Tips from Problem Management

16 Tips For Getting Started With Problem Management – Part 1

I wanted to write a blog on how to get started with problem management to complement my previous blogs on getting started with incident management:

Then it dawned on me, getting started with problem management isn’t necessarily the issue for many corporate IT organizations – the real issue is often maintaining problem management or getting it right. However I guess that this still might be the result of not starting problem management in an optimal way.

Success levels can be clouded though, in that many IT organizations say that they do problem management (it’s usually two-thirds of respondents in industry surveys) when all they are actually doing is conducting post mortems after major incidents. So they are not necessarily undertaking – that’s investing time and resource into – systematic or proactive problem management.

A quick reminder of what problem management is

We love our process definitions in IT and IT service management (ITSM), so it’s worth me reminding you of the ITIL – the ITSM best practice framework – definition of problem management: 

“The process responsible for managing the lifecycle of all problems. Problem management proactively prevents incidents from happening and minimizes the impact of incidents that cannot be prevented.”

Where a problem is defined as: 

“A cause of one or more incidents. The cause is not usually known at the time a problem record is created, and the problem management process is responsible for further investigation.”
Source: AXELOS TIL Glossary 

Two other pertinent problem management definitions are:

  • Proactive which analyzes incident trends to try and identify problems that might otherwise be missed.
  • Reactive which identifies the root causes of problems, creates workarounds to reduce the impact, and initiates changes to permanently resolve problems.

So onto my first eight tips for getting started with problem management

  1. It sounds simple, but please ensure that you fully understand what problem management is. It’s not as straight forward as you might think … Rob England – the IT Skeptic – opened up an interesting can of worms in one of his 2014 blogs: ITSM incident and problem: two names for three things.
  2. Make time for it. You, or someone else, will need to step back from the service desk and incident management, i.e. step back from the fire-fighting, to focus on problems over incidents. IT support’s attention is often so focused on incident resolution that it’s in a perpetual state of “bailing water out of an overflowing bath” rather than looking to “turn off the taps.”
  3. Depending on your level of resourcing, it might be appropriate to initially bring in an experienced ITSM contractor, just until problem management activities are fully established and proven to be successful (and hopefully such that further internal investment can be justified).
  4. Start small, stay focused, and communicate successes. Ideally resources should be focused on a small, prioritized set of initial problems; with problem management activity ramped up as successes are achieved.
  5. Use a “Top 5″ problem report each month and really focus on these five problems. This report is based on the analysis of incident trends, and simply identifies the five problems that have had the biggest negative impact on the business each month.
  6. Recognize that it doesn’t have to be expensive. You don’t have to start with a team of problem managers and an expensive ITSM or problem management tool. Just start with: a desire to reduce IT downtime (and its adverse effect on business operations) and to improve IT service delivery, and a method to identify and address problems.
  7. Try not to stagnate after starting small. Plan your next steps before you start, if you don’t it’s easy not to grow. Not building on your small beginnings might mean that you are just seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of how problem management can help your organization.
  8. Ensure that you view problem management as an end-to-end operation. There’s little point in spending countless man (or woman) hours analyzing incident records and other sources to identify problems if all you end up with is a long list of problems and no solutions.

Is that all?

No, but start giving some thought to these first eight tips, and next week I’ll bring you eight more.

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Posted by Joe the IT Guy

Joe the IT Guy
Joe the IT Guy

Native New Yorker. Loves everything IT-related (and hugs). Passionate blogger and Twitter addict. Oh...and resident IT Guy at SysAid Technologies (almost forgot the day job!).

3 thoughts on “16 Tips For Getting Started With Problem Management – Part 1”

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