How to Keep Your Problem Management Practice Alive

wouter wyns

Once a colleague told me in a desperate moment that “service providers often relate with problem management like young teenagers relate with sex: everyone talks about it but only a few have really put it into practice”. I’m not sure that every service provider talks about it, but I must agree that I have seen quite a few service delivery organizations where problem management is documented but not performed.

This is strange: of all the service management practices, the problem management process is one of the simplest. In ITIL 4, the process is described in only 3 phases: problem identification, problem control and error control. Sure, identifying the root cause of an incident can be extremely difficult and often requires a lot of time. But every service provider organization has some clever engineers that are excellent at problem-solving. And there is no arguing about the added value of the practice: reducing the likelihood and impact of incidents is worth the effort.  So why do so many service provider organizations fail to keep the problem management practice alive? 

Finding the Needle in the Haystack

The main issue in these organizations is that a problem never gets created. The procedure that leads to the creation of problems is called Problem Identification and successfully keeping that procedure alive is Problem Management’s Achilles heel.  One of the main techniques used during problem identification is detecting recurring incidents. But many organizations have tens of thousands of incidents. Identifying recurring incidents in these environments is like finding a needle in a haystack.

A first step to regaining control and making the haystack smaller and clearer is to think in terms of services: make your problem management practice ‘service driven’ by always linking incidents to the right service. Because no one is an expert in all areas, it makes a lot of sense to assign a problem manager per service. The problem manager role should be assigned to a person who is considered a ‘service matter expert’ and this person is responsible for the problem identification only in the context of the given service. This significantly reduces the number of incidents to evaluate. And because the problem managers are experts in their domain, they will be able to make a sound judgment in a reasonable amount of time.

How 4me’s Service Management Platform Can Help

The 4me platform offers everything you need to support this approach. It is not only service driven, but also offers extra functionality to make the evaluation step even easier: the specialist who closes the incident usually knows whether a workaround has been used to come to a solution. When completing the incident, the specialist is required to define a completion reason. By selecting the right completion reason, the specialist marks the incident as a good candidate for problem management. This further reduces the number of incidents the problem manager needs to evaluate. The problem manager only has to go through this limited list, which is automatically made available in 4me, on a weekly or monthly basis. By defining a recurring task for each service that is automatically assigned to the service’s problem manager, the problem identification activity gets fully embedded in the operational routines and will even become auditable.   

This lightweight and pragmatic approach has been proven to be successful and allows an organization to implement a sustainable and valuable problem management practice. So stop talking and start acting!