In IT management, a problem is the cause of one or more incidents. When an incident does occur, its root cause sometimes requires investigation, but not always. For example, some incidents are easily identifiable and obvious, such as a forgotten password or a faulty mouse. We use problem management when the cause is less obvious.

Problem management vs Event management

An incident is an unplanned outage or reduction in the quality of an IT service. A problem is the root cause of the incident. This means that an issue causes the quality of IT service to drop beyond normal and expected standards.

This is because the difference between problem management and incident management is time. The incident has happened before, but problem management can be proactive and ongoing. Instead of treating the symptom, it treats the cause. This is why problem management is such a valuable skill.

Problem management measures

Measuring the effectiveness of problem management is a key part of the resolution process. Several common metrics are used, including:

The percentage of problems resolved within the deadlines set in the Service Level Agreement (SLA)

The average cost of solving a problem

The percentage of major issues identified by reviews of major issues

Percentage of actions identified in major issue reviews that are completed

The number of known errors identified

Problem management is more fluid when organizational skills are at their peak. Therefore, it makes sense to constantly update a spreadsheet that monitors progress against key metrics.

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Problem management techniques

As with all management processes, there are techniques that form the basis of a successful problem management mission. For example, it is essential to record all incidents. Clear incident recording means patterns and trends can be spotted and recurring issues can be addressed.

You can also make a list of the “top 10” problems. This tool is particularly useful for reviews of major issues. It also helps people to think in a goal oriented way.

Problems and causes often remain totally or partially hidden. In these cases, creativity will help identify the root cause of the problem. For this, various tools are at your disposal, such as:

Brainstorming or mind mapping – a session which can include non-experts, but which only works if everyone in the workplace is present.

Cause and Effect Analysis – Also known as Fishbone Cause and Effect Analysis, IT experts will find this tool useful, but non-experts may find it difficult to contribute.

Analysis of the Kepner-Tregoe problem – a column of supporting evidence next to a column of possible causes and a third column that says “cause” or “not a cause”. The risk with this tool is that people may not complete them, especially if they are not sure they can contribute effectively.

Whatever techniques you use, remember that problem management is a key IT skill. It is a solution that you must continually develop, because IT always presents new challenges as it evolves and evolves.

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