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Problem Management Techniques

Perhaps one of the most underused yet powerful processes from ITIL is Problem Management. Many people recognize the importance of Problem Management, especially in relationship to Incident Management. Yet when I ask students if they have implemented a Problem Management process the response is often “We plan to...” or “We started but did not get too far…” or “Not yet.” So what is keeping companies and individuals from using Problem Management to its full effectiveness? I propose that some of the reason is fear, uncertainty and doubt about how to go about “doing” Problem Management.

By understanding that the Problem Management process has a number of techniques and tools available to help a service provider indentify root cause and recommend permanent resolution we may be able to remove some of the fear, uncertainty and doubt.
What are some of the techniques and how could we apply them? Let’s take a brief look and see what we can uncover.
  • Chronological Analysis: This time based approach lets us look at the order of events to help identify a chain of cause and effect. It is particularly helpful when looking at potential problems that have developed slowly over a period, yet have distinct symptoms.
  • Pain Value Analysis: This technique helps us narrow in on particular impacts that result from incidents and events that are troublesome for the business. It allows us to separate and prioritize items when we are facing a number of problems simultaneously.
  • Brainstorming: This collaborative method allows a number of subject matter experts and knowledgeable individuals to come together to share prospective ideas about the cause of a problem. This permits us to have many eyes and minds seeing a problem from different perspectives, thus broadening our problem solving capabilities.
  • Kepner-Tregoe Problem Solving Method: This well known method provides a formal approach and set of steps for identifying root cause, recommending a solution and implementing the solution. When formality and structure is needed—e.g. a major problem or large impact—this method would prove particularly useful.
  • Ishikawa Diagram (Fishbone): This visual technique allows the service provider to frame a question and develop possible causes using a structured, categorized approach. The technique is one of the most powerful and really is hard to do in an incorrect manner. This might be a good starting point for some of the other techniques.
  • Pareto Analysis: This prioritization helps the service provider focus in on the problems with the greatest impact. Based on the idea that 80% of incidents result from 20% of the problem causes, the method allows tackling problems in the order of greatest return. When coupled with the Ishikawa diagram it can be a very powerful tool. 
These Problem Management techniques provide us with a toolkit for identifying root cause and then determining an appropriate recommended permanent resolution. They seem difficult and complex to use but in reality they are each a straightforward method. The struggle may come when determining in which circumstance to apply which technique. Although I mentioned briefly some possible uses, these methods can be used in a variety of circumstances and with any number of problem types.

The success of Problem Management comes from taking the time to execute the process and use some or all of the techniques provided. Making time for Problem Management may detract from time spent resolving Incidents. The irony is that if you do not make the time for Problem Management you will only ever have time for Incident Management, which can consume large amounts of resources. Problem Management is not as resource hungry, but it requires special devotion and attention to see it succeed.


Marquito said…
Thank you. Wonderful article! Please keep them coming.
Doug Smith said…
It's useful to realize that some problems can't be solved but only managed. Some of the tools are the same, but the outcome (and expectations) must be adjusted.
Its a really helpful and really impressive article.

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