18 August 2010

ticket system as anti-pattern

what drives a company or business unit to install a ticket system? to be sure, there are benefits to be recognized from the use of a system to track work items. similar to a backlog, a ticket system prevents ideas or requirements from escaping the established business process. it offers a means of examining the history of work through trending analysis, or just aggregating the thoughts of numerous individuals.

so why is it that ticket systems are often such a pain in my ass? the answer lies in the ridiculous behavior teams or organizations often apply to their use. based on personal experience, most often ticket systems introduce barriers between communities, encouraging delay and disconnection. further, they are almost always used to enforce a metric of time-to-resolution, without regard to any concept of value provided. a necessary consequence of such thinking is the optimization of the "delivery" of bad software or service.

let's consider a recent example. in my team room, we have a wonderful multi-function device (MFD) that i wanted to map as my default printer. it is ten feet from my usual desk. (i won't get into why i have a usual desk in a team room. that's a topic for a different rant.) by convention, our printers have a pad of sheets near them, usually mounted on the wall or side of the device, that offer the details necessary to use them from windows. this printer did not have such a pad and had only a phone number to call, which was not answered.

all i needed was the network name of the printer. naturally, i called the help desk. (i know ticket systems suck, especially those that have a preface page that suggests strongly that one call the help desk because one's issue is statistically more likely to be resolved in hours rather than days.) the helper on the other end of the line gave me a ticket system (one of many) to use to submit my request. furthermore, he gave me the Topic i needed to select such that the correct "resolving agency" would answer my question: Request a new pad for printer. (i would note that this particular ticket system requires a user to select among hundreds of Topics before submitting a request. good luck if you don't know the language and domain of the appropriate resolving agency!)

navigating to the request form, i noted that the first field required the network name of the printer. i dutifully filled out and submitted the information, using "unknown" as the name, confident that i could use this printer once i returned from my week-long conference.

eleven days after i submitted my ticket, i received an email from a random woman stating that hers was not the correct resolving agency since this was an MFD and not a printer, but she would enter an appropriate ticket for me. not very long after, i received an automatic notification that the new ticket was Resolved. being the curious sort, i strolled over to the MFD to find the magic pad. no pad.

the result: i have one phone call and two tickets through three different failure demand pathways and no value to me. metrics: phone call over and done in two minutes max, one ticket done in minutes, another done in 11 calendar days. good? bad? indifferent.

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