5 Techniques for Effective ITIL Problem Management

Problems are inevitable in running an organization. No one can avoid it even you. It’s always good to know how to deal with problems in a structured way and not by throwing every solution you have at a problem.

In this article, I will give you 5 actionable techniques for ITIL Problem Management. In ITIL, problem management is a separate process altogether, which is why we have made it into a separate module.

A separate module also ends the challenge that most service desk technicians face, having to separate incident and problems. The confusion is quite obvious, because these two processes are related and sometimes overlapping.

Now coming back to the question of techniques!

Things to Know Before

Before talking of techniques for problem management, you need to understand a few things:
  1. How problems and incidents are related?
  2. Understanding the nature of problem resolution.
  3. What is problem management life-cycle?
  4. Known Error.

How Problems and Incidents are Related?

A symptom is anything that is caused by a problem. It tells that a problem exists, and when the final cause is figured out it is called the root cause.

Imagine, you are having a fever, and you went to a doctor. What is the first thing he/she asks? Obviously, the doctor will ask you about the problem, and when you tell, he/she will record it as a symptom because nothing is conclusive at that point.

The doctor will attach a WHY to every symptom you tell so they can create a list of problems. When asking why fever, it can be the sign of having an infection. The doctor asks you to do a blood test so he can drill down further. After the test, he concludes that you have malaria, which is the root cause.

In the world of ITSM, incidents record the symptoms and a problem records the root cause. Sometimes, there could be multiple causes behind symptoms.

Understanding the Nature of Problem Resolution

It’s not always that incident records contain symptoms and problem records contain root causes. In order to understand this, you need to understand how problems are handled.

There are two types of problem resolution:
  • Proactive
  • Reactive

A proactive resolution is like a pre-emptive strike on a cause that may lead to a problem. For example, replacing a hard-disk of a server which is about to get full. The cause may be ascertained from symptoms in the form of an incident. In the above example, it can be an event incident warning about the disk getting full. After finding the cause, it is recorded as a problem where a resolution is planned.

In a reactive resolution, the problem has already occurred, and the technicians are fire fighting for a solution. For example, the failure of a power supply. Here, the related incident can be used for recording both symptoms and the root cause, and no separate problem may be created.

The above two examples are indicative and should not be treated as an absolute rule to separate symptoms and causes.

What is Problem Management Life-cycle?

ITIL Problem Management follows specific steps to resolve a problem. Steps such as:
  • Problem Identification
  • Problem recording
  • Problem investigation
  • Problem resolution
  • Closure

What is a Known Error?

According to ITIL, a Known Error is a problem that has a documented root cause and solution. In case there’s no solution then a workaround has to be there.

In ITSM, a Known Error problem is marked and related to the problem record where the root cause and solution is recorded.

Here’s a simple formula to identify a known error:

P + RC + S = KE

P = Problem, RC = Root Cause, S = Solution, KE = Known Error

ITSM provides a robust Known Error database.

5 Actionable Techniques for Problem Management

There are numerous techniques out there to manage problems, but I have selected five that will fit perfectly in the ITIL Problem Management framework. Let’s take a brief look at those techniques:

Chronological Analysis

It is one of the many ITIL techniques that relies on common sense. In this technique, a technician works backward in time when the problem first came to notice; all symptoms and activities are pieced together across a timeline.

The process forces structured thinking rather an ad-hoc approach. This technique is great for:
  • Identify scope for proactive resolution.
  • Identify recurring issues/incidents.
  • Enriching the Know Error database.

Pain Value Analysis

Not all problems are the same. Some problems are important some are not. You need to learn, what to prioritize and what not to.

Pair Value works by ranking problems based on their impact to the business. When defining impact consider the following:

  • The criticality of the business process that the problem impacts.
  • Number and nature of relations of the impacted process.
  • Cost to the business.
  • The number of impacted people.

Once you rank the problems, you will know which problem to record first.


Once a problem is identified and recorded, it’s time to come up with a solution. Brainstorming is a collective effort that is both creative and effective.

The first step in doing a brainstorm session is to create a team. Before beginning the sessions, you should keep the following things in mind:

  • Prepare a list of questions to tackle.
  • Involve a round robin discussion so everyone can participate.
  • Record ideas that are being generated during the session.
  • Create a review plan to select the best idea.
  • Prepare an action plan which will be the solution.

Kepner-Tregoe Problem Solving Method

Also known as the KT Method, it is a model that tries to disconnect the problem from the decision.

This model is a thought process that has four types of analysis:

  • Situation Analysis: Tries to define what has happened. When you meet a symptom try to understand the situation. For example, when received an incident that says the website is down, try to understand the situation whether routine maintenance was going on or not.
  • Problem Analysis: Tries to answer why it has happened. Attach a WHY to all of your symptoms and drill down to a cause.
  • Decision Analysis: Tries to define how to act. Create an action plan for resolution.
  • Potential Problem Analysis: Tries to anticipate whether the problem will reoccur. Initiate a proactive resolution to make sure the problem doesn’t reappear again.

Pareto Analysis

It’s a prioritization technique that assists the service provider to focus on problems with the greatest impact.

It’s based on the idea that 80 percent of incidents result from 20 percent of the issue caused. The method allows handling of problems in the order of best return. When coupled with the Pain Value Analysis, it can be a powerful technique.


The success of Problem Management comes in taking the time to execute the processes and utilize some or all the methods mentioned here.

Making time for Problem Management may detract the time spent resolving Incidents. The irony is that in the event you do not make time for Problem Management; you may only have time for Incident Management, which can consume considerable amounts of resources.

Problem Management is not a resource hungry. However, it demands special devotion and cares to see it triumph.

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