how to troubleshoot

“The trouble with troubleshooting is sometimes trouble shoots back.” –unknown

Troubleshooting is not just a part of an IT career, it’s a part of life. The ability to troubleshoot a wide range of problems is one of the most valuable skills you can develop, not only for problems at work, but also for problems at home. Effective troubleshooting skills are valuable not only with mechanical and electronic devices, but also in solving problems in relationships with our fellow humans and even with our four-legged brothers and sisters. The reality is that life is not perfect, it’s not even generally smooth. Our ability to navigate the potholes and rough breaks in the road of life can make the difference between happiness and frustration, between life successes or ongoing life struggles.

Troubleshooting involves an orderly process of identifying the problem, identifying the cause of the problem, considering a range of possible solutions, and choosing and implementing the best solution.

With that in mind, here are four steps for how to troubleshoot effectively, whether it’s a problem with a computer, a firewall, a network, a car, or a friendship or even a marriage.

Step One: Identify the Problem

Gather information: Start by gathering as much information as possible. Avoid any pre-conceived notions or prejudices that might cloud your judgment or obscure your vision of the whole truth. Sometimes the actual problem is not what first appears. Ask lots of open-ended questions. Some examples of good questions to ask include:
• What are the symptoms?
• How long has this been occurring?
• How did you first notice the problem?
• Is anyone else affected?
• What steps have already been taken in regard to the problem?

Withhold judgment until you’ve gathered as much information as possible.

Step Two: Identify the Cause of the Problem

What is different now compared to when things were working?

What was happening when the problem occurred or when things stopped working?

Start by checking the most basic of possible causes, such as whether a device is properly plugged in or otherwise connected.

Try changing one thing, perhaps an electrical plug, to see if the problem goes away. Change only one thing at a time, otherwise, if the problem is resolved, you won’t know what solved it.

Step Three: Consider a Range of Possible Solutions

What are all the possible solutions to the problem? Even consider some that may seem outrageous, because such solutions might lead you to the best solution. Of course, you must also consider the urgency of the problem. If the problem is causing a major network outage, for example, it may be necessary to quickly implement a temporary solution to restore network services immediately while a longer term solution is researched and implemented.

Step Four: Choose and Implement the Best Solution

After considering all the possible solutions, choose the best solution in terms of a positive outcome for all stakeholders, including the customer or end user, your organization, your co-workers, and yourself. Remember, the guidance given to doctors as they graduate from medical school: Primum non no care, or First do no harm.

Once you’ve chosen the best solution, prepare to implement it. Depending on the nature of the solution, you may need to make backups or alert end users to a temporary shutdown while the solution is implemented. Again, depending on the nature of the solution, you may need to schedule it for after hours or on a weekend.

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