Measuring Problem Management Quality in an ITIL Environment, Part 4

By Berrie Schuurhuis, Kepner-Tregoe

As we’ve explored in this series, particularly in the third article, developing best practices for measuring problem management performance requires an investment of time and a willingness to go through a proper Problem Analysis. As we’ll discover in this final article, it also means changing behavior.

How to Establish a Baseline Indicator

When the steps for a consistent and replicable approach to Problem Analysis are understood well, measuring the quality of a found root cause becomes much easier. If the magic in finding a root cause is understood, it can be documented, reproduced, transferred smoothly and timed efficiently, which are all characteristics of a best practice.

Once an IT support organization starts using a unified approach to Problem Analysis, the immediate quality or value of individuals and teams can be measured. This is exactly what Kepner-Tregoe (KT) consultants do when assessing the quality of existing troubleshooting processes being conducted in an IT support environment. By reading through existing incidents and problem tickets, and by estimating how much to structure the approach against a known standard, we can help generate a baseline leading indicator for the quality of troubleshooting.

For example, IT staff who consistently document their synopsis in terms of an object with a deviation, (answering the question: “What is wrong with what?”) appear to spend just over 10 percent less time on average finding a root cause.

It may sound too easy to be true–just documenting the object and identifying the defect to find the root cause—and save over 10 percent on closing time. Well, you might be right. It may sound easy, but it’s not. To make this thought process imprinted and reflexive requires a change in behavior.

In the heat of the moment, under time and other pressures from the business, this simple step can fall aside if not practiced and supported separately from the high-pressure issues. The steps for implementing a best practice for troubleshooting is well understood, but making the change will still take attention, focus, good planning and proper thinking. Fortunately enough, thinking is easy, but implementation teams may still get distracted.

The KT Clear Thinking processes, like Problem Analysis, are not a silver bullet that guarantees a root cause will be found. Rather, it is a method that guides already knowledgeable experts toward the goal of finding the root cause, which may vary depending on the quality of data that goes into the process.

The latter is a key ingredient for success. Just filling in the form, template or spreadsheet doesn’t provide a good root cause because Problem Analysis is built on a firm foundation of hard logic that needs to be actively used. It still takes intensive data gathering, thinking and checking, which is no different from troubleshooting in an unstructured troubleshooting environment. The big change is that the steps in thinking become visible and they get a name, all based on a clear underlying plan for Problem Analysis. As a result, we can measure and communicate where we are and how we’re doing in the process of finding a root cause.

In this case, measuring is not a database query showing how much time or how many tickets meet a given set of criteria. It gets to a rating that can be given by internal (troubleshooting) experts who judge the quality of gathered data in the distinctive steps of Problem Analysis. Such an assessment then becomes a leading performance indicator for the quality of Problem Analysis.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Reading a book on playing a violin doesn’t make the reader a great violin player. Similarly, just training an organization how think better during troubleshooting is not likely to turn the organization into a world-class group of troubleshooters.

It will take attention, implementation and dedication to reinforce the thinking approaches that individuals take, but the results will pay-off. Making an investment in learning how to find root causes in Problem Management is supporting investments in technical skills and experience. This leads to a workforce that is aware and well equipped for what it takes to find good quality resolutions for complex problems.

At the beginning of a Problem Management case, a manager will never know how long it will take before the root cause is found, but there will be a clear and planned direction and the arrival time will be more predictable. This will enable measurement of quality in Problem Management.

Part 3: Measuring Problem Management Quality in an ITIL Environment, Part 3

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