Priority Rationing for Help Desk Ticketing Systems

How many users do you have that submit any and every help ticket as the highest possible priority? You’ll log into your help desk system and see tickets like the following:

  • “My computer is slow!” – Priority: Emergency
  • “Monitor is dirty.” – Priority: The Fate of the Universe Hangs in the Balance
  • “Chair Squeaks” – Priority: NEVERENDING DOOM IMMINENT!!


I think I may have come up with a way to facilitate the education of users about the proper use of the help desk so that the ticket queue can be tamed without manually re-assigning ticket priorities. My idea: create a limit on how many tickets of each severity level that a user can create during a certain time period.

It started when Michael “errr_” Rice lamented  on Twitter about this common problem. Apparently he had just been looking at some unnecessarily elevated tickets in his SpiceWorks help desk page. I responded somewhat tounge-in-cheek: “@errr_ Ticketing systems should have a limit on how many severity levels each user is rationed per month” A few other tweeters were intrigued by the possibility, namely @JosephKern and @obfuscurity (Jason Dixon of OmniTI).

I hadn’t expected that much support for the idea and before I knew it I was pestering @dluxem (Doug Luxem) fellow blogger and creator of the open-source Liberium Help Desk system. He expressed interest and said there was a possibility for that feature to be included in future versions of Liberium.

But my pester-fest wasn’t done. I took it to @SpiceWorks who told me that while SpiceWorks doesn’t have the ability to ration severity levels at the moment, I could create a request for that feature at their feature request center. I did and you can check it out here or click my link because I like looking at numbers:

Let’s look at this “Severity Rationing” feature a little more closely. First, I admit that this is reacting to a symptom and not solving the root cause. The root cause is that people tend to view any problem that affects them as being more important than what it really is (a tendency that seemingly strikes SysAdmins particularly hard, so yes, this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black).

The symptom that this suggested feature attempts to control is that people habitually elevate each and every ticket to the highest possible level.

The true solution would be for each individual to accurately prioritize their tickets. The idealist cure would be for IT to explain that a dirty monitor is not a DEFCON 1 priority, and that it appears to be crying wolf when ticket priority is inflated.

(Side note: SysAdmins also need to improve in this scenario by viewing the problem from a user’s perspective. Sometimes, failed conditional formatting in a spreadsheet really is DEFCON 1 material. Importance is not determined by what the thing is that fails as much as what the result is of its failure. Let me repeat that. The importance of a failure is not ever determined by the thing itself, but only and always by the current and future results of that failure. Excel not working can indeed be a show stopping priority.)

However, sometimes that idyllic scenario needs a little push. That is where ticket rationing comes in. I believe that it could be a useful aid in user education if each user was given a finite amount of times in a given time period that they could submit the various priority levels that are available in the help desk software.

Yes, SysAdmins can merely reprioritize tickets on an as-needed basis. I believe that is unhelpful because it causes the SysAdmins or help desk staff to be less mindful of seeing high priority tickets and too accustomed to making value judgments about a user’s problems. Furthermore, you may have special alerts sent out (SMS, emails) that only trigger for emergency priorities which can be bothersome.

Again, this is a band-aid on a greater problem. What do you think? Do you like the idea of ticket rationing? Do you think it’s a step in the right direction or barking up the wrong tree? Either way, leave a comment and go to my SpiceWorks feature request and vote it up or down as your conscience dictates!

Also, you may want to ask for that feature in your favorite ticketing system. If you don’t like the idea or have some concerns, show me where I’m wrong. Maybe we can figure out a better solution.

(Comments disabled due to excessive spam. If you want to explore this topic more, contact me through the form linked to at the top of this blog.)

One Comment

  1. Suchmaschine

    October 26, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also.
    Keep working ,great job!

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