What is incident management? Steps, tips, and best practices

Retrato de contribuidores da equipe AsanaTeam Asana20 de julho de 20227 minutos de leitura
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Summary

Incident management is the process of identifying, analyzing, and solving any organizational mishaps or hazards to prevent them from happening again. The aim of incident management is to fix and clear these issues before they become large-scale, company-wide crises.

Have you ever experienced an interruption while working on a project and run into disorganization as a result? Most of us have been there, unfortunately. But thankfully, there’s a way to resolve these issues in real time without sacrificing team productivity

Incident management is the process of analyzing and correcting project interruptions as quickly as possible. That means more time spent on delivering impact—not to mention completing the project at hand. 

We’ll go over the process of incident management and best practices to implement a strategy of your own so that you’re ready if and when the next project incident occurs. 

What is incident management?

Incident management is the process of detecting, investigating, and responding to incidents in as little time as possible. While it doesn’t always lead to a permanent solution, incident management is important in order to finish projects on time, or as close to the set deadline as possible. 

Incident management can be implemented within any team, though IT teams commonly use it alongside release management and sometimes refer to it as IT infrastructure library, or ITIL, incident management.

Project managers use incident management during projects to prevent hazards from derailing tasks. This is done with the help of a five-step process that ensures incidents get solved efficiently and correctly. 

An incident is any disruption to a service or workflow. A few types of incidents that may be solved with incident management include: 

  • Wi-Fi connectivity issues

  • A virus or malware bug

  • Email malfunction

  • Website lags or navigation errors

  • Security incidents 

Essentially, an incident is anything that will make life harder for customers or employees. 

Creating an incident management template can help your team members know exactly how to solve the problem when an incident does arise. 

Create an incident management plan template

Problem management vs. incident management

While there are a few differentiating factors when it comes to problem management vs. incident management, one key difference stands out: Problem management is the process of correcting the root cause of a project hazard, while incident management involves correcting a project interruption with a quick fix.

Here is a simple breakdown: 

  • Incident management: A quick fix to a single, spontaneous event 

  • Problem management: A comprehensive fix of a large-scale issue that is halting business operations 

[inline illustration] Problem management vs. incident management (infographic)

While both systems are needed, they provide different outcomes and happen at different times in the project lifecycle. Incident management happens when an incident occurs, while problem management looks to solve the underlying issue after the fact to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Benefits of incident management

[inline illustration] Benefits of incident management (infographic)

Incidents can slow projects and waste valuable resources. They can also disrupt your operations, sometimes leading to the loss of crucial data. That’s why incident management is so important.

A few key benefits to incident management include: 

  • Increased efficiency and team productivity

  • Prevention of future incidents 

  • Reduction in downtime

  • Improved customer experience

  • Visibility and transparency in your organization 

  • Smooth business operations

  • Quick return to normal service

With a good plan to tackle and eliminate current and future incidents, your organization will be made that much stronger. 

What are the five steps of an incident response plan?

An incident response plan is made of five important steps. Each of these steps makes up the incident management life cycle and helps teams track and address project hazards. 

There are five steps in an incident management plan:

  1. Incident identification

  2. Incident categorization

  3. Incident prioritization

  4. Incident response

  5. Incident closure

[inline illustration] Five steps of an incident response plan (infographic)

From incident identification to prioritizing and ultimately responding, each of these steps helps incidents flow seamlessly through the process. Without an effective response plan, your projects could be at risk of running into serious issues. This is especially true for IT teams and DevOps due to the technical nature of their work. It’s also one of the reasons incident management is most commonly used within IT service management departments.

This is somewhat similar to a change control process, with the main difference being a project change vs. a major incident. 

Let’s learn more about the five steps of an effective incident management system, how to spot and resolve issues when they arise, and how resource allocation comes into the mix. 

1. Incident identification

The first step in an incident response plan is identifying the incident. An issue can arise in almost any part of a project, whether that’s internal, vendor-related, or customer-facing. 

To identify an incident, you should include the following:

  • Name or ID number

  • Description

  • Date

  • Incident manager

Each of these will be helpful for references later on, especially if you have a problem management plan in place. This way, you can find the root cause of the incident and ensure it doesn’t happen again. 

2. Incident categorization

Incidents need to be accurately categorized in order to be correctly resolved. Categorization allows your team members to:

  1. Quickly find a solution if this incident ever arises again. 

  2. Correctly prioritize incidents and sort them by urgency. 

Categorizing incidents by urgency can help make sure they’re taken care of in an order that makes sense.  For example, a chatbot lagging and the entire website being down carry different weight. 

Once you’ve categorized an incident, make sure it’s sorted into an appropriate section for future reference and so the right team gets their eyes on it. There isn’t a hard-and-fast rule when it comes to incident management categories, so focus on ways your team can easily identify future issues by the type of incident occurring. 

3. Incident prioritization

Once an incident is identified and categorized, you can move on to incident prioritization. There are a couple of key things to consider when it comes to ranking project incidents by importance: 

  • Which other incidents you’re prioritizing against

  • What other tasks need to be completed

Since incident management focuses on immediate fixes, you should look to resolve issues that will have immediate impacts. You’ll also need to prioritize incidents against other project tasks that need to be completed.

Once you’ve considered both prioritization factors, you can get started on your high-priority incidents first. 

4. Incident response

Once the incident is correctly labeled and prioritized, you can dig into the meat of the issue. Depending on how it’s labeled, the incident should be sent to the team most equipped to troubleshoot. Usually, the appropriate team will be able to quickly handle the problem. Quick response times are key to incident management. 

In some cases, your response team may not be able to find a solution. When that happens, they’ll escalate the problem to a different team for further investigation and troubleshooting. Keeping track of incidents and the teams assigned to deal with them can be tricky—but made easier with an appropriate work management software.

5. Incident resolution and closure

Once the problem is solved to everyone’s satisfaction, you’re ready to close the ticket and log the incident as complete. You’ll want to keep any documentation you’ve created in the above steps by storing it in a shared workspace for future reference. This can be anything from a shared drive to a digital project folder. 

During your post-mortem project meeting, you may want to talk through any incidents that occurred during the project. This can be a great transition into the problem management phase of a project where you work to solve the root cause and create a more effective meeting.

Incident management best practices

Now that you know what goes into an incident response plan, it’s time to create an incident log of your own. Getting started can be difficult depending on the type of project and team you’re working with. But with a few best practices and an example incident response log, you’ll be able to document and properly respond to incidents when they arise.

Here’s an example incident log to inspire your own.

[product ui] Incident log example (lists)

View our template gallery or create your own custom log to get started.

Some key incident management best practices include keeping your log organized, properly training and communicating with your team, and automating processes if possible. Let’s dive into seven incident management best practices.

1. Identify early and often

Incidents can be tricky to spot, but the quicker you diagnose them, the easier the outcome will be to handle. 

The best thing to do is set aside time to examine your projects and processes for potential issues as often as possible. This will allow you to know precisely what problems are occurring and which might escalate to full-blown incidents. 

Tip: Once you identify an incident, make sure to document it in your incident log.

2. Keep your work tidy

Organization is key in any part of project management, but especially when documenting problems that could have long-lasting effects. You can do this by cleaning up your drives often and keeping descriptions brief. 

If you feel like more information should be added to your response log but there isn’t enough room, consider linking to an outside space or document where more detailed responses live. 

Tip: Create a baseline character count to keep descriptions short and prevent disorganization. 

3. Educate your team

Train your team about any accidents that may arise and what to do in the event they spot a potential problem. 

While formal training isn’t always needed, it’s a good idea to take them through any programs they’ll be working in and any potential issues. That way, they can help flag incidents before they get out of hand. 

Tip: Set up a meeting to walk your team through your incident log and any other needed tools. 

4. Automate tasks

Business process automation can help make incident management a breeze. While it’s sometimes difficult to set up, it can save you a ton of time in the long run (not to mention the headaches from resolving incidents). 

With the right automation software, also known as ITSM tools, you can program incidents to be flagged automatically. While this won’t be a be-all-and-end-all solution, it can help catch issues that you may have missed otherwise. 

Tip: Don’t forget to check automated tasks often. Setting and forgetting can result in mistakes being missed. 

5. Communicate in one place

Communication can be distributed at times, especially in a virtual work environment. In fact, teams are spending 30% more time on duplicate work. That’s why it’s so important to create an organized method of team communication. This starts with keeping collaboration in a shared space, often with the help of software tools. Not only will this save you and your team time in the future, but it will also help to reference communication when you need it. 

Tip: Set up a meeting to walk your team through your incident log and any other needed tools. 

Leia: Mais de 100 citações sobre trabalho em equipe para motivar e inspirar a colaboração

6. Use project management tools

There are numerous tools you can use to create and maintain your incident management plan, project management software being one of them. 

Not only can it help organize work and communication, but it can also help your team build workflows and align goals to the work needed to complete them. This is important when managing incidents, as many teams will likely need to work together to solve issues. The more confusion there is around communication and tasks, the longer it will take to solve incidents in real time. 

Tip: Use a project management calendar to visualize work and deadlines in one place. 

7. Continue improving

Just like any plan you put into place, it’s essential to always work to improve it over time. Your first run at an incident response plan will likely look different from your 100th. Over time you’ll learn ways to become more efficient and it will be easier to spot incidents before they turn into problems. 

While practice makes perfect, there are additional ways you can expand your knowledge base. Some of these include continuing your education and tracking performance metrics. Attending webinars, listening to podcasts, and reading newsletters can all inspire you to bring new ideas back to your team. Plus, project tracking and analyzing KPIs can help you and your team learn from your mistakes.

Tip: Continue your education by learning how to create a resource management plan next.

Managing incidents doesn’t happen incidentally

Now that you’re prepared on how to create an incident management process, handling project incidents will be a breeze. With the seven best practices detailed above, you can ensure your plan is as effective as possible—saving both time and money.

An incident management template, like ours below, can help you streamline your processes and organize your response. 

Create an incident management plan template

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