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Secrets to Top Gun Troubleshooting and Knowledge Capture

Woman examines her to-do list

Improve support performance while increasing customer loyalty

Wherever you are in a support organization from CXO to individual contributor, finding quality resolutions to problems quickly, and taking correct action are critical, daily tasks. Often, immediate access to vital information, which would make you look even more professional, may be restricted due to a number of poor business practices left unaddressed across the work flow continuum.

Having limited or no access to information, including;

  • an inability to find the “relevant” factual data
  • inconsistent handling of issues leading to inconsistent reporting
  • increased time to resolve issues delaying availability of critical information

Often this contributes to increased operational costs and the solving of the same issues over and over again—among other undesired outcomes.

There is no shortage of available information, yet we see many individuals searching for ‘more data’ rather than taking meaningful action or worse, taking the wrong action. Much of the troubleshooting information goes undocumented for a number of reasons including a lack of standard setting, and often a lack of enforcement and/or encouragement by leadership to document it.

In 1955, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham created a cognitive psychological tool—the Johari Window— to help people better understand their interpersonal communication and relationships. It has withstood the test of time.

The Johari Window is a straightforward concept that allows you to examine how much information you know about yourself and how much others know about you. The window contains four panes, as shown below. By identifying different kinds of things that are known and then increasing personal awareness, the areas not known to the individual are reduced and the understanding of the whole is increased.


Name, hair color, address, favorite color and music

Blind Spot
That there is a piece of spinach on your teeth

Computer pass codes, private thoughts about others never shared

People “do what they do” as a result of

  • their capabilities
  • the human performance system where they work
  • a lack of awareness of things that they do not know

In order to manage their most critical asset, leadership must align the environment with the service strategy and ensure that the individuals know enough to be able to make good choices.

In the IT Service Market, there is no shortage of expert advice on best practices, products and trends in customer support services, help desk strategies, tools, customer loyalty, or web advancements, to name a few. Many are produced by reputable management consultants, software vendors, experienced professionals, and research groups, with great, documented detail, charts and graphs.

However, simply being advised on what to do at a computer level, or what software to buy, doesn’t solve problems any faster. People solve problems. Actions fix problems. It’s the way we think, act and feel that drive successful interactions. How we enable people is key to success. Having an end-to-end approach that integrates Incident, Problem and Knowledge Management through a common method for issue resolution and knowledge documentation/transfer will keep customers, make money, retain talent and, over time, increase the business’ competitive edge.

Quick check: how do you approach?

  • The care, nurturing, feeding and maintenance of the knowledge base
  • Learning and continuous process improvement
  • Channeling and structuring of input and influences across departments
  • The customer involvement and feedback
  • Interaction with the ‘technology community’
  • Understanding how you are doing.

Take the Johari Window out of cognitive psychology for a moment. When two more dimensions are introduced, “Known to the KM system” (i.e., the Knowledge Management system has an entry) and “Not known to the KM system” (i.e., no matter how hard you try you’re not going to find the answer because it’s not there) we get this three dimensional matrix of knowledge challenges.

KNOWN TO OTHERS General knowledge findable by all Public tacit knowledge not entered in KM system Findable with correct tag which others can give you Private tacit knowledge to a particular group, not entered into the KM system
NOT KNOWN TO OTHERS Privately tagged knowledge entered into KM database but only findable with private tags Private, known only to self Un-findable— only random chance will find the knowledge Unknown—new problem

This then gives us only eight challenges, only some of which need solving:

General knowledge is the business of Knowledge Management, Knowledge Re-use and Knowledge Exploitation. The explicit knowledge is information tagged correctly, that can easily be found.

Public tacit knowledge is the knowledge in the business held only in the heads of the individuals working in that business. It is not written down and if the people move on (or they are asleep) then the knowledge is not available to anyone else. This is a big business problem—how do you get people to write knowledge down—especially if knowledge is perceived to be a reason for continued employment. A current solution to this problem is to index the contents of the free text window in the customer support tool into the KM system. Anyone who has belabored under this system will know how very unsatisfying the search results can be—it turns out that support engineers write nothing, copy everything or write pretty much the same things into their case handling tool no matter what they are working on. Consequently, a search returns either nothing or everything. By driving standardized documentation of cases, and feeding that documentation into the KM system there is a smaller opportunity for knowledge to be lost.

Privately tagged knowledge is also a problem to a support organization. Knowledge has been entered into the system, but only a particular search will retrieve that knowledge. The engineers know (from repeated beatings) that they must use the KM system, but they also know that if the knowledge dribbles onto the Internet then they will take no calls, so they write the content but make it un-findable except to themselves. As managers, you won’t know about this except if you were once an engineer. By driving a standardized format for the capture of content as a by-product of good thought processes, the knowledge is no longer privately tagged.

Private knowledge is a problem. It is held in the mind of a single individual and is not entered into the KM system, which means that for the rest of the business it does not exist. How to get this information documented is a challenge. Drive the standardized format for documentation, and insist on it (after all, the employer has paid for the knowledge and is entitled to reuse it).

Findable with correct tag is knowledge that you could find if you knew what to search for, but the knowledge of the appropriate search key is not known to you. So you need to know who to contact to get a hint on what to look for. This is correctly tagged in the KM system, you just don’t know what to look for. If I knew a problem was with a “salt of silver,” but I didn’t know which “salt” it was I might have to contact a technical expert to help me create the search string. Instant Messaging, the new Knowledge Exploitation and visualization research products from IBM and others help overcome the “who do I turn to?” question in large organizations by tagging the capabilities of the individuals and making that information easily findable.

Un-findable knowledge is in there, but you’re not going to find it. Perhaps it started life as privately tagged knowledge and then the users of that knowledge went away. Perhaps it was simply written badly. Effectively this is dead knowledge and periodic cleaning and validating of the KM system should notice it.

Private tacit knowledge involves others in the support organization who hold this information in their heads, but you can’t find it in the KM system. As a result, you have to know who to contact, and they will have to tell or write you the answer from their head again and again, but it’s a good job with no heavy lifting so that’s okay for them. Codification or Articulation will capture the knowledge if the individual is willing to give it up, and the standardized documentation system will assist in reducing this kind of knowledge over time. Again, the delivery of the knowledge about the skills of the people in the organization can help make links to allow the jump to the right information.

Unknown is a new problem content does not exist yet. It is information the organization is going to have to discover from first principles. This is where the rigorous application of good quality processes and documentation techniques play a very big part—this is a journey into the unknown for the people involved. Others may need to follow, so it is essential to make sure the content is well documented and almost immediately published, so that others do not have the same struggles.

Kepner-Tregoe Problem Solving and Decision Making processes, when installed in a support organization help on many levels, specifically:

  • The creation of high quality knowledge as a by-product of normal work
  • The preparation of the organization to think correctly under pressure
  • The ability to leverage the knowledge across the organisation independent of organisation, language and tooling boundaries

Kepner-Tregoe Problem Solving and Decision Making approach relies on data and logic, provides the “how” to rationally assess the situation, prioritize and resolve issues quickly under pressure. Dramatic business improvements, including those across the ITIL Service Lifecycle, can be achieved by using a structured methodology to improve the way people solve problems, make decisions, plan ahead, and manage people and projects. KT has been the leader for over 50 years in providing this structured methodology, which is now the “front—end” to improving the quality of knowledge article creation—both in finding and re-using solutions should the same or similar issue occur again, and by providing a technology and product independent content standard.

It is essential to look at the integration of business processes and people’s capabilities to be top-gun troubleshooters, and align those with tools for documenting and tracking performance to maximize the benefits of all investments made. KT’s troubleshooting process, used as the ‘front end’ in CRM tools, captures factual information in a logical, consistent format and drives knowledge article creation, performance and trending, while promoting communication with customers and communities.

It does this by providing a logic framework for the engineers to work in–and the framework is used to marshal the thought process, the actual information about the problem and—as a by product of the process of solving the problem—valuable knowledge is harvested.

KT processes are now available commercially in and IBM (Rational ClearQuest) CR M applications as a means to help users drive the business results they desire. With the help and creative talent of our Partner, Stone Cobra, a native developer, there are three(3) versions available: BlackCRM (Customer Support Teams), PIIT VIPER (IT SM Incident and Problem Management teams), and KT Process, standalone KAA* (All KT Process PSDM/KT Resolve users).[7]

*KT Acceleration Application

The critical differences between a tool that supports the KT process and one that does not are:

  • the field based nature of the data capture (which is easy to index)
  • the quality rules that accompany the tool from KT to provide expectations for information documentation quality standards
  • KT Process Coaches to raise documentation quality and “triggers for use”.

Effective knowledge capture and search speeds issue resolution. This is not the same as saying “tools” speed resolution!

When best practices are integrated within a tool, efficiencies in a number of areas can be gained, especially in the areas where information was not captured before—because it’s very clear whether the information has been documented or not.

Implementing a new CRM and/or KM software package issues include:

  • What information to capture
  • What legacy information to migrate
  • Which fields does which information go into
  • How to transfer legacy data into the new tool
  • Report generation, etc

Before we begin, we must look at where troubleshooting falls within the business and do a quick health check:

Quick check: are we ready to start?

Achieving world-class troubleshooting performance revolves around having a well-defined foundation to support the actions. What does this foundation look like?

KT defines this to include

  • clearly defined business objectives with business processes
  • ownership of work flow elements

Additionally, having a well-defined performance system model[2] to sustain the expected behaviors is essential. Does it include clearly defined roles, responsibilities, expectations, and feedback strategies? Are we tracking the right metrics, monitoring the performance accurately, and continually improving our services? Have our customers been included in this design? Assuming all is well, let’s get back to basics.[6]

In a world of information overload, organizations and individuals seem to treat the ability to gather the relevant information as an individual art form, rather than a systematic method. With a defined process, all individuals can consistently gather the factual and relevant information leading to faster resolve times, and resulting in higher quality of knowledge article creation.

Step 1: Get Clarity—Write it Down: What’s going on? Why did this happen? What do we do? What could go wrong, or incredibly well?

If a question was asked, but not written down, was it ever asked? How many times has one called a support desk, been transferred, and asked to repeat the same information over again? Having an approach which consistently gathers relevant factual data and logic, rationally assesses the situation, prioritizes and resolves issues quickly while being under pressure is the key to all steps that follow.

Dramatic business improvements, including those across the ITIL Service Lifecycle can be achieved by using a structured method to improve the way people solve problems, make decisions, plan ahead, and manage people in projects. Clients who have adopted the KT processes have realized significant performance improvements resulting in:

  • more effective collaboration across geographic and support teams
  • improved first time fix rates
  • reduced escalations
  • reduced time to resolve
  • higher quality documentation
  • reduced operational costs (less time wasted trying fixes that make no sense, dispatch avoidance, etc.)
  • higher customer loyalty and satisfaction ratings.

With this best practice structured methodology for troubleshooting adopted by all members of the team, a dramatic improvement in quality of knowledge articles immediately follows. The advantages of writing down the information gathered in the troubleshooting process goes far beyond just helping in solving for cause, it also maximizes the value of the troubleshooting outputs.

Step 2: Exploit the Knowledge Base: Have we seen this before? Have we fixed it before? Is it ‘cause unknown’?

When an issue, complaint, problem or concern arrives “best practices” say “search the knowledge base early and often.” But what do you search on? How convenient is it to open multiple windows or screens and type in the “right” words to find possible solutions? The ways in which users implement this feature range from informal to highly sophisticated application deployment, integrated with other applications. KT’s process aligns data gathering in a consistent format. The need for consistency in documentation enables effective knowledge re-use.

Not only is the tool important—most case management tools have this kind of a field—it is the rules for what is entered into this field and the coaching to require that those rules are followed that makes the difference.

As we know, a proportion of incoming cases are Cause Unknown. Each one should become at least one KB entry. There is more analysis needed to understand what proportion of cases are unique, so not likely to be reused, and what proportion are partly or wholly repeating. This is the area where KT Problem Analysis (PA) adds the most value. A good PA is a good KB entry, and makes it easy to see whether reuse is likely. In a perfect world, KT process would run the first call triage, or rather Situation Appraisal (SA). This identifies the need(s) of the customer, and makes clear the nature of their assistance request: information, break fix or how to (possible change request), among others. Then a KB search would ideally present the answer.

The format for data structure is important for helping engineers find root cause. It is not, however, simply that providing a tool with a structured approach immediately spawns great quality. Through use of KT process coaching and clearly defined triggers for quality documentation, significant performance improvements are achieved (MTTR, increased FTF, reduced escalations, reduced backlog, etc.). Here, structure within the tool enables and assists the driving of better quality behavior. This really is not “work harder” but “work smarter”.

Amanda Roberts, CEO and Founder of Stone Cobra has often provided advice regarding best practices around knowledge management strategies, some of which are summarized here:

  • The highest gains for knowledge sharing are within the first few days after a • new issue is first discovered. This implies that waiting for someone to write and publish the knowledge is a wasted opportunity—capture the information at the time of problem solving and publish at the latest that night for maximum effect.
  • Consistent use of the knowledgebase means it stays current. Experienced agents are revising knowledge in the knowledgebase even though they may have had the solution already in their heads.

Additionally the knowledgebase should include or allow for tagging in a ‘folksonomy’ sort of manner, for both internal and external client usage. The level of flexibility is greatly increased while still retaining some of the benefits of structure.

  • Make the use of the knowledgebase—the path of least resistance to the solution for customers and agents. If using the KB is a difficult or cumbersome task, it is unlikely to be utilized effectively.
  • In the same vein as this old saying, outcomes are more important than activities. For example, you don’t really care how many KB articles an agent is writing. What you care about is how much useful knowledge that agent is documenting for others to share. Measuring and putting goals on desired outcomes (and not on activities) promotes a healthy KB.

Some users have issues with the efficiency of the search engine. More important is the performance system that surrounds creation and updating of KB entries. Direct reward for knowledge reuse rate is a part of it (bonus depends on the number of people using the KB entry to solve a case, and be careful—clever engineers can game this easily) which depends on integration with the KB Tool. It also needs coaches to focus not only on case handling but KB creation. The coaching element counteracts any delinquency in playing the numbers; technical people always find ways to beat them, driving interesting behaviors.

Step 3: Communicate Progress and Results: Are we there yet? Is it solved yet? What’s that team doing? How do we tie it all together? What could go wrong? What could go well? Where else? Are customers really sharing with others?

Clever new user interfaces are being designed for tools and search applications with customer and community portals for exchanging information. But what information should be shared externally? What community content should be listened for? How does one capture meaningful information exchange? Latest trends are aimed at maximizing the strategic impact of user—generated content through community management, search engine optimization, and supply/re-use across the Web and through the channels. Connecting end users with company brand products and services and with each other is now evolving a change for traditional ways of marketing and sales execution. Customers who are happy purchase service renewals, system upgrades, and make referrals. Unhappy customers find new suppliers and, of course, tell everyone. Customers are talking to each other. Business can choose to participate in and facilitate these conversations to their advantage or ignore their valuable feedback. Don’t assume the competitors are ignoring it as well. Providing useful “Fix” information ‘before’ an issue is experienced ultimately helps everyone involved.

Additionally, Engineering and Product Teams benefit from the input provided from Support Services. Having an integrated method to provide break/fixes and product features (desired, or undesired), among other concerns, helps evolve more efficient products, tailored to the user needs. This feeds logistics and spares, among others, ultimately reducing the cost of ownership and support.


Critical thinking skills are at the heart of organizational development. When crisis strikes, panic and reactive endeavors often ensue. One doesn’t need to be a natural people person to inspire great performance in normal conditions, but preparing to think correctly under pressure is a genuinely strategic decision to take in order to prepare for extreme conditions. The Kepner-Tregoe methodology is the “how to” for resolving issues quickly, accurately and effectively, relying on data and logic. The heart of this model is the key to thinking correctly under pressure. Embedding the KT troubleshooting process within the tools and applications used across the workflow, along with best practices in knowledge management, search methods, social media innovations and other WEB strategies, maximizes the value of the business information across the knowledge lifecycle. No longer are the support teams silos to the business, the community, and the customer.


Achieving Service Excellence in Major Incident Management

Process Knowledge and Content Knowledge. Which is more important?

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