Ideas Worth Spreading: Issue Tracking

2012-03-11 17:15

Real-world metaphors are quite abundant when discussing topics related to IT and programming. They seem to be particularly useful when introducing newcomers, although it’s equally easy to point out mature and established techniques that originate from non-digital world (OOP anyone?…). Regardless, the flow of ideas seems to be extremely one-directional, and I think that’s very unfortunate. There’s wealth of concepts specific to IT or software industry that the general public would benefit from knowing about.

One of those, in my not-so-humble opinion, is the idea of issue tracking. I suppose vast majority of readers is intimately familiar with it but let’s put it into words anyway, for the sake of clarity and explicitness. The concept revolves around a system which allows its users to create tickets describing various issues pertaining to some particular project, or part of it, or process, or any similar endeavor. Those tickets necessarily consist of title and content, very much like emails. Usually though, they also have few additional fields that are more meta, and describe the ticket itself. Typical examples include:

  • A type or category for ticket. In software project, the distinction between bug and feature request is of utmost importance, although several more kinds of tickets (e.g. documentation-related tasks) are pretty well known too.
  • Status of a ticket, indicating what’s currently happening with the issue in question. Did it arise only recently, or some work on it has been already done? Maybe it was successfully resolved, or maybe there are more information needed to push the case further… Either way, that’s what ticket status should tell us.
  • Person currently responsible for issue – the one it has been assigned to. For new issues, this field usually points at project manager, who is subsequently dividing work among members of their team.

Lastly, every ticket allows for discussion in a forum-like manner, and for adding comments to any metadata changes we make.

That’s it, in a nutshell. It doesn’t seem very complicated and frankly, it may not sound very innovative either. Why do I think such a concept is worthy of attention in broader context, then?…

Because, pardon the pun, it just works.

Issue trackers solve a specific problem (managing cases and incidents related to software project) but the general premise behind them is much more general. They answer a practical question: what should I do if I spot a problem? Not every single little problem, of course, but a defect in a complex system: no matter how small a problem and no matter what system we’re talking about, by the way.

Imagine you’re driving a straight road going through some secluded area and you notice a speed limit sign. It tells you to slow down significantly for no apparent reason: there is nothing ahead (or around the road) that seems to require turtling. The sign feels out of place and is just confusing, but there is nothing you can do about it. You just leave it behind and maybe slow down slightly, just in case. Before too long, you forget about the whole thing.

Result? The sign will probably stay there for years, precisely because no one really knows what to do once they encounter it.

What could be done, though?… Well, how about pulling over, grabbing your phone, taking a picture of misplaced sign and using a mobile app to create a ticket about the whole issue? “road 42 useless sign” is certainly enough to adequately describe it, along with the photo and GPS coordinates. The whole process takes like two minutes, requires hardly any effort and only one person needs to do it for the issue to not go unnoticed.

On the other side, someone from the transport department (or similar institution) gets notified and glances at your ticket. It’s hardly an emergency so it’s given low priority and generous deadline but it’s nevertheless assigned to appropriate person who should see to it being resolved. And it better is, for her job/salary/bonus/etc. depends on successfully dealing with cases such as these! And besides, if you’re really interested, you can follow what’s happening to your ticket, up until it is eventually resolved and closed.

A pleasant dream, isn’t it? ;) To implement it in reality, there would obviously be numerous obstacles – with technical difficulties of constructing and managing a huge system being the smallest of them. For a massive crowd of people using it, we would certainly need to employ some clever moderation techniques – at least at the level of StackExchange communities. But what I foresee as the biggest challenge is to intertwine this novelty with existing bureaucracy. Starting small and showing tangible results in micro scale seems to be a mandatory first step.

So, are there any brave entrepreneurs who dare to tackle the challenge I hereby lay forth? :) Because, you know, back when the word ‘disruptive’ still had a meaning, this idea would probably deserve being called like that. But if you prefer the modern wording, then ‘frighteningly ambitious‘ is equally good. In any case, I wouldn’t complain to see it happen…

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3 comments for post “Ideas Worth Spreading: Issue Tracking”.
  1. agentj:
    March 13th, 2012 o 20:53

    Usually there’s too much crap to fill in the bug tracking systems. It’s faster to just send an email then fill 1000 fields.

  2. Luke W:
    March 13th, 2012 o 21:23

    Frighteningly is the best kind of ambitious! What a huge project – but how useful it’d be. There’s a user driven issue reporting system in the UK for potholes in roads which gained enough mass that councils paid attention to it and used it themselves – perhaps it could provide some inspiration?

    All the best with the project,

    Luke W

  3. Kevin Samuel:
    June 21st, 2012 o 12:19

    Hey Xion,
    Nice post. Your example also goes to highlight the positive impact such tools can bring about. So, I invite you to try HappyFox(, a simple issue tracking software. HappyFox helps you collate incoming issues and convert them into tickets which can be assigned to the right person, thanks to its powerful automation features and an intuitive user interface. HappyFox provides options which help categorize tickets based on their priority. Features such as Smart Rules and the inbuilt reporting mechanism are other highlights of the tool. With affordable monthly pricing-plans, HappyFox is also light on your walle

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