The Universal Troubleshooting
Systematic Troubleshooting and Debugging
In 2005, the term General Maintenance was replaced with Corrective Maintenance, which better describes the purpose of the
maintenance. These terms are synonomous, so you can use either term,
but courseware updated in 2005 and later uses the term Corrective Maintenance.
Troubleshooting: What's in it for me?
Money, power and fame. Happiness and improved social and family life. Organizational success. These are the benefits accruing to the expert Troubleshooter, or the manager whose people troubleshoot quickly and accurately.
I'm not saying that if you double your troubleshooting productivity
you'll double your salary. That's not how it works unless you're on
commission. Instead, a productive Troubleshooter is seen as a capable
and valuable employee, receiving more promotion opportunities, better
raises and avoiding layoffs.
For instance, take employees Al and Bob. Both make $50,000.00 in year
1. Both are quite capable, although Bob is a much more productive
troubleshooter. Al receives a 4% raise per year, while Bob receives a
6% raise per year because his troubleshooting success makes him look
smarter and more capable. At year 10, Al's salary is $71,165.59, while
Bob gets $84,473.95. That's more than a $13,000.00 premium for
excellent troubleshooting. But wait -- there's more.
In year 5 there's a recession. Al gets laid
off and slides back to $50,000.00 on his next job. Being able to solve
problems, Bob is promoted in the leaner and meaner organization, and
receives a 15% raise instead of his usual 6%. Before and after year 5,
Al and Bob get their usual raises. In year 10, Al's salary
is $60832.65 while Bob's making $91646.26. Over $30,000 more.
Over 50% more. This is the monetary power of troubleshooting
The preceding example detailed the monetary reward for a technologist. What if you're a manager?
If your department troubleshoots effectively, they'll solve problems
quickly. You'll be considered a good manager. On the other hand, if
every technical problem causes your crew to twist in the wind, that
will be noticed in a different way. The effects of better raises, promotions and
layoffs are math that apply to any employee. Unless your team currently
consistently solves technical problems quickly and accurately, it's in
your financial best interest to make sure they learn troubleshooting.
As mentioned, monetary reward for enhanced troubleshooting productivity
isn't instant -- it accrues over a career. Most of troubleshooting
productivity's other benefits are instant. Read on...
I once saw a rather new and low level employee use bottleneck analysis
to determine that the main computer's bottleneck was its
processor. This computer served about 200 employees. One night when
everyone was gone he borrowed a faster processor from the hardware
vendor and installed it. The next day everyone raved about the
computer's speed and how easy it was to work with now that it was fast.
Rank and file employees noticed it. Upper management noticed it and
paid for the processor immediately. A couple months later this guy was
promoted to upper management and put in charge of all software
development, leapfrogging six people who were ahead of him.
When you use the Universal Troubleshooting Process, you know your
superior troubleshooting productivity is due to following a process.
But to others, it looks like competence, ability, intelligence, and
An ex client called me. A programmer had left, and his code had several bugs. Could I come back and fix it?
When I walked in the door, the network director said "Here comes the
cavalry!". I was famous as a guy who could fix anything. They thought I
was a genius, but I was just an average guy who used the Universal
All those with an easy job, raise your hands...
What -- nobody raised their hands? You say your job is stressful? Long hours, tight deadlines and high expectations?
As a technologist, if you consistently follow a troubleshooting
process such as the Universal Troubleshooting Process, you'll be
replacing deep thought with easy diagnostic tests. That means much less
With process oriented troubleshooting, you'll be much less likely to
conduct wandering or circular searches for a root cause, and much more likely to
efficiently zero in on the root cause. That means faster work, and
perhaps more importantly, more consistent and predictable times to
solution. This predictability reduces stress.
And then there's this simple fact: You're happier when you do a good job.
Bottom line, as a technologist, you're happier on the job and happier when you go home.
But what if you're a manager? Would your work life be easier if your
team solved technical problems quickly and in a predictable manner?
Would it make you happy if you could give your boss a reasonable range
for the time to solution of a high profile problem? The manager with a
crew using process oriented troubleshooting is a happy manager.
Improved Social and Family Life
The stress reduction previously mentioned carries through to your life
outside work. How nice it is to walk into your house and greet your
family knowing things are OK at work, and that you don't have to think
about work, even in the back of your mind. You can pay full attention
to your childrens' problems or your wife's idea for the next party.
Let's say you're single. Would your social life be better if you could
go to a party knowing everything's OK at work? Would this make you a
better conversationalist? Would you be less likely to drink excessively in an effort to "forget your
you be more likely to attract a mate if you were happy and secure in
Today, an employee's well being is linked to that of his or
her employer. With global competition, if a company isn't the best they
can be, the company dies, and the employees are unemployed. Your
organization's success might not make you happy, but your
organization's failure will surely make you miserable. Enhanced
troubleshooting productivity on your part and that of your co-workers
is one key to organizational success.
Besides, if you're anything like I was when I was an employee, I took pride in working for a successful company.
The fastest way to learn (or teach) troubleshooting
Troubleshooters.Com has products to help everyone quickly learn
effective troubleshooting. There's no reason you can't know what you
need to know within a week or less. The learning process depends on
You're a technologist
Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting
is an easy read taking only a few days, yet it gives you most of the
information you need to become a Troubleshooting Ninja. It's a
collection of short stories, each one illustrating one or more aspects
of the Universal Troubleshooting Process. Its use of analogy makes a
believer of the reader. You'll be inspired to dive right in using the
Universal Troubleshooting Process, and your success will further your
- Read Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting.
- Then, if you want the ultimate expertise, read Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist.
The self-motivated technologist wanting the ultimate in knowledge of troubleshooting process will go on to read Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist. I put most of my knowledge in that book, so upon reading it you'll know almost everything about troubleshooting that I know.
Another good resource for the technologist is The Manager's Guide to Technical Troubleshooting. It's almost as easy a read as Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting, without using short stories, so if you don't like short stories and fiction in your technical reading, substitute The Manager's Guide to Technical Troubleshooting for Twenty Eight Tales.
This book is also an excellent resource if you're trying to convince
your boss to provide troubleshooting training for the department.
You're an automotive tech or factory maintenance person
Do exactly the same as outlined in the section on technologists. In addition, you might find the book Troubleshooting: Tools Tips and Techniques handy because it's written for someone in a shop environment. Be aware, however, that Troubleshooting: Tools Tips and Techniques defines troubleshooting as four tools rather than ten steps.
You're a manager needing to learn
The Manager's Guide to Technical Troubleshooting
gives you all necessary troubleshooting info to perform your
management function. If part of your job description involves taking on
a technologist role, see also the technologist section.
- Read The Manager's Guide to Technical Troubleshooting.
Whether or not you perform technologist function, you might benefit from Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting.
It's an easy read, and its use of analogies help you make a
powerful case for a department or organization wide use of the
Universal Troubleshooting Process, whether talking with your boss,
co-workers or those who work for you.
You're a manager whose team needs to learn
You can have your trainers present this course, in which case the
courseware cost is
and $60.00 per attendee/handout, depending
on quantity, or you can have me
(Steve Litt) teach the course onsite. Once again, you might want to
read Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting, whose use of analogies help you powerfully state your case.
- Present the Troubleshooters.Com Universal Troubleshooting Process Courseware.
The courseware is cost effective for 8 or more people. If you have very
few people to train, and those people are motivated, consider having
them self-learn using the techniques outlined in the technologists section.
You're a trainer
Let's talk, you and I, trainer to trainer. Some folks say "those who
can, do; those who can't, teach." You and I know it's quite the
opposite. Doing usually isn't rocket science, teaching requires very
First, we need to understand the material. That's easy.
Then we need to present the material in a memorable and understandable way. That's more difficult.
Then we have to obtain buy-in from the attendees. That can be outrageously difficult.
Theoretically, you could order the courseware, read the self-explanatory Instructor Notes along with the courseware, and then teach the class. I'd recommend you take it to the next level...
Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting
is a lightning-quick read from which you can quickly learn Universal
Troubleshooting Process essentials. More importantly, its analogy based
arguments help you build a case for attendee buy-in.
- Read Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting.
- Then read Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist.
- Then read the Courseware and its Instructor Notes.
- Then teach the Course.
Knowing considerably more than your students is essential. Reading Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist
gives you that knowledge. It's a dry, difficult read, but after reading
it you'll be able to answer any on-topic student question.
No matter what role you play, Troubleshooters.Com has products to help you learn and teach effective troubleshooting.
The 10 step Universal Troubleshooting Process
Make damage control plan
Get a complete and accurate symptom
Reproduce the symptom
Do the appropriate corrective maintenance
Narrow it down to the root cause
Repair or replace the defective component
Take pride in your solution
Prevent future occurrence of this problem
Troubleshooting Tips and Articles
- Foundations of Troubleshooting
- Logic for Troubleshooting
- Universal Troubleshooting Process
- Industry Specific Information
- Handy Troubleshooting Tactics
- The Attitude
Here Are Some Other Troubleshooting Tips:
The quality of the solution depends on the quality put into the steps.
Getting a complete and accurate symptom description, and reproducing
symptom, assures that you fix the symptom the customer wanted you to
A good damage control plan ensures that you won't make anything worse.
Correct general maintenance shows the customer you care about quality,
and often greatly reduces costs. A correct narrowing process will
costs, prevent further damage, and ensure that the root cause, rather
a peripheral symptom, is fixed. Proper repair or replacement of the
component prevents further damage.
Testing is like inspection in the factory. The few defects that
the quality controls of the earlier steps are caught here, by showing
the symptom description you recorded and reproduced has been
and that no further problems have been created. Taking pride is a
maintenance item that ensures the quality of you as a troubleshooter
a human being. Preventing further occurrence is the utmost in customer
service. The quality of the solution depends on the quality of the
Use this when the symptom can be described as "it's too (slow, fast,
etc.)". Bottleneck is a special kind of Divide and Conquer (see step
6). One cool and easy bottleneck analysis test is to slow down
a section of the system. If that section is the bottleneck, the system
as a whole will slow down significantly. If not, it won't. The entire March
1998 Troubleshooting Professional Magazine is devoted to bottleneck
Don't skip steps
The Divide and Conquer process can be thought of as continually forcing
the problem into ever smaller boxes, until it's trapped. Some of the
troubleshooting debacles I've seen involved the problem escaping the
In other words, the troubleshooter thought he had proved it was in one
area, when it was really in another. When that happens, tests become
and the troubleshooter starts to doubt himself. Whole days can be
Take every precaution to avoid this -- don't skip steps.
The following troubleshooting supplies are available here:
UTP Wall Hanger
This wall hanger lists the 10 steps of the Universal Troubleshooting
Process, as well as some divide and conquer tips including the
quadruple tradeoff. It also shows the Troubleshooter's Mantra and
Troubleshooter's Philosophy, and URLs for Universal Troubleshooting
This is a PDF you can download, and print paper copies for anyone in
your company and/or friends and associates, assuming you do not make
changes to its content or appearance. You may NOT redistribute the
electronic version. Instead, give others the URL.
View or print it from here.
UTP Completion Form
This two page form provides a place for the Troubleshooter to write
completion data for each of the 10 steps of the Universal
Troubleshooting Process. This is valuable for any Troubleshooter, and
is especially vital for the Troubleshooter who has just completed the
Universal Troubleshooting Process course. It is best printed as a
single two-sided sheet, but it can also be printed on two sheets and
stapled. Printing on two sheets gives more writing room for those with
extended/special data to record.
This is a PDF you can download, and print paper copies for
anyone in your company and/or friends and associates, assuming you do
not make changes to its content or appearance. You may NOT redistribute
the electronic version. Instead, give others the URL.\
View or print it from here.
Thought Patterns of the Troubleshooting Ninja Presentation
This is a presentation, first given by Steve Litt at Barcamp Orlando on
4/14/2012, details the fundamental thought patterns producing
exceptional troubleshooting and debugging productivity.
View or print it from here.
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