Linet, the world’s leading manufacturer of hospital beds, has seen meteoric growth over the past year. The IT department is also a significant contributor to the growth of the company, as its manager Petr Němeček told us. We talked about project management and end-user satisfaction.
It may come as a surprise to the average reader that hospital beds are now full of sophisticated high-end electronics. What kind of company is Linet, in 2021?
A hospital bed nowadays is equipped with technology that monitors and checks on the patient to ensure they are well cared for. Linet is a technology company focused on development and innovation. We are the number one European supplier and the third worldwide.
But ours is primarily a company with a powerful story. At its foundation is a fair-minded visionary, Mr Frolík, whose primary aim was a perfect product to help people all over the world. We grew from a small company into a global corporation, but we’ve kept the enthusiasm of a garage start-up. Linet is full of enthusiasts who haven’t forgotten about common sense, and only doing things with true benefit.
How does the IT department fit in?
IT is indispensable to business growth. The days when IT was considered as a necessary evil are long over. We do interesting things, and I dare say a more smiley team would be hard to find. One of the reasons why we still enjoy IT is the fact that our IT headquarters are in the Czech Republic, which is quite unusual for an international company. We don’t have any overseas parent company dictating what to do. We choose the technologies we use and set the IT development strategy. Thanks to this, we can quickly implement new technologies and see their contribution to the business. That’s what makes us proud.
The second reason we enjoy our IT is because we take a ‘pain perspective’ and bring to fruition only projects with real benefit. To put it in Prince 2 framework terms, we are not only interested in output and outcome, but mainly in quantifiable benefit that can be expressed in hard numbers. For example: Five percent faster production, ten percent reduction of human resources costs, etc.
What does a pain perspective look like in practice?
I can illustrate this with a project management example. Our pain was obvious: our projects were not properly organized, we did not deliver them on time and in the necessary quality. So we learned Prince 2, Agile, Scrum and other frameworks. We combined the whole thing and adapted it to our IT. That’s how we learned to think differently. Now we take a look at everything through user stories. Each one starts with a stringent definition: who wants it, what do they want, why do they want it, and most importantly, what are the acceptance criteria. The team and I sit down regularly to discuss individual stories. For each, we create the steps that lead to the goal, and gauge the necessary effort. Then we plan it in our Sprint session, by priorities.
Once we are managing the whole of IT in this way, it’s suddenly not about one project and directive management, but which stories matter most to the company. We then evaluate the stories using story points. The team sets points to determine how hard the story is to implement. The trick is to get team to agree on the evaluation. And this is where interesting things happen. Let’s say most people rate a task with five points. And yet, someone will only give it one point, or thirteen points. Then we stop and talk about why those particular people see it differently.
This is always sure to stir up the discussion and completely changes the dynamics of the meeting. Quite often it’s not the boss versus the individuals, but a group chat where exchange experiences and share different perspectives of the problem. At the same time, we make use of the know-how we have in the team. Everyone has their own strengths, in different areas, and so we can complement each other.
In your talks you spoke of the Service Desk accounting for 70% of the IT image. How do you gauge end-user satisfaction?
The short answer is constantly and continuously. You may have great engineers working on infrastructure and application support, but it’s still true that most people in your company form their opinion of IT when they turn to L1 support with commonplace incidents or requests. Of course, we have a satisfaction feedback questionnaire on closed requests. Although, paradoxically, we found that a really dissatisfied person tends not to fill in the star rating, because they don’t want to harm the request solver. So it is important to note informal communications and escalations that often bypass official channels. That’s how we found out there was dissatisfaction with IT services among people, although everything looked great on paper in the report. To change that, we launched our ‘happy user’ project.
And here we get back to pain. We wrote down all the pains of ordinary users. Naturally, they want a solution quickly and the option to choose a suitable end-date. Most importantly, they want to trust the supplier and be sure of IT professional treatment. Having understood the needs of our users, we split up their requests into four categories: Modern approach, Credibility, Effectiveness, Professionalism. Now, whenever we review a new process or technology, we consider whether it meets all 4 criteria. If it does, it gets to be a candidate for processing.
That sounds great. But where do you get the manpower capacity to do this?
The trick is that if you do it right, you usually save capacity. One example process we have put in place in line with these criteria is the request for a new phone. We send the new phone home to our colleague in its original packaging, so they don’t miss out on the unpackaging experience – which, let’s face it, is the best part. When unpacked and launched, the phone says ‘Welcome to Linet’ and in fifteen minutes installs all the apps the user needs for work. It’s a great service for users and saves our solvers work. We’ve totted it up, and new device requests are a quarter of them all. Moreover, it’s a boring, repetitive job. Without automation, we’d have to have one full-time dedicated person.
Coming back to the Service Desk, one typical problem is high turnover of L1 support staff, who generally don’t stay long in a given role. How do you motivate them?
Why is there such a big staff turnover? Because first level support gets brutally overworked. That leads to burn-out and leaving early. At the risk of repeating myself, we went at it from the pain perspective once again, this time as part of the ‘happy solver’ project. We identified eighty pains, such as: ‘I do not want to be punished for missing deadlines for things I can’t control’, ‘I have no one to turn to when I get stuck on a solution’, etc. So I and a smaller task force gave a score to every pain. The solvers themselves did the same thing. Subsequently, we put both evaluations together and made a list of the priorities we needed to change. The investigators assigned acceptance criteria to each pain.
We started training them in soft skills: how to be assertive, how to negotiate, how not to take things personally and not make assumptions. We tried to improve their working conditions, to prepare their workflow, prepare manuals and query segmentation. We’ve been treating the whole thing like a game, so that from the moment they join they can follow their progress. And then there is our experience that not everyone who is good at solving IT problems is good at communicating with people. That’s why we’ve created a Customer Care team within IT, staffed with people who are good at communicating.
How does the Customer Care team work in practice?
The main task of the team is to collect user requests and communicate with them. Previously, anyone who came to the IT office was sent away, to make a formal request. It made sense, because one person would come in with a question and five people would be interrupted from working. But it wasn’t very customer-oriented. Now we have a dedicated team that people can turn to through different channels. The solver in the team knows what questions they need to ask in order to get the most relevant background info to progress the solution. Subsequently, they themselves set up a ticket for the user, and the ticket solver can get to work right away, because he has all the details gathered together.