Considering the individual roles of IT service management (ITSM) and software engineers, it seems obvious they should work closely together. ITSM tracks internal and external customer issues, and engineering fixes code-related issues (such as defects) that IT cannot fix on its own.
However, more often than not, coordination between these two departments is poor, which—critically—undermines customer response times and damages application satisfaction. It’s important to remember that the quality of customer response isn’t just about speed, it’s about giving customers insight into the state of the issue.
The disconnect between ITSM and engineers—caused by individual priorities and semantic differences—makes this real-time insight difficult. Both teams have individual and shared concerns, and separating these while simultaneously improving collaboration is a big challenge.
Addressing this relationship is an important step in optimizing ITSM and DevOps integration, alongside focusing on IT help desk enhancement requests to product management, and tracking code from build to release and back.
The Flow of Information on Things that Matter
Most of the tickets generated by the IT help desk can be handled internally with no help from engineering, but it’s the tickets that do need help that require consideration. For these issues, there needs to be an open flow of information on the things that matter between these two teams.
IT help desk must give engineering enough information to understand the defect and its impact on the customer. Meanwhile, engineering needs to be able to give the help desk a sense of when to expect the fix, when the fix is done and be able to request more information when required.
Information that should be shared from the help desk to engineering includes the following:
- Severity – Engineering needs a sense of the importance of the defect. If everything comes in as “High Priority,” nothing is high priority. The help desk must understand that engineering already has its own internally generated set of defects, as well as defects found by QA and other sources. For these customer defects to be prioritized and fixed in a timely manner, engineering needs to know how impactful they are to the customer.
- Description – This is perhaps the most important piece of information the help desk can pass along. The more contextual information that can be shared, the better. It’s immensely important to provide engineering with the necessary steps to reproduce the specific defect, which version of your tool the customer is using, the general environment, etc. Sometimes this is best in structured fields, whereas other times it’s important to simply write out everything.
- Screenshots and other visual information – Along with the written description of the problem, engineering often requires logs and/or screenshots. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Now that engineering has the vital information it needs to fix the defect, it has a responsibility to provide useful information back to the help desk:
- Planned release – This should not be a firm commitment, but rather an estimate to give the help desk general timing. While the actual date of the fix may vary, it’s still useful to be able to tell a customer,”This is coming soon” vs. “We realize this is a problem and it’s on our backlog to fix.”
- Engineering status – While this is a single defect to your customer and to them only has one status, there are really two statuses your organization will care about:
- Status of the ticket in your ITSM tool
- Status of the defect in your defect tracking/agile planning tool
It’s very important that the ITSM tool contains both statuses to provide more information and context to the help desk. Imagine the benefit of knowing that the defect is “In Triage,” “In Progress,” or “In Verification” and being able to provide that information to a customer.
- Actual release/released – As opposed to the planned release information, this lets the help desk know that the customer’s issue has been resolved. Imagine running a report from your ITSM tool indicating the defects fixed in your most recent release. Your IT help desk can proactively reach out to customers to let them know to upgrade, enabling you to offer more proactive customer communications.
Finally, and perhaps most important, you allow your teams to talk about the “same thing” even when it exists in different tools and they speak a different language. There are four core ways to do this:
- Cross tool tracking – Each artifact in each system should have the ID (and ideally URL) of its twin artifact in the other system. If a help desk representative needs to talk to an engineer about a defect, the rep needs to let engineering know which defect it is in the engineering tool, not just in the ITSM tool.
- Routing – IT help desks often support multiple products, each of which have multiple components that may belong to a different engineering team. The help desk needs some indication which component and/or team should work on the defect. This information will help the IT help desk know which team to reach out to for help.
- Filtering – Not every ticket in the ITSM tool needs engineering help (that’s a good thing). However, there should be some indication on the IT ticket if it has been sent to engineering. You do not want to send the same defect to engineering twice (confusing) or to assume it’s been sent when it hasn’t (poor time to resolution or issue overlooked).
- Communication – IT and engineering need a shared way to talk about a specific defect that they both care about. The closer this communication can be to the native commenting that already occurs, the better. Ideally this is not via email as that communication vehicle does not stay attached to the artifacts in question, meaning information can be hard to find or get lost.
Customers will love it – Improved communication means happier customers. Customers can plan their upgrades with more certainty, and their trust grows since your organization is able to deliver on its promises. No longer will they feel like their issues are being thrown into a black hole.
Better engineering focus – Engineering gets pulled in a variety of directions, contending with feature work as well as internally generated defects. The more information it has, the easier it is to prioritize and deliver more value to customer. Without the ability to share the severity of a defect, you risk two undesirable outcomes:
- The defect is fixed instead of more important work, which hurts all your other customers.
- Other less important work is prioritized, which can threaten your relationship with this customer.
Better trust across your organization – Open communication fosters trust and understanding. Providing insight into prioritization and status let’s your help desk feel part of the development process. No longer will staff feel like they’re sending problems into a black hole with no idea when they will be fixed. Enhanced cross-team communication also helps engineering to avoid feeling like work is simply being thrown over the fence. Obtaining more context around a defect is invaluable.
Next Steps for Total DevOps Integration
To fully integrate your ITSM and engineering teams, there are still (at least) two other processes to implement:
- A method for the IT help desk to provide enhancement requests to your product team: These enhancement requests are similar, but distinctly different from the defects described above. Consequently, they need to be prioritized and triaged by a different team.
- The other process to implement is the traceability from task to code to build and back again. In order to properly inform customers that their problem is fixed in this version of your product, it’s important to correlate features, stories and bug fixes with the actual version of your product that includes them for the first time.
Bridging the gap between ITSM and engineering teams brings your company closer to customers. While making your organization work as a unified whole is an incredibly complex problem, addressing this relatively small—but vital—piece of the puzzle helps you on your journey to integrating your whole software value stream. This change of mindset—combined with connecting all teams, tools, disciplines and processes in an enterprises’ software value stream— optimizes collaboration, productivity, efficiency and, most importantly, value delivered to the customer.
About the Author / Trevor Bruner
Trevor Bruner is a Product Manager for Tasktop Technologies. His background includes experience in financial services, oil and gas and as a Navy submarine officer. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.