The Four Root Causes in Problem Management
Problem Management means investigating deficiencies in IT service delivery and seeking to identify root causes, with the goal of enacting changes that will result in improved operations and more efficient service.
Simply put, in order to fix something, you have to know what is broken. The indication of a problem could be a set of incidents, complaints from customers, excessive costs, performance impacts, and other factors that show the system is not operating properly or at sufficient capacity or speed.
In the ITIL framework, Incident Management is focused on restoring normal operations as quickly as possible. Problem Management follows along with this as way to understand why the incidents are occurring. Usually, the root causes fall into one of these four categories:
Hardware – misconfigured, outdated, under-capacity, needs upgrading
Software – outdated, does not meet current needs, buggy, bad UI
Procedures – processes or workflows are not efficient or have flaws
People – not properly trained or not skilled enough for the tasks required
Once the root cause is determined, and the problem can be placed in one or more of these four categories, a solution can be put in place. Each of these areas has a particular solution path:
Hardware – reconfigure, replace, add capacity, upgrade the system
Software – upgrade to latest version, replace the software, find new software with better feature sets
Procedures – revise processes, replace them with newer, more efficient ones.
People – devise training materials and events. If untrainable, find people with the proper skills
The above solutions are all about “changes” and that is where Change Management comes into play. Changes to the system or processes should not be done without forethought and consideration of the expected outcome. Changes should be measurable and reviewed as to whether they actually solved the problem or at least alleviated some of the inefficiencies. Changes may be sequential — one change may get the organization partially where it needs to be, with subsequent changes required to fully correct a problem.
It is an important and mature approach to IT Service Management to treat any incidents, slowdowns, or inefficiencies as indicators of where improvement is needed. While no one welcomes incidents or issues that hurt productivity and cause the organization lost time and money, a positive attitude will see these as an opportunity and challenge to do better.
In this context, problems become the driver for a continuous cycle of improvement. Seeking root causes becomes a type of detective work; identifying and implementing solutions requires analytical skills. This approach turns Problem Management from a burden to a key factor in an organization’s success.