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.

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