Thinking and Doing: Current Practices in Problem Management


by Jenny Rains


While the practice of problem management isn’t new, the buzz surrounding its implementation and benefits continues to grow as organizations mature and move beyond incident management. HDI recently conducted a survey of 475 technical support professionals, across more than thirty vertical industries, on the current state of the industry with regard to problem management. This article shares some of the survey’s findings.

Of the professionals that took the survey, 85 percent say their organizations at least have problem management processes under development. Of these, 54 percent report that their processes are ITIL-based, with an additional 36 percent reporting that their processes are somewhat based on ITIL.

Known Errors

The results indicate that while problem management is a “known” process in many organizations, it’s not always formally documented. What does this mean when there’s turnover, or when processes need to be updated?

We asked Buff Scott III, ITIL Expert and principal consultant for Propoint Solutions, to weigh in, and he explained that organizations may encounter hurdles when transitioning from immature problem management to a more mature, more formal process. “Often, senior leader sponsorship and support can be difficult to gain; without that, the resources needed to accomplish successful problem management can be lacking,” Scott says. “People need to be able to dedicate their time to the implementation and processes, and money often needs to be allocated to new technologies.” Other roadblocks he’s seen include incomplete and/or inaccurate data-logging, lack of daily oversight, lack of process compliance or adherence, ineffective management reporting, and the lack of appropriately skilled support personnel in the right positions.

Part of the problem management process is communicating known errors to support staff. The vast majority of organizations are using email, the ticketing system, and the knowledge base to communicate known errors to support staff. This is reflective of Scott’s experience, as well. “A common practice is that when a solution or workaround (i.e., a known error) is identified by a support group, it’s documented in the incident or problem record and communicated to the service desk and immediate support group team members via a notification coming from the ticketing system or via an email,” Scott says, adding that, “The known error should then be recorded (in draft mode) in a common repository (e.g., knowledge base, known error database) that’s accessible to everyone until it’s formally reviewed and published in the knowledge base. It should then be communicated to additional personnel based on the organization’s established knowledge management practices.” Forty-four percent of organizations log known errors in knowledge bases, while 25 percent log them in known error databases. Other organizations use instant messaging, chat, and phone (16%) or wikis/webpages (12%).

Staffing

Of those organizations with some level of problem management in place, only 30 percent have staff dedicated to problem management activities. In most organizations (54%), problem management activities are part of staff members’ daily duties, while 45 percent report that any technical support staff member can be involved in some part of problem management.

Proactive Problem Management

Of those organizations that at least report having problem management under development, almost one-third either aren’t opening problems proactively or don’t know if they are (which means there’s a good chance that they’re not), while an additional 49 percent are proactively opening 10 percent or less. Proactively opened problems can be tracked by various means, either by checking a field on the record, or by selecting an option from a dropdown to indicate a record was opened reactively or proactively (with the default being reactively).

Metrics

As part of the survey, those organizations that have implemented problem management to some degree were asked about the impact on their metrics, specifically recurring incidents and mean time to resolve (MTTR). With regard to the change in the number of recurring incidents received by the support center, 62 percent of organizations that reported following a formal problem management process also reported a decrease in recurring incidents. This indicates that implementing problem management can have an identifiable and positive effect on support organizations.

  Has your organization seen a decrease in recurring incidents since implementing its problem management process?

Yes

No 

It's too early to tell 

Total 

 
Does your organization have a formal problem management process? Under development 

13% 

8% 

80% 

100 

Documented 

43% 

20% 

37% 

100 

Followed     

62% 

17% 

21% 

100 

 

Percentage of organizations


The results for MTTR are similar; overall, 28 percent of respondents indicate that implementing problem management has had a clearly identifiable and positive effect on MTTR. Further, those organizations that reported following a formal problem management process (as opposed to the process being under development or simply documented) are seeing much more success in reducing MTTR, with 53 percent reporting a shorter MTTR since implementing problem management.

Has your organization seen a decrease in recurring incidents since implementing its problem management process?

Yes

No

It's too early to tell

Total

Does your organization have a formal problem management process? Under development

8%

10%

82%

100

Documented

33%

28%

39%

100

Followed

53%

23%

24%

100

Percentage of organizations

 

Impact

This study suggests that while most organizations see the value in problem management and are taking steps to implement the process, the majority of organizations are still relatively immature when it comes to formal problem management. Scott points out that, “by eliminating recurring incidents, and reducing the MTTR by implementing problem management, business and IT productivity should increase and the business’s perception of IT should be positively influenced.” As pressures on technical support to prove its value to the business continue to increase, the need for increased productivity and improved perception could not be more acute.

 

Jenny Rains is HDI’s senior research analyst. She has worked with HDI in a research /analysis capacity since 2003. Before coming to HDI, Jenny was the research/data analyst for one of the largest school districts in Colorado. Her areas of expertise include survey development, research design, data analysis, program evaluation, and project management. Jenny received her MA in experimental psychology, with a focus on research and statistics, from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, and her BS in psychology from Sam Houston State University.

Tag(s): problem management, industry report

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