Right Sizing Production Support

~ by Randy Wagner

Production support, production maintenance, whatever you call it, is usually the least sexy team. It gets squeezed the hardest, is given the highest expectations for turnaround time, and still has to manage work from every functional direction. But despite all the demands, it must deliver quality as economically as possible. So how do we balance budget, timeline, and content when everything is pulling in a different direction?

Product Support is Under Constant Pressure to Deliver and Fill in the Gaps

Prod support is often thankless. It’s not as thrilling as innovation, even though we’re expected to create solutions on a daily basis. It’s the most frequently client-facing delivery system with the shortest timelines so deviations are painfully visible, and Product Owners are often under enormous pressure to fulfill requests. The technical debt—especially in the period between initial release and full conversion to a new system across all lines of business—is constantly growing. Minimum viable product methodology means the remaining gap often lands squarely on the support team after the product delivery team moves on to the next phase.

Coordination of Timing and Execution of Cross-Team Defects for All Functional Areas is Challenging

Perhaps the biggest juggle is coordinating all the functional areas, in correct sequence, accounting for cross-team defects, and combining the appropriate user stories for a given release, with the undercurrent of managing multiple code streams among policy, billing, claims, forms, integration, and data. It’s a lot to manage. And then we add in required upgrades, new initiatives, and the human element of people moving up, over, in, and out of the team.

Maintaining Viable Throughput Requires a Team of Varied Product Expertise Across Functional Areas

It takes a certain amount of knowledge and experience to find the right mix of skills and amount of personnel to create viable throughput. Some things are obvious. The policy stream will carry the bulk of the load. Billing, integration, and data changes are less frequent and less effort to muscle through once the core system is established. Forms can change with some frequency and claims must be able to support the changes in policy. Finding the right ratios there takes effort but it can be done well. If your organization is structured for cost chargebacks, it’s easier to balance business demands with their willingness to bear the financial burden.

Product Support Team Members Provide Invaluable Knowledge When Assisting on Upgrades and New Releases

Ultimately, the ability to flex is the greatest strength of a production support team. New upgrade? We can use some key personnel from Prod support to anchor an auxiliary team for the effort, backfill the spots in maintenance, which, incidentally, gives your people a chance to step up in new ways and gain experience.  Upgrade done, we can ratchet down the staffing again, but we’ve gained great knowledge and seasoning within the group, which only improves deliverable quality. New product release? We can shift some experience from the long-term development team to the Prod Support team temporarily for knowledge transfer and quick response to any production issues.

This High Visibility and Challenging Role Presents a Great Opportunity to Keep Customers Happy

Prod support isn’t for the faint of heart. It comes with high visibility, limited budget, short timelines, and enormous pressure from all sides. But when you find the right mix of professional people, the balance of skills, and the structure to make it work, it becomes a great opportunity in many ways. Flexing all the different muscles, in just the right ways, keeps the budget and the customers happy.

Randy Wagner is Director of Quality Assurance for CastleBay Companies. He has 20 years of consulting experience across private and public sectors, Guidewire InsuranceSuite, InsuranceNow, and Duck Creek, with specializations in quality assurance, project management, configuration management, and automation.