Saturday, November 25, 2017

Ticket debt - why ticket systems are bad!

Ticket systems are an easy way to organize your work - yet potentially, the most damaging one as well!

What  could be so dangerous about a ticket system, the quick and easy helper tool which has found its way into almost every organization already?

Creating tickets is easy

The better the ticket system, the less effort is required to create a ticket. Some are actually as easy as "New --> (type some text) --> Save" and there you go, that's your ticket.
And this is actually the biggest problem. Let's explore why.

A ticket is an IOU

Let's look really close what a ticket is. It is a description of some work that needs to be done. It's undone work. By documenting this work in a ticket, we create a future promise that this work will get done at some point down the line.
Let's take a small real world example: "Send product offer to Tim Bobbins". That job might just take two minutes to do, or it might take longer (depending on whether Tim gets a standard document or a custom offer). In any case, by opening a ticket, we force our future self to promise to our current self that Tim will get his offer. In complete disregard what our future self will have to do later on, we sign an IOU for some work.

Tickets are a debt

Now that we realize that a ticket is nothing more than an IOU, we realize that we're actually creating some form of debt with each ticket we open. It's really work debt.
Now, just like in the finance world, there is no problem if we take some debt contract that allows us to move freely now while paying off easy rates in the future.
Unfortunately, this analogy hinges on a dangerous assumption: Inflation and business propagation allow us to earn more money with less effort in the future, so 100k Now-Dollars are a burden equal to maybe 80k Future-Dollars.
The working world behaves differently: The time we have at our disposal to do work does not grow or expand, especially not in the short term!
A 24-hour Now-day is equal to a 24-hour Future-day, so the best amount of interest you can afford to make tickets a good deal is zero.

Tickets have a real interest rate

When we borrow from the bank, we usually pay interest on our loan - we service our debt. This service pays for the bank's expenses and compensates inflation. We are fine with any amount of interest rate where our Future-Dollars are still worth less than our Now-Dollars.
Let's return to the discussion of ticket debt, then. Just like in the bank, tickets have some kind of administrative effort. Starting with the (short) time of creating the ticket, we need to administer it, we need to look at it when we work it off, and at some point we 'll to close it.
Depending on how the ticket looks like, the administration and consideration of its message may happen multiple times. Each of these times, we're not doing work, we're servicing ticket debt!

And depending on how your organization has set up your ticket process, this service can take a whole bunch of time - potentially even more than the real work to be done in the context of the ticket!

Ticket debt kills

Once we realize that there is an interest rate associated to tickets, we can look at the effect of this interest.

Here is an example of deadly ticket debt:

As long as there is still flow and the amount of tickets that get serviced equals or exceeds, there's not much of an issue - but when this trend flips and there's more tickets in need of servicing than those getting serviced, the following happens:

1 - Tickets pile up

When you get a bill from your bank, it's usually not much of a hassle, but when you get hundreds, it actually does become a hassle. And we're not only talking about the work of servicing each one, but also about the amount of work invested into keeping track of what still needs to be done. All of a sudden, extra efforts start to be required into managing the pile: Prioritizing, sorting, stashing, deferring, reorganizing - just to name a few.

2 - Ticket debt reduces ROI

Like financial interest, the amount of service interest has no contribution to actual debt reduction. Once you get into a condition where ticket debt grows faster than you can reduce it, the amount of work sunk into service interest can quickly exceed the amount of work sunk into debt reduction.
The increased service interest, especially when coupled to the limited amount of work available means that the ROI of tickets decreases with each additional ticket in the ticket pile - to the point where you may no longer be creating any value!

3 - Ticket debt reduces Value

Let's quickly return to our initial example: If Tim doesn't get his offer in 2 or 3 days, he may no longer remember the conversation and the great deal he's up for. Worse yet, he might have found another vendor in the meantime. By the time your Future Self is getting around to send Tim an offer, Tim may no longer be interested in buying anything at all. The value of the ticket decreases with each day.
Of course, this also means that when you're creating tickets to be served months down the line, you're considering Now-Value, but get Future-Value.


Take some time and look at how, where and why you use tickets in your organization. If you suffer from ticket debt, take a good look on how to reduce the amount of tickets you juggle in order to reduce the ticket debt you're servicing.

There's also a chapter on ticket systems in my book, "Extreme Agility".

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