And It Is An Encore for Problem Management01/05/10

In 2005, I wrote an article called “The Lost World of Problem Management” and presented this at the national itSMF Conference in Brisbane in the same year. The presentation won the President’s Prize for the best presentation at the conference. The article can be viewed on this site under “Our Resources – Free Download” section.

I believe one of the reasons that the presentation was so well received was due to the fact that it resonated with so many people. Organisations were clearly struggling to implement Problem Management.

I called out the fact that many organisations had implemented what they called Problem Management but it was in fact Major Incident Management and the real Problem Management was not taking place. There was little or no root cause analysis being undertaken to reduce the number of recurring Incidents and organisations were embroiled in the reactive fire-fighting rather than a proactive approach to improvement of service.

Five years on and I would have thought that the situation would have changed. ITIL Version 3 was published in 2007 with more best practice guidance for Problem Management and making the distinction between Incident Management and Problem Management even clearer.

Organisations have had plenty of time to mature their Incident Management process so that there is quality Incident data on which Problem Management can perform analysis.

Sadly, it appears that there has been little progress made.

I conduct ITIL training on a regular basis and every time I ask the class if their organisation does Problem Management I get little positive response. If I do get a response, I find that upon clarifying what they mean by Problem Management it is not actually Problem Management at all and organisations are still using the term “Problem Management” to embrace activities undertaken for Major Incident Management.

This year – 2010 – I have been asked to present as a keynote speaker at the PacRim IT Service Management Conference in Sydney. The subject they have asked me to speak on is “Problem Management – Moving From A Reactive to a Proactive Service Approach”.

The fact that they have determined that this subject is a draw for the audience supports my view that Problem Management is still alluding most organisations.

PacRim asked that my presentation included a definition of Problem Management. Therefore, my presentation will commence by saying that my many years of Service Management experience in a wide range of organisations has led me to this definition of Problem Management.

Problem Management = elusive

One definition of elusive is “eluding clear perception or complete mental grasp; hard to express or define; an elusive concept”.

This is exactly what I believe Problem Management is.

So my presentation in 2005 will not be much different in 2010!

It will be interesting to see what the audience make of it all.

The financial saving from effective Problem Management should be a key driver for organisations. An industry colleague in a large financial institution recently estimated the cost of out-of-hours callouts in response to Incidents. The estimated cost of callout was $2.8 billion per year.

Good Problem Management would make some major inroads into this cost because I would put money on it that most of those callouts are for Incidents that keep recurring.

The savings should more than cost-justify investment in development of the Problem Management process and good Problem Management staff.

Of course, the organisation has to make it appealing to staff to move towards Problem Management rather than continue with the fire-fighting. This entails a large culture change as well as a change in the reward systems. Many IT support staff would feel an adverse financial impact from the reduction of Incidents and the associated callout and overtime payments.

Organisations are being held more and more accountable for adherence to a Corporate Social Responsibility policy which includes the way in which staff are treated as well as the environmental impact of the organisation. Every time someone is called out in the middle of the night it is having an impact on their work-life balance. Every time someone is called out and has to travel to their place of work, they are contributing to the carbon footprint of the organisation.

This is even more reason that Problem Management should be a focus for organisations moving forward.

Check out my paper “The Lost World of Problem Management”. It might help you get a grasp on some of the ways in which Problem Management can become a reality and not an elusive concept. I will let you know how it went at PacRim.