If your problem management just identifies one root cause for each problem, you’re missing out on lots of opportunities to improve.
One of my clients had a problem that caused lots of incidents. They investigated the problem and identified the root cause. It was, they agreed, a bug in a software application that had been developed in-house. They fixed the bug and closed the problem.
This is typical of what I see happening in problem management, and superficially it looks OK. But actually, it isn’t good enough, because you need to ask a lot of awkward questions if you want to understand what really happened.
A thorough investigation of this problem would have asked lots of awkward questions like:
The questions I listed above are typical of what you need to ask if you want to understand
The fact is that almost any problem has many causes. Some of them may be technology-related (like a software bug, or a faulty laptop), and ‘information and technology’ is indeed one of the dimensions of service management identified by ITIL 4. But there are three more dimensions of service management you need to consider if you want to thoroughly investigate the causes of a problem. Because causes may be related to ‘organizations and people’ (skills, competence, knowledge), ‘value streams and processes’ (development, testing, incident management) or even ‘partners and suppliers’ (contracts, relationships).
When you think about solving problems by uncovering the “root cause” it’s likely that you’ll identify a technology-related issue, fix it, and stop there. If you take this approach, the chances are that you won’t notice any other things that didn’t work as well as they could have, and as a result, you’ll miss many opportunities to improve and to reduce the number and impact of problems you see in the future.
What’s worse is that if you don’t take the time to identify your own weaknesses you can all too easily find yourself caught up in an endless, and unnecessary cycle of fixing one “root cause” after another.
Keep an improvement register, and make sure that every problem investigation is done thoroughly, taking into consideration all the dimensions of service management. When you take this approach, every investigation will throw up many improvement opportunities that you can identify and log. Whether or not to invest the resources needed to address them is a decision you can take later, but once they’ve been identified and prioritized, at least you know what they are and have thought about the damage they might do if left unaddressed.
If you need more information about improvement registers and continual improvement, here are some blogs and papers I have written:
There are lots of different techniques for identifying things that cause problems. I’ve written a blog titled 7 Ways to Diagnose IT Incidents and Problems, that describes some of the more popular ones. Here’s a quick summary if you don’t have time to read the blog.
Two more techniques that I also find helpful are
Of course, you don’t have to pick just one of these, you can use a combination of them as appropriate to your situation.
If your problem management just identifies one root cause for each problem, you’re missing out on lots of opportunities to improve. You can use the four dimensions of service management described in ITIL 4 to help ensure your investigations cover all aspects of service management; organizations and people, partners and suppliers, value streams and processes, and information and technology. This should, in turn, help ensure that your problem investigations don’t just fix a technical “root cause” but also contribute to a culture of continual improvement by uncovering issues to be added to your continual improvement register.