I facilitate peer groups for IT operations managers, service delivery managers, and other leaders of managed service providers (MSPs). I help these groups share best practices and collaborate on solving common problems.
Every MSP peer group meeting includes a useful “Lesson of the Day.” One of these valuable lessons is how to simplify work and save time. To show peer groups how to accomplish this, I follow a framework laid out by Lisa Bodell in Why Simple Wins.
Our Most Precious Resource
What resource makes the most important contribution to the success of your business? You might say it’s your people and their morale, or your policies and procedures, or your clients, or your cash flow.
But there’s a strong argument that an even more important resource—one that underlies all others—is TIME.
Managing time well leads to motivated people, effective processes, happy clients, and higher profits.
So how do you make the most out of time? You simplify!
Four-Stage Framework to Simplify Work and Save Time
The Why Simple Wins framework consists of four stages: Assessment, Diagnosis, Target Identification, and Solution Brainstorming.
1. Assess your organization and the individuals on your team.
Look at quantitative and qualitative measures that reflect complexities and inefficiencies for both individuals and the entire organization. Formulate prompts that can be answered on a scale of 0 to 3, where 0 = “always” (or not applicable), 1 = “sometimes,” 2 = “rarely,” and 3 = “never.”
Prompts that reflect individual complexity and inefficiency include:
- “Meetings that I run start and end on time.”
- “I spend 10% or less of my time in unproductive meetings.”
- “I receive a manageable number of work emails and messages.”
Prompts that reflect organizational complexity and inefficiency include:
- “The products and services we offer are easy to manage.”
- “It’s clear what company resources to go to for help with complex tasks.”
- “Company performance reviews are easy to complete and meaningful.”
A typical MSP usually comes up with about 30 prompts, for a maximum complexity score of 90 points.
2. Diagnose and quantify the overall opportunity for improvement.
Use a spreadsheet to log and total the complexity scores for each prompt. If your points total for all prompts is 0, congratulations! Your MSP is already running lean and mean, with effective, simplified processes. (Unfortunately, I haven’t ever seen an MSP score 0.)
If your points total is 1–20, your MSP has some opportunities to simplify and make more of time.
If your points total is 21–50, your MSP deals with complexity, and you have substantial opportunities to simplify and save time.
If your points total is 51–70, your MSP grapples with serious complexity, and you have a rigorous road ahead to simplify.
If your points total is 71 or higher, your MSP suffers from crippling complexity, and you have an enormous amount of work to do to simplify.
In my experience, most in MSPs score between 21 and 50 points.
3. Identify specific target areas for improvement.
Your spreadsheet should make it clear which prompts have the highest scores, indicating the greatest opportunity for improvement.
Many MSPs have very similar issues. For example, one of the most common issues for individuals is starting and ending meetings on time. Fortunately, this issue is relatively easy to address:
Rule 1: Write and distribute a meeting agenda, including time allotted for each item.
Rule 2: Strictly enforce the start time; don’t wait for stragglers (but do note who they are).
Rule 3: If you make a slide presentation, print a handout for attendees to write notes on and take away from the meeting.
Rule 4: Watch the time and keep the meeting on track, per the agenda. Do not allow off-topic digressions.
As another example, one of the most common issues for organizations is the effectiveness of staff performance reviews. Many MSPs review employees only once a year, but that practice has many issues, including:
- In annual performance reviews, the feedback gap is too wide; you miss opportunities for incremental coaching and improvement.
- Some issues that arise during the year might be forgotten by the time the annual review comes around.
- An employee’s role or responsibilities often change during the year, and the annual review tends to focus only on the most recent performance.
- The preparation and presentation of annual reviews can consume a significant amount of time, since there is so much ground to cover.
- Because there is so much ground to cover in annual reviews, there is a tendency to take shortcuts and skip important feedback.
There is a compelling argument to review employees quarterly instead of annually. I detail the case for quarterly reviews in a separate blog. But it boils down to this: Every MSP I’ve worked with finds it easier, more efficient, and more meaningful to review employees quarterly instead of annually—with much better outcomes.
4. Brainstorm solutions with your team.
After you identify the targets to reduce complexity and improve efficiency, use the brain power and experience of everyone on the team to come up with potential solutions. To get the creative juices flowing, you can ask these kinds of questions:
- Why does the complexity or inefficiency occur?
- What can we stop doing immediately to address the issue?
- What can we do differently to address the issue?
- Can we mitigate the issue internally (e.g., by automating workflows)?
- Can we outsource a solution to the issue?
- If we can’t solve the issue entirely, can we at least manage it better?
Your goal is to explore all ideas—even unconventional approaches—to simplify your work processes. The best solutions often emerge when people question assumptions and experiment with new ideas.
For many MSPs, complexity can be overwhelming. But the four-stage framework from Why Simple Wins offers a roadmap to simplify your work processes and save precious time. By assessing and diagnosing your operations, identifying targets to improve, and brainstorming solutions, you’ll focus on what matters most, reduce time-wasting habits, cut out needless complexity, and improve your bottom line.
You should also repeat the four-stage process periodically to assess the effectiveness of the ideas and solutions that you put in place to simplify work and save time.
For information about joining an MSP peer group, visit https://abramco.com/peergroup.