Problem Solving Principles of Troubleshooting

Reiteration is the best way to get a point across! The problem solving principles of troubleshooting essentially follow two broad evaluations – the evaluation of the problem condition and evaluation of the resolved condition.

The evaluation of the problem state questions the current situation and asks what is not correct about the way the system or equipment is working. This analysis takes the troubleshooter to the root cause of the problem, which is the first and most crucial principle of the problem solving principles of troubleshooting. Analysis of the resolved state on the other hand, asks how things should be and should work leading to steps and reasoning through some creativity and positive mental attitude of the troubleshooter.

Apart from these two broad problem solving principles of troubleshooting, seasoned troubleshooters also include a principle that involves analyzing how to move from the problem to the resolution. This principle needs defining as it would sometimes involve management concurrence especially if there is a cost involved and or members of other teams need to understand and know the time and effort required to reach from problem to resolution. Though methodical and logical, the problem solving principles of troubleshooting are not easy. As said before, it is a process that needs time, learning and practice.

Another principle or step would definitely be about how to prevent future occurrence of the problem or problems. The overall problem solving principles of troubleshooting could be simply listed as:

– Determining the root cause of the problem
– Narrowing down to the most desired solution
– Using and implementing the desired solution
– Staving potential similar or other problems in the future

These problem solving principles might seem simple but that is not true. Each step has further sub-steps and processes, without implementing which, the troubleshooting person cannot move to the next step. The first step alone has a few sub-steps that are detailed and descriptive:

– A detailed, error-free and complete description of all the symptoms or incidents that led to the problem
– An in-depth and detailed plan to control the possibility of damage or further damage
– Recreation of the problem in a testing environment for a proper understanding of the symptoms and incidents
– Do some interim damage control or general maintenance
– Follow the process of elimination to narrow down to the root cause of the problem.

Every experienced troubleshooting professional will know that none of these steps or sub-steps can be skipped or ignored. This is despite that complex machines, computers and other relatively complicated equipment have well-documented troubleshooting processes.

Granted, that the problem solving principles of troubleshooting are effective and if applied correctly will reach the solution being sought. However, a troubleshooting professional also know that the most effective method is preventive maintenance. This should be a regular feature since systems, components, connections between components or equipment break down when they get overused, dirty and worn out. There is no need for a logical and deduced reasoning in these cases, just that they would require regular preventive maintenance. Maintenance is critical and vital and troubleshooting staff must undertake this exercise regularly in order to save themselves and the company unnecessary hassle, time and money in troubleshooting problems that could potentially arise out of not doing this.

Sometimes a lack of preventive maintenance could be discovered to be the root cause of the problem. Therefore, preventive maintenance is part of the root cause methodology. A simple example of this would a doorbell that kept conking off. The person blamed the quality of the bell at first and asked the shopkeeper for a replacement. The new bell being replaced too became faulty in a few days. An electrician was called to check ‘faulty wiring’. Obviously he could not find any fault because the fault lay elsewhere. Through a root cause analysis method, it was discovered that the place near the house gate where the switch was, kept getting wet either due to the rain or when the gardener watered the potted plants around there. The switch would go bust. Finally a solution was found and there was no problem hence with the doorbell. This is a very minor and everyday life experience but aptly shows that had the necessary precautions been taken to secure the switch, there would not have been a need for so much trouble.

Some systems or equipment seem to be inclined to going bust than others and the more sensitive ones create bigger problems. Troubleshooting staff must be aware of such equipment and apply preventive maintenance more regularly since troubleshooting these pieces of equipment would be more complicated and cause a lot more harm and negative consequences if they go bust.

Sometimes a problem results in the complete shut down or failure of a system and sometimes it leads to insufficiencies. For example – a washing machine just won’t work due to whatever reason. That would be a total breakdown or failure of the system. Sometimes it may not be able to pull sufficient water or the drum is not turning enough or it beeps intermittently. These are insufficiencies and would individually have different causes. Insufficiencies happen in everyday life too – home budget gone over, weekly tasks remain incomplete and the like.
The general problem solving principles of troubleshooting could be used to analyze the problem, analyze the possible solutions, designing a plan to prevent further problems. However using only one principle or one method for every problem or following the same set of ‘things to do’ for every problem would most certainly prove ineffective and could in fact create a different set of problems. Every problem solving method must be the most appropriate and effective method for that set or class of problem and hence customization within troubleshooting proves indispensable.

It must be noted however, that learning one methodology and its application makes it easier to learn and apply the others as well. Despite needing different approaches, the problem solving principles of troubleshooting have some commonalities that must be mentioned.

– Every problem solving principle requires that the problem is clearly defined and brought to the fore as early as possible. This principle analyzes cause and effect.

– All the principles state that there should be a goal towards which the troubleshooting is directed. “What is the purpose of resolving this problem? What do we hope to achieve?”

– The principles state that troubleshooting process when applied should also look at how to prevent future occurrence of the problem or related problems

– In most cases, defining the root cause would be essential and is arrived at by eliminating many different possible causes.

– Even after a possible solution has been arrived at, it is necessary to reproduce the problem in a testing environment and reapply the solution to determine that it actually works and will not create any new problems or insufficiencies.

– The principles of troubleshooting imply that the task will be undertaken and completed in the most efficient and ethical manner.

– Same solutions to seemingly same problems need not necessarily be the most appropriate. These principles encourage the troubleshooter to look at each problem from a different perspective and think of solutions better than the first.

– These principles encourage people other than professional troubleshooters, to look at problems analytical and try to find the most appropriate solutions. This works in everyday life as well.

The problem solving principles of troubleshooting enable the troubleshooter to approach a problem, however complicated, without being deterred by the magnitude. Not following the process and cutting corners or skipping steps would most certainly lead to a sub-optimum solution. Implementing this solution could create further problems or a different set of problems that can be costly in terms of time, money, man-hours, significant damage to the system or equipment, injury to those involved (a faulty gas pipe could burst) and maybe even death. These are extreme situations, but in everyday life if problem solving principles of troubleshooting are applied judiciously, they will serve to find solutions to problems and even prevent re-occurrences. They also help all those who use them, to approach things logically and with a calm disposition.

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