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Stop Gambling! Make Root Cause Analysis the Foundation of IT Services

Close-up van roulettewiel

When the pressure is on to resolve IT problems, the natural reaction is to try the first thing that comes to mind that could possibly resolve the issue. But a fast fix without ever finding the true cause is high stakes gambling. It creates work, can lead to recurring and bigger problems, damages IT stability and results in dissatisfied customers and greater expense.

For any new problem there are likely to be hundreds of possible causes. The Pareto Principle or the 80–20 Rule indicates that roughly 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes. With only one chance in five of best guesses actually yielding the real root cause of a problem, it saves time and money to stop and think it through.

Improve your odds

Without effective root cause analysis, the deck is stacked against you. When the pressure is on and the solution is unknown, problem solving should not be a best guess, trial and error methodology. The Kepner-Tregoe approach to finding root cause has been widely adapted by IT service organizations because it brings speed and accuracy to finding cause.  Based on our experience in IT service and support, organizations that use a systematic approach to root cause analysis are successful at reducing IT downtime, improving customer satisfaction, and ultimately having a positive effect on the profitability of the business.


Without effective root cause analysis, the deck is stacked against you


Technology workers are skilled at fixing things, but faced with time and cost pressures and a problem no one has experienced before, a consistent process can calmly shape and order the problem analysis. It may seem obvious, but one of the first things that needs to be done is to determine if there is a problem that needs to be solved. This can be done by asking three simple questions:

  1.  Do we have a deviation?
  2.  Is the cause of the deviation unknown?
  3.  Do we need to know why the deviation is happening in order to take effective action?

If the answer to these three questions is “yes”, then we know that we are faced with a problem and it is time to start a problem analysis process. There are four phases to the KT process:

  1. Describe the problem
  2. Identify possible causes
  3. Evaluate possible causes
  4. Confirm true cause

The first phase of this process, describing the problem, is the big one. If it is not done successfully it is unlikely that the next three phases will yield the correct answer. Note that we accurately describe the problem first—despite the natural temptation to jump to the possible causes. Spending time on this part of the process at the outset will greatly improve the chances of determining the true root cause.

Bring the right players to the table

One of the foundations of effective root-cause analysis for problem management is to have the right people in the room, with proven facts and appropriate technical knowledge. Bringing a cross-functional group of people together to objectively assess data, examine theories and apply expertise improves the chance of identifying the true root cause in the shortest time possible.

A winning solution

A process will never “solve” the problem, but it will tell you what you need to know to effectively focus your energy, time and resources in the right direction. Eliminating a trial and error approach to problem management puts the odds in your favor for building IT stability, controlling costs and improving the customer experience.

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