A technical support capacity plan, also called a resource model, is used to estimate the required human resources (FTEs) and related costs during a designated, future time period and is often a key input for the annual, budget planning process. In most cases, labor is the largest component of a tech support department’s expenses.
Capacity planning is both an art and a science. Even with all of the data in the world there is no way to project the future with 100% certainty, so you must add in your leadership experience and judgment, i.e. the art, to create the best plan possible. We must expect that the market, our business needs and our customer behavior will change over time. I recommend following these 5 steps if you have been tasked with creating a technical support resource or capacity plan. (Note that this post is not focused on more traditional, call center workforce management, which is an entirely different animal.)
1) Establish the plan timing Most capacity plans provide a projection of resource needs by month, quarter and year. If your operation is more like a traditional call center, you may want to plan down to the day or hour. Many of us will soon begin working on 2012 budgets and will want to build a capacity plan that covers January 2012 to December 2012.
2) Gather the baseline data To build an effective capacity plan, you need access to the following data elements and information that illustrates where you were (ideally two years of historicals) and where you are right now, as a department and, if appropriate, by product line.
- Demand: new cases/tickets opened, cases/tickets closed or other work categories (e.g. chats)
- Demand channels: percent phone, email, online, self-service
- Resources: headcount, usually described by FTEs
- Costs: how much you have spent, plan to spend, future cost targets
- Productivity: how much work resources handle (e.g. cases per FTE)
3) Identify the influencers Capacity plan influencers are the internal or external factors that will influence demand, productivity or costs in upcoming months or years.
- Demand influencers include: changes in the number of customers (either growth or decline); changes in products (sunsets, new product/version launches, improvements in product quality); planned project go lives (new, upgrades); the percentage of customers using “self-service” options.
- Productivity influencers include: expected staff turnover; changes in department technology (e.g. new CRM); changes in processes; improvements in training programs.
- Cost influencers include: changes to incentive programs; budgeted merit increases; mergers & acquisitions
4) Quantify the influencers For every change, estimate or guesstimate the impact to demand, productivity or costs. In many cases you can estimate changes based on historical, actual trends and information. In other cases you have to guesstimate, because the influencer is new and there is no applicable data. I highly recommend that you get input from and calibrate with your finance, sales, services, product and engineering partners on this activity, as they will likely have data and information you can use to create more accurate projections.
You should also ensure that departments who partner on tech support work are in synch from a resource influencer perspective. For example, if you estimate that case work for Product X will grow by 50% and your engineering partners estimate 5%, your team could be overstaffed and their team may be understaffed. Discuss and agree on the most accurate growth or decline rates when you handle work across departments.
5) Build the model Leveraging Microsoft Excel or a comparable program, build your capacity plan template which in its simplest form will start with your baseline data, have an input for influencers (plus or minus) and then show a projection of future demand and resource needs. Here is a very basic example of what a high level capacity plan looks like:
- Create excel tables that allow flexibility and automation. For example, set up a formula so when any of the influencers change up or down, the capacity plan updates on its own. (This allows you to leverage “what if” scenarios.)
- Have others sanity check the model before it is officially distributed. Be sure that the numbers make sense, match any published budgets and there are no formulaic issues.
- Keep track of model versions. In my experience, the first version is never the final version and you should retain a history of what has changed.
- Document your assumptions and then document your assumptions. This is SO important that I have listed it twice. This will be critical as you explain or update the model.
- Lots of detail is helpful in the build, but expect to articulate a high level summary when sharing the model with others.
- FYI: There are several books on Amazon.com that may help you in your capacity planning efforts:
These 5 steps should get you started with capacity planning, but prepare to make adjustments for your business to consider variables such as the type of products, the complexity of the work and your service channels.