Sometimes in business, things go wrong. It could be that you run low on inventory, on customers, or even on capital; there is rarely a shortage of problems that can occur. The key is to address the problems with a framework that allows you to evaluate the problem and come up with solutions.
Within the IT realm, the vendor-neutral organization CompTIA has such a framework for troubleshooting computer-related problems that can be modified to fit the business world as well. Stripping it of all technology-specific topics, the seven-step framework becomes:
- Identify the problem. The first step is always to establish exactly what the problem is. This stage of the process is all about information gathering, identifying symptoms, questioning those involved (customers, employees, vendors, suppliers, and so on), and determining if anything has changed. To get this information, you need knowledge of operations, good communication skills, and patience.
- Establish a theory of probable cause. A single problem (like a lost customer) can have many different causes, but with appropriate information gathering, you can eliminate many of them. When you look for probable cause, it is often best to look at the easiest solution first, and then work from there.
- Test the theory to determine cause. After questioning the obvious, you need to establish a theory. After you formation a theory, you should attempt to confirm it. When the theory is confirmed, determine the next steps to resolve the problem. If the theory is not confirmed, re-establish a new theory or escalate it to a higher level (call in an expert, seek guidance, etc.).
- Establish a plan of action to resolve the problem and identify potential effects. After identifying a cause, but before implementing a solution, you should establish a plan for the solution. This is particularly a concern with other facets of the business could be affected. After identifying the cause of a problem, it is absolutely necessary to plan for the solution. The plan must include the details of what will be affected, what support is in place, and who will be involved in correcting the problem(s). You should attempt only one solution at a time. Trying several solutions at once can make it unclear which one corrected the problem.
- Implement the solution. After the corrective action has been make, test the results (never assume). This is when you find out if you were right and the remedy you applied actually worked. Don’t forget that first impressions can deceive and a fix that seems to work on first inspection might not actually have corrected the problem.
- Verify that the problem is solved and — if applicable — implement preventive measures. A fix to one problem may cause another — such consequences can be hard to predict. It is, therefore, imperative that you verify full satisfaction with the solution before considering it in the past. Ascertain, as well, if any preventive measures need to be implemented to keep a similar problem from occurring again.
- Document the findings, the actions, and the outcomes. Documentation is one of the most important components of the troubleshooting steps. Keep a record of everything done, and not just the solution. That documentation needs to include: when the solution was implemented, why it was done, what was affected, who was involved, and the results that appeared.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology. The Falls School of Business is one of Anderson University’s largest academic departments offering eight undergraduate majors as well as MBA and DBA programs. The school is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and is a member of the Christian Business Faculty Association (CBFA).