The Universal Troubleshooting Process
Systematic Troubleshooting and Debugging
[See the Course FAQ for more detailed information]
[A special message to placement and consulting firms]
What's the state of technical problem solving in your organization? Do your people regularly fix the problem quickly and accurately, correctly the first time, and without side effects? If not, why not? What is the root cause of poor troubleshooting performance?
Here are some possibilities:
Troubleshooters need the right tools. The right wrenches, meters, diagnostic software, and problem tracking system are essential. This usually isn't the problem, because when it becomes a problem, your Troubleshooters will ask you to give them the proper tools. So if they haven't been asking for tools, it's probably not the cause of insufficient troubleshooting productivity.
They also need sufficient time to do the job right. The old saying, "why is there never time to do it right, but always time to do it over" applies. If your people are interrupted several times during the course of each repair, you know their efficiency will be low. But the question arises, are they interrupted because they they take much too long on each repair, or do they take much too long on a repair because they're interrupted. Try this simple test. Ask your people what progress they've made toward a solution. If they say something like "we've narrowed it down to the second DNS server in Chicago", they're probably facing a tough problem and need more time. But if their answer is "I'm just having trouble finding the problem", or "it's a murderous problem", or "we hope to solve it soon", or something equally vague, time is the symptom, not the cause. In fact, the cause is that they have no process by which to troubleshoot.
Inadequate knowledge of the system under repair is seldom the problem. Although a serious lack of system knowledge would degrade troubleshooting performance, people are typically hired specifically for their knowledge of that system. If they're promoted to working on that system, they're typically given some training. In fact, most so called "troubleshooting courses" primarily teach the technology of the system under repair, and throw in a few troubleshooting techniques so they can add the word "Troubleshooting" to the course title. Lack of system expertise is rarely the primary roadblock to troubleshooting performance.
That leaves knowledge of the process of troubleshooting. How many people have received training on troubleshooting process? It's taught by very few high schools, colleges or vocational schools. The assumption seems to be that technologists will learn this process "through the school of hard knocks". Ask yourself whether your staff is currently learning troubleshooting process by trial and error. Is this cost effective? How much does it cost you? Would you be better off training all your technical personnel to use a valid troubleshooting process?
Your personnel can learn the Universal Troubleshooting Process in two days, using your own in-house instructors. The license and materials cost is between $40.00 and $60.00 per student (minimum 10), depending on quantity. So for the cost of two in-house instructor days, two days charge on an in-house training room, plus $40.00 to $60.00 per student, you can give up to 12 of your people the best troubleshooting process knowledge available. The courseware is accompanied by a set of very self-explanatory instructor notes so your instructor knows exactly how to present the material, and how to select the most appropriate examples and exercises. Remember, your in house instructors are in the best position to know how the students think, and they're in the best position to best present examples and exercises most relevant to students' day to day work. But if you don't feel comfortable providing your own instructors, you can have Steve Litt come onsite to teach the course, although that obviously costs more.
There's nothing mysterious about the Universal Troubleshooting Process.
It's the following 10 step process:
In steps 1 and 9 students learn why mental outlook is so important to troubleshooting performance, and how to stay calm and sharp even in the most challenging of conditions.
Steps 2, 3, 4, 8 and 10 seem obvious, but it's incredible how often they're forgotten in the heat of battle. This course trains your students the importance of symptom acquisition and reproduction, damage control, testing, and future prevention. Within each of these, the student receives guidelines on "how much is enough", as well as tips on how to accomplish these things quickly. You can think of it as quality control for the troubleshooting process, with step 8 being quality by inspection, and steps 2, 3, 4 and 10 being quality built in.
Step 5 can cut troubleshooting time by 90%, but improper use of general maintenance can be a disaster. Your students receive easy to understand and follow guidelines to determine which general maintenance procedures are appropriate for the situation.
Step 6 is, as the saying goes, "where the rubber meets the road". A thorough understanding of the role of the process of elimination is imparted. Believe it or not, many students do not appreciate this role before taking the class. They learn the role of system specific information in the choice of tests and test points. They'll learn how to use block diagrams, find block diagrams from various sources, and even create their own block diagrams based on their system knowledge. They'll learn binary search as the theoretical optimum, and why that theoretical optimum is never reached. And they'll learn how to come closest to that theoretical optimum, within parameters such as ease, likelihood and safety.
Because step 7 is primarily system dependent, this course spends only the time necessary to impart general information about repair and replacement. Once again, this course does not attempt to retrain your personnel in system specifics.
Interwoven with these 10 steps are other important subjects. Intermittents are defined, and intermittent-busting techniques are introduced. The discussions of many of the steps include complications introduced by intermittents, and how to best handle those complications. Safety is discussed throughout. There is an extensive discussion on Bottleneck Analysis, which is a method of fixing problems of degree (too slow, too hot, insufficient bandwidth and the like).
The decision to train employees is not one to be taken lightly. Having 10 to 20 employees in full time training for two days represents considerable expense, even if the training is done in house. Before committing to this course of action, we recommend you read See the Course FAQ for more detailed information. To better understand the Universal Troubleshooting Process, you might want to look at the Universal Troubleshooting Process home page.
Then, if you think Universal Troubleshooting Course training might benefit your organization, email me or send me a license request form.
Steve Litt's email address
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