Problem Management – Some Practical Suggestions on Getting Started

In a previous post we went back in history to the old ITIL v2 Service Support volume to highlight an effective role Problem Management can play in providing control and oversight to the solutions and workarounds developed and applied in the support organization. This post will offer some thoughts on how to get started with Problem Management.

I have been on several projects where Problem Management was in the original scope of work but we never actually developed the process. More urgent items and limited time and resources moved the Problem effort out of ‘phase 1’. This is unfortunate because having a separate process to oversee the Incident workarounds and keep track of all of the longer term issues in a centralized place can provide immediate benefits.

And the fact is that Problem Management can be implemented with very little initial overhead.

One way to start very quickly is to appoint a Problem Manager to oversee the process. Of course, as with all process owners your Problem Manager will need to be provided with proper resources and authority to manage the process.

Once given the proper organizational authority, your new Problem Manager simply needs to keep track of the list of outstanding ‘Problem Candidates’ and track progress against them.

Figure out a way to keep that list up to date and publicly available and you are in the Problem Management business.

‘Problem Candidates’ is an intentional term. Remember – you always have the option to ‘decline to pursue’ a Problem. It is useful, however, to keep track of them in a centralized list so that the organization has history about the decisions made about which Problems to pursue and which not to pursue.

One mistake to avoid is to form a ‘Problem Team’ that has the responsibility for investigating all Problems. If your organization is large enough that you need a team of people to manage and coordinate the PROCESS of Problem investigation that is one thing. But make no mistake, the Problem Management role is one of coordinating and managing Problem investigations. The teams doing the actual troubleshooting will vary depending on the nature of the specific Problem being investigated.

That is one reason having a centralized Problem process to coordinate all the Problem investigations is of immediate benefit. It is a big help in providing an organizational understanding of Work-In-Progress .

Problem Management is similar to Change Management in that you can derive immediate benefits without having it integrated into your ITSM tool, at least not at the outset. Just appoint a Problem Manager, be sure they have the organizational authority to oversee the process and keep a centralized list of Problems considered, Problems that are being actively pursued (WIP) and those completed.

One idea that I have successfully used to jump-start the process is to add a 5-10 minute ‘Problem-section’ to the CAB meeting. Now, you have to be careful with this. It is only going to work if you already have a smoothly functioning Change process and your CAB meetings are efficiently run. But if you do find yourself in that happy state, adding a quick Problem overview section to the meeting can help to jump-start the Problem process and ensure it is well integrated with Change Management.

When it does come time to add Problem to the ITSM tool-set, the process definition itself can be pretty basic. In fact, the out-of-the-box ServiceNow process is not a bad place to start. Unlike Incident and Change, you don’t need a lot of workflow to have an effective Problem Management module. The ability to track Problem Type, assign Tasks to the teams and relate Problems to Incidents and Changes is all you need for an effective baseline Problem Management application.

You might be surprised to hear that from a ServiceNow implementation specialist, but in a future post we’ll offer some thoughts on fancy integration workflow with Incident, Major Incident and Problem Management.

For now, the thoughts above and in our recent post on using Problem Management to improve Incident Management should help you get started with Problem Management.