Why we don't use a trouble ticketing system

August 26, 2011

In an aside in this entry I mentioned that we don't use a trouble ticketing system here, and a commentator asked the obvious question of why not. The short answer is that we don't think moving from our current approach to a trouble ticketing system would be useful enough to justify the amount of extra work and annoyance it would take.

For the long answer, I am going to make up a hierarchy of approaches to tracking your work, especially the work that people ask you to do:

  • level 0: people make direct contact with individual sysadmins and everyone is working more or less independently. If a sysadmin isn't available, most things they were working on get dropped or put on hold.

  • level 1: you have a central mailing list or other point for all email with people; they send email to the mailing list to ask you for things and sysadmins copy their replies to the mailing list.

  • level 2: you have an actual trouble ticketing system with automation, a website, status summaries for tickets, reporting, and all of that.

Moving from level 0 to level 1 is a big deal. It changes your work life in a very positive way; it means that everyone can stay informed about what's going on and any sysadmin can pick up some particular task from another sysadmin. A level 1 system is not perfect for the same reason that our old account request system was not perfect; reconstructing the state of any particular request can take trawling through your email archive in order to find all of the messages, and it's hard to get an overview of all of the open requests.

Moving from level 1 to level 2 has benefits but in many environments it's less of a sea change than moving from level 0 to level 1, and it comes with overhead; an actual trouble ticketing system is a form of bureaucracy and dealing with it is invariably more work than sending a quick freeform email message. My feeling is that a level 2 system is justified when you have enough request volume that you need it to keep track of things. I can think of two warning signs of this; first, when individual sysadmins start ignoring most of the mail from the central mailing list in order to survive the volume, and second, when you frequently have more pending requests than you have sysadmins (then a ticketing system helps you to easily find the next thing to work on).

(Your manager may also demand a trouble ticketing system in order to make it convenient to generate various metrics.)

Right now, we have a level 1 one style system with a central mailing list and a relatively low request volume. So for us, moving to a ticketing system would add bureaucracy (and another software system to run) without having particularly compelling benefits; we simply aren't active enough to make it a necessity instead of something to play with.

Written on 26 August 2011.
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Last modified: Fri Aug 26 16:11:10 2011
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