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Troubleshooting Theory (Basic)

Jimmy AndrewsFounder, What2do.Live

Troubleshooting is such a day to day activity, inside and out of IT, that most of us never think twice about it. For example, if your TV isn't turning on, most of us will check the remote first to be sure that the batteries are good. Next, we'll usually try turning the TV on with the button. And if that doesn't work, check the power cord to see if it is plugged in. There you have it, troubleshooting 101. These steps can be used to troubleshoot anything, not just in the Information Technology industry.


1.Identify the problem.

This is usually a very broad piece of info and just gives you a starting point and eventually a direction. An example of this would be 'my internet isn't working.'

2.Identify the 'parts' involved.

This should be a loose list of things such as hardware, software, peripherals, ports, protocols, systems, technologies, etc.

3.Isolate the potential issue, what is really going on?

Sometimes things aren't always what they seem. Look for related 'things' to the problem that may use the same technologies. There may be more than one thing wrong that hasn't been recognized yet, and those multiple things wrong could hasten your solution. For instance, your internet may not be working, but neither is your email. Instead of your browser being the simplest thing to start with, now the network connection is, and you just saved yourself a boatload of time. Isolating the issue will take you the longest amount of time. Be very particular and purposeful in this step and ask a lot of questions.

4.Start with the simplest thing first.

This is a no brainer, but many times overlooked because you may say to yourself 'that possibly couldn't be the fix, it's too obvious.' Well, that is definitely a flawed thought process, so deprogram yourself from saying such statements. A good 90% of all issues can be resolved by addressing the simplest thing first.

5.When complete, identify the root cause.

The issue and the root cause of the issue are two separate things. The root cause is responsible for the issue at hand. It could be user error or a particular configuration of a system that isn't compatible with everything around it. Root causes can be very easy to fix, such as a faulty network cable. It can also be very complicated, hard to identify and hard to fix, such as a faulty firmware install on a network switch that is responsible for 50% of all corporate network traffic, where it only effects Windows XP SP1 machines irregularly. Root cause fixes can potentially be costly and time drainers. Sometimes root causes are not worth the fix, but knowing the root cause will allow you to identify similar issues and reduce your troubleshooting time. Many issues can successfully be resolved by bypassing the root cause.


It is important to note that many of us troubleshoot under intense pressure to resolve the issue in a timely manner. Pressure from the user, pressure from your management and usually pressure from other departments. Although you should not ignore them, you should remember that providing a solution to the issue is just as important as keeping your chain of command up to date. Each above step should have a corresponding notification sent to all parties involved. DO NOT RUSH, this will be counter productive and actually increase the time to your solution. If you're troubleshooting in an environment that is very complex, rushing will most likely lead to compounding issues and more problems.


Be calm, you are troubleshooting the issue because chances are, you are the local expert on the issue. However, no one expects you to know everything. Usually the expectation is that you know how to find the solution even if it isn't readily available in your knowledge bank. Be very methodical in your work and if you have the ability, recruit other professionals around you to check your thought process and work. Everybody misses something sometimes, we are human after all.


Another area to consider is conversing in definites. If there is one thing that I have learned, speaking in definites does more harm than good with the relationships you have around you. If you go and say that you know what the issue is without following the above steps and you are wrong, your credibility slowly erodes away. Tell them that you have an idea of a starting point and keep everyone up to date. If you run into a speed bump or you find out your initial evaluation was incorrect, be forthcoming and continue to move forward. Know your audience, if they are not technical, then don't give a technical explanation.

Jimmy AndrewsFounder, What2do.Live

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