Ticket Non-Ownership: Reflections

After doing some ruminating here as well as the discussion over on UserCentered, I decided to iterate a little on the idea of Ticket Ownership with my squad over at Automattic.

For the month of April, we eschewed  all ownership of our incoming support requests. What does this mean, exactly? Traditionally, our approach is this: the first Happiness Engineer to respond to a customer then replied to that customer each time they supplied more answers or information, until the issue was resolved. This past month, rather than seeing tickets as being owned by an individual, we owned our entire queue of tickets as a team – focusing not on ownership, but rather replying to the tickets strictly in terms of wait time – whichever customer waited the longest got the next reply, regardless of who had interacted with them in the past. Another way to look at this is this: we were evenly distributing the wait time across tickets, which is reminiscent of line balancing, a method of improving capacity use in production settings.

As April came to a close, I spent some time talking with the rest of my squad, seeing how they felt about the whole idea, if they wanted to continue, and what they saw as the upsides and downsides of this sort of non-ownership. Here are the two big advantages that non-ownership offered:

  1. It created an informal peer review: in reading through a support request’s history, you are able to see in very clear terms how other members of the squad approach different problems, as well as getting a first-hand look at their writing style, tone, and use of outside links (both to WordPress.com support documents and other tools).
  2. It allowed the Happiness Engineer team to much more quickly identify bugs when compared to full ticket ownership: this is because we were exposed to a much larger number of conversations per day, thus making patterns in customer reports much easier to spot than a traditional ticket ownership system, where it is much easier to write off a customer’s problem as misuse or misunderstanding rather than as a broader systemic bug. You can imagine if a Happiness Engineer replies to one customer 6 times regarding a potential bug, it will be cognitively less obvious as a problematic pattern than if the same Happiness Engineer replies to 6 customers a single time each.

And the negatives:

  1. Each particular support request felt less personally involved, and less personally invested, and at least from the Happiness side, thus felt less hospitable.
  2. Working on a request that someone else had already replied to felt more time consuming, as the Happiness Engineer had to re-do the legwork of researching the customer’s site, background information, etc.
  3. Highly time sensitive replies are answered at the same pace as other tickets, since the wait time load is evenly distributed.

Moving forward, we’re hoping to find a way to embrace the advantages while removing or reducing the negatives.

P.S. Does this sound fun to you? Does working on a small team providing hospitality to an enormous userbase seem like a worthwhile pursuit? Would you be able to restrain from strangling a Squad Lead who pulled this kind of experimentation on you? Good news – we’re hiring.


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