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Congratulations, you have problems. Here’s how to deal with them.

“For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong”, American writer H.L. Mencken once said. By following the right process, though, you can have a resolution that is rapid, accurate and right.

By Robert Hall, IT Support Analyst, Marval Software


What is a problem, anyway?

A 'Problem' is the unknown cause of one or more incidents, often identified as a result of multiple similar incidents. A 'Known error' is an identified root cause of a Problem.

Problem Management is the process responsible for managing the lifecycle of all problems. The primary objectives of problem management are to prevent problems and resulting incidents from happening, to eliminate recurring incidents, and to minimize the impact of incidents that cannot be prevented. The Information Technology Infrastructure Library defines a problem as the cause of one or more incidents.


Dealing with problems, step by step

Congratulations, you ‘ve got a problem. There are some simple steps that will help you get through:


Problem detection:

•                     Suspicion or detection of a cause of one or more incidents by the Service Desk, resulting in a Problem Record being raised – Service Desk may have resolved the incident but has not determined a definitive cause and suspects that it is likely to recur.

•                     Analysis of an incident by a technical support group which reveals that an underlying problem exists, or is likely to exist.

•                     Automated detection of an infrastructure or application fault, using event/alert tools automatically to raise an incident which may reveal the need for a Problem Record.

•                     A notification from a supplier or contractor that a problem exists that has to be resolved.

•                     Analysis of incidents as part of proactive Problem Management: watch-bulletins, releases, relevant papers.

•                     Process activities, methods and techniques

•                     Problem Management consists of two major processes:

•                     Reactive Problem Management, which is generally executed as part of Service Operation

•                     Proactive Problem Management which is initiated in Service Operation, but generally driven as part of Continual Service Improvement (CSI).


Problem logging:

All the relevant details of the problem must be recorded so that a full historic record exists. This must be date and time stamped to allow suitable control and escalation. A cross-reference must be made to the incident(s) which initiated the "Problem Record":

•                     User details

•                     Service details

•                     Equipment details

•                     Date/time initially logged

•                     Priority and categorization details

•                     Incident description

•                     Details for all diagnostic or attempted recovery actions taken.



Problem Prioritisation:

Problems must be categorised (severity/priority) in the same way as incidents in order to trace a problem. Prioritising a problem implies to keep into account the impact of the incidents and the frequency of the occurrences. Problem prioritisation should take into account the severity of the problems. From an infrastructure point of view, we should ask:

•                     Can the system be recovered, or does it need to be replaced?

•                     How much will it cost?

•                     How many people will be involved to fix the problem?

•                     How long will it take to fix the problem?

•                     How many additional resources will be involved?


Known Error Record:

After the investigation is complete and a workaround (or even a permanent solution) has been found, a Known Error Record must be raised and placed in the Known Error Database in order to identify and resolve further similar problems. The main purpose is to restore the affected service as soon as possible with a minimal impact on the business.

A good practice would be to raise a Known Error Record even earlier in the investigation - just for information purposes.


Major Problem Review:

A good practice is to have a review for all major problems. The review should examine:

•             The correct steps taken

•             The problems encountered during the implementation of the solution

•             The need to improve

•             Prevent the recurrence of further similar incidents

•             Third-Party/Vendor/Supplier involved in the implementation

The knowledge learned from the review should be incorporated into a service review with the business customer to ensure that the customer is aware of the actions taken and the plans to prevent future similar incidents from occurring. This helps to improve customer satisfaction and assure the business that Service Operations is handling major incidents responsibly and actively working to prevent their future recurrence.


Troubleshooting model

Based on research in problem solving, the six steps of this troubleshooting model are as follows:

1.       Discover the problem.

Identify and document problem symptoms, and search technical information resources to determine whether the problem is a known condition.

2.       Evaluate system configuration.

Review your system’s history to determine what configuration changes occurred since the computer last worked correctly. Did you install new hardware or software? Did you verify that the hardware or software is fully compatible with Windows XP Professional?

3.       Track possible solutions.

Instead of using the trial-and-error approach, review Microsoft Knowledge Base articles. You can simplify troubleshooting by temporarily removing hardware and software that is not needed for starting Windows XP Professional. Consider enabling Windows XP Professional logging options to better evaluate your troubleshooting efforts.

4.       Execute a plan.

Test potential solutions and have a contingency plan if these solutions do not work or have a negative impact on the computer. Be sure to back up critical system or application files.

5.       Check results.

Determine whether your plan was successful. Have another plan in place to address unresolved issues.

6.       Take a proactive approach.


Document changes that you make along the way while troubleshooting the problem. After resolving the problem, organise your notes and evaluate your experience. Think about ways to avoid or reduce the impact of the problem in the future.

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