Enabling Scaling Through Customer Feedback
Selling the idea of “software product maintenance” to a software engineer is not an easy sell as it is not as appealing as new software development. The same goes for the retention of Support Engineers. In my view, one way to address that is to look at sustaining engineering and how it benefits not only the engineers in the team but more importantly your customers.
So, what is the difference between Support Management & Sustaining Engineering?
First, to better understand where Support and Sustaining Engineering fit in the big picture, let’s review the common phases of Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) and Product Life Cycle (PLC).
- Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) – commonly described phases are Planning, Analysis, Design, Development, Testing, Deployment, Maintenance and Support.
- Product Life Cycle (PLC) – phases include Product Introduction, Growth, Maturity and Decline.
Based on this, Support and Sustaining Engineering correspond to the Maintenance and Support Phase of the SDLC and map to the Growth, Maturity and Decline phases of the PLC.
Let’s set the scene to provide some context
As part of our services at Ammeon, we provide technical expertise to our customers to help support and fix product issues experienced by our customer or even the customer’s customer, i.e. the actual end-user of the product.
The Support Management and Sustaining Engineering functions are responsible for legacy functionality released in customer production environments and are implicitly very customer focused.
Support Management can be defined as the function of delivering the service of:
- managing incidents
- troubleshooting issues
- identifying root cause
- providing work around
- documentation updates
- software fixes
In contrast, Sustaining Engineering can be described as a super set of Support Management.
In addition to the functions linked to the Support Management, Sustaining Engineering encompasses an important new component: Feedback from the customer.
Direct or Indirect Feedback
Based on analysis of data handled, your teams may uncover a cluster of bugs or recurring themes providing indirect feedback from the customer. In other words, each bug can be treated as a symptom of an underlying problem. These areas of the product can then be targeted as improvements and fed back to the development team to incorporate into the main product.
Direct feedback from the client can also be obtained in the form of new feature requirements based on customer-use of the product. Similarly, these new requirements can then be tracked and added to the work product backlog for consideration.
Furthermore, having gathered important customer feedback, the Sustaining Engineering function can also help the mainstream development teams with improving the testing of the product, i.e. focusing on the clusters of bugs.
So, Sustaining Engineering is a progression of support management that incorporates product improvement based on customer feedback.
So, what are the benefits brought by evolving the support function to Sustaining Engineering?
- Another way to compare Support Management and Sustaining Engineering is that Support Management is more reactive, dealing with bugs and occasional escalations when critical issues are identified in production. Sustaining Engineering also incorporates a more long-term, proactive approach leading to the overall product stability and customer satisfaction.
- As seen previously, the benefits centre around customer feedback and product improvements. The customer will receive product improvements based on their feedback while also having the comfort of a dedicated team of specialists supporting and improving the product.
- From Ammeon’s perspective, it provides a platform to build trust and to provide a reliable and valuable service to the customer. In the long term, it strengthens its position to build up a strong customer base.
Sustaining Engineering and the importance of scaling
However, the other long-term value is that Sustaining Engineering becomes an enabler for scalability.
You can re-use proven processes and tools, for example, bug tracking using tools like jira, leveraging the use of metrics, ways of working and other associated processes such as on-call support. Ultimately, the customer benefits from your experience and your people.
The organisation’s structure is also an important factor to consider. It gives you the ability to manage multiple sustaining projects under the same management structure, to serve multiple customers. Setting new teams under the sustaining umbrella where there is a large degree of re-usable leads to speed setup time, learning from past failures and experiences, applying the agile inspect and adapt principles.
How to get a stable Sustaining Engineering function that scales?
Typically, the terms support, maintenance, and sustaining are not associated with the exciting part of the project which is challenging when it comes to attracting and retaining talents. You will have put a lot of effort into building strong, capable and knowledgeable teams. One of the key attributes associated with strong performing teams is the sense of family, pride in the work delivered, strong awareness of the sense of urgency with customer issues and ability to communicate effectively internally and with the Customer.
A team that helps each other and backs each other up, will not only help retention knowing they make a difference, but will obviously benefit the customer with a strong dedicated team supporting them, addressing technical debt and improving the product, leading to better customer satisfaction.
In conclusion, the progression from Support Management to Sustaining Engineering incorporates Customer Feedback which becomes an enabler for scalability. It benefits our customers by providing a long term approach to software product maintenance focused on overall product quality and stability
At Ammeon, we listen to our customers. With our experience and expertise, we believe our Sustaining Engineering teams can help any company scale efficiently and effectively.
Sustaining Manager | Ammeon