Tips for Starting Problem Management

Growing up, there was an abundance of kids in the neighborhood who were riding skateboards. Some kids seemed to be a natural at it, others like me, who were not. One summer the city brought in a half pipe and located it at the local rec center. In those days this was less of a service to the kids more of a service to the community to keep us from being a public nuisance.

This was the first time I had seen a half pipe up close, and it was way bigger than I had thought. For those who are not aware a half pipe is a large ‘U’ shaped ramp about 8 feet tall and 36 feet long. The fact that this was in our area was a huge deal so everyone lined up nice and early on the first day it was open. The crowd was enormous; everyone was eagerly waiting to get up there to try it out. The first guy that got on this thing was a real pro, people thought he looked like Stacy Peralta. He was able to do the toughest tricks and and made it look effortless. People were practically climbing over each other to be next in line. The next 5 or 6 people were epic failures. The second to last guy had to be helped off the ramp by some friends. It was at this point that the line to try it out was getting smaller and smaller. People were realizing that this might not be as easy as it looked and the consequences of failure were somewhat painful.

Problem management can be viewed in a similar light. Some organizations make it look effortless, while others have a more painful experience with it. Some are just spectators who are watching on the sidelines wishing it would be easy but in an effort to avoid an ambulance ride, just continuing to watch.

However, just like the half pipe, you have to get at it. Fail fast, learn from your mistakes and keep getting up.

Here are some simple suggestions you can try to get things moving.

Work as a team

The first piece of advice is that you don’t have to do this alone. You might need to get a subject matter expert to help you coordinate your efforts. This might involve short or longer term engagements but getting things off on the right foot is going to be critical to get you where you need to go. Sometimes having someone external to your organization with an objective viewpoint of how you do things is all that you need to get going in the right direction.

Getting some feedback from colleagues in the IT community is also a good place to bounce ideas around. Don’t discount the experience from others you know in the community. They may not be able to share explicit details but they can at least provide some areas that you could avoid in basic terms.

Make it easy

The tips are in no particular order and this one is certainly important. Keep it simple. In many cases we try to over complicate things that really don’t need to be. Not every issue has to be a technical fix. In some cases you will find that an information session, process review or better training could reduce issues that you face at your organization. Communication could be a root cause for the issues you are having. Quick wins through smaller issues will allow your team to establish some momentum through success and allow you to demonstrate value.

Be cost effective

The whole point of establishing effective problem management is to add value. Being cost effective helps to tell a pretty good value story to your organization. We don’t necessarily need to hire an army of problem managers or buy a new tool to get the job done in the beginning. While this could be something we look into later we will allow our results and organizational need determine that.  

in some cases a simple exercise of value stream mapping can outline areas that are constraining value in your teams. Using this information can help you make improvements that are performance based in other ways that are not a ‘technical’ issue.

Be agile

Plan to be iterative with your problem management implementation and move in stages that work for your organization. Establishing a cadence of activity will help will allow teams to schedule activities in advance and work on them in allotted time frames. Each organization will have a different appetite for what timing looks like so go with the flow in your organization.

Have focus

Lastly, this is not a ‘side of the desk’ activity so ensure that you allocate the appropriate time to complete activities. In the end it will always come back to helping the business to achieve their goals. The business is not concerned on what ‘problem management’ is, they care about results.

While my career as a professional skateboarder might have never taken off, following these steps will allow your team to get off the sidelines and make some progress to improve or implement problem management.

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