Written originally for HDI's SupportWorld (ThinkHDI.com) and complementing our micro-learning course, this series of articles discusses the two alternative approaches that can be taken - nurtured principles v. systemised success through the TOFT service system...

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2: Operational shortcomings cause many issues that mean teams must \"be attentive\"

Service ticket backlog is the result not so much of being busy, but of operational shortcomings which represent gaps in standard practice, including particularly weak prioritization and teamwork.

Service tool utilization can fill all of the gaps so that teams are guided to reliably meet needs and expectations. Alternatively, good practice principles might be continously nurtured in order to bring out desirable attitudes and behaviors.

The principled approach cannot get very far without some degree of practice advancement, however, because IT support is complex. Teams must have good information, surfaced by good processes, to make sense of the complexity.

Without improvement, at least through teams applying good practice principles, standard practice shortcomings cause many common operational issues. Twelve of the issues affect the thing that makes service recipients happy - promptness - centred largely on ineffective prioritization and teamwork. They are:

  • Inefficient, vulnerable ticket queue silos.
  • Lack of collaboration and teamwork.
  • Expectations management.
  • First contact resolution capability.
  • Service Desks must be "high velocity", but flow of activity (performance) is sometimes weak or unsteady.
  • Activity prioritization - the question of "what next?"
  • Backlog control and ticket abandonment.
  • Premature ticket closure (after abandonment).
  • Weak “exception management” capability.
  • Customer updates are sometimes not seen or quickly responded to.
  • Missed appointments and failure to meet commitments.
  • Ticket assignment mistakes made by service desk inductees.

In total, there are 21 common operational issues affecting IT support service management.


The conclusion that IT support is difficult to do well becomes even stronger when looking closely at the inherent complexity as illustrated above. Not only must many various support needs must be handled each day by staff with different levels of knowledge and experience, a multitude of inputs must be balanced and checked to produce just one output and one outcome.


First, some context: IT organizations who are not busy or stretched will find it easy to keep support workload in check. Basic approaches will work just fine.

But most sizeable IT organizations are usually busy. Team members naturally get caught-up in the "here and now" of competing work demands for much of the day.

For a frontline service desk, the “here and now” is first-response activity, spent on the phone and plowing through other new tickets and interactions, plus all the other inputs that add to what must be done straight away, or as soon as possible, shown in the ITSSM Complexity illustration.

The difficulty that support teams have is that many service tickets are not completed straight away, in the here and now, so time must be found to return to ageing tickets before too long. When busy, being unguided due to process shortcomings makes this difficult to do well.

Examples of process shortcomings, i.e. practice gaps, are:

  • "On-hold" tickets naturally take the lowest of priority, making abandonment more likely.
  • IT organizations do not often implement progression automation for tickets that are “with user” for their response.
  • “Progression triggers” such as user updates, and chase escalations, often fail to trigger progression, leaving requesters feeling ignored.
  • Large ticket queues make it difficult to know how to prioritize one ticket ahead of another, especially when SLA’s have breached, and many tickets are on hold.
  • When a colleague is not available to provide support, their tickets might not be covered.

The thing that is missing is focus - focus on the various inputs when needed. To be attentive is to focus on all the things that need to be done. Ideally, attentive service from a team will abridge ticket ownership silos because a support team’s purpose is to meet recipient needs and expectations, period. “Control-by-role” can help enormously to this end.

Written by:

David Stewart


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Original article was published for the Help Desk Institute (ThinkHDI.com)