Blogging AllianceIT GovernanceProblem ManagementRyan Ogilvie

Problem Management Is Like Watering Plants


I can remember the first place I lived in on my own without roommates. A friend dropped off a potted palm tree as a housewarming gift. They said, “It will make your place look better, more lived in.” I shrugged and placed it in a spot where it would get loads of light. In the first few months I took good care of the plant, watering it and providing regular doses of fertilizer and so on. After a while I found that I was fertilizing less; I was still regularly watering the plant but kept forgetting to fertilize. I wasn’t all that concerned though since the plant looked perfectly healthy anyways.

This went on for a few months until I went on a few weeks’ holidays. During my absence, someone came around to check on my place and water the plant, but when I came home the plant was looking a bit worse for wear. As a result of my nice holiday, the backlog of work had piled up and I seemed to be working twice as much, sort of an occupational hazard. One of the unfortunate results of this was that the care and attention to my potted plant suffered. At this point the plant was near death. I picked up the stalky stump and headed down the hallway of my apartment building planning to pitch the plant. A neighbor who was a self-proclaimed botanist stopped me and said that if I replanted it in a new pot, fertilized it, and watered it again, the plant would likely revive. They’re pretty resilient it turns out. I decided to follow this advice, since I really had nothing to lose, and it turned out that he was right.

Our problem management process plays out the same way. Far too often we “implement” this process but do not take care to fertilize and water. After a while you too will see the process fall into disrepair. It’s never too late to revitalize problem and put it in a new pot.

You need to decide what you are looking to get out of it in terms of aligning with the business outcomes and start small. Like the plant analogy, while the plant may look dead it won’t turn into a tree again overnight. Making small improvements to allow some initial growth will enable you and your teams to turn this into something substantial over time. Just remember that the process will need nurturing if it is going to ever bear fruit.

So, where do we start?

First ensure that all stakeholders impacted by the problem management process are communicating with one another right from the beginning. This should include, but not be limited to, a representative from the service desk, change managers, and incident managers. Whether we have people whose role is a problem manager, or it is a role carried out by others, allowing for a touch point to review as a group will enable the problem review to ensure that we are looking at the right incidents in the first place.

When we start to get people with varying perspectives on how incidents are impacting the business together, we get a better “big picture” sense of what is important to the business. The best way to validate this is to actually ask the business. This is where our business relationship manager might play a role in our review of the incidents.

Remember in some cases the biggest issues are the ones that are no longer getting escalated because the business has lost hope that we will even look at it, never mind fixing it.

Have these reviews regularly, going over what has happened since the last meeting and ground you have covered or need to unblock. This will not only strengthen the ability to create, prioritize, and work on problems, but also build out abilities in its related processes like knowledge and change management.


For more brilliant insights, check out Ryan’s blog: Service Management Journey

Ryan Ogilvie

Ryan Ogilvie is a Service Management consultant in Calgary, Alberta with Blackfriar Consulting inc. While working with stakeholders to achieve their business outcomes is his main focus you can also catch his commentary on his blog – Service Management Journey. You can connect with him via the various links below.

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