The more time you spend understanding the problem, the less time you’ll need to spend solving it.

I’ve often heard the joke that all there is to IT troubleshooting is doing a bit of diagnosis to develop a description of the problem, plugging the relevant terms into a search engine, and applying whatever solution turns up as the result of the search. While a search engine is a powerful solution finding tool, most IT pros will have exhausted a few other avenues before they type a query into Google.

A key aspect of being a successful IT pro is developing the ability to determine what is and what is not relevant to the problem that you are trying to solve. When you’re diagnosing a problem, you need to be able to decide what symptoms are relevant to a solution and what symptoms are not. For the simple problems this is relatively straightforward. For the complicated problems, getting the diagnosis right is often more complicated than implementing the solution.

Miss a critical factor, or mistake information that is irrelevant for information that is important, and you’ll end up misdiagnosing the problem and then wondering why the solution doesn’t work. One of the main differences between an experienced and novice IT Pro is their approach to collecting information about a problem. A novice will notice several things about a complex problem and then rush off to apply the first solution that comes to mind. An experienced IT pro will spend more time trying to tease out the details of the problem because they know that while it might take a little extra time to understand the problem more completely, they won’t be wasting time implementing solutions based on an incorrect diagnosis.

When you break your own troubleshooting process down, think about the amount of time you spend:

  1. Diagnosing the problem
  2. Implementing solutions that don’t work
  3. Implementing solutions that do work.

If you often find yourself spending time implementing solutions that don’t work, you might want to revise your process so that you instead take a few deep breaths after diagnosing a problem, and then take a second (or third look at it) before trying a solution.

The more time you spend understanding the problem, the less time you’ll need to spend solving it.

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What's Hyperbole, Embellishment, and Systems Administration Blog?

IT pro Orin Thomas provides true tales, snafus, news, and urban legends for Microsoft Windows system administrators.


Orin Thomas

Orin Thomas is a contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and a Windows Security MVP. He has authored or coauthored more than thirty books for Microsoft Press, founded the Melbourne System Center,...
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