By Alaric Tan, Kepner-Tregoe

Problem solving is a core part of any IT service management program – looking for ways to improve the quality of services delivered and lower operational costs for the company. Incident management, system testing, customer support and user-feedback mechanisms all produce lists of observations and opportunities that represent potential problems that could be solved. One of the main challenges is determining which of the potential problems should be solved. Every organization is different, so each requires different strategies. Here are 3 possible problem-solving strategies to consider for your organization when deciding which to resolve.

Quick-wins strategy

Not all problems can be solved easily and some may resolve themselves through a planned release to the systems or a change in business activities. The quick-wins strategy acknowledges this and focuses on prioritizing actions to address those problems which can be resolved quickly and thus deliver immediate value to the organization. 

The benefits of this strategy are: 1. Resolution of a greater number of problems, resulting in a smaller overall backlog; 2. The opportunity to benefit from the resolved problems sooner; and 3. Greater flexibility to re-assign problem management SMEs because they aren’t engaged in solving a single problem during an extended period. The downside to this strategy is that the problems with the greatest impact are often the most difficult and time consuming, and are not likely to be prioritized for action. 

This strategy may be best if your company has a short-sighted focus and a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” culture.

Customer-impact strategy

The overarching goal of IT service management is to provide the best services possible to serve the needs of customers/clients/users. The customer-impact strategy prioritizes impact to service consumers/users over operational efficiencies and cost savings by focusing on resolving those problems which will have the greatest impact on service functionality, performance and availability to improve user productivity and satisfaction. 

The benefits of this strategy are: 1. Direct and measurable business impact from problem-solving activities; 2. Improved performance against service SLAs, which are often tied to availability, performance and satisfaction metrics; and 3. Problem-solving resources always focused on high value-add activities. The downside to this strategy is that preventative maintenance and operational cost savings opportunities are deferred, as these may be deprioritized over the other issues with a greater customer impact – creating a risk of slowly increasing costs. 

This strategy may be best for your company if it has an intense customer focus and lower cost pressures.

Long-term benefit strategy

Problem-solving in IT is an up-front investment for a future return. The long-term benefit strategy focuses on solving the problems that create the greatest long-term benefit without regard for the problem or impact type. Problems are treated as investment opportunities (that provide the desired long-term benefits) and portfolio management techniques are used to maximize value creation from the available resources. 

The benefits of this strategy are: 1. An objective assessment is made of each opportunity, justifying prioritization decisions against clear cost and value factors; 2. Investments in problem-solving can be compared with other investments (facilities upgrades, staffing, new products, etc.); and 3. Opportunity cost is considered when prioritizing, providing a clear “cut line” of which problems should not be solved. The downside to this approach is the overhead activity of quantifying the cost and long-term benefit of each opportunity (many of which will never be prioritized), as well as the time needed to prioritize. I’ll write more about how this can be managed in another post.

This strategy may be best if your company has a long-term focus and a financially driven decision-making culture.

None of these strategies is perfect or appropriate to satisfy the needs of every organization or any organization at all times. Selecting the right IT problem-solving strategy for your company requires a thoughtful evaluation of your organizational decision-making culture, current priorities and constraints. The best strategy is often a hybrid of best practices customized to your company’s unique needs at that particular point in time.

For more than 50 years Kepner-Tregoe’s approach has been to install frameworks and systems that holistically balance opportunities and challenges, giving individuals and teams a firm foundation to exceed their goals. 

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