Haley Bucelewicz | 05.01.19

You can’t always count on everything going perfectly to plan on the day of service. But one thing you can count on is uncertainty.

No matter how well or how far in advance you plan for service, unexpected disruptions will inevitably crop up. Despite all this, customer expectations are still higher than ever, and they demand consistency and speed. Organizations with the agility to handle in-day changes and make rapid, strategic decisions will thrive.

The agile methodology is a type of project management process, mainly used for software development and delivery. Though the 12 principles were written by software developers, agile is ultimately a mindset that can be applied to field service delivery. In particular, the principles that focus on customer-centricity, responsiveness, and continuous delivery. Being agile is about figuring out how you can structure your service organization in a way that allows you to quickly respond to change and deal with uncertainty.

In this post, we dive deeper into how the agile methodology can be transferred to field service. The 12 principles you’ll see below have been tweaked from their original form to a service context.

Applying the Agile Methodology to Field Service

Source: Lynne Cazaly, www.lynnecazaly.com

1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable service.

The first principle of the agile methodology is also the one that’s most relevant to field service. In fact, with the tweak from “software” to “service,” this could very well be the field service mantra.

With customer expectations at an all-time high, delivering reliable, convenient, and immediate service has become more important than ever. Today you’re not only competing with direct competitors, but companies like Amazon and Uber that are setting the bar high for service. That said, customer engagement—and delivering value consistently—should be your highest priority.

There are many ways to improve customer engagement, but a good place to start is by helping your customers feel more in control. Typically when they call you, they’re already in a state of distress because something broke down. Give them the peace of mind that someone is on the way to help by providing them with multiple channels to contact their technician. Or, take a page from Uber and Amazon’s books and send real-time status updates about the technician’s location and ETA.

2. Welcome change, even on the day of service. Agile processes harness change for your competitive advantage.

The original principle refers to changing software to improve it for the customer, but we offer an alternative spin. Change is the one constant in field service. Plans change, schedules change, traffic changes. Customers cancel last minute and engineers call in sick.

Because you can be certain that in-day changes will happen, it’s important to embrace it. It also crucial to do everything you can to mitigate these changes and be nimble enough to take corrective action. 

3. Deliver great service frequently and rapidly.

As we’ve mentioned time and time again, customers today demand consistent and immediate service. When they call for help, get an engineer with the right skills there as fast as you can by optimizing scheduling and finding the most efficient route to the job.

Even better, do everything you can to increase your chances of a first-time fix. The last thing your customer wants to hear is that their issue can’t be resolved right away and that they have to book another appointment. Ensure the technician that’s scheduled is armed with the tools, information, and skills they need to fix the issue on the first visit.

4. The field and back office must work together throughout the day of service.

It should be no surprise that field service is best executed when the whole team is working together. This can be challenging with a mobile workforce because those in the field and the back office are physically separated. Fortunately, mobile technology and real-time communication make it easier than ever before for the field and back office to collaborate.

Leading field service organizations are taking it a step further and managing the entire service chain—planning, scheduling, execution, analysis—all on a single platform. This way everyone, whether in the field or at the office, has the same total visibility into operations.   

5. Service should be delivered by motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

It should be no surprise that happy employees are the most motivated. Employee engagement should be a priority if you want your team to be effective and your customers happy.

What’s one of the best ways to empower your field resources? By giving them the tools they need to do their job right. One example of this is providing technicians with mobile devices armed with the information they need about customers, jobs, and products, as well as easy access to support (via real-time communication) if they need it.

Another way is by simply trusting them. If your employees know you value their input and skills, they will do some of their best work.

6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a field service team is in real-time.

The original principle reads, “The most effective method of conveying information is through face-to-face conversations.”

Unfortunately, as we discussed above, a mobile workforce doesn’t always have that luxury. Engineers are always on the go and probably feel disconnected from their managers, supervisors, and the back office.

While face-to-face may not be an option, mobile workforce management solutions make real-time communication easy. If technicians need support, the back office is just a call or text away. If an emergency job pops up, the back office can immediately send a notification to a nearby tech’s mobile device.

Today’s technology also makes it possible for field resources and the back office to feel like they are speaking in person. Many field service organizations are taking advantage of live video, augmented reality, and wearables to provide extra support in the field.

7. Working service is the primary measure of progress.

This one's pretty self-explanatory. While there are many ways to measure field service KPIs and progress, the ultimate goal is always to deliver great service. If you're efficient, responsive, meeting SLAs, and satisfying customers, then you know you are succeeding.

8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. Schedulers, dispatchers, and technicians should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

The biggest thing to take away from this principle is that the people involved in service delivery should neither suffer from excessive labor nor sit around idling. Planning, scheduling, and executing service requires a delicate balancing act. And service delivery thrives when everyone is collaborating equally.

One of the best ways to illustrate this is through capacity planning. Ensuring that there’s exactly enough resources to meet anticipated demand is essential for increasing agility—but it’s tricky. On one hand, you don’t want to under-schedule resources because that results in missed appointments (and unhappy customers), missed SLAs (and associated costs), and no one to address the emergency work that’s bound to pop up. On the other hand, if you over-schedule you’re wasting money on resources you aren’t using, and engineers are left idle when they could be productive elsewhere. With the right solution to help you accurately plan for capacity well in advance, you’ll find you’ll be able to meet and exceed your customer expectations without exhausting or underutilizing resources.

9. Continuous optimization enhances agility.

We tweaked this one quite a bit. Originally this principle reads "Continuous attention to technical excellence and design enhances agility."

In software development this means paying attention to detail to ensure the product works well. In field service, it’s intelligent and optimized field service management (FSM) that push service from good to great. We’ll dive deeper into this in this in the next section.

10. Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.

If the first principle is the most applicable to field service, this is a close second. Deploying hundreds or thousands of technicians, with varying skills, across numerous locations, with multiple job types, requiring different parts and tools—all while adhering to business objectives—is just too much for a human being manage effectively on their own.

Take schedule optimization for example. Field service scheduling is extremely challenging because of the number of factors, constraints, and rules to consider. For instance, with just 10 jobs and 10 engineers, there are over 3.5 million different possible schedule combinations. With 15 jobs and 15 engineers, that’s 1.3 trillion combinations. And that’s only one engineer per job! You can imagine that travel optimization is just as complicated, if not more.

This is where automation and field service optimization comes in handy. Automation frees up humans from menial and tedious tasks so they can focus on higher-value work. Optimization leaves it up to artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and data science to make decisions that align with business goals, in a matter of minutes.

11. The best service delivery emerges from self-organizing teams.

The original principle states, “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams." Meaning two things:

  1. Teams should be able to decide themselves who is going to do what, when, and how
  2. If teams have the necessary skills, they should be able to organize by themselves

In field service, the first part doesn’t really work. With so much to consider (skills, location, parts, etc.), potentially hundreds to thousands of engineers to schedule, and the time-sensitivity of service delivery, it’s pretty much impossible for humans alone to make the optimal decisions. Optimized FSM solutions, powered by machine learning and real data can automatically make the best decisions for your business in minutes. When it comes to selecting the right crews, determining task order, and picking the most efficient routes, it’s best to leave it up to optimization so humans are free to handle exceptions and perform higher-value work.

It’s the second part—or at least the underlying idea behind it—that really matters in service. This part of the principle is all about empowering and trusting your workforce to get the job done efficiently.

Your engineers are experts at their trades. That’s the reason you hired them in the first place. You shouldn’t have to micromanage them or tell them how to do their jobs. Just give them the autonomy to make the right decisions on the job and value their opinions. Take it a step further by providing your engineers with easy access to support, relevant materials, product documents, and customer information.

12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Finally, you can't improve what you don't measure. It's important to track KPIs and metrics so you have a better grasp on what you need to improve and how. Even better if your field service solution has analytics capabilities that automatically track the relevant data for you.

As an added bonus, measuring and collecting data can also make your service organization more predictive and help you more accurately forecast demand and plan for capacity. For example, on the predictive side, collecting and analyzing the right data could help you predict the likelihood of a cancellation, predict traffic patterns, and give you more accurate job durations to help you schedule better.

Though change will always be prevalent in field service, you can arm your organization with the tools and mindset to tackle it. If you adopt the agile mindset, you’ll be better equipped to respond to emergencies, adapt to evolving demands and business goals, and ultimately deliver better service to customers.