The importance of triage practice


At Automattic we have the concept of ‘trash pickup’. The idea being you see something that is an issue, you fix that issue. It’s a powerful idea, one that over time adds up to seeing a better experience for everyone.

Living this idea for me also means focusing on every detail, even the smallest of things matters. A key part of this for me is making triaging of issues a regular practice. After all if you leave issues outstanding, isn’t that just leaving trash all over the floor?

The art of triage

In simple terms, triage is prioritising actions. Within the context of a product, it involves going through reported issues, allocating limited resources and making sure that everything gets the right attention it needs.

Triage I believe is the thing that keeps projects from going off track. A typical triage session involves going through a list of issues, typically you’d be looking for one of these actions per issue:

  1. Test issues to confirm if still exist. If they don’t you can close the issue.
  2. Give feedback. A ticket without input isn’t going to progress.
  3. If you are unable to give feedback, ask for more information: is it clear what the issue is? Do you need extra information from the reporter or supporting visual aids like screenshots?
  4. Test patches to see if they work or need refreshing.
  5. Check the severity of the issue: is it critical or can it wait?
  6. Make sure the issue has the right label, for example if it is a ‘bug’, ‘enhancement’ or ‘needs a design’.
  7. If you are comfortable on a project and those involved, notifying people on the ticket as you triage is a great way to get attention issues. A good example of this would be a project focus or someone you know is working on a particular thing.

No issue covered in a triage session should remain without an update. Every issue needs to progress at least a little after this process.

The power of triage

The obvious benefits of triage are of course that it gets issues fixed and makes sure you don’t have issues stacking up without action. Beyond reducing the noise, triage shows a project is cared for. People report issues and having them left without action for a long time, that does not show care or consideration. Stepping outside an internal project and into the community with an open source project, not actually triaging shows contributors they are not welcome.

Triage also has benefits for those doing the triage. It gives a great view of issues both historical and current. You also get to exercise important feedback and testing muscles as you respond and recreate the issues.

There is a sense of order to a project that triage brings. This order gives space for ideas, you can easily find things to focus on and also prioritise those focuses. It is easier to see critical issues when you have a healthy triage practice.

Tasting the low hanging fruit

As a designer, a huge part of this is you get to see where little, important impacts can be made. Often you will find yourself working on extended projects that are going to take a very long time to complete. Whilst the end reward is great, along the way dipping into a triage and helping with the ‘needs design’ list of things is a great way to tick off a hitch in the flow and smooth out the experience.

Daily personal triage practice

One of the key things I try and maintain is to have a daily triage practice. My own practice of this can vary depending on time available in the day, but even if it’s a couple of issues, it matters. You really get the feel of a project by keeping a daily personal triage practice. Daily you also feel like you have done something to move the project a little bit forward.

Frequently when I do triage, I find new issues as I test things. The simple act of testing is making me exposed daily to the product and seeing what is being reported. As a designer it’s a benefit as it pans out my focus from the narrow area I may be working in. It gives me a better picture of the project as a whole. Not only that, it can give me fuel for my next focus.

Triage in the WordPress community

As I work on a team focusing on work within the WordPress project, triage for me is also done there. Each week there are regular triage meetings held on Slack and if you are interested, we would love to have you join us. There is one just for designers held every Monday at 16:00 UTC in #design on WordPress Slack, you can find out how to join the WordPress Slack community here.

Public triage like this is a really good thing for a project. It is a way for people to drop in and be involved and we have seen that over the time we have been doing it. As it’s also recorded, people can read back through the chat archive and get context on issues. Seeing triage also leads others to join in, it’s amazing to see.

Outside of the weekly sessions, for someone looking to get involved, an easy initial task that can lead to triage, is to just leave feedback on tickets that need design feedback, you can learn how to do that here. Its a starter task often for contributors to get involved and a great way to begin your journey in the WordPress project.

The importance of triage

Triage for me is a constant part of my journey within Automattic and in the wider WordPress community. It continues to be really important to me as a designer, it keeps my feedback and testing muscles healthy. I would encourage every designer to at least try a regular triage practice for a short time, I am sure you will notice the benefits yourself.

By Tammie

I like poking pixels and hugging dogs.