IT and production support can improve customer relationships and inform a smarter product strategy in your organization.

Why IT Support Needs Kanban

In product-centric companies, growth occurs quickly, and customer support is no exception. Often, what starts as a handful of employees fielding customer calls and emails quickly balloons into a complicated system of tasks, follow-ups, resolutions, and, potentially, missed connections.

Without an organized ticketing system to support a growing customer base, the risk of overlooking, losing, or neglecting a support ticket grows exponentially. This is the point at which many IT support teams decide to adopt a homegrown solution, such as a shared customer support email account and perhaps an FAQ page on the website, to manage customer questions and issues.

The problems with this type of solution usually become self-evident as the team grows:

  • Without a clear set of guidelines and a highly communicative, disciplined team, team members use the email account inconsistently
  • There’s no record/tracking of the types of issues coming in, how long it takes to resolve them, or other metrics that could help the team improve
  • Similarly, there’s no data generated that helps to identify recurring issues to inform product improvements
  • If a support ticket requires additional effort from a support team member or a member of another team - there’s no direct way to create/prioritize/track that task as it moves through the team’s workflow

At this point, support teams decide to “bite the bullet” and invest in a purpose-built help desk tool, such as Zendesk, SalesForce Service Cloud, or ServiceNow. These tools are a dramatic upgrade from an email-based system; they have the capabilities the team needs to more effectively track and manage support tickets, and usually reduce response times, among other benefits.

But ideally, most IT and production support teams don’t operate on an island; their work is closely integrated with the work of software development and operations teams. They help inform product strategy, identify potential and current issues, and help development and operations teams prioritize work based on their daily interactions with customers. “Living” in a different tool from product teams can create communication gaps that can undermine this necessary collaboration.

Support teams need a tool that enables them to track, resolve, and analyze tickets, as well as:

  • 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

Kanban is that tool! Robust Kanban tools can be integrated with both support/help desk tools and development tools, helping to bridge the communication gap between support and product teams while empowering support teams with the power of visual management.

Using Kanban in production support does more than improve responsiveness and effectiveness of IT and production support teams; it also empowers them to add immense value to your organization’s product strategy.

Keep reading to learn how to use Kanban to bolster your organization’s support capabilities, whether you already use a help desk tool or you’re just getting started.

How to Use Kanban for IT Support

Basic board setup

Unsurprisingly, the first step of using Kanban for IT support is to create a Kanban board. If this is your first Kanban board, we encourage you to read through the Kanban Roadmap and go through the included exercises to familiarize yourself with the basic concepts.

After the initial board setup, there are a few modifications you can make to better reflect your team’s process on your Kanban board.

Vertical Lanes = Steps in Your Process

Typically, a support process will include some version of the following steps, which you can represent on your board with vertical lanes:

  • New Requests: This is where all new cards enter the Kanban board. Be sure to configure any integrations to drop all new cards here. Learn more about Default Drop lanes and why they matter.
  • Follow-Up: 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.
  • In Progress: This is where cards should live when they are actively being worked on.
  • 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 for 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. :earn how to ensure your Done lane is set up correctly.

Horizontal Swimlanes = SLAs

Horizontal swimlanes are a great way to visualize and sort tickets/tasks by their respective SLAs; if some of your contracts require immediate response, while others can wait for 24 or 48 hours, this is a helpful thing to visualize. We suggest creating a Critical/Immediate horizontal swimlane, with lanes below in order by decreasing urgency of the SLA. Click here to learn how to set up horizontal swimlanes in LeanKit.

Lane Detail

LeanKit lanes can be categorized into one of three Lane Types: “Ready,” “In Process,” or “Completed."

WIP Limits

Usually, our advice to anyone using a Kanban board is to implement WIP (work-in-process) limits for lanes, individuals, or both. WIP limits help team members stay focused on delivering existing work before pulling new work into the system, keeping the system (and the individuals within it) from getting overwhelmed.

In IT support, it’s difficult to set WIP limits across the board because work sources and prioritization are inherently more dynamic and complex. IT/production support team members have to constantly evaluate and reevaluate the priority of their existing tasks/tickets against new tickets. Various factors (such as strict SLAs) can force teams to have to move cards in and out of holding lanes in order to make space for more urgent tasks.

So, the only lane where it’s really practical to enforce WIP limits (and we recommend that you do!) is the “Waiting on Customer” lane. Although technically the burden is on the customer to respond, the due dates on your cards will inform you if you’ve been waiting on a response for more than a few hours.

Before moving on to a new card, create a team policy to first “nudge” customers who are not responding. If they still don’t respond, you can clean them off your board. If they do, you can resolve the issue and move the card off your board. Either way, you’re increasing the likelihood of resolving a customer issue while keeping your board free of clutter. Learn how to set up WIP limits on your Kanban board.

Helpful features/integrations

Email Integration

Most IT organizations choose to offer an email support option. Some Kanban tools allow you to determine an email address that will automatically create a card on your board when an email (i.e. ticket) comes in. This creates a familiar experience for customers while providing support teams with the information they need to track and resolve issues. Learn how to create cards by email.

Other Tool Integrations

While the specifics of how tools integrate with your Kanban board vary depending on 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 manage support tickets more effectively and add infinitely more value to the product organization. Integrations can automate, manage, measure and record information about those 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 almost 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 production support bridges the communication gaps between support and product teams, enabling more responsive, richer support and more data-driven and customer-focused product decisions.

Learn More

Does your support team use a Kanban board for IT support or are you curious about building your first board? Do you struggle with communication gaps between support and product teams? Do you wish your organizational tools could all speak to each other? Sign up for a free trial or learn more about Kanban in our Learning Center.

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