Service departments rely on the tendency to focus on resolving incidents rather than addressing the underlying problems. Many of those problems lead to more incidents, leading to the need to improve problem management processes and juggling these with incident management. The balance of the two is key, but it’s not too difficult to achieve.

Establishing and maintaining problem management processes can be just another task on the seemingly never-ending list of tasks, but with a bit of an agile attitude and with the aim of being both reactive and proactive, you can easily streamline the process.

Here are several tips to consider:

Separate your incidents from your problems

It’s tempting to store everything in a space where everything is held aside, problems and incidents. Identifying a place that functions as a one-stop shop when you’re dealing with a call. But separating problems out from incidents and logging them in their own dedicated space can help to better all of your service processes. Ultimately, what this means is that your service organization provides complete clarity and transparency into the details of the problem at hand, as well as an accessible record of your investigation and insight into the resources needed to fix it.

Keep a “known error” database

Once you’ve identified the root cause behind the problem being investigated, you’ll have on your hands a “known error.” Known problems also should be kept separate area from the problem because doing so allows your service department to become more dynamic in your categorization. Thus, if you must re-categorize an “error” to something more suitable post-investigation then you can. Now, as you make discoveries about the problem at hand, your service management system has an up-to-date record of your thinking and your shifting priorities.

Your known error database becomes an accessible and comprehensive archive of problems and workarounds for future use. Once you resolve these known errors you can quickly close them.

The five “whys”

Continue your proactive research into differing techniques for identifying and solving the problems you encounter, challenging your tried-and-tested methods can provide a different perspective — and a different route to identifying root causes.

The five why is an interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question “Why?” Each answer forms the basis of the next question. The “five” in the name derives from an anecdotal observation on the number of iterations needed to resolve the problem.

For clarification, here’s an example posted to Wikipedia:

The vehicle will not start. (The problem)

Why? – The battery is dead. (First why)

Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (Second why)

Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (Third why)

Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (Fourth why)

Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (Fifth why, a root cause)

Not all problems have a single root cause. If one wishes to uncover multiple root causes, the method must be repeated asking a different sequence of questions each time. The method provides no hard and fast rules about what lines of questions to explore, or how long to continue the search for additional root causes. Thus, even when the method is closely followed, the outcome still depends upon the knowledge and persistence of the people involved.

The five whys might lead you to ask a different question to analyze the situation when working to identify the root cause of the problem. Such an approach encourages you to ask a series of questions until you arrive at the fault. Researching different resolution methods is the kind of proactive background task that can pay dividends next time a problem arises.

Establish a problem manager

Putting in place a responsible party overseeing problem management can improve your overall process and means you have an internal member of the team who is enthusiastic about solving the problems you face. This same individual also can motivate members of the team in the direction of the same goal.

But not only that, they’ll also be able to provide crucial insight needed to monitor and analyze trends, which can help to validate the efforts and up-front energy that you’ve put into problem management. Putting a problem manager in place to maintain momentum for the team while also supporting internal organization when solving problems.

Let your operators contribute and share knowledge

Problem managers are great, but collaboration is really the key to their being. Make the most of this knowledge and experience by allowing the problem manager the ability to contribute to problem management, meaning there were some interesting variations in their roles. Ultimately this can help you to identify a root cause more quickly if you have colleagues who are good at detecting issues.

If they have been on the front line reacting to incidents, they might have some insights into the underlying problems. Sharing knowledge from your teams helps to embed this new culture into your organization, ultimately leading to better problem management.