ITIL Problem Management

Published: 17th May 2011
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Why Read this Article?

This article provides an in-depth view of how implementation of the ITIL problem management processes can reduce costs while improving IT Services.

Implementing ITIL Problem Management is the key to:

• Improving Service and Application availability

• Reducing support costs

• Eliminating rework

• Showing tangible, measureable impact on services

Why Problem Management?

Implementing a capable Problem Management process is the key to improving overall service. By concentrating on this discipline you will have the opportunity to improve all elements of your service.

Problem Management focuses on detecting and driving out systemic issues that are causing your IT Services to fail or deliver less than expected service to your customer.

Some organizations may start improvements in IT Service Management with the implementation of ITIL Change Management. It’s an easy target that will deliver some benefits in the short term and improve control over your organization’s changes. I started ITIL implementation here also. But more importantly organizations really need to focus on driving out those systemic issues that are causing service outages. That’s where ITIL Problem Management comes in.

Implementing ITIL Problem Management is Important

Successful process improvement comes from finding and understanding the underlying problem that caused an outage or incident, determining what caused that outage to happen, and making improvements to eliminate it from happening again.

Many organizations spend a majority of their time and effort handling incidents at the help desk level, or even second and third level support, a very expensive way to run a service.

Problem Management, implemented properly, will:

• Reduce the number of incidents being handled by your help desk, reducing the number of help desk staff required, thus reducing help desk costs

• Increase uptime for both your applications and core IT services. This ensures improved service to the businesses you support

• Have a huge effect on reducing rework caused by recurring outages

• Free up technical staff to work on more important work rather than firefighting and trouble shooting. This allows for better, more productive use of your high cost labor

• Improve customer satisfaction

To be successful at Problem Management an organization has to make a conscientious effort to redirect and retrain staff so they can focus on collecting critical data, completing problem analysis, driving for problem resolution, and most importantly, successful problem elimination.

Think of Incidents as possible Defects

If you think of an incident as a "defect", or multiple defects, in your process you can now start to think about how you can eliminate that defect. I’ve borrowed that term from my Six Sigma training. This is an excellent way to think about, and change the thinking around what an "incident" is. Within a recorded incident there could be multiple defects in your process that caused that incident to happen. This is one of the reasons why ITIL and Six Sigma work so well together.

Example of how process defects impact Services, Customers, and Technical Staff

In a real life situation at one company, some 3500 Window servers were being modified with a certain software upgrade over a weekend. Due to defects in the upgrade process, over 1700 servers (nearly 50%) did not reboot properly!! What issues did that cause the service group? Let me count the ways;

• Extended service delays to the customer

• Disruption to the daily work schedule of hundreds, if not thousands, of workers

• Enormous amount of rework for the technicians that did the install. The technical staff had to spend another weekend doing the upgrades for 1700 servers!

• As you might guess, not all of those 1700 servers rebooted properly the next weekend causing a repeat of the previous three bullets, and so on…… a vicious cycle to say the least

How did Process Improvement using Problem Management techniques help?

Problem Management does not only look at the "direct" issue that caused the outages. That’s usually done by the Incident Management/Help Desk staff. They assess the situation, get the service running quickly, record the outage, then move on to the next incident often times only solving the immediate issue/outage and never looking further.

Problem Management asks that we review the incident or sets of related incidents to understand why they occurred. It wants us to find the underlying problems that caused the incident. You look for the defects in the process, the whole process.

In the case study noted above, by reviewing the whole process it was found that many of the defects in the process where actually more upstream, caused by poor handoffs between server engineering and the deployment team, as well as inconsistent checks and balances at critical stages of the implementation lifecycle. All of the server outages were avoidable.


After a thorough review and making the appropriate changes to the process for future server upgrades, the organization was able to reach a 95% implementation success rate and keep it there!

The Bottom Line

• Implementing ITIL Problem Management allows organizations to view service outages and incidents with an eye on eliminating systemic issues

• Thinking of incidents as being caused by one or more defects give staff better clarity about what they are looking to find and eliminate

• Instilling ITIL Problem Management into daily work habits will deliver huge benefits by:

 measurably increasing your service and application availability

 reducing workload on your staff

 reducing the cost of doing business

If you think your organization can benefit from adopting ITIL best practices, contact ConnectSphere.

About the Author

For more information on the excellent work Connectsphere does, please visit and read about their excellent ITIL Training Coursesand IT Governance

ITIL® is a Registered Trade Mark, and a Registered Community Trade Mark of the Office of Government Commerce, and is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

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