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How To Identify & Classify Problems

Updated: Apr 26

Identifying Problems using the Problem Management Process

Various methods of problem identification can trigger the problem management process, and here I'll explore several of them.

Incident-based Problem Identification

The most common method for identifying problems is incident analysis. The help desk team may indicate an underlying problem when multiple incidents are reported with similar symptoms.

Mostly, you and your team will instinctively know where the problems are and where the best use of your resources should be assigned to investigate.

Trending and data analysis tools can be used to identify patterns in incident data and reveal potential problems. Some of the reports you might look to for this kind of data might be;

Incident Frequency Report: This report shows the number of incidents reported over a specified period (e.g., daily, weekly, or monthly). It helps identify any unusual spikes or trends in the volume of reported incidents, which could indicate underlying problems. From there, you might start to explore the data further and begin to zero in on trends.

Top Incident Categories Report: This report provides an overview of incident categories by volume, ranking them according to the number of incidents reported. It helps identify the most common types of issues, allowing the help desk team to gain a general understanding of problem areas. For example, this report might show that 40% of reported incidents are related to software issues, while 30% are related to hardware issues, and so on.

Repeated Incidents Report: This report delves deeper into the specifics of individual incidents that have similar symptoms or the same root cause. It helps the help desk team pinpoint particular recurring issues, which might indicate a more significant, unresolved problem. Unlike the Top Incident Categories Report, which shows broader categories, the Repeated Incidents Report focuses on unique or closely related incidents. For example, this report might reveal that multiple users are experiencing the same error message when trying to access a specific software application or that several workstations have similar hardware malfunctions.

Proactive Problem Identification

a man examining data

Proactive problem identification aims to detect potential problems before they manifest as incidents. So it's really more of an advanced technique further up the maturity model. Several methods can be employed, and to give you some ideas:

Regular system and infrastructure health checks: These checks include assessing hardware for signs of wear or failure, validating software configurations, updating patches, and checking for sufficient resources (e.g., disk space, memory, and processing power).

Monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) and service level agreements (SLAs): Tracking and analysing KPIs related to service quality, such as system uptime, response time, and error rates, enables organisations to identify trends and deviations from expected performance. In addition, comparing actual performance against SLA targets can help reveal potential problems before they impact end users.

Conducting risk assessments and vulnerability scans: Regularly evaluating IT systems for potential risks and vulnerabilities helps organisations identify areas where improvements can be made to minimise potential problems. Risk assessments include analysing security measures, data protection, and backup strategies, while vulnerability scans help detect unpatched software, misconfigurations, or outdated components that may be susceptible to exploits.

Utilising predictive analytics and machine learning algorithms: Leveraging advanced analytics tools can help organisations identify patterns and trends in system performance, user behaviour, and other data sources, allowing them to anticipate potential issues.

Implementing continuous improvement processes: Encourage a culture of continuous improvement by regularly reviewing existing processes, infrastructure, and services. By analysing performance data, customer feedback, and internal reviews, organisations can identify areas for improvement and implement changes that proactively prevent future problems.

User-reported Problem Identification

Sometimes users may notice patterns or issues in the IT services that have not yet been reported as incidents. Encouraging users to report their observations can help identify problems that would have gone unnoticed. In addition, organisations can set up channels such as feedback forms, user forums, and focus groups to gather user input on potential problems.

Supplier or Vendor Notifications

Third-party suppliers or vendors may inform an organisation about known issues or potential product or service problems. Keeping a close relationship with suppliers and staying informed about their product updates and known issues can help in early problem identification.

Major Incident Reviews

After resolving a major incident, conducting a thorough review is essential to identify any underlying problems that may have contributed to the incident. The review should cover root cause analysis, incident timeline, and resolution process. This helps identify gaps or issues that need to be addressed to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Categorising Problems

While problem management and incident management are related processes, they have different purposes and distinct objectives; Incident management focuses on quickly restoring regular service operation after an interruption, while problem management aims to identify, analyse, and resolve the root causes of recurring incidents.

As a result, the categories used in problem management can be more granular and focused on root causes. In contrast, incident management categories are usually centred around the types of incidents or the affected services.

While problem management categories don't need to be identical to incident management categories, they should be related and complementary to ensure consistency and facilitate effective communication and collaboration between the two processes.

Here are some guidelines to consider when defining problem management categories:

  1. Align problem categories with incident categories wherever possible to maintain consistency and ease of correlation between incidents and problems.

  2. Focus on the root causes and underlying issues in problem management categories rather than the symptoms or manifestations of the incidents.

  3. Consider creating subcategories within problem management categories to provide additional granularity and aid in identifying trends or patterns in root causes.

By tailoring your problem management categories to reflect the root causes and underlying issues, you'll be better equipped to address these problems and improve your overall IT service quality.


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