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Problem Management Best Practices

by David Mainville on

We're pleased to provide this comprehensive guide to Problem Management Process best practices.  It's the perfect resource to help you define a new process or update an existing one!

Navvia is excited to provide the third best practice guide in our series of the five foundational ITSM processes every organization needs to have in place.  

For each process, we provide a process description, key benefits, roles, responsibilities, a description of the significant activities, tips on process governance, and some design and implementation guidance.

Problem Management Description

There is often confusion between an Incident and a Problem.   An Incident is an unplanned event that causes a service disruption.  Most incidents are either resolved or cirvumvented using a workaround.   

But what happens if the same incident occurs repeatedly? Well, customer satisfaction is negatively impacted, and IT staff waste time addressing the same issue over and over. 

That is where the Problem Management process takes over.  

A "Problem" is defined as the unknown cause of one or more Incidents and is assigned to a support group to either develop a permanent fix or workaround.  The Problem Management process manages the lifecycle of all Problems. The main objective is to prevent Incidents from re-occurring in the future or, if they cannot be prevented, to ensure that they can be resolved most expediently.

Problem Management includes all the activities and tasks required to:

  • Log, classify and assign a problem
  • Investigate and diagonse a problem
  • Propose a solution to the problem
  • Implement the solution and close the problem record

Problem Management Benefits

Problem Management is a critical ITSM process that offers several benefits:

  • Improved Incident Resolution: Problem Management addresses the root cause of recurring incidents. Addressing the root cause, instead of just treating symptoms, leads to a permanent solution. This reduces downtime and increases customer satisfaction.
  • A Proactive Approach: Problem Management is a proactive process.  It focuses on detecting trends, patterns, and common causes of incidents, so that IT teams to prevent reoccurance.
  • Cost Reduction: Problem Management drives cost savings through the reduction of recurring incidents, minimizing the need for reactive firefighting, and optimizing resource allocation.
  • Continuous Improvement: Problem Management is closely aligned with the concept of continuous improvement. By analyzing incidents, identifying problems, and implementing appropriate solutions, it helps organizations learn from their experiences and enhance their IT infrastructure, processes, and services over time.
  • Increased Efficiency and Productivity: Getting to the root cause of incidents frees up resources so they can focus on value-added tasks rather than firefighting repetitive incidents.
  • Compliance and Risk Mitigation:  Getting to the root cause of incidents, and implementing a proactive approach to problems, helps organizations stay on top of vulnerabilities, protect sensitive data, and maintain high levels of security. 

Problem management helps organizations transition from a reactive mode to a more proactive support model. The process contributes to the overall stability, reliability, and efficiency of IT services within an organization. 

Problem Management Roles and Responsibilities

Having clearly defined roles and responsibilities is crucial for the efficient execution of any process.  This clarity helps ensure that everyone is on the same page and clearly understands their place in the process.

Process roles are not to be confused with any hierarchical status within the organization, and their responsibilities are limited to that particular process.

Here are some typical roles for the Problem Management process.

Problem Management Process Owner

A Senior Manager who is responsible for ensuring that all departments within the IT organization implement and use the process effectively.

Their specific tasks include:

  • Defining the process's mission.
  • Communicating process goals and objectives to all stakeholders.
  • Resolving any cross-functional issues.
  • Ensuring consistent execution across departments.
  • Reporting on process effectiveness to senior management.
  • Initiating process improvements as necessary.

Problem Manager

The Problem Manager is responsible for the day-to-day execution of the process. They take direction from the Process Owner in order to ensure consistent execution of the process across all areas of the organization.

Specific responsibilities include:

  • Managing the day to day activities of the process
  • Gathering and reporting on process metrics
  • Tracking compliance to the process
  • Escalating any issues with the process
  • Acting as chairperson for process meetings.

Problem Coordinator

The Problem Coordinator is the "point person" within a support group who is accountable for all problems assigned to the group.  In smaller companies this role may be performed by the Problem Manager.  In larger organization these responsibilities are distributed across multiple Problem Coordinators. 

Specific responsibilities include:

  • Monitoring their respective queues for assigned problems
  • Assessing problems and assigning to the appropriate individuals for further investigation
  • Designating problems and Known Errors as "Do Not Pursue" and removes that flag if warranted
  • Escalating to other groups as required
  • Providing governance for all problems assigned to their own support group

Problem Support

Probelm Support refers to the people assigned the task to resolve the problem.  The number of people performing this role will vary based on the size of your organization. 

Problem Support responsibilities include: 

  • Developing an optimized workaround for the problem
  • Seeking a root cause for the problem
  • Developing a solution to eradicate the Problem.
It should be noted that despite the same role designation, different individuals might be assigned during the life of the Problem (e.g., one person identifies the root cause, another the solution).

Submitter / Problem Creator

This is the person who creates the problem record.  Unlike incident records, which may be created by an end user, the problem record is typically created by support staff.  In modern ITSM tools, the problem record can be created from within another process, with the bulk of problems being initiated from the Incident Management process.  

Problem Management Activities

Problem Management Activity 1


Here at Navvia, we strongly believe in simplifying complex processes by breaking them into high-level activities.  

These activities serve as a guide, outlining the crucial steps in the process and the connections between them.  We then map out the detailed tasks required to complete each activity. Organizing processes in this way makes understanding and communicating the process easier.

The following are the critical activities of the Problem Management Process. 

Log, Classify and Assign a Problem

This activity is focused on recording new problems, categorizing and prioritizing them, and assigning them to the correct group and analyst for investigation. It's important to remember that problem records are typically created by IT support staff after multiple incidents with no known cause. 

Investigate and Diagnose the Problem

This activity is focused primarily on two things. The first is optimizing a workaround for the incidents that can be used while the root cause is determined and a solution developed. The second is performing the root cause analysis. Once the root cause is identified, the problem can be declared a known error, with support staff relying on the workaround until a permanent fix is developed and implemented. 

Propose Solution to the Problem

Having found the root cause, this activity now seeks to find a suitable permanent solution. The Problem Coordinator assigns the problem to the appropriate support group to identify and propose a solution. Remember, the permanent fix / solution is not developed in this activity, and approval should be obtained before spending time and money on developing and implementing it. 

Implement the Solution and Close the Problem

This activity is focused on three things. The first is getting approval for the development of the permanent fix. There are reasons why developing a fix may not be pursued, including excessive cost or perhaps the technology being scheduled for retirement. The second is the development and testing of the fix. The third is the successful implementation of the fix. Of course, other processes, such as Change Management and Release Management, are involved in the deployment and deployment. The activity concludes with verification that the solution did resolve the Known Error. If so, the Known Error is closed, with parallel notification to Incident Management to allow that process to close all related incidents. 

Problem Management Process Governance

Process governance is an essential aspect of the Problem Management process. It involves establishing a framework to ensure an organization effectively manages and executes the process.

The Problem Management process owner plays a critical role in process governance, defining the process's mission and communicating its goals and objectives to all stakeholders. They also resolve cross-functional issues and initiate improvements to enhance the process's effectiveness.

The Problem Manager oversees the daily implementation of the process, ensuring uniform execution throughout the organization.  They collect and present process metrics, monitor compliance and report process-related issues.

Working as a team, the process owner, process manager, and other stakeholders should periodically assess the process looking for gaps and potential areas of improvement.  One way to do this is through a formal process assessment.  Learm more about assessments by reading The Importance of a Process Maturity Assessment.

Through process governance, organizations can maintain consistency, efficiency, and continuous improvement in their Problem Management practices.

Problem Management Process Design and Implementation

Believe it or not, implementing an ITSM process is more complex than just installing an ITSM tool.  It requires a well-defined process to ensure a successful implementation. To help organizations navigate this process, we recommend following these five steps:

  1. Identify gaps in your current process and supporting tools: Before implementing a new process, it's important to assess your existing process and tools to identify any areas that may need improvement. This review should include outdated documentation, gaps in ITSM tool functionality, or lack of integration between different systems.
  2. Collaborate with stakeholders to understand their process requirements:  Involving all relevant stakeholders in the implementation process is crucial.  These stakeholders include not only the information technology team but also all business stakeholders. By engaging with stakeholders early on, you can gather their input and ensure that their requirements are included in the design and implementation of the Problem Management process.
  3. Define and document your Problem Management process: Once you have identified the gaps and gathered input from stakeholders, it's time to define and document your Problem Management process. This task involves clearly defining the steps and activities involved in managing changes, as well as establishing roles and responsibilities. It's important to align the process with industry best practices, such as ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library), COBIT, or ISO20000 to ensure consistency and efficiency.
  4. Capture user stories and requirements to guide the developer or implementer: To effectively implement the Problem Management process in the ITSM tool, capturing user stories and requirements is crucial. This activity involves understanding end-users specific needs and expectations and translating them into actionable tasks for the developer or implementer, ensuring the tool meets user needs. 
  5. Ensure sustainability by providing ITSM training, defining controls, reporting metrics, and implementing governance: To ensure long-term success, provide Problem Management training to users and Information Technology organization staff.  In addition, define controls for process governance, track performance with metrics, and implement continuous monitoring and improvement.   

By following these five steps, organizations can ensure a successful implementation of the Problem Management Process and supporting ITSM tools.

Additional Resources

Here are links to additional resources to 

Maintaining a proactive Problem Management process is essential for the smooth functioning of any organization's IT infrastructure.

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