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.

Comments on this page:

From at 2011-08-26 17:16:24:

Thanks for the comprehensive answer. :^) If what you're doing works for you, that's awesome. Our trouble ticket system works for us for a number of the reasons you said you didn't use one. We do have quite a few tickets, etc.

A couple things to point out though. With our system you can use email or a web interface. You can open a ticket by sending in an email and do just about everything via that mode. It's really great as a form of documentation as well for when you're trying to remember how you fixed that thing that one time.

It also works as a work flow so you pass it from desktop support, to engineering then on to networking or whatever.

It also sends me a report at the end of each week with things that count as billable time so I can track the time. There are a bunch of other nice things about it, just thought I'd point out a few. If you try one you just might find that you like it more than it costs in effort. :^)

Just thought I'd chime in. Thanks.


From at 2011-08-26 18:43:34:

I think there’s another point to be made.

Moving from level 0 to level 1 is a big difference for staff. Moving to level 2 isn’t small either but comes with some cost.

For users, however, it’s the other way around – moving from level 0 to level 1 comes at some cost and not that much of an upside. Moving to level 2, however, comes with a big upside: users get a way to stay informed about the little slice of the job that they happen to have a momentary interest in; they can easily track the status of their own requests without exposure to the full noise level.

Then unlike going from level 0 to level 1, the ones who benefit from going from level 1 to level 2 are not the ones who can/have to do it.

Aristotle Pagaltzis

From at 2011-08-27 15:09:31:

Our environment has a very heavy mix of all three levels, sometimes from the same requestor depending on which of their "IT contacts" are in the office, who they believe will solve their problem, alignment of the stars...etc.. I'm trying to understand, what is the role of the sysadmin in guiding the problem from one level to the next, from a personal request to the mailing list to the trouble ticket.

By cks at 2011-08-29 11:10:21:

There is no good, easy way to move from a level 0 system to a level 1 system, because it involves changing user behavior. If you can't nudge people, eventually you have to just stop taking problem reports in any other way than 'email to the official address'. Moving from a level 1 system to a level 2 system should be easy if your level 2 system accepts email (which it should); you just pipe your previous official email address into the trouble ticket system.

(You will probably always have to take some problem reports in person, like 'I can't get access to the network'. Doing otherwise leads to Dilbert cartoons.)

Written on 26 August 2011.
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