Problem Management Process Design – Part 3

This post is the third and the final installment of the series for designing a problem management (PM) process for your organization. Previously we discussed the elements and considerations that should go into designing a problem management process. We elaborated those considerations further with a sample list of process requirements, a sample process flow, and a sample RCA form. We will assemble all the information together into one process design document that can be used to implement the process.

Problem Management Process Design Example

In addition to the process requirements and the process flow, I believe a process design document should call out the following information pertinent to the implementation of the process. For example…

  • The Policy section outlines what policy statements (IT or corporate) governs the process and what expectations the organization wants to set for the process.
  • The Scope section specifies which incidents or events will generate a problem record. Your organization may have a pre-defined set of criteria on how problems are triggered, and those criteria can go into this section. Some organizations may also choose to group a series of closely related incidents and trigger a problem record for those incidents.
  • The Roles and Responsibilities section outlines the roles that will be involved in the process and their corresponding activities and responsibilities.
  • The Artifacts and Communication section describes what documentation methods will be utilized by the PM process. It provides the procedural information necessary to carry out the PM process. The communication protocols section describes the recommended communication methods and their frequencies.
  • The SLA and Metrics section describes the metrics that will be used to measure the process performance. The tutorial document has outlined some examples. Develop and measure the metrics that you can capture reliably and that your organization also cares about.

To reiterate, the primary goal of the Problem Management process is to identify the problems in the IT environment, so we can eliminate them by performing root cause analysis on the problems. As a capable IT organization, we should be able to correctly diagnose the root causes of just about everything that goes wrong within our IT environment and to implement solutions so similar problems or incidents will not reoccur. With proper documentation, the Problem Management database is a great learning tool. Also, another benefit of having a well-run problem management process is having the ability to review organizational decisions made about addressing a particular problem. Known errors do not need to be purely technical. They could also be the documented decisions about how we plan to address certain problems. The root causes, solutions (proposed or implemented) and the workarounds documented as part of the Problem Management process will benefit the Incident Management process immensely when similar incidents surface due to the recurrence of a problem.

I hope the information presented so far has been helpful. Please feel free to suggest options or other approaches that have worked for your organization.

Problem Management Process Design – Part 2

This post is part two of a series where we discuss the Problem Management process and how to put one together. In the previous post, I presented some design elements for consideration. In this follow-up post, I will illustrate the design activities further with the following, additional elements.

Problem Management Process Requirements

Problem Management Process Flow

Problem Management RCA Form

The first document contains a list of sample process requirements. The purpose of the requirement document is to capture all considerations that need to be factored into the process design. You will need to decide what activities or requirements will be considered a critical part of the Problem Management process. For example, if row #12 “Categorize the root causes to facilitate further analysis” is important to your organization, make sure that particular requirement is documented, so your process design will incorporate a method of categorizing the root causes.

What can you do if you need some extra help on knowing what to look for in designing your Problem Management process? I would suggest using the following documents as your starting point:

  • ITIL: Problem Management in the Service Operation manual, section 4.4.
  • COBIT 5: Enabling process DSS03 – Manage Problems
  • ISO/IEC 20000: Problem Management in Section 8.2

By using ISO/IEC 20000 as the base, I have derived some sample requirements for your reference. As you can see from the document, the sample requirements outlined in the document are pretty rudimentary and generic. You need to tailor your version of the document with the actual requirements from your organization. Do not select a particular requirement just because it looks good on paper or in theory. Craft or select the requirements to include in your process design only when they make sense for your organization. Also, if you plan to implement a tool or have an existing tool that will be used to support the Problem Management process, the tool-specific considerations should be captured in the requirement document as well.

The second document contains a sample process flow. The process flow shows who is doing what and during what stage of the Problem Management process. Once you have determined what your requirements are for the process, the process flow attempts to match and support the process requirements.

The third document is a sample data entry form for the root cause analysis exercise. The form illustrates what data you may want to captured with the process, and they should be consistent with the requirements you have captured from working with your organization. The data you want to capture from the process should also be consistent with the support from the tools you plan to use with the process. Normally, we don’t want to have the tool’s capability drive the process design decisions. If you have an existing ITSM tool that you would like to use for the Problem Management process, now it is the time to factor the tools into the design and make sure the design can be supported by the tools.

In part three of the post, we will combine everything we have done and produce one final process design document. The process design document will include not only the requirements, the flow, and the roles, but also other information pertinent to the process such as the policy statement, a RACI chart, and the process metrics. The final process design document can then be used as the foundation to implement the actual Problem Management process within your organization.

 

Problem Management Process Design – Part 1

This is the first post of a series where we do the tutorial and some deep-dive of problem management (PM) process design. In this post, we will go over some of the process design considerations, such as the goals/purposes, the intended scope, problem prioritization, and roles and responsibilities. In the subsequent posts, we will go into more of the execution topics such as data capturing, process flows, as well as metrics and measurements.

Goal and Purpose of Problem Management

When designing an ITSM process, one of the most fundamental questions to ask is whether you need a particular process for your organization. By ITIL’s definition, a ‘problem’ is a cause of one more incidents. By managing problems, we are attempting to manage how we document, diagnose, and learn from the root causes after handling the incidents. Do most organizations need a problem management process of their own? I believe so. Even though most organizations may not have a formal problem management process defined, the act of diagnosing and finding root causes is practiced universally. Having a well-thought-out and documented process for root cause analysis can only help to strengthen the organization’s learning and knowledge management effort.

Scope and Policy Implication

In defining your problem management process, it will be useful to define a few scope or policy related items upfront. For example:

  • What organizational boundaries will the PM process be applicable to? Who can initiate, undertake, and/or authorize the PM activities? Like implementing most ITSM processes, the benefits will compound when everyone is adopting the unified approach and vocabulary. If you need to share the root cause data between organizations, it will be important to define the process scope beforehand.
  • Will all incidents receive the PM treatment? If you don’t plan to run all incidents through the PM process, what criteria will you use to decide which incidents to focus the PM effort on? Depending on the number of incidents you receive, practicing PM on every single incident may not be feasible, so you may need to be selective. Some organizations will initiate the PM process for incidents that meet certain criteria based on the incident priority (impact vs. urgency), the nature or category of the incident, the business segment affected, or some other factors.
  • It will also be useful to define what are some of the connecting processes to PM. Incidents, problem, and changes are typically closely tied to one another. What processes will trigger the PM process from upstream or receive the PM output downstream? Will your organization perform PM without having an incident? It is possible if you practice some type of proactive PM. Will all changes related to a problem be required to go through the change management process? Will the incident tickets, problem records, known errors, and requests for change be linked in some fashion? These are some governance related questions that will affect how you design the PM process.

Problem Categorization and Prioritization

When designing a categorization scheme for problems, I recommend using the same categorization for PM and for Incident Management. Having a consistent categorization for both problems and incidents will make designing, generating, and analyzing reports much easier. Some organizations use two separate categorization schemes for incidents and problems – a decision sometimes influenced by the tools. I personally think that is making things more difficult than it needs to be.

Prioritizing problems can help you focus your RCA efforts on problems that need the most attention. When prioritizing incidents, many organizations take the impact to the business community and urgency into consideration. For problems, I believe those two considerations are essential, and I would suggest adding two additional considerations into your problem prioritization matrix. The first one is the frequency of the incident. I think the higher frequency of the incidents; the higher priority should be assigned to problem. Also, the potential risk of not addressing the problems should also be taken into account.

Roles & Responsibilities

A PM process can involve a number of participants. Here are some typical roles to be factored into the design.

  • Requester: Who can initiate a PM exercise? How will the requester participate in the overall PM process
  • Problem Management Process Owner: The process owner ensures that the process is defined, documented, maintained, and communicated at all levels within the organization. The process owner is not necessarily the one doing the actual work but the process ownership comes with the accountability of ensuring a certain level of quality for the process execution.
  • Problem Manager: The problem manager is the main actor in the PM process and has the overall responsibility of implementing the PM process end to end, according to the process laid out by the process owner. The problem manager is also responsible for meeting the service level targets and reporting the metrics to the process owner for quality assurance purposes.
  • Problem Assignee: The problem assignee role is often played by the subject matter experts who does the actual RCA work and determine what the final root cause is. The problem assignee can also be assigned to ensure all changes get properly executed through the Change Management process.
  • Stakeholder: There could be several different types of stakeholders involved in PM exercise. At a minimum, the PM process needs at least one key stakeholder who can approve the handling of the problem records and the closure of the problems. The stakeholder could also act in a governing or mediation capacity when conflicts arise.

In summary, we just went over some of the planning elements for the PM process. We talked about why we want to PM in the first place, the scope of the process, how we categorize and prioritize problems, and the essential roles for executing the process. On the next post, we will go over the process flow and spell out more details for the PM activities.

Major Incident Review Process Design – Part Two

This post is the part two (and concluding part) of a series where we discuss the Major Incident Review process and how to put one together. Previously we discussed the elements and considerations that should go into the process design. We elaborated those considerations further with a sample process flow. We will describe the process activities further along with a reporting template you can use to implement the process.

Sample Incident Report Template

Sample Process Design Document

The process design document provides a detailed description of the fields within the report template, so no plan to repeat. I think there are two factors to keep in mind when undertaking such process. First, don’t do the process just for the sake of doing it. Do it because your organization genuinely wants to improve service by eliminating as many of these incidents over the long-term as you can. If the organization chose not to implement certain solution for some reasons, costs, technical complexity, longevity of the technology, regulatory/compliance, or whatever, at least document the discussion. That way, it shows that the organization understood the risks and chose to accept them.

Second, perform meaningful measurements and, again, use the statistics to improve service. For example, if the majority of the incidents are reported by the end users, perhaps that is giving us a clue that we should be more proactive and beef up the automated monitoring? If a particular technology area has been experiencing more major incidents than the other areas, perhaps we should figure out what ills are plaguing the area and fix what are broken? If a particular business unit or segment has been experiencing more major incidents than the other segments, perhaps we owe it to the business communities to figure out what we can do to make things better? The business impact information we capture will enhance our understanding of the incidents and help us in formulating the solutions that make sense for the business.

Most organizations I know practice some type of incident review process, so I hope the information presented so far has been helpful. Please feel free to suggest other approaches that have worked for your organization.

Links to other posts in the series

Major Incident Review Process Design – Part One

One approach to improve just about anything is to learn from a mishap and do something to prevent similar mishaps from taking place. In the IT world, stuff happens frequently enough that we have the tendency to just fix things up and move on to the next incident or crisis. Having a disciplined approach to do root cause analysis (RCA) on incidents and putting permanent solutions in place, or Problem Management another word, can only help.

ITIL Service Operation handbook already provides an excellent overview of the Problem Management process with a suggested model and various analysis techniques, there is no need for me to reiterate. I am proposing a periodic Major Incident Review process that takes place after incidents have been resolve with service restored. People and tools aside, I think there are three things that can contribute to the effectiveness of this review process.

  1. Have a well-defined scope of incident you plan to review. Depending how an organization defines the impact and urgency of the incidents, the scope of incidents that get reviewed can vary. Some shops will choose to review only the most critical incidents with visible business impacts. Other might choose to review all incidents that took place. Many organizations will probably fall somewhere in between. My recommendation is to figure out what types of incidents the process stakeholders care about. We will discuss more about the stakeholder shortly.
  2. Have a clear exit plan on what to do with the root cause discovered and the permanent solutions. I think the situation to avoid is having the root causes identified but getting stuck on what to do next. The root cause to a number of incidents is a simple break-down of technology. For those straight-forward incidents, you identify what broke down, fix it, and move on. Sometimes a permanent solution could take a significant amount of time, people, or financial resource to achieve. For all incidents, a decision should be made to either
    1. Follow up using the same Major Incident Review process up to some point.
    2. Get this item off the Major Incident Review process but to use another process/procedure to track and to follow up on making sure the permanent solutions get implemented
    3. Decide nothing further will or can be done. Capture the lesson learned in a known error database or some knowledge management repository.
  3. Perform the process periodically, without exception. The frequency of the review can vary from one organization to another, monthly or bi-weekly for some or weekly for those busy shops. RCA activities can have a tendency to take a while to do because they often do not register at the same level of criticality as the incidents. By having this review process on a periodic basis, we are taking a position of … “Don’t procrastinate. Let’s figure out what went wrong. What were the causes? Decide what we plan to do about it and move on.”

In this post, I will discuss what you need in order to put a Major Incident Review process together for your organization. In addition to the three success factors that need to take into account, here are some additional elements to consider.

  1. Who will participate and who are the stakeholders? This review process will involve three groups of people at a minimum, the Incident Management team, the Problem Management team, and the technology/application support team. The actual organizational functions that perform the incident and problem management processes can vary. Frequently, the Service Desk is the owner for the Incident Management process, while the ownership for Problem Management rests somewhere outside of the Service Desk. Also, the IT/corporate management and the business users will likely become another set of stakeholders, since the results of the view often get shared with those constituents.
  2. Who will own this process? Since the review process will occur after incident resolution and spend a great deal time on RCA activities, the Problem Management process owner is the logical owner of this process. Even though the name of the process is called Major “Incident” Review, calling this process a Major “Problem” Review just sounds awkward. The convention you use in your organization should determine what is the most easily understood name you will use.
  3. What technology or tools will the process require? This process is straight forward enough where a spreadsheet tool should be sufficient. In addition, most organization will have some type of incident tracking tools that can feed the incident information into this review process. The output of this process could also feed into a Problem Management tool if you have one.

Sample Major Incident Review Process Flow

Here is an example of the review process flow. I have used a bi-weekly schedule for the review process. Depending on your organization’s requirement, this schedule could expand or contract.  In part two, I will describe this process flow more in detail with a template you can use to capture the incident review details.

Links to other posts in the series