What is problem management? | Problem management explained and best practices

9 min read
07-Sep-2022 15:41:25

What is problem management?

Problem management is a key ITSM process that identifies and resolves the underlying causes of incidents occurring in an IT service. By honing into the root cause, problem management aims to minimize the incidents that happen in the first place.

Incidents that repeatedly crop up can cause frustrations all around. Think about the lost productivity and time wasted trying to resolve the same type of incidents over and over. Even with a good IT incident management program in place, it’s much better to not have to deal with the same disruptions again. This is where looking under the hood of an incident and into the problem is crucial.

What is a ‘problem’?

A problem is the cause of one or more incidents of the same nature. There are several ways in which a problem is identified. These instances are when several incidents affect the same services or if there’s no workaround for a particular incident. Problems are often spotted after one or two similar incidents are resolved or identified.

Effective problem management enables quick identification and resolution of root causes, ensuring smooth IT service delivery. Let’s take a look at the various benefits problem management offers, the processes involved, and the best practices to implement.

The benefits of problem management

With the right planning and execution, problem management provides businesses with numerous advantages.

1. Offers great cost savings

Service downtime is expensive. For example, a Gartner study discovered that network downtime can cost an organization around $5,600 per minute. Avoiding incidents like this with problem management means you can save a lot of time and money that is sacrificed from service disruptions like this.

2. Boosts everyone’s productivity

Good problem management means organizations aren’t relying on ‘firefighting’ solutions to ensure healthy service operations. By resolving the cause of multiple incidents, people won’t have to deal with the frustrations that come with similar interruptions and can better focus on their work.

3. Reduces the volume of incidents

Repetitive incidents – same category, same solutions, same affected users – are exhausting to deal with for everyone involved. Fixing such incidents from the root with problem management eliminates their reoccurrence and enables your people to shift their energy to more value-adding activities.

4. Relieves pressure from your service desk team

Service desk teams are under a lot of pressure, and this is often due to the heavy workload in the form of high volumes of service desk tickets. With fewer incidents, the volume of tickets is reduced, relieving stress and burden on your service desk teams.

Want to further alleviate pressure from the service desk? Here are some key strategies for reducing service desk calls.

5. Encourages continuous service improvement

Eliminating incidents through problem management means you minimize service disruptions and elevate service performance. Likewise, the quality of your service also improves. Continuous problem management like this means that over time you are also increasing the value of your services.

6. Enhances the service experience for both employees and customers

When things are going smoothly and without interruptions, people can concentrate on the work that matters. This motivates your employees to carry out key activities about their role to the best of their abilities and, in turn, provide better service experiences to your customers.

Types of problem management: reactive vs proactive

There are two key approaches IT teams use to tackle problem management.

Reactive problem management is the process of identifying and solving problems that caused one incident or a series of incidents. This comes into play when the relevant incidents have already happened and need a root cause investigation to ensure similar incidents don’t happen again.

This approach is valuable in ensuring a service’s long-term stability and maintaining customer satisfaction. The downside of this approach is its defensive nature, with the IT team under pressure to identify the root cause and fix the problem as soon as possible.

Proactive problem management focuses on spotting and resolving problems and known errors before they can cause incidents that can disrupt IT services. Rather than an incident, this process is triggered by risks or warnings raised through continuous monitoring of the IT infrastructure.

This is an ongoing activity IT teams perform to identify problem areas and eradicate the issue before it takes place. Proactive problem management provides the IT department the agility needed to tackle problems and in the case they can’t be prevented, set the motions in place to find workarounds.

Together, these two allow organizations to quickly deal with fundamental issues that negatively impact essential IT services.

Problem management and other ITIL processes

Various processes need to effectively work together to form a complete ITSM strategy. How do these different practices relate to each other and how do they improve IT services?

Problem management and incident management

These two might seem very similar and their goals or approach are sometimes even overlapping, but they’re not the same. Incident management may be able to get a disrupted service up and running again without resolving the problem underneath. This means that while the incident has ended, it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t occur again. This is where problem management can come in and make the much-needed improvements.

Problem management and change management

Change management ensures any transitions or transformations made in the organization are carried out successfully without negatively impacting services. But if a change does cause disruptions or outages, problem management helps IT teams uncover where the problem lies. Another case where the two processes are linked is when a permanent solution is discovered for an existing problem and a change needs to be raised to determine the impact this will have on the IT environment.

Problem management and knowledge management

Successful knowledge management means valuable information is made accessible to the right people across the organization. By compiling information on problem management output such as workarounds to common issues, agents can find the necessary knowledge to resolve incidents quickly.

Problem management and service request management

Service request management enables employees to access new services such as information, like guidelines on using a software system, or equipment, like a new laptop for a new employee. These activities provide a lot of value, as each service creates new opportunities to enhance the employee’s experience at work. But when the service desk is bogged down with incidents, it can be difficult to focus on these value-adding activities. Reducing repetitive incidents through effective problem management can help mitigate this issue, enabling the agents to respond to service requests.

What does the problem management process involve?

The problem management process revolves around the entire lifecycle of a problem, involving multiple activities.

1. Problem identification

A problem can be detected and identified in several ways. This can include discovery through trend analysis of incident records or automated alerts of an event management tool. When an incident is resolved but the root cause is unknown, a problem record can be created against it. Likewise, an incident might be related to an already known problem yet to be resolved and so that incident will be linked with that existing record.

2. Problem categorization and prioritization

To ensure proper problem management, a complete historical record is paramount. Categorization and prioritization enable IT teams to get a better view of what’s going on and efficiently allocate the necessary resources to tackle the problem.

3. Problem diagnosis and resolution

With the right information and priorities set, IT teams can then start investigating the various causes contributing to the problem and set up the action points to take to remedy the issues. A common investigation technique done at this stage is the recreation of the failure in the hopes that this will reveal the cause. After the cause is found, permanent solutions will need to be worked out to prevent incidents related to the problem from occurring again.

4. Problem closure and evaluation

After the problem is resolved, this is when related incidents can also be closed. It’s important that all details are updated for accuracy and future reference. Understanding the whole process, such as lessons learned or preventive actions you could’ve taken, is key to improving problem management in your organization.

What are some problem management best practices?

Getting problem management right is no walk in the park. Getting the right balance and coordination between teams is crucial to achieving your objectives. To maximize the effectiveness of your processes, here are our best practices for problem management.

1.      Create a clear distinction between incidents and problems

As previously mentioned, there is a close link between incident and problem management. It’s all too easy to record incidents and problems in one place or a similar manner. However, the fact that they’re not one and the same must be made clear across your organization. Distinguishing them apart in the way they’re recorded or handled provides everyone with a complete view of what’s going on and only from there can the right steps be taken in resolving the issues.

2. Maintain an up-to-date Known Error Database (KEDB)

A Known Error is a problem that has a documented root cause and a workaround but has yet to have a permanent solution. Records for these errors can be stored in an organization’s Known Error Database (KEDB).

Keeping an updated KEDB provides the ability to accurately track a problem’s lifecycle. By having your records for problems in a separate area, you have better visibility of different issues and shifting priorities. Complete documentation of these makes it easier to look for workarounds in the future, analyze trends, and understand the impact on the IT infrastructure.

3. Encourage collaboration

The ability to look at a problem from different angles is key to finding the right solution and what better way to achieve this than to gather insights across your team? Make the most of their knowledge and experience to quickly identify root causes. Feedback from the service desk team dealing with the incidents first-hand is also extremely valuable as they’re on the front line, closely communicating with the affected end-users.

4. Equip your team with the right tools

You wouldn’t want to hinder your problem management team with ill-suited tools. For them to respond quickly and effectively to problems, they need the tools that will support them with the work that needs to get done.

Don’t let them get bogged down with manual, administrative burdens, and take advantage of automation capabilities that give them back the time to focus on solving problems.

5. Be customer-centric – it’s about the people, not the tech

When it comes to problem management, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in fixing troublesome technology. But that’s not the end goal. ITSM is all about bettering the service experience for the end-users, so your problem management should align with that objective. What problem is causing end-users the most grief? Which systems or services do end-users rely on the most and what risks are involved with those? Homing in on the customer journey will enable you to take a proactive approach to problem management.

6. Prioritize the permanent solutions

Many problems are repeat incidents and most likely you would have a workaround in hand for them already. But while it’s always good to deliver quick wins, creating permanent solutions provides greater value over time. This will decrease the number of recurring incidents and lessen the time spent on firefighting. Where possible, work on finding a permanent solution to your most pressing problems.

7. Work closely with the change management team

We’ve already emphasized the importance of collaboration. Working with the incident management team is a no-brainer, but just as important is the ability to work closely with the change management team too. Problem managers can raise trends or risks associated with upcoming changes. And on the flip side, they might also have to request changes as part of a problem resolution. Close collaboration between the two areas means that they can quickly prepare for and implement necessary changes.

Problem management software features to look out for

Technology plays a huge part in helping your team carry out effective problem management. But choosing the right tools is often challenging with so many solutions promising many things.

Whether you choose a standalone problem management solution or a system that provides full coverage of various ITSM processes like IFS assyst, there are some key elements that you should look out for from your preferred tool.

· Smart automation

Your team should be able to assign tasks, group related incidents, and correctly categorize problems with ease. This can be made possible with smart automation capabilities, removing the manual work involved in these key activities.

· Knowledge database

Tackle incoming incidents to known problems by creating accessible knowledge articles containing workarounds as you work towards a permanent solution. With a go-to place for service desk teams to refer to, you can help lessen the disruptions end-users experience.

· Continuous tracking and automated alerts

You can keep track of the health of your IT environments with continuous tracking. Setting up automated alerts and notifications for issues/irregularities enables you to quickly pick up potential problems that can crop up and deal with them before impacting end-users.

· Smooth integration with other ITSM processes

This is even more crucial if you’re choosing a standalone solution. As we’ve seen, problem management is closely linked to many other ITSM processes, so it’s a given that your chosen solution should be able to support these interactions.

· Powerful search and reporting capabilities

Ongoing problem trend analysis is important for coming up with permanent solutions. So, features that enable you to easily generate reports with a useful, detailed breakdown of the data you need are a must.

For more top considerations when evaluating problem management or ITSM solutions, check out our free buyer’s guide.

How IFS assyst can help with problem management

Delivering great Moments of Service is what we do. Helping hundreds of enterprises transform their ITSM and ESM capabilities, IFS assyst can provide complete visibility and control over your IT infrastructure and streamline your problem management processes.

See how your organization can get started by booking a free online demo today!

 

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