With guest blogger Michael Hall.
Many problem management implementations fail or have limited success because they miss one key ingredient in their practice: having trained problem managers leading problem investigations using structured methods. By following a few simple guidelines, your problem management function can be successful from day one or rescued from its current low levels of performance.
A typical problem management process document usually covers roles and responsibilities, how the process works and a little bit about governance.
Roles and responsibilities usually covers just resolver groups and the process owner. It is surprising how frequently the problem manager role is not defined at all. Responsibilities for the resolver group usually includes ‘investigate root cause’ and ‘update and close problems’. The problem manager is often given responsibilities like ‘assign problems to resolver groups’ and ‘track problem progress’.
The process normally covers the steps but does not say how to go about solving problems. Commonly, the process is simply ‘assign the problem to a resolver group for investigation’. Usually the resolver group also owns closure. This means that there is no way of knowing if the root cause found is correct or if the solution is adequate.
The result is that many implementations do not achieve their expected results. I call this approach ‘passive’ or administrative problem management. The impact on reducing incidents is usually minimal.
If your monthly major incident data looks like this, you may have one of these typical implementations:
Figure 1: Monthly Occurrence of Major Incidents.
The Alternative – ‘Active’ Problem Management
The missing ingredient in a typical implementation is skilled problem managers using a structured approach to solving problems. By structured, I mean a consistent, evidence-based method, either by adopting one of the major problem-solving frameworks such as Kepner and Fourie, or by agreeing your own set of steps (I set out one version in my book). Deciding on a standard method that everyone will use with NO exceptions is the critical success factor for effective problem management.
The benefits are:
- Speed to root cause – a standard approach yields results more quickly –around 60% quicker in fact (see Figure 2)
- Consistency – all your problem managers can be equally successful
- Certainty that real causes are found – because investigations are based on evidence and not guesswork and theories, you can show that the causes found are correct
- Collaboration – if you do problem management the same way every time, teams know what to expect, they can see the good results and they get used to working together without confusion
Figure 2: Average time to find root cause in two problem management implementations.
Problem Managers Lead Investigation Sessions
Because it is the problem managers who are highly skilled in problem solving techniques, they should facilitate problem management investigations in conjunction with the technical experts, then work with subject matter experts to determine solutions to problems and track implementation to ensure the problem is entirely fixed. The problem management function should be responsible for reporting root cause, progress on resolution and all the metrics and KPIs related to problem management, but (very important!) making sure that the subject matter experts get the credit for solving the problems.
Track and validate solutions
To gain the main benefit you are after – reducing the occurrence of major incidents – problem management also needs to apply a structured approach to finding solutions, getting approval to implement and tracking the implementation to an agreed target due date.
This is what successful problem management looks like when you have skilled problem managers using a structured approach to finding root cause and finding and implementing permanent solutions. When problems stop causing incidents, the incident rate goes down quite rapidly.
Figure 3: Monthly Occurrence of Major Incidents.
Michael has over 25 years experience in IT, developing and leading teams, managing change programs and implementing Service Management. Now a specialist in Service Operations, he founded Problem Management as a global function at Deutsche Bank and is a Chartered IT Professional (CITP). Michael will be leading a workshop on Implementing Real World Problem Management at Service Management 2015.