Improving Problem Management: 5 best practices

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In Service Departments, there’s a tendency to focus on resolving immediate incidents rather than addressing the underlying problems. The catch-22 is that those problems lead to more incidents. If you’re looking to improve your Problem Management process and juggle it with Incident Management, striking a balance between them is key. And not too difficult to achieve!

Now admittedly, setting up and maintaining Problem Management can seem like another job to add to your already packed list. But with a bit of an agile attitude and with the aim of being both reactive and proactive, you can easily streamline the process. Here are 5 tips to consider.

1. Separate your incidents from your problems

It’s tempting to store everything in a hold-all space. To find somewhere that functions as a one stop shop when you’re dealing with a call. But separating problems out from incidents and logging them in their own dedicated space can help to better your processes.

It means that you have full clarity and transparency about the details of the problem, an accessible record of your investigation, and insight into the resources needed to fix it.

Curious about the differences between incidents and problems?

2. Keep a Known Error-database

Once you’ve put your investigative skills to the test and identified the root cause behind the problem, you have what is known as a ‘Known Error’. Just like incidents, known problems should also be kept in a separate area from the problem. Why? Well, it simply allows you to be more dynamic in your categorization. By doing this, if you need to recategorize an error to something more suitable post-investigation then you can.

Now, as you make discoveries about the problem at hand, the system has an up-to-date record of your thinking and your shifting priorities. Your Known Error-database then becomes an accessible and comprehensive archive of problems and their workarounds for future use. Once you resolve these Known Errors, you can happily close them and you have everything separated out when it’s time for reporting. Hooray!

How does ITIL 4 handle problem management?

3. Use the 5 Whys

Don’t get stuck in a rut. Be proactive in researching different techniques for identifying and interrogating problems. Challenging your tried and tested methods can provide a different perspective – and a different route to identifying root causes. For instance, adopting the 5 Whys method might lead you to ask a different question from usual when identifying the cause behind a server problem. Rather than forming a base conclusion, it encourages you to ask a series of questions until you arrive at the fault.

Researching different resolution methods is the kind of proactive background task that can pay dividends next time a problem arises. The 5 Whys is essentially to persistently ask why something is happening.

You know, that slightly annoying thing toddlers do: Why is the sky blue? Because blue light waves scatter more. Why? Because blue light waves are of higher frequency. Why? Because that’s how physics works! … Why…? You get the point. Do this until you really find the root cause of a problem and not a quick fix.

Challenging your tried and tested methods can provide a different perspective – and a different route to identifying root causes.

4. Have a Problem Manager

Having someone that is ultimately responsible for Problem Management can vastly help to improve your overall process. It means you have a colleague in charge who is enthusiastic about solving problems – and who can motivate the team towards the same goal.

But not only that. They’ll also have the crucial insight needed to monitor and analyse trends, which can help to validate the efforts and up-front energy that you’ve put into Problem Management. Beneficially, a Problem Manager can help to maintain momentum in the team, whilst supporting better internal organization when solving problems.

Industry-expert Stephen Mann has 10 practical tips to help you get started with ITIL Problem Management.

5. Let your operators contribute: Share Knowledge

Having a manager is great, but collaboration is key. Invite your team to make the most of their knowledge and experience by allowing them to contribute to Problem Management. This can add some interesting variation to their roles, and can help you to identify a root cause more quickly if you have keen colleagues who are good at detecting issues. If they have been on the front line reacting to incidents, they might have some thought-provoking insights in to the underlying Problems.

Using the knowledge of your team helps to embed cultural change, which ultimately means better Problem Management.

Take steps towards better processes

If you’re looking for an easy way to use ITSM processes better, without slavishly following every single step every time, find some inspiration in our Best Practice Service Management e-book.