Problem management: 8 steps to better problem solving

Alicia Raeburn contributor headshotAlicia Raeburn12 April 20226 menit baca
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Summary

Problem management is an 8 step framework most commonly used by IT teams. You can use problem management to solve for repeating major incidents. By organizing and structuring your problem solving, you can more effectively get to the root cause of high-impact problems—and devise a solution. Solving the root cause prevents recurrence and creates a repeatable solution to use on similar errors in the future.

In an IT department, errors and mishaps are part of the job. You can't always control these problems, but you can control how you respond to them with problem management. Problem management helps you solve larger problems and reduce the risk that they’ll happen again by identifying all connected problems, solving them, and planning for the future.

What is problem management?

Problem management is an 8 step framework most commonly used by IT teams. Your team can use problem management to solve for repeating major incidents. By organizing and structuring your problem solving, you can more effectively get to the root cause of high-impact problems—and devise a solution. Problem management is a process—used mostly by IT teams—to identify, react, and respond to issues. It’s not for every problem, but it’s a useful response when multiple major incidents occur that cause large work interruptions. Unlike problem solving, problem management goes beyond the initial incident to discover and dissect the root causes, preventing future incidents with permanent solutions.

The goals of problem management are to:

  1. Prevent problems before they start.

  2. Solve for repetitive errors.

  3. Lessen each incident’s impact. 

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Problem management vs. incident management 

Problem management targets the root cause of an incident to prevent it from repeating. Incident management, on the other hand, solves only for a specific incident. Usually, incident management is in response to a single occurrence, whereas problem management is used for a series of repeating events.

Example: Someone leaves their unprotected laptop in a coffee shop, causing a security breach. The security team can use incident management to solve for this one, isolated event. In this case, the team could manually shut down the accounts connected to that laptop. If this continues to happen, IT would use problem management to solve the root of this issue—perhaps installing more security features on each company laptop so that if employees lose them, no one else can access the information.

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Problem management vs. problem solving

While similar in name, problem management differs slightly from problem-solving. Problem management focuses on every aspect of the incident—identifying the root cause of the problem, solving it, and prevention. Problem solving is, as the name implies, focused solely on the solution step. 

Example: You’re launching a new password management system when it crashes—again. You don’t know if anything leaked, but you know it could contain confidential information. Plus, it’s happened before. You start the problem management process to ensure it doesn’t happen again. In that process, you’ll use problem solving as a step to fix the issue. In this case, perhaps securing confidential information before you try to launch a new software.

Read: What is 8D? A template for efficient problem-solving

Problem management vs. change management 

Change management targets large transitions within your workplace, good and bad. These inevitable changes aren’t always negative, so you can’t always apply problem management as a solution. That’s where change management comes in—a framework that helps you adjust to any new scenario.

Example: Your company is transitioning to a new cloud platform. The transition happens incident-free—meaning you won’t need problem management—but you can ease the transition by implementing some change management best practices. Preparing and training team members in the new software is a good place to start.

Problem management vs. project management

Project management is the framework for larger collections of work. It’s the overarching method for how you work on any project, hit goals, and get results. You can use project management to help you with problem management, but they are not the same thing. Problem management and project management work together to solve issues as part of your problem management process.

Example: During problem management, you uncover a backend security issue that needs to be addressed—employees are using storage software with outdated security measures. To solve this, you create a project and outline the tasks from start to finish. In this case, you might need to alert senior executives, get approval to remove the software, and alert employees. You create a project schedule with a defined timeline and assign the tasks to relevant teams. In this process, you identified a desired outcome—remove the unsafe software—and solved it. That’s project management.

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The 8 steps of problem management

It’s easy to get upset when problems occur. In fact, it’s totally normal. But an emotional response is not always the best response when faced with new incidents. Having a reliable system—such as problem management—removes the temptation to respond emotionally. Proactive project management gives your team a framework for problem solving. It’s an iterative process—the more you use it, the more likely you are to have fewer problems, faster response times, and better outputs. 

1. Identify the problem

During problem identification, you’re looking at the present—what’s happening right now? Here, you’ll define what the incident is and its scale. Is this a small, quick-fix, or a full overhaul? Consider using problem framing to define, prioritize, and understand the obstacles involved with these more complex problems. 

2. Diagnose the cause

Use problem analysis or root cause analysis to strategically look at the cause of a problem. Follow the trail of issues all the way back to its beginnings.

To diagnose the underlying cause, you’ll want to answer:

  • What factors or conditions led to the incident?

  • Do you see related incidents? Could those be coming from the same source?

  • Did someone miss a step? Are processes responsible for this problem?

3. Organize and prioritize

Now it’s time to build out your framework. Use an IT project plan to organize information in a space where everyone can make and see updates in real time. The easiest way to do this is with a project management tool where you can input ‌tasks, assign deadlines, and add dependencies to ensure nothing gets missed. To better organize your process, define:

  • What needs to be done? 

  • Who’s responsible for each aspect? If no one is, can we assign someone? 

  • When does each piece need to be completed?

  • What is the final number of incidents related to this problem?

  • Are any of these tasks dependent on another one? Do you need to set up dependencies?

  • What are your highest priorities? How do they affect our larger business goals

  • How should you plan for this in the future?

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4. Create a workaround

If the incident has stopped work or altered it, you might need to create a workaround. This is not always necessary, but temporary workarounds can keep work on track and avoid backlog while you go through the problem management steps. When these workarounds are especially effective, you can make them permanent processes.

5. Update your known error database

Every time an incident occurs, create a known error record and add it to your known error database (KEDB). Recording incidents helps you catch recurrences and logs the solution, so you know how to solve similar errors in the future. 

[product ui] Incident log example (lists)

6. Pause for change management (if necessary)

Larger, high-impact problems might require change management. For example, if you realize the problem’s root cause is a lack of staff, you might dedicate team members to help. You can use change management to help them transition their responsibilities, see how these new roles fit in with the entire team, and determine how they will collaborate moving forward.

7. Solve the problem

This is the fun part—you get to resolve problems. At this stage, you should know exactly what you’re dealing with and the steps you need to take. But remember—with problem management, it’s not enough to solve the current problem. You’ll want to take any steps to prevent this from happening again in the future. That could mean hiring a new role to cover gaps in workflows, investing in new softwares and tools, or training staff on best practices to prevent these types of incidents.

Read: Turn your team into skilled problem solvers with these problem-solving strategies

8. Reflect on the process

The problem management process has the added benefit of recording the process in its entirety, so you can review it in the future. Once you’ve solved the problem, take the time to review each step and reflect on the lessons learned during this process. Make note of who was involved, what you needed, and any opportunities to improve your response to the next incident. After you go through the problem management process a few times and understand the basic steps, stakeholders, workload, and resources you need, create a template to make the kickoff process easier in the future.

5 benefits of problem management

Problem management helps you discover every piece of the problem—from the current scenario down to its root cause. Not only does this have an immediate positive impact on the current issue at hand, it also promotes collaboration and helps to build a better product overall. 

Here are five other ways ‌problem management can benefit your team:

  1. Avoids repeat incidents. When you manage the entire incident from start to finish, you will address the foundational problems that caused it. This leads to fewer repeat incidents.

  2. Boosts cross-functional collaboration. Problem management is a collaborative process. One incident might require collaboration from IT, the security team, and legal. Depending on the level of the problem, it might trickle all the way back down to the product or service team, where core changes need to be made.

  3. Creates a better user experience. It’s simple—the fewer incidents you have, the better your customer’s experience will be. Reducing incidents means fewer delays, downtime, and frustrations for your users, and a higher rate of customer satisfaction.

  4. Improves response time. As you develop a flow and framework with a project management process, you’ll be better equipped to handle future incidents—even if they’re different scenarios.

  5. Organizes problem solving. Problem management provides a structured, thoughtful approach to solving problems. This reduces impulsive responses and helps you keep a better problem record of incidents and solutions.

Problem management leads to better, faster solutions

IT teams will always have to deal with incidents, but they don’t have to be bogged down by them. That’s because problem management works. Whether you employ a full problem management team or choose to apply these practices to your current IT infrastructure, problem management—especially when combined with a project management tool—saves you time and effort down the road.

With IT project plans, we’ve made it easier than ever to track your problem management work in a shared tool. Try our free IT project template to see your work come together, effortlessly.

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