If I asked you how your organization does problem management, would you, like so many of the people I have worked with over the years, tell me that you don’t do it? You know you ought to, of course, but you simply don’t have the time and resources to get started.
I’m willing to bet that if you’re one of those people, and you asked me to take a close look at the running of your IT operation, you’d be surprised. Because, quite often, when I look at what people who work in IT organizations actually do, as opposed to listening to what they tell me they do, I find that they’re already quietly getting on with many of the things that need to be done to manage problems. They just don’t call what they do problem management. Too often people believe that problem management is something formal and complex that can’t be put in place without specialized tools and extensive training. And so they fail to recognize the power – or the potential – of the steps they’ve already put in place.
I’m always really pleased when I come across a situation like this, because it’s a great position for an organization to be in. It only takes a very small amount of effort to create an effective problem management capability when you’re building on what’s already being done. (See my blog Back to ITSM Basics: Start Where You Are for some more thoughts on this idea.)
So what should you look for if you want to know whether or not your IT organization already has in place the foundation it needs to build an effective problem management capability? Where do you start?
Well, you start by understanding the difference between managing incidents – which any IT organization must do routinely – and managing problems.
In case you aren’t familiar with the difference between incidents and problems here’s a brief summary.
An incident is “An unplanned interruption to an IT service or reduction in the quality of an IT service” (ITIL Glossary). Most incidents are detected by users who phone the service desk to report that something is wrong. The purpose of incident management is to get the business working again, and to reduce the overall impact of the incident as far as possible. For example, if a user reports that a printer isn’t working, then you could resolve the incident by routing their printout to another nearby printer so that they can get the document they need.
Incident management activities include:
For more information, see ITSM Basics: A Simple Introduction to Incident Management.
A problem is “The cause of one or more incidents” (ITIL Glossary). The purpose of problem management is to prevent incidents from happening and to minimize the impact of incidents that can’t be prevented. For example, you could identify that a particular model of printer tends to fail after two years of use and plan to replace these printers before they fail. This would completely prevent the associated incidents. Alternatively, you could order a stock of spare printers so that you can replace them very quickly when they do fail, which would minimize the impact of the failures when they occur.
Problem management activities include:
For more information, see ITSM Basics: A Simple Introduction to Problem Management.
I started this blog by saying that many IT organizations are actually doing some problem management, even if they claim not to be. Here are some examples of things that I have seen in place:
This then results in improvement activities.
I have no doubt that there are many other examples of hidden problem management taking place. So, if you “don’t do problem management” why not take a close look at your organization and see what you discover?
If you know you should be doing problem management, but keep putting it off because you think that it would involve too much effort and expense, then you should think about using three of the ITIL Practitioner guiding principles to help you get started: Observe Directly, Start Where You Are, and Progress Iteratively.
If you follow these guiding principles you should find that you’re building an effective problem management capability at a very low cost and with minimum effort. And 2017 could be the year your increasingly proactive approach results in better service and happier customers. You can’t ask for better than that, can you? So why not give it a try?