I know, I know. It seems like critical issues are pretty obvious. The site is down: critical. Users are losing all their data: critical. Users get intermittent errors when importing their data: …critical? Non-critical?

Things get especially complicated when you start factoring in other departments. Engineering doesn’t like to be bothered with things they don’t find critical, so you can’t be too liberal with your definition. But PR might think a hacker attack, even if it didn’t do any damage, is something that needs full attention. Going back to the example of the data importing, Sales would be pretty upset if they lost a major customer because the customer couldn’t import data. Everyone’s definition varies.

During the heat of an issue is really not the time to define what’s critical. You need to do so in advance.

Marssy Benitez, former Support Operations Manager at Flickr, is speaking this very week at UserConf NYC on this very topic. Her secret weapon? The Matrix.

No, not the crazy movie with Keanu Reeves that had a weird sequel with a rave scene that didn’t make much sense. A matrix of critical issues:

critical issue matrix

To build this matrix, Marssy sat down with every department in the company and mapped out which situations were critical for each. The resulting matrix tells you how to determine (and reproduce) a critical issue, what priority it is, and whom to contact about it. The contact links even spawn handy pre-addressed and pre-formatted emails.

automatic email

Thanks to Marssy we’re sharing a copy of her matrix for your use below. Feel free to download it and make it yours!

(We recommend Google Docs, as it allows you to generate body text when clicking the email links.)

This will take some time, but once it’s done you’ll have an incredibly useful document which will save you a lot of pain and suffering when you really do run into a potential critical issue!

Broken glass image courtesy of Nesster.