The problem with problem tracking: Page 2

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"We went into production after only two months," Barnett says, "but that [timeframe] was driven by business requirements. I'd have stretched it a few months longer and put more research and thought into the rollout." What he discovered was his company's processes didn't necessarily map to the ones contemplated by the product. The "one-issue, one-person" paradigm simply didn't fit the Lexmark business model, and neither did the Web-page notification scheme. Barnett redesigned the e-mail interface to run as an outside process, and he's still working on a group-based workflow approach.

Some degree of customization is inevitable, so plan for it. If you expect to "install and go" out of the box, you will be disappointed.
Barnett's experience is more the rule than the exception. A packaged product cannot, as a practical matter, accommodate the wide variety of ways and means in which companies manage their development processes, not to mention the technical landscape in which it's installed. Some degree of customization is inevitable, so plan for it. If you expect to "install and go" out of the box, you will be disappointed.

The results

For Barnett, the good news about buying TeamTrack and investing in the customization is that it was worth the effort. "We have enjoyed significant positive impacts from the new system," he notes. "The file attachments capability fixed a time-lag problem by getting failing test cases into the hands of the developers. Previously, we had to describe where the test case lived and how to get to it, and we lost a lot of time because of this."

Reporting and analysis have also been enhanced. Instead of exporting the data into spreadsheets and creating their own charts and graphs, the new system provides users with built-in reports as well as enhanced spreadsheet interfaces. Search times are dramatically reduced with a relational database, and Barnett expects to see a reduced client-support workload, since the new system uses HTML/Javascript instead of X-Windows, which is harder to support.

The light at the end of Barnett's tunnel is when he completes the training for about 30 administrators in the weeks ahead so they can begin to determine their own area's destiny. At that point, he can transfer daily administration of the system to administrators and concentrate on server support, maintenance, and policy.

The lessons

As Barnett's experience proves, acquiring a packaged product for issue and problem management is a smart move, but not a free ride. You'll probably save time by keeping the old system patched and glued together while you spend time gathering requirements and finding a product that meets your company's needs. Then you will still have to incorporate the nuances that make your company's internal processes unique.

So while the IT department may never be free of maintaining and supporting an issue- and problem-tracking system, daily administration can be given to the project groups, which accomplishes the ultimate goal: to put project groups in control of their own destiny. And, of course, you will also reap the benefits of improving your processes. //

Linda Hayes is CEO of WorkSoft Inc. She was one of the founders of AutoTester. She can be reached at linda@worksoft.com.

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