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19 Tips for Problem Management Success in 2019

By | January 29, 2019 in ITIL

Tips for Problem Management
Okay, so you’ve finally realized that while your IT organization “does problem management,” it doesn’t really do problem management. Are you with me? If you are, then I’m writing this blog to capture as many of the most-helpful problem management tips I know will help you – my dear IT service management (ITSM) professional – to take another run at getting problem management right in your organization.

So, please keep reading for my 19 tips for problem management success in 2019.

  1. Establish a high-level owner, and champion, for problem management. Nothing new here for ITSM adoption, but it’s still a great place to start a list of problem management success tips.
  2. Understand, and be prepared to articulate, the business value of problem management. This means rising above the ITIL best-practice process (or capability), and any targeted technology issues, to see the positive business-level impact that problem management will make. Or, flipping this, the negative impact (on business operations and results) of not doing problem management.
  3. Please, please, please, ensure that everyone knows the difference between incidents and problems. (And thus incident management and problem management). You don’t have to use this (ITIL) terminology, just make sure that there’s a distinction between the two and that everyone consistently uses the terminology.
  4. As you hopefully have for other ITSM capabilities, document your problem management policy and scope. Also define key problem management roles and responsibilities. And don’t forget to regularly review everything (because circumstances change).
  5. When starting, don’t aim for problem-management perfection from the get-go. As with many things in life, it’s often better to start with something that’s “nearly there” rather than waiting (and waiting) until it’s absolutely perfect. It’s better to do something now – and to prove the value of problem management – than to simply keep talking about the future value of problem management (as you aim to get everything right before starting).
  6. Pitch problem management activities at the right (organizational) level. It’s not an admin role, for someone to push paperwork across a desk. Instead it needs to be fulfilled by someone with the capabilities and skills, and the internal reputation and respect, to bring about change. It might cost more, but think about the financial (as well as the operational) benefits problem management success will deliver to your organization.
  7. Appreciate that Problem Manager isn’t a technical position (or role). In particular, because the more-technical root cause analysis will likely be conducted by other more-technical IT staff (the subject matter experts (SMEs)). Instead Problem Mangers will be coordinating and perhaps facilitating a collective approach to problem resolution.
  8. Ensure that you have the right people involved in problem management. Not only is this the Problem Manager and any staff they might have (although you might not have any dedicated problem management staff at all). It’s also the SMEs who are pulled in to help with root cause analysis, problem resolution, and workaround creation. They should all be passionate about making a difference through the elimination, or mitigation, of problems.
  9. Don’t view problem management as a standalone ITSM process (or capability). It needs to be well-integrated with many other ITSM capabilities. For instance, incident management, change management, availability and capacity management, and continual service improvement (CSI).
  10. Understand the link between problem management and CSI. For instance, proactive problem management – which deals with the identification and resolution of problems before incidents occur – is closely associated with CSI. For me, this linkage is so important that it deserves to be stated in its own tip (and therefore is).
  11. Know the different approaches for analyzing problems. This could be a blog in itself, but here are some of the main problem-tackling approaches to consider (and remember that your people might require some form of training in these):
    • Ishikawa diagrams, a.k.a. “fishbone” or “cause and effect” diagrams
    • Fault-tree analysis
    • Pareto analysis
    • Kepner-Tregoe analysis
    • Pain value analysis
    • Chronological analysis
    • Brainstorming
    • Component failure impact analysis
    • Post-implementation and major problem reviews
  12. Create formal objectives and targets for your investment in problem management. Senior management don’t usually like to invest time and money in “good things to do” – instead, they’ll want to know the return on their investment. These objectives and targets can be both long-term and short-term. For instance, quick wins might include removing, or mitigating, the top ten business-affecting problems. Longer-term objectives might include reducing incidents and downtime, support cost savings, etc.
  13. Don’t feel that you need to invest in technology to start with problem management. As with much that’s offered up in ITSM best practice, there are technological solutions available to help those involved in problem management to deliver against their objectives. But you can still start with problem management without these, perhaps investing once the core benefits of problem management have been demonstrated.
  14. Appreciate that the root cause(s) of problems are not always technical in nature. That they might also be related to your people, processes, data/information/knowledge, or third parties.
  15. Don’t get bogged down in the reactive and proactive problem management definitions. Instead just appreciate that some problems will “come to you” – because their impact just can’t be ignored. While others will appear only after the targeted analysis of data and operations.
  16. Aim for permanent solutions over temporary solutions. The real benefits from problem management will come from removing issues completely, even if via permanent workarounds.
  17. Be cognizant of the limitations of the traditional incident and problem management process split. As Aale Roos wrote in his “What’s the Problem with Incident and Problem Management?” blog, “In Cynefin terms, incident and problem management works only in the Simple and Complicated domains. Simple problems can be categorized and there is a known solution. With complicated problems it’s not possible to categorize problems directly, but problems can be solved through analysis. Unfortunately, many important problems exist in the Complex and Chaotic domains and there the solutions are political or business decisions.” Hurts your head, doesn’t it – it might be worth reading it in the context of the blog as a whole.
  18. Encourage people to question (and even challenge) the status quo. Such that staff are comfortable in expressing how they feel things could be done better. It’s the only way to move on from the “This is how we’ve always done things” mentality that stifles problem management.
  19. Don’t limit the scope for problem management to IT. When we look at the growth in enterprise service management adoption, there’s a big focus on requests related to help, new services, information, and change, but there’s no reason why an effective problem management capability can’t also be extended to other business functions such as human resources (HR), facilities, security operations, and external customer support.

So there you go that’s my 19 tips for problem management success in 2019. What else would you add? Please let me know in the comments.

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Joe The IT Guy

About 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!).

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