It’s not uncommon for an organization to be missing a problem management team (or suitable resource), yet the ITIL-espoused problem management capability is arguably one of the most important IT service management (ITSM) areas within an IT department.
The ITIL problem management process investigates recurring incidents, the root cause of incidents, and provides a formal focus on incident prevention. Without a formal problem management capability, these activities tend to fall into a black hole.
So, if your IT service desk keeps seeing – and feeling – the same repeat incident tickets, they have a large volume of incidents coming in, or they have a customer satisfaction (CSAT) score that’s embarrassingly low, then, problem management might just be the ally you need to get sorted.
In my blog, I provide you with five great reasons as to why you need to explore the opportunities, and benefits offered by problem management within your organization.
Your IT support staff are picking up the phone (or answering emails) and having the same conversations – maybe even with the same people – again and again. Then they’re fixing the same issues repeatedly.
Your incident reports show you the “repeat” trends – the same categorization, the same users, the same incidents. Sounds familiar?
This reason this happens is that the tickets are only being looked at incident level – so you have a problem management gap. This means that the incident (the symptom) is being fixed, but the problem (the root cause) that caused it is still grumbling away in the background waiting to rear its ugly head again. If you don’t resolve the problem, it’s going to come back again (and again).
If you aren’t familiar with this terminology, then let’s take a quick look at the ITIL definitions to explain what they mean:
Thus, if you’re only fixing the interruption as it happens, the cause will carry on creating interruptions to your service. Leading to repeat incidents.
And repeat incidents means more tickets, which is bad for your customers, bad for your staff, and bad for the image of IT in your organization.
Problem management allows you to investigate and fix the cause of the interruption. Fix the cause and the problem goes away. Once the problem goes away, you eliminate those tickets that come into your service desk time and time again.
Ultimately, when you start looking at problems rather than just incidents, you reduce the number of recurring tickets. This means that your staff spends less time firefighting and more time on the things that really matter.
One of the top reasons your service desk staff suffer from burnout is due to too heavy a workload. There are too many tickets coming in and each one is as urgent as the next. Plus, incident prioritization might go out of the window because the build-up of tickets is so high that everything needs to be looked at now – which affects business operations as well as staff health.
Your service desk has tickets coming in that need to be triaged, tickets that are due to service level agreement (SLA) breaches, and aged tickets that are hammering at its SLA stats.
Add to this the monotony of firefighting the same issues day in and day out and it’s no wonder that staff turnover on the IT service desk is so high (and increasing).
Once your IT organization starts to undertake problem management, your service desk staff will start to see a reduction in repeat tickets. And two things happen when you reduce recurring incidents:
With your service desk staff now facing a smaller, more-varied workload, they can enjoy a less pressurized and a more enjoyable working experience.
Plus, you don’t need to be working on problem management for too long before reaping these benefits.
Part of a problem manager’s responsibility is to create and maintain a known error database (KEDB). Where a “known error” is a problem that has a documented “workaround.” Ideally, a problem record will become a known error shortly after it has been logged.
When a problem becomes a known error, this can mean that a permanent solution to the cause is still being investigated, with a workaround created in order to fix the incident quicker in the meantime.
The KEDB is owned by the problem manager but used within both the problem management and incident management processes. Thus, by having a KEDB, your service desk staff can consult this knowledge when an incident comes in to see whether there’s a workaround.
Oftentimes, this means that the end user is back up and running much quicker because now the service desk agent knows exactly how to restore service.
Another benefit of the KEDB is that all your agents can provide the same level of service to your end users. When you have properly documented workarounds or solutions to your incidents you don’t have to rely on staff members to remember every single fix. Whether experienced or new to the service desk, your agents will be able to provide the service your end users expect (and I would add, deserve).
Imagine being able to prevent incidents before they’ve even happened. Yeah, now we’re talking!
Proactive problem management should make up part of your continual service improvement (CSI) efforts. It requires much more time and focus than reactive problem management but once you get there, you can start identifying when a service interruption might take place and make the necessary arrangements to ensure that it doesn’t happen.
Is it easy? Absolutely not. Proactive problem management needs other processes in place if it’s going to be useful. It requires help from incident management, asset management, event management, change management, and access management. You also need monitoring tools and it can only really work with a dedicated problem management team in place.
The benefits of proactive problem management, however, are obvious – you prevent incidents before they occur. This means no tickets to the service desk and no interruptions to your end users. Most importantly, it might also prevent business-crippling major incidents!
Quite simply, if you’re achieving all the points I’ve discussed above, then you’re just about guaranteed to improve your CSAT score.
If your end users are constantly seeing the same issues and having to log the same incident tickets, then they’re not going to be happy. If their service is consistently disrupted or they experience ebbs and flows in quality, then they’re likely to give your IT support a low score. Plus, if the level of service they receive when they do need to contact the service desk is inconsistent, then they probably won’t rate your agents highly.
The problem management process will fix all this.
Your end users will see a reduction in the number of recurring incidents, which means that they'll spend less time on the phone with IT. Then, when they do need to phone, it won’t matter who they get through to – they’ll receive a consistent level of support efficiency and effectiveness.
Finally, if you’re preventing incidents before they even happen, then end users won’t have to call you at all. And, if you’re aware an incident will occur, but you can’t prevent it, at least you can provide notification to your end users to prepare them.
Imagine the CSAT score IT will get then!
The trick to getting problem management right is to start off slowly. Build the process gradually, documenting what works, and learning from what doesn’t along the way. Don’t be put off if you haven’t got every other process in place just yet. While the proactive problem management process is the dream, you can still get a lot done using reactive problem management.
So, what are you waiting for? Start using problem management in your organization to give your end users the IT experience that they deserve!