In the early days of the pandemic and in 2021, teams were on their heels reacting to everything thrown their way: changes in work dynamics, accelerated digital transformation, and new support procedures and expectations. Providing exceptional support isn’t only about quick response and incident resolution; much of it boils down to processes behind the scenes that keep you proactive. Enter: problem and change management.
In this post, I will provide some guidance from the ITIL 4 framework. If you’re unfamiliar, ITIL stands for Information Technology Infrastructure Library, and it is a popular model and framework that helps teams effectively design, deliver, and maintain their services. The beauty of ITIL is its flexibility—enabling organizations to adapt the recommendations in alignment with their cultural needs and values. Implementing ITIL 4 practices into your service management strategy can help with knowledge documentation and quick remediation of identified issues. The models also help ensure business continuity by focusing on minimizing disruptions to end users.
As your teams aim to improve service operations and take more proactive measures, consider how you could weave ITIL recommendations and guiding principles into your service management strategy.
What Is Problem Management?
According to ITIL Foundations, the purpose of problem management
is “to reduce the likelihood and impact of incidents by identifying actual and potential causes of incidents and managing workarounds and known errors.” When practicing problem management, teams strive to find and resolve issues to minimize the potential for larger disruptions, or in other cases, unearth actions to sidestep the issue if there isn’t a remedy to solve it.
Problem identification is focused on determining the root cause. This can be done by reviewing incidents, be it duplicate or similarly reported issues, to highlight trends and detect patterns. As service admins, we often get the first line of sight for understanding performance dynamics through trend analyses. An influx in incidents may stem from errors or issues within a particular service. Trend analysis that is considerate of operations and relationships across the full technology stack enables us to more effectively troubleshoot the issue.
Problem control begins with reviewing and prioritizing problems by risk. After getting an initial assessment of risk from the problem identification step, consider higher level impacts the problem could have more holistically across the organization. It’s beneficial for service admins to effectively communicate this information across departments to heighten visibility and incite collaboration. The insights and knowledge we can deliver—from how a system performs under common scenarios, to known user behaviors or vulnerabilities—can help other teams and departments more clearly understand their own risks and potential impacts.
Problems unable to be resolved should be categorized as known errors. Teams should document workarounds for these issues and apply them for future occurrences. Cataloging the symptoms and prescribed workarounds in a known error database (KEDB) can be an efficient and sometimes cost-effective way to tackle potential incidents down the road.
The final phase of problem management is aimed at finding more permanent solutions by considering how the four dimensions of service management have contributed to the issue or could influence how it’s handled moving forward. ITIL’s four dimensions of service management include organizations and people, information and technology, partners and suppliers, and value streams and processes. When reviewing errors and any existing solutions, continually explore workarounds and diligently update documentation for more impactful problem mitigation and remediation.
What Is Change Management?
Change management or enablement is often practiced in tandem with problem management. ITIL Foundations sees change management as the practice of “maximizing the number of successful IT changes by ensuring risks have been properly assessed, authorizing changes to proceed, and managing the change schedule.” Changes are focused on alterations and updates to services, for example how organizations issue communications regarding changes in how you might authenticate to your email.
Generally, teams have established a Request for Change (RFC) process with a defined path for who needs to review and approve the proposed change. Changes may be classified as standard, normal, and emergency, ranging in risk and complexity. Standard changes are low-risk, preapproved alterations such as software updates whereas normal changes usually require approval before the process begins, like migrating a service from on-premises to the cloud. Emergency changes often are related to service outages or larger-scale problems impacting the entire organization. Adopting and practicing change management alongside problem management can help drive streamlined service activities, improving the user experience.
Top Benefits of Implementing Problem and Change Management Strategies
Problem management and change management aren’t new, but especially over the course of the pandemic, we saw organizations realize the need to adopt or refine these practices. They help ensure business continuity, and prevent major disruptions (which is especially important with users’ expanded reliance on digital channels). The ITIL 4 framework has many recommendations for IT professionals that are aiming to maintain healthy documentation and knowledge, throughout the organization, around their evolving technology stack.
Creates More Proactive Operations and Efficient Remediation
Part of problem and change management is tracking and recording previous problems to prepare for the future. For example, if you’ve seen the problem reported in the past, perhaps there’s a knowledge base article to troubleshoot it more efficiently, leading to heightened response and resolution times. As you associate similar incidents and identify a larger problem, you can have a scope for escalation to resolve problems by addressing the underlying cause.
Streamlines Identification, Triage, and Implementation of Changes
Change management helps rein in the chaos, creating visibility between the teams who are requesting/executing changes. This helps enhance communication amongst the team working on the change, so they can better communicate their status and what has changed—and so those impacted can be made aware of the expected update. With an , you can fine-tune your change management practices by creating defined change request forms paired with automated processes, and affiliate what processes within your environment will be impacted as a result of the change.
Improves User Experience
With defined practices in place, users can remain productive and (hopefully) avoid any disruptions to their workday. The main goal for service management admins should be to put employees first
. Teams can enhance their service levels by leveraging smart tools like service automation in their service management strategy to centralize visibility and promote a positive user experience.
4 Key Considerations When Employing or Refining Problem and Change Management Processes
Problem and change management are more than finding issues and their root cause as they occur. These processes enable IT admins to not only find and manage issues for future incidents but also optimize overall service quality. When implementing proactive problem and change management to your organization, consider the following four approaches:
- Understand existing or growing problems by exploring trends and metrics. Collect and review reports of ongoing incidents to perform more informed root cause analysis and more easily determine common issues in your environment.
- Ensure existing documentation is relevant by continuously reviewing and improving content. Maintaining an up-to-date knowledge base and KEDB allows teams to further their education of known or new errors and respond quickly with workarounds or solutions. This in turn can lead to more proactive IT service management operations that saves precious time and resources.
- Start problem and change management now if you haven’t already. Problem and change management practices are key to ensuring business continuity in hybrid environments and minimizing service disruptions to users who depend on digital services.
- Define standard vs. emergency change requests to help create a uniform set of practices regarding who needs to approve the request, who should be aware of it, what should take place to test the proposed change, and how teams will handle any issues. With set practices, teams will have visibility into the change request process and can create documentation to mitigate future risks.
While our physical workplaces and technical surroundings continue to evolve, embracing change and problem management can help spearhead more proactive activities and help support teams stay afloat. Creating documentation and establishing standardized practices can help drive heightened visibility, optimize both human and technical resources, and ultimately improve the user’s experience with the service desk.
Learn more about the benefits of problem and change management: