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Calculating Incident Priorities

Updated: Apr 25

Defining Priorities & Response Times

When an incident comes in, we need to know how to prioritise it amongst all the other pieces of work vying for our limited time.

So, we need to articulate how we sort the incidents into priorities. What's the most urgent thing to work on next?

Calculating Incident Priorities Using An Impact & Urgency Matrix

Calculating Incident Priorities for a Help Desk

Incident management is a cornerstone of efficient and effective help desk operations. However, one of the most crucial aspects of this process is determining the priority of incidents.

Knowing how to prioritise incoming tickets allows help desks to allocate resources wisely, ensuring timely resolution and customer satisfaction.

Defining Priorities & Response Times

When an incident arises, it enters a queue alongside other tasks that the help desk team must tackle.

Given the constraints on time and manpower, it becomes essential to have a structured method of categorising these incidents.

Articulating how you sort incidents into priorities is pivotal for determining what tasks need immediate attention and what can wait.

Importance of Setting Achievable Targets

Knowing your team's capabilities is imperative before setting up any priority system or Service Level Agreement (SLA).

Benchmarking your performance metrics provides a realistic foundation for building your incident priority framework. Failing to do so may result in overly ambitious goals that are unachievable and can lead to customer dissatisfaction and internal stress.

The Impact & Urgency Matrix

The Impact & Urgency Matrix is an invaluable tool that marries two variables, impact and urgency, to determine an incident's priority. Here's a more detailed look:

  • Impact: This pertains to the extent of the problem. Is it affecting a single user, multiple users, or perhaps the entire organisation?

  • Urgency: This relates to how quickly the issue needs resolution. Is it a minor inconvenience, a major disruption, or a complete showstopper?

By plotting these two factors against each other, you create a grid to guide the priority assignment.

Low (a single user)

​Medium (a number of users)

High (all service users)

Low (inconvenient)




Medium (disruptive but can be worked around)




​High (cannot be worked around)




Response & Resolution Times

Once the priority is calculated, the next step is to assign appropriate response and resolution times.


Response Time

Target Resolution Time

1 – Critical

15 min

1 Hour

2 - High

1 Hour

4 Hour

3 - Medium

3 Hour

8 Hour

4 - Low

8 Hour

24 Hour

5 - Lowest

24 Hour

72 Hour

The Importance of Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Reporting

Though touched upon briefly, it's worth mentioning that Service Level Agreements should not be overlooked.

These legally binding contracts specify the level of service a client can expect and serve as a standard measure for performance.

Coupled with robust reporting mechanisms, SLAs offer transparency and can help identify areas for improvement in the help desk operations.


Calculating incident priorities is an integral part of a well-functioning help desk.

Adopting an Impact and urgency matrix, coupled with a well-defined response and resolution times, can create a streamlined process that benefits both the team and the end-users.

Remember, knowing your capabilities and setting realistic targets are the first steps towards efficient incident management.


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