Today's IT and software infrastructures are more complex than ever before. Multiple wheels mesh together, teams deliver iterative changes faster and more frequently than ever, and monolithic products have given way to microservice architectures. As a result, problems will inevitably occur more frequently because surprises and unforeseen events always accompany complexity.
Unfortunately, IT incidents such as malfunctions or failures are inevitable occurrences in organizations. Companies have to face this reality: The question is not whether an incident occurs but when it does and how severe it is.
Of course, this doesn't change the fact that IT incidents with the associated downtime are expensive for the company and cost reputation and customer trust. That's why modern ITSM teams have established systematic methods that ensure effective and efficient handling of incidents and their underlying problems. One of these approaches from the toolbox provided by the ITIL framework is problem management.
The purpose of problem management
The purpose of systematic problem management as part of comprehensive IT service management is to establish standardized procedures for analyzing incidents and IT processes to prevent future similar incidents and eliminate potential sources of danger. Specifically, it involves identifying the underlying reasons for an incident, understanding them, and identifying the best approach to eliminate the root cause.
Through this practice, ITSM teams aim to prevent the occurrence of reproducible incidents and minimize the impact of incidents that cannot be prevented. But isn't that already the job of incident management?
The Differentiation between Incident Management and Problem Management
What are the differences between incident and problem management? Both practices revolve around incidents and disruptions and have various overlaps. But at their core, they deal with different levels. Incident management is like the fire brigade; it starts directly at the incident.
Here, the priority is to resolve the incident quickly, limit its scope as much as possible, and restore the affected service fully. This is followed by analysis and follow-up, for example, in the form of post-mortem documents. And this is where problem management comes in: where the deeper causes of an incident are addressed, i.e., the analysis and solution of the actual problem.
The superficial cause of an incident is usually quickly identified: Often, a trivial setting, a configuration error, or a faulty commit is the obvious culprit. But rarely can an incident be traced back to a single, strictly isolated cause - and the initially identified cause is often just a straw that broke the camel's back. The incident may have been resolved for now, but the problem persists.
It is the task of problem management to analytically get to the bottom of these deep causes, by facilitating and eliminating them. Can a similar incident occur again? What factors promote it? These are the central questions that problem management should strive to find answers to.
Is there a process?
In its current iteration (version 4), the ITIL framework no longer provides for a strictly defined process. Instead, ITSM teams should adopt the practice in a form that fits their specific services, framework conditions, systems, and tools. But experience shows that teams do well when they adopt reactive and proactive elements in their problem management.
In reactive problem management, the approach described above applies: an incident has occurred, or a potential challenge or vulnerability has been identified. An in-depth analysis is required, which should result in implementing a solution that is as permanent as possible. In this way, the team wants to ensure that similar incidents are avoided in the future or that the identified danger does not result in an actual incident.
Proactive problem management, on the other hand, does not require any external stimulus but takes place on its initiative to find and eliminate potential risks so that no incidents can arise from them. This approach should be seen as an ongoing measure. It can include regular analysis of incident records, logs, and data from other ITSM processes to identify patterns and anomalies that can potentially develop into major challenges.
Atlassian tools for incident and problem management
Of course, this is only possible with supporting software that not only brings powerful features in incident handling, workflows, documentation, and collaboration but also does justice to the individuality of the ITSM team with its specific workflows.
The Atlassian tool suite meets these requirements. For example, Jira Service Management and Statuspage, as well as Opsgenie provide flexible tools for methodical incident management. At the same time, Confluence is the knowledge management tool for collaboratively creating and sharing post-mortem reports, documenting root cause analysis, and making the team's continuous, proactive analysis activities centrally available.
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