Potential pitfalls of Troubleshooting

“All men are liable to error;” – John Locke

Troubleshooting, as discussed is about being as logical, analytical and methodical as possible when approaching a problem. As a skill that can be learned it therefore, has its shortcomings and potential pitfalls. The pitfalls could be related to the product or equipment or to the incapacity of the troubleshooter. In the realm of troubleshooting it would seem that erroneous reasoning and a breakdown in communication and understanding, would account for an increasing number of failed and or arduous troubleshooting exercises than from any other hindrances and obstacles. It would benefit new and experienced troubleshooters to keep in mind some regular and fairly common and potential pitfalls of troubleshooting before going headlong in to the actual exercise.

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– When working with equipment and its parts, especially when the whole package is new, the common error is trusting that since it is new it will be good and in working condition. This might be true for most instances, but sometimes it is not. One cannot overlook human error and damage in transition. There is always a possibility that an integral part has been wrongly labelled and may not even be a part that belongs with the overall equipment. This failure could have been made at any stage of packaging or distribution or even at the manufacturing stage. To avoid issues during troubleshooting, it is critical that the person undertaking this exercise checks all the equipment at the start.

– Not making regular checks on the testing equipment that will be used during the troubleshooting process. For example if a troubleshooter requires battery powered meters and the batteries have not been checked, then a weak battery most likely will provide inaccurate readings. If the tools used by the troubleshooting person are faulty, it is highly unlikely that any amount of methodical and logical reasoning would get the results aimed at.

– Anyone who has attempted a system or equipment troubleshooting, would know that the most ideal situation is when there is just a single cause for the problem. However, assuming this to be true for all situations is one of the potential pitfalls of troubleshooting. A failure could be the result of one problem that gave rise to a multiple number of problems. One failed component could be disrupting the working of the other related components. Having an open mind in every troubleshooting exercise would prevent problems from becoming bigger and more potent.

– Even the most experienced troubleshooters may make this mistake. Assuming that because two failures occurred at the same time does not necessarily mean that one caused the other or even that they are related in any way. A novice is most likely to fall into the trap of these potential pitfalls of troubleshooting. It is vital that the cause of each failure is looked at separately to understand if the two failures were just a coincidence or actually have a relationship with each other. It is possible that the troubleshooter discovers that there is a relation between the failures but completely different to the one assumed.

– As a process, we know that troubleshooting is complex and cumbersome and a complicated problem could lead to extreme fatigue. The troubleshooter after a while would probably be so overwhelmed that the most obvious yet crucial problems may become blurry. This is like a self-induced mind block. It becomes extremely necessary at this stage to take a step back and walk away from the problem. Taking a break and asking another person to analyze the problem always helps. This not only provides a new perspective but also gets the troubleshooter back to tackle the problem with a clear head and renewed energy.

– Troubleshooting as a complex task is best handled alone by the most proficient troubleshooter of the seeming problem. This is to avoid too many opinions and distracting talking while working at it. Team troubleshooting causes more problems and can be frustrating. As an exception, a problem that could use complimentary skill sets could have more than one person working on a problem.

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– As the main troubleshooter, for problems that require more than one person, apart from being level headed and open minded, it is important that the work of the other troubleshooters is constantly monitored. This may sound rather unpleasant and uncongenial but is a task that must be done if a logical and scientific methodology is to be followed. Every data and observation, made by each person on the troubleshooting exercise, must be checked several times and no assumption must be made that the data provided would surely be accurate. This is one of the potential pitfalls of troubleshooting that could cause more problems and push the whole exercise back to where it started.

– People in the office and customers most often are unable to understand the extent of a problem and the time and potential time it can take for the troubleshooting to be successful. For a lay person, the equipment does not work and time is money, so everything must be hurried up. However, for an experienced troubleshooter hurry means providing temporary fixes that could lead to the problem reoccurring or even cause new problems. Improper solutions cannot be fixed or recovered from in a short time. The troubleshooter must genuinely, politely and yet firmly inform the person of the most likely amount of time the fixing will take and that any pressure to hurry might lead to more and complicated problems. Having good communication and interpersonal skills at this stage will be as major an asset as technical troubleshooting ability.

– Troubleshooting personnel must steer clear of assigning blame or pointing fingers at anyone for the cause of the problem. Problems and system failures happen and an acceptance of this fact will prevent blame being assigned to any one particular reason or person. Keeping a calm mind, focused disposition and positive attitude are the soft skills that will hold the troubleshooting staff in good stead.

– One of the most tedious and arduous among troubleshooting problems is probably being the troubleshooter’s inability to recognize a design error. The system or equipment is failing simply because it is unable to function as it was designed to. These basic design flaws do not normally surface unless there is a trigger that turns into a problem. In such cases, the troubleshooting staff most often ignores or forgets that design error could be a problem since after all, the equipment or system was working up to now. Therefore, it is important that a troubleshooter observes and looks at all possible causes for the failure and refrains from assuming or eliminating causes without properly checking.

– Among the potential pitfalls of troubleshooting, it would seem that the troubleshooting staff is only trained and focused on the technical aspects of the process. Soft skills and characteristics being completely overlooked. As established earlier, it is impossible for anyone to function well or contribute without having the basic yet essential skills – communication, interpersonal, empathy, patience, open-mindedness and a calm and stable disposition.

As a take-away from the points mentioned, it seems that the potential pitfalls of troubleshooting (can be true for problem solving in everyday life too) occur as a result of miscalculations of the possible complexities of the task at hand. Despite knowing that troubleshooting is process oriented, troubleshooting staff sometimes just dive headlong in to resolving the problem because they ‘think’ that the problem has occurred before and so is relatively easy. Even if the troubleshooter realizes midway that the whole assessment has been erroneous, they may not stop since there could be people watching and admitting to a fault is never easy. The timeline given for resolution also gets upset and that is a risk no one wants to take especially if an external customer is involved.

It must be noted however, that making a proper assessment and carefully going through the process will consume much less in terms of time and energy. An incorrect or lop-sided approach could cause more problems that would probably be more difficult to negotiate causing more severe losses. It is important for this group of staff to avoid the potential pitfalls of troubleshooting by managing the process from the start. Experienced troubleshooters must document clearly all the exercises they undertake so as to help novice troubleshooters to avoid making the same mistakes. Effective troubleshooting is a combination of following the process, avoiding potential pitfalls and working in a professional manner that eventually leads to customer satisfaction, increased productivity and revenue.

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