Frequently Asked Questions:
Universal Troubleshooting Process Troubleshooting Course
Copyright (C) 2001 by Steve Litt.
What is the Universal Troubleshooting Process?
The Universal Troubleshooting Process is a ten step process used to solve
any reproducible problem in any well defined system with a reasonable number
of accessible test points. The Universal Troubleshooting Process is often
referred to as the UTP.
This systematic troubleshooting technique is effective in automotive
repair, software debugging, computer and network administration,
factory machine repair, and anything else having a service manual or a
known state and behavior.
What is a "well defined system"?
A well defined system is a system with a consistent, documented state and
behavior. Televisions, computers, cars and well written software are examples
of well defined systems, and are effectively troubleshot using the UTP.
Employee groups and human behavior are not well defined systems, thus are
not appropriate diagnostic targets for the Universal Troubleshooting Process.
What is a "reproducible problem"?
A reproducible problem is a problem for which there is a known sequence
of steps to consistently reproduce the symptoms of the problem. The opposite
of a reproducible problem is an intermittent problem.
So the Universal Troubleshooting Process is ineffective against intermittents?
The UTP is very effective against intermittents. The difference
is that the UTP is mathematically certain to solve reproducible
problems on a well defined system, whereas it is very helpful on
Mathematically certain? That's pretty strong language. Can you prove
Yes. The underlying principle of the UTP is repeated division of the remaining
problem area, until the root cause is isolated in such a small section
that it becomes obvious. Each division is accomplished by performing a
test, such as a voltmeter reading or a diagnostic software command,
which rules out part of the system as the home of the root cause with each
test. The fact that the system is well defined allows the Troubleshooter
to deduce which part(s) he or she is ruling out. The fact that the problem
is reproducible means the test result correlates to the location of the
root cause, and not to a time, temperature or stress dependency. The fact
that there are a reasonable number of test points assures that such tests
can be performed.
Ideally, each division cuts the remaining area in half. With such ideal
divisions, a single defective component in a system comprised of
1,048,576 components can be isolated in 20 tests. In real life it's not
that simple, because for each test there's a four way tradeoff between
ease, likelihood, safety and even divisions. Nevertheless, the UTP is mathematically
certain to yield a solution to a reproducible problem in a well defined
system containing a reasonable number of accessible test points. In practice,
correct use of the UTP leads to quick, accurate solutions.
Everyone knows about diagnosis by division. That's nothing new. What
else does the Universal Troubleshooting Process bring to the table?
First and foremost, the UTP brings awareness of a rigorous techniques for
diagnosis by division. Diagnosis by division works only when the Troubleshooter
keeps track of what he's ruled out and what he hasn't. Intuitive diagnosis
by division all too often results in circular troubleshooting and skipping
steps, both of which decrease effectiveness severalfold.
Additionally, the UTP augments diagnosis by division (which is step 6 of
the UTP) with nine more steps:
Steps 1 and 9 help preserve the productive mental state of the person doing
the troubleshooting, thus fostering continuing high productivity. Step
5 boosts productivity by "playing the odds" -- rounding up the usual suspects.
In addition, step 5 is a powerful tool in the solution of intermittents.
Steps 2, 3 and 4 serve as vital preparation. Such preparation is often
skipped. Steps 8 and 10 prevent embarrassing "call backs".
What does the Universal Troubleshooting Process course give me that
I can't get by reading Troubleshooters.Com?
Get the Attitude
Get a complete and accurate symptom description
Make damage control plan
Reproduce the symptom
Do the appropriate general 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
How long does the Universal Troubleshooting Course take?
Optimal organization for training. Although it's absolutely true that most
of the course material has found its way onto Troubleshooters.Com, Troubleshooters.Com
is organized for self learning, whereas our course is designed and optimized
for use in a classroom.
How effective is this course?
I like it as a 2 day course. At 2 days, roughly 60% is lecture and 40%
is class exercises. Some organizations expand it to 3 days to add more
hands-on. The choice depends primarily on the equipment or systems under
repair, and the examples and exercises chosen. It's impossible to adequately
cover this course in less than 2 days.
My employees know how to troubleshoot. They do it every day. Why
should they take the Universal Troubleshooting Process course?
This depends on two base factors: 1) the extent to which the organization's
current current Troubleshooting practices are suboptimal, and 2) the extent
to which the attendees adopt the Universal Troubleshooting Process.
Obviously, if the attendees already use the UTP every day, only a few percentage
points improvement would be expected from giving them this course. The
improvement would be due to the fact that one can always learn more about
their area of expertise. On the other hand, if the attendees currently
troubleshoot non-rigorously, there's a potential to quadruple their effectiveness.
IF they can be persuaded to completely adopt the UTP...
Several factors affect the degree of UTP adoption. Obviously, if this course
is perceived as a "program of the month", it will fall on deaf ears. To
help prevent that, the UTP course uses only standard English words. There's
no need to learn a "UTP jargon" in order to learn and use the UTP. The
class exercises are your chance to showcase the UTP's credibility. In-class
exercises (hands on or simulation) should be constructed to solve problems
on systems or equipment the attendees use on a daily basis.
Help the attendees understand they have a real stake in the UTP. Properly
used, it makes their workdays much easier, with more free time and less
firefighting, politics and stress. Eliminate any perception that their
workload will be increased to eradicate these gains.
Be sure to assist the attendees in using the UTP in their real work the
first day after the course. Nothing hurts adoption worse than a time gap
between training and use. The first few days, make sure to give the attendees
a little extra time on each repair so they can feel comfortable learning
to perform the 10 steps in their real work environment. If they're empowered
to use the UTP in their daily work, within days their performance will
Make the promise of a better work life real. Convey the fact that the benefits
of UTP usage will be split between employer and employee. If the attendees
perceive that the time saved will all be consumed by additional work thrown
at them, they will have no stake in adopting a more productive troubleshooting
process. No matter how loyal they are to the company, real adoption comes
only when they perceive a personal benefit.
I don't see how the Universal Troubleshooting Process gives my employees
system expertise. Can you explain?
There's a difference between knowing how to troubleshoot, and knowing how
to troubleshoot quickly, accurately and consistently. Troubleshooting performance
is a wide spectrum. Only those on the very edge cannot troubleshoot. The
vast majority can. The question is, how fast, how accurately, and how consistently.
Unless your employees consistently solve technological problems quickly
and accurately, they and you can derive great benefit from the UTP course.
Don't technologists learn troubleshooting process by experience?
Certainly. Effective troubleshooting requires two assets: 1) knowledge
of the system under repair, and 2) knowledge of the repair process. If
either is lacking, troubleshooting effectiveness plummets.
Most technologists have massive training on the system under repair, either
in trade school, the military, college, vendor courses or third party courses.
But have they been trained in troubleshooting process? Odds are they haven't.
For most technologists, the weak link in their troubleshooting effectiveness
is insufficient knowledge of troubleshooting process. Fortunately, this
insufficiency can be cured by the 2 day Universal Troubleshooting Process
course. Note that the process is system independent, so your employees
can use that process on all well defined systems, including networks, computers,
and various equipment.
How much does the Universal Troubleshooting Process course cost?
Yes, to various degrees. Given enough field experience, some, but not all
technologists learn enough about troubleshooting process to be reasonably
proficient. But few learn enough to eliminate troubleshooting process as
a bottleneck on their troubleshooting effectiveness. Add to this the fact
that most new technologists are woefully ignorant of troubleshooting process.
Troubleshooting process is not rocket science, but neither is it obvious.
The Universal Troubleshooting Process can greatly enhance troubleshooting
productivity in most organizations.
Why are your course materials so cheap?
There are several alternatives. The least expensive, and I believe the
best alternative, is to have your in-house trainers teach the course. In
such a case, the license fee is between $40.00 and $60.00 per attendee,
depending on quantity.
The minimum courseware order is 10 attendees.
Materials are included in that price. Troubleshooters.Com will supply a
self-evident set of instructor notes guiding the instructor in presenting
the material and creating useful examples and class exercises. Using your
own trainers is usually best, because they know your personnel and the
systems and equipment your personnel service. They are in a unique position
to create optimal examples and exercises.
If you prefer, I can teach the course personally. The cost is $2400/day,
charged for days onsite and for
Additionally, you reimburse
me for air and ground travel, parking, lodging, and a region-reasonable
What I do recommend is that if you're training a large number of employees
(200+), you may want to bring me on site to train the trainers. The charge
is the same as for regular onsite training. The train the trainer training
is 3 to 4 days, because not only is the material presented, but the trainers
are guided in presenting it and adapting examples and exercises to their
Why are your course materials so expensive?
I'm asked this frequently. Most 2 day training courses carry much higher
price tags. I priced my material so that price wouldn't be an issue for
a normal business. Lacking a fleet of salesmen, I don't have time to discuss
price. Because Troubleshooters.Com is a lean and mean small business, we
make enough profit
at our low license fees.
How does the Universal Troubleshooting Process course compare to the
Kepner-Tregoe "Analytic Trouble Shooting" course?
I occasionally get this question from non-profit institutions.
Unlike for-profit businesses,
they do not have budgets capable of paying typical training
costs. Once in a while, for genuine 501c3, I'll reduce the
price. This is on a case by case basis. These discounts
are only for those who serve the needy, such as veterans,
homeless, or the poor.
How does the Universal Troubleshooting Process course compare to
the Theory of Constraints?
- I can't conclusively answer this question because
Kepner-Tregoe keeps their
materials, including their "Analytic Trouble Shooting", a secret. Their
latest (as of 8/15/2006) page on this process was long on buzzwords and
short on specifics, but it did say "
Analytic Trouble Shooting addresses the plant environment—its
culture, systems, work procedures, and human resources".
From that I conclude that it's optimized more for logistical
improvement and business processes than for the repair of technological
systems. The bottom line is this: Given the scarcity of hard facts on
their "Analytic Trouble Shooting" page, the only
way I could learn specifics about that course is to take it myself, but by doing
that I would invite accusations of "copying" or "stealing" their ideas.
Contrast that to the Universal Troubleshooting Process, which is optimized
from the ground up for the repair of equipment, computers, computer networks,
and other well defined systems. There's no extraneous material to slow
the Troubleshooter. This topic is discussed extensively in the December
2000 issue of Troubleshooting Professional Magazine.
If you need to clean up business processes, use Kepner-Tregoe or other
tools for solving problems in fuzzily defined systems. If you need to quickly
and economically solve problems in equipment, computers, computer networks,
or other well defined systems, use the Universal Troubleshooting Process.
If you need to do both, use both tools. One size does not fit all.
How does the Universal Troubleshooting Process compare to what Troubleshooters.Com
calls "Era 4 Troubleshooting Tools", such as Intelliworxx MentorWorxx?
The Theory of Constraints (TOC) is a spectacularly effective tool for finding
and exploiting bottlenecks. Its optimization, and most common use, is in
finding, fixing and exploiting bottlenecks in business situations and factory
floors. It could be used to fix problems of degree with well defined systems,
but it's certainly not optimized for that purpose.
The UTP is optimized from the ground up to solve problems with well defined
systems such as equipment, computers and networks. To help the Troubleshooter
solve problems of degree (car too slow, insufficient network throughput,
etc), the UTP course contains a section on bottleneck analysis. This section
is pretty much the subset of the Theory of Constraints necessary to solve
problems of degree in well defined systems.
Much of the Theory of Constraints is contained in "The Goal" by by Eliyahu
M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox. I recommend that everyone read that book, just
like I recommend reading the Troubleshooters.Com website. If you need your
employees to solve problems of degree in business or the factory floor,
give them Theory of Constraints training. If you need your employees to
solve problems in equipment, computers and networks, give them Universal
Troubleshooting Process training. If you need them to do both, give them
both types of training.
Where can I learn more about the Universal Troubleshooting Process?
How can I order the Universal Troubleshooting Process?
- Era 4 tools were smart manuals and diagnostic machines
whose software is
built around a core troubleshooting process. Intelliworxx, Inc. was the
leader in the field. Era 4 tools augmented, rather than
replaced, valid troubleshooting process such as the UTP. Where
implemented, Era 4 tools dramatically
increased the productivity of Troubleshooter who understood
as a process. Unfortunately, each Era 4 script set was system specific,
and therefore very expensive to create. As far as I know, the companies
creating Era 4 tools went out of business in the early 2000's. Today
(8/2006), Intelliworxx.com is a generic link site with no content.
Please be aware that many so-called "expert systems" are not Era 4 tools,
because they are not built around a valid troubleshooting process. Such
tools must be viewed as service ticket accounting tools, searchable electronic
manuals, and/or collaborative symptom/solution documentation. They're tools,
no different than a voltmeter, and no substitute for troubleshooting
process training. The effective employer will give its employees the Universal
Troubleshooting Process Course.
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(C)2001 by Steve Litt. -- Legal