IT Problem Management

Manage IT Problems and Ensure Better Service Availability

Classify, analyze, and close problems. Analyze root causes and reduce repeat incidents to boost your IT help desk's productivity. Problem management is the process responsible for managing the lifecycle of all problems that happen or could happen in an IT service. The primary objectives of problem management are to prevent problems and resulting incidents from happening, to eliminate recurring incidents, and to minimize the impact of incidents that cannot be prevented. The Information Technology Infrastructure Library defines a problem as the cause of one or more incidents.

What is ITIL Problem Management?

Problem Management is an IT service management process tasked with managing the life cycle of underlying "Problems." Success is achieved by quickly detecting and providing solutions or workarounds to Problems in order to minimize impact on the organization and prevent recurrence. Problem Management also attempts to find the error in the IT infrastructure that is causing the Problem and contributing to the Incidents that users may have. The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) provides the following definitions for usage within this process:

  • Problem: “The cause of one or more Incidents. The cause is not usually known at the time a Problem record is created"
  • Error: “A design flaw or malfunction that causes a failure of one or more IT services or other configuration items”
  • Known Error: “A Problem that has a documented root cause and workaround”
  • Root Cause: “The underlying or original cause of an incident or problem”.

    - Proactive vs. Reactive Problem Management


Problem Management can be either reactive or proactive.

     Reactive Problem Management is the Problem solving reaction that occurs when one or more Incidents arise.
   Proactive Problem Management deals with identifying and solving Problems before any Incidents have occurred. This activity is associated with Continual Service Improvement (CSI).

The Role of Problem Management within the ITIL Framework

The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), launched in 2000, is the most popular IT Service Management (TSM) best practice framework followed worldwide. It has been adopted by individuals and organizations in public and private organizations as a protocol for aligning IT Services with the needs of the business.

  • The Problem Manager is responsible for managing the lifecycle of all Problems.

  • His primary objectives are to prevent Incidents from happening, and to minimize the impact of Incidents that cannot be prevented.

  • To this purpose he maintains information about Known Errors and Workarounds.


The Value of Problem Management to the Business

The Problem Management process works in conjunction with Incident and Change Management to provide value to the business in a variety of ways. The primary goal of Problem Management is to minimize the impact of Problems on the business and prevent recurrence. When successful, downtime and disruptions are reduced. Additional benefits include:

  • Increased service availability
  • Improved service quality
  • Decreased Problem resolution time
  • Reduction of the number of Incidents
  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced costs
  • Improved customer satisfaction

Adopting and implementing ITIL processes and technology will minimize the chaos that IT organizations can face amid the rapidly changing technology landscape. Although Problem Management is its own process, it is dependent on an effective Incident Management process and the proper tools; tools that include a common interface, access to available knowledge, configuration management information and interaction with other related ITIL processes. This ensures that Problems are identified, contain relevant details and are worked on as quickly as possible. ITIL does not provide organizations with an exact method of adopting Problem Management, rather a structured framework that requires adjustment to fit individual business needs and constraints. Regular adjustments to these internal ITIL processes will ultimately support agility, demonstrate business value and help organizations compete in their market space.


ITIL KPIs Problem Management

Key Performance Indicator (KPI)


  • Number of Problems

  • Number of Problems registered by Problem Management

  • grouped into categories

  • Problem Resolution Time

  • Average time for resolving Problems

  • grouped into categories

  • Number of unresolved Problem

  • Number of Problems where the underlying root cause is not known at a particular time

  • Number of Incidents per Known Problem

  • Number of reported Incidents linked to the same Problem after problem identification

  • Time until Problem Identification

  • Average time between first occurrence of an Incident and identification of the underlying root cause

  • Problem Resolution Effort

  • Average work effort for resolving Problems

  • grouped into categories


- The Basic ITIL Problem Management Process

  1. Identify a potential Problem

  2. Raise a Problem Management case

  3. Log the problem

  4. Categorize and prioritize

  5. Systematic investigation (Root Cause Analysis)

  6. Identify change(s) needed to resolve and work through Change Management

  7. Verify problem has been resolved

  8. Close out problem

Problem Monitoring

Problem Management Process Flow

How does Problem Management work? ITIL Problem Management is about more than just resolving Incidents; it takes into account the entire life cycle of a Problem. The Problem Management life cycle process flow can be structured to manage Problems that are initially reported as Incidents by users or service desk technicians via a self-service portal, over the telephone, via email, in person or Potential Problems that are automatically detected by ITSM personnel or technology before any Incident occurs. The scope of the Problem Management process flow includes:

1) Problem Detection

Problems can be detected in a variety of ways, including as the result of an Incident report, ongoing Incident analysis, and automated detection by an event management tool, or supplier notification. A Problem is commonly detected when the cause of one or more Incidents reported to the service desk is unknown. It is possible that the service desk has resolved the Incident and it may occur again, but they are unsure of the underlying root cause and therefore create a Problem record. In other cases, it may be clear to the service desk that a reported Incident is associated to a Problem. This Problem may have already been recorded – Known Problem – and the Incident can be linked to the existing Problem record. If the Problem has not been recorded then a Problem record should be immediately created to help assure service performance.

2) Problem Logging

In order to maintain a complete historical record, all Problems, regardless of method used to identify and report to the service desk, must by logged with all relevant details, including date/time, user information, description, related Configuration Item from the CMDB, associated Incidents, resolution details and closure information.

    - Categorization - Once logged, all appropriate categories must be selected in order to properly assign, escalate and monitor frequencies and Problem trends

    - Prioritization - Assigning priority is critical in determining how and when the Problem will be handled by staff. It is determined by the impact - number of associated Incidents which can provide insight into the number of affected users or its impact on the business. In addition, the urgency of the Problem - how quickly resolution is required is taken into account to define the priority.

3) Investigation and Diagnosis

An investigation into the root cause of the Problem will take place based on the impact, severity and urgency of the Problem in question. Common investigation techniques include reviewing the Known Error Database (KEDB) in an effort to find matching Problems and resolutions and/or recreating the failure to determine the cause.

4) Workaround

In some situations it is possible to provide a temporary fix or workaround to the user experiencing the Incident related to the Problem. However, it’s important to seek a permanent change resolution to the underlying error detected by Problem Management.

5) Create Known Error Record

Once the investigation and diagnosis is complete, it’s important to create a Known Error record. If future Incidents or Problems arise, the investigating service desk technician will identify and provide resolution more quickly using the known error database (KEDB) and associated workaround(s).

6) Resolution

Once resolved, the solution can be implemented using the standard change procedure and tested to confirm service recovery. However, if a normal change was required, an associated Request For Change (RFC) will be raised and approved before a resolution is applied to the Problem.

7) Closure

Following confirmation that the Error has been resolved, the Problem and any associated Incidents can be closed. The service desk technician should ensure that the initial classification details are accurate for future reference and reporting.

***Major Problem Review - Major Problems are defined by an organization’s Business Impact Analysis (BIA) and Risk Assessment (RA) to determine response and priority (impact, urgency and severity of the Problem). The goal of a major Problem review is to continually improve the Problem Management process for responding to major business issues. A review process may identify things done correctly, things done incorrectly, what can be improved, additional risks, how to prevent recurrence and the nature of any third-party’s responsibility. This review should not live in a silo; it should be shared with team members as part of training and awareness sessions.

***Problem Control and Error Control – In some situations the terms Problem Control and Error Control may be used during the Problem Management lifecycle. Problem Control can be incorporated into the investigation phase with the goal of finding the root cause of the problem and turning it into a known error. This helps the service desk technician provide temporary workarounds to the user. Error Control on the other hand is part of the resolution phase with the goal of converting known errors into solutions and removing them from the known error database (KEDB) when necessary.

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