The principle of triage is the same whether you work in a hospital emergency room or office typing pool: Make sure that the most critical cases are dealt with first, and either take longer or use alternative methods for dealing with less-critical cases.

Via SixSigma:

Example of Triage in an IT Department

The IT department in one company was overloaded with work requests ranging from installing new software to updating virus definitions and fixing email connections. On average, it was taking them more than six working days to respond to requests.

To deal with the situation, they began sorting the requests into three categories:

Class 1 – Emergency: Computer lost or stolen, computer won’t boot up, user cannot get to mail servers.

Class 2 – Intermittent problems: Windows locking up frequently (more than two times per day), Microsoft Office/other applications won’t open (more than one application), cannot use port features (more than one port disrupted).

Class 3 – Software/hardware additions/changes, wish list items: Software/hardware requests/installs, computer swaps (due to lease end, for example), software preference changes.

Each day, the IT staff would sort requests submitted the previous day, except for Class 1 requests which were dealt with as soon as possible. The staff would address remaining Class 1 problems first before moving on to Class 2, and then on to Class 3. The department even set up an online tracking tool that let everyone see where their requests stood “in queue.” The result of this simple system is that the average cycle time for repair completion dropped to just over one day.