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Extending ESM: What is Problem Management and Why Do You Need It?

April 26, 2022

If you've read our earlier article, "Service Management is More Than an IT Service Desk," you're likely already aware that Enterprise Service Management (ESM) strategies often start (and stop) at the sharing of core IT service desk capabilities. Limiting the aspects of IT Service Management (ITSM) pulled into other business functions is a huge miss. Organizations that do so are restricting the potential benefits of their ESM strategies. We don't want you to risk the same. 

Instead, we encourage you to reach beyond the service desk and incorporate other valuable ITSM capabilities into your ESM strategies. One of the first capabilities we'd recommend starting with is Problem Management. After all, every team will encounter at least some problems, right? 

Now, let's talk about what this means for you.

What is Problem Management?

ITSM's – and ESM's – use of the terms "problem" and "problem management" can be, well, 'problematic.'

While most English speakers might use the word "problem" to represent any and every issue that arises, Service Management takes a narrower view of it. What could be called a "problem" in casual conversation might instead be an "incident" in Service Management, as the term "problem" is reserved for "A cause, or potential cause, of one or more incidents" (ITIL Foundation, ITIL 4 Edition).

An easy way to understand this is to think of it in terms of the common cold. Sneezing (an incident) could have any number of underlying causes, as could its friends, Sniffling, Headache, and General Malaise. These symptoms all let you know that something is wrong, but addressing them at their source – the rhinovirus, in this case – is what ultimately resolves the symptoms and keeps additional from arising.

Problems in Service Management operate similarly. Addressing only a "symptom" is unlikely to remove the underlying cause – meaning that the incident will probably continue in the same place or even sprout up elsewhere. More importantly, multiple incidents can occur from a single root cause and could continue until addressed.

Problem Management seeks to solve this with approaches toward identifying and mitigating the causes and preventing the symptoms from recurring.

Why Should I Care?

In an IT context, problems can crop up anywhere and everywhere. We've seen problems crop up in just about every scenario imaginable. Even those who don't work in IT can likely immediately call out a few common IT problems because that rapid connection already exists in the minds of most. Once you get past the idea that "Problem" equals "Technology," though, you'll see that the need to address problems is also evident in all other business functions. This is especially true for any department with a person or team acting as the frontline of support.

To best answer why you should care, first ask yourself: does your department's support team deal with many of the same issues day in and day out? 

If yes, that's reason enough as to why you should care about problem management. Because yes, while you might be able to address all problems as they come in or point users to where they can go to help themselves, wouldn't it be better if those affected customers didn't experience issues at all? Why not fix the leak instead rather than continually bailing the water out of a flooding boat?

But if you're not convinced yet, here are some examples that might help.

Examples of Problems in Other Departments

The potential problems currently hidden within your departments might include:

  • Inadequate instructions on how to do things.
    • Do visitors get lost navigating your hallways? Are customers repeatedly calling or emailing for assistance with the same simple tasks? Are callers frequently ending up at the wrong end of the phone tree? If so, these are problems.
  • Critical safety issues.
    • Are all employees using their keycards to enter the building, or are they coming in behind others? Is there a particular door that always sticks and needs force to open? Is your talent team carefully identifying all callers before sharing PII? These could all be problems too.
  • Inconsistencies with company "messaging."
    • Are you sending out emails laden with typos? Do your blogs not read like they're intended for a specific audience? Is branding not being applied consistently on everything supplied to customers? Yep, you guessed it – these are problems too.

And these are just a few of the problems that may be plaguing all of your departments now. Therefore, it is essential to look past the constant stream of issues hitting your frontline support and identify those that are frequently repeated. Once you've identified those repeat visitors, problem management can help you understand and address their root causes.

If you want to learn more about how enterprise service management and problem management can help your teams, let's get in touch.

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