Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Do you rely on statistical reports and help desk tickets to review your department, or do you look into the ongoing story of support to gauge your sucess?

Call tickets are raised so that, after the event, it is possible to see where all the effort of the support team has been used. So why does the biggest failure get the same number of events logged to the system as a forgotten password?


Everytime somebody calls the help desk, we raise a ticket. At the end of the month the managers sit down and count how many tickets have been raised and how long we spent fixing them.

It has been the practice of the teams that I have worked with to log multiple calls caused by a single failure on one ticket, because to raise an individual ticket every time a user rang to ask why the network is down would take more time than we have to use.

This seems a sensible thing to do, but at the end of the month, unless the managers responsible look into each occurrence, an event that may have caused the whole department to work furiously all afternoon would carry the same weight as a forgotten password or a faulty mouse.

One of the problems we face is the increasing incidence of line managers being remote from the operation. All the evidence they have to work with is based on the reports they take off the logging system, but the spreadsheet does not show how the logs affected the system. Reporting total downtime, number of password resets, and total number of tickets raised may give only a partial picture of what has occurred on the system. It might take a written report from the help desk team leader to give a narrative to the events of the week.

On a ship, the captain keeps a log of the day-to-day running of the vessel, noting everything from the number of sick and injured to the distance traveled, the amount of fuel used, and the number of other vessels sighted. In the event of an inquiry, it helps to recall any information that might at the time seem trivial but turn out to be helpful later.

I advocate keeping a help desk log that records such information as who is at work, how many calls were taken, and what, if any, unusual events took place. This log can form part of the monthly reports and put some flesh on the bones of the normal reports that are generated purely from statistics. Whenever you are assembling reports from stats and making decisions from them, you should remember the famous line said to originate from either Benjamin Disraeli or Mark Twain:

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

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