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How to improve your IT problem management: 5 must-do steps

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Hannah Price, Service Management Consultant and Knowledge Management Expert, TopDesk UK

Those of us working in service management, and throughout IT, not only spend time and effort resolving incidents, but also helping address users' underlying tech problems. Much of this is a consequence of a bigger problem: the time constraints of modern IT support. And, as is often the case, problems lead to more problems.

Improving problem management processes and juggling incident management require striking a balance between the two. It's not too challenging to tackle once you make the decision to start fixing the problems facing the service desk head on.

You're already working to capacity with daily responsibilities. Setting up and maintaining problem management can, therefore, quickly become a mundane job rather than a top-level priority. However, taking an agile attitude and being open to working both reactively and proactively can streamline the process. Here's how.

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1. Separate incidents from problems

While it might seem counterproductive, the most crucial step is to separate single incidents from larger problems. Log these in their own dedicated spaces.

Doing so allows for clarity and transparency of the problem's details, creates an accessible record during any investigations, and provides insight into the resources needed to fix all incidents. Additionally, this eliminates the temptation of storing everything in a single hold-all space that is typically used as a one-stop shop when dealing with a call.

2. Create a known-error database

Once you've identified each problem's root cause, track these in a known-error database. Much as with incidents, keep known errors in a separate area from problems. The reason behind this is simply to allow the service desk to become more dynamic in its categorizations.

In the event that you must re-categorize an error to something more suitable post-investigation, you can. Now, as you discover problems, the service management solution can provide an up-to-date record of shifts in your thinking and priorities. The known-error database then becomes an accessible, comprehensive archive of all problems discovered, as well as their workarounds for your team's future use.

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3. Understand the 5 whys

Challenging the service desk's methodology helps continuously provide your team with a different perspective on daily challenges and helps identify new root causes of problems. By eliminating some of the more intensive methods for identifying problems at their core, you're able to simplify your conflict digging.

An effortless way of doing so is through the "five whys" approach.

When adopting the five whys, you throw out complexity and return to a toddler-like approach to problem solving, asking, "Why?" "Why?" "Why?" Rather than deriving a foundational conclusion, you’re encouraged to ask even more about why something may be the way it is, asking a series of questions until arriving at the root cause. Continuing to ask why something is happening is key; typically, five whys is the magic number.

4. Assign a problem manager role

Assigning a member of the team or hiring someone for the position who is responsible for problem management helps improve the service desk's entire process set. Naming an individual to help support solving problems can motivate the team in the direction of the same goal.

These same individuals gain—through the course of their work—the insight needed to monitor and analyze trends to better address problem management. The problem manager helps maintain momentum for the team and supports your ability to create a better internal organization for problem solving, which helps users.

5. Share knowledge

When it comes to problem solving, perhaps nothing is better than team collaboration. Invite the team to contribute to problem management; this adds variety to their daily roles and helps identify root causes more quickly if you have colleagues who are motivated.

Using the team's knowledge also helps embed cultural change throughout your organization, which ultimately means better problem management for users' reported issues. 

A balancing act

Improving problem management while also juggling incident management means striking a balance between the two. Setting up and maintaining problem management can quickly be addressed when you implement the processes for doing so simply and straightforwardly.

The results of doing so are well worth the effort, and your organization will reap the rewards of reduced incident impact, increased staff efficiency, and, ultimately, happier customers.

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