Troubleshooting: WHAT and HOW?

When troubleshooting technical problems, I recommend answering six questions regarding the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the situation.  In this post, I will discuss WHAT and HOW.

What happened?  And how did it happen?

The WHAT of the problem is the specific issue and the HOW is context around it.  It’s great to write down or capture a screen shot of an error message, but that’s only part of the story.  Telling the help desk, “I got an error,” is like a patient telling a physician, “I am having pain.”  The doctor isn’t going to stop there, and neither will a technician.  The error message is WHAT happened, but the steps you took to get the error are the HOW.  Here are some examples of how the conversation with a technician could start:

OK:  I received an error message.

Good:  I received an error message after clicking the save button.

Better:  I clicked the save button three times.  Then after fifteen seconds, I received an error message.

Best:  Our IT department did some system upgrades last night, and today when creating a document, I clicked the save button three times because it wasn’t responding.  Then after fifteen seconds I received an error message that says, “The system is currently unavailable, please try again later.”

Even though the “best” example still leaves many unanswered questions, it helps the technician determine how to most efficiently start the investigation.  Keep track of the steps required to produce the problem, as well as the detail about your technical environment, such as application and operating system versions, workstation specifications, connectivity requirements, etc.  The more detail, the better.

You also need to assess WHAT impact the issue is having on the users and the organization.  Is the system down and no one can work?  Is everything still up but the issue is a minor annoyance?  Not all technical issues are created equal, so assessing the business impact can help to determine the urgency of resolving the problem.

Jill Devrick is a Product Solutions Advisor with 3M Health Information Systems.

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