Email support vs. Trouble Ticket

Workflow is a very personal thing no matter what job you work in. Computer software or Database support is an odd field to work in, making the workflow issue even more pressing. We adapt, we adopt whatever works to communicate the problem to someone else who will fix the problem. But often that thing that ‘seems’ to work is email and the limitations of it become omnipresent in Computer software support workflows. What’s the Metaphor Kenneth?


Each of the people on the chain had to waste time navigating the chain merely because everyone else was too lazy to summarize what had happened up to that point.


Don’t I know it! Which makes me think about what other technologies we’ve adopted for help resolve enduser problems. Prior to working at my current job at a University I never had heard of the term ‘trouble ticket’. But soon like so many corporate trends outside of the University, this one slowly infiltrated the educational enterprise, only through our telecom help desk. The level of support their helpd desk attendants were expected to fulfill meant they needed to have full logs of every call that came in, and then a running log of steps followed to remediate the problem. That way no matter who was on call, who was on vacation, the work could be assigned to ‘somebody’ and the work would get done. Endusers love guarantees that someone is responsible and will do the work to fix the problem.

Faster Forward to my poor friend @ All he gets is email forwarded from person to person, with no log other than the reply field from a previous recipient. Which is never detailed enough to determine what’s been tried and what hasn’t been tried. Oh I feel your pain. Unraveling the email mess to get to what the original problem is through email sucks no doubt. Maybe one issue is the number of intermediaries who couldn’t fix the problem? If the first point of contact had sent the email straight to Dan, he wouldn’t be sorting through any intermediate steps. But I think there’s a real problem with the workflow of how a technical problem is escalated to someone with greater knowledge, experience, expertise.

So an executive decides to impose a trouble-ticketing system to help codify that workflow, right? The rush to trouble-ticketing systems is no help for very similar reasons. It comes down to the human tendency for what is expedient. Whether it’s forwarding an email or assigning a trouble-ticket, you’re not “SOLVING” the problem. You’re merely “CONVEYING” the problem. My experience with trouble-tickets is just as bad as it is with email. People don’t assign categories, people can’t be bother with logging what they tried and failed at doing, and worse yet with the routing of the tickets you get assigned something sometimes by algorithm, not by an actual person. And unlike email you can’t simply delete it and say you never got the assignment. Those tickets are the measure of your productivity. Every manager gets the report monthly how many tickets collected, how many closed out, how many outstanding. Those outstanding tickets are the strikes  against you as a service/support person no matter what your  actual title or responsibilities are. So whether it’s email or trouble-tickets it’s the same damned problem.

I will say though that the logging inherent in a trouble-ticket system will at least give you some insitutional memory or history of a particular problem, that the email completely obfuscates. But I agree with Dan, there’s got to be a better way that doesn’t rely on the Desktop/File Cabinet metaphor. Thinking about it more, the whole metaphor seems to be geared towards ‘collecting things’. You collect new emails, you file them away. You collect new tasks in Outlook, you file them away. You download a document to your desktop, you set it in a certain spot. You go to someone else’s computer in their home, you look at their desktop and it is FILLED WITH ICONS! Desktops and Filing Cabinets are for collectors. Dan is not a collector. Dan is the one fixing the problem, so he needs a metaphor that fits better.

Author: carpetbomberz

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