Is Problem Management Failing You?

Recently, while I was on the train heading home, I came upon a community post in a service management tool forum entitled “Problem Management = Fail”.

The caption caught my eye as well as the 48 responses associated to it. Given the amount of feedback, curiosity took over and I began to dig into the content and see what people were saying. 

The person who created the post outlined that while the problem management functionality was easy to implement from the tool perspective, that it was not producing the results that their company was looking for. They continued to say in the post that their organization was looking for out of the box capability in Problem management so when their implementation partner said that Problem was ‘ready to go’ as is, they left it alone.

Since the author of the post didn’t include the roadmap of their organization, many of the initial posts revolved around two main themes:

  • Do you have a Problem Management practice in place today?
  • Were you expecting the tool to just ‘do’ problem management?

A fair set of initial questions to which the author replied, “A basic problem management process was in place and that the IT operations team wasn’t really getting results, and were hoping that their old tool was contributing to the problem with problems.”

The author also pointed out that now they were getting more problems created but not improving the reduction of incidents which they thought might happen.

What wasn’t asked by the people in the forum was “what are you expecting to accomplish with problem management?”

From the other posts I could tell that people who were having similar issues to the author were making an assumption that while problem management is there to reduce incidents, we as an organization leveraging the potential benefits of problem management can’t simply just run with the default definition of what we are going to accomplish in this process we have to define what are expectations are and how we will get there.

So, how do we ensure that Problem Management doesn’t fail us?

Choose a goal that is right sized for your organization and keep it simple, for example:

We are looking to reduce the number of incidents by ‘X’ percent.

This is a pretty simple way to look at what problem is trying to achieve as initially we are going to seek out reducing incidents which impact our business in some way. In many cases the most impactful incidents the business sees are those which repeat themselves over and over again.

With some level of what we want to achieve we will also need to look at how we want to get there. In the above post we might want to look at both how the practice is going to help us reduce these impactful incidents while also looking at the people aspect of problem will get us there. This will include looking at skills that focus on our understanding of how our systems work, how failure may have started in the first place as well as leveraging various techniques such as 5-whys and Ishikawa diagrams to help us out.

In ITIL4, when we consider how problem management will contribute to the Service Value Chain we want to look at how we will prevent recurring incidents and where prevention may not be possible look to reduce the impact felt by incidents for business users. To achieve this we need to have a balance on how many problems we have open at any given time as well as the impact of the problems we are working on.

The other area where we typically lack with Problem Management is our ability to communicate what we are doing in it. Is shouldn’t be a secret practice. Communicating success and failures with all stakeholders when we achieve our problem management goals as well as areas where we can learn and make adjustments. Having this type of improvement focus on this or any other practice we actually help us to improve not only problem management but help our organizations improve continually.

Problem management can provide enormous value if we take the appropriate actions to allow it to flourish.


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