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  • #2177078

    Problem solving


    by pitsburghtek ·

    I have a question that seems to have its roots in engineering or science (I’m not sure which). I deal with many departments in my job as system analyst. The departments in IT include telecom, hardware, software and on operations side it’s our production department. What I can not understand is why there is an obvious lack of problem resolution skills within the company. As with all technology there are problems that occur all the time. That is a given. But what is not acceptable in my mind is how problems are dealt with. Maybe it is a mind set, but when a problem arises no one seems to be able to analyze the problem, brek it down into a set of symptoms and then troubleshoot each symptom of the problem. I see many well trained IT professionals in my company struggle with the basics of the scientific method. Is troubleshooting or problem solving a skill that is inate to some individuals, or do people learn this or what?

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    • #3351646

      A mix

      by jamesrl ·

      In reply to Problem solving

      Some people do seem to have an innate ability for problem solving. At some of my previous employer, despite the fact I was a desktop tech, I was drawn into some larger issue on mini computers because I had a rational approach as opposed to years of experience. And I know better troubleshooters than me who are all self taught.

      It can be taught though. I highly highly highly recommend the best course I’ve ever taken: Problem solving and decision making analysis, a course by Kepner Tregoe. I have seen people learn and improve after the course.


    • #3351633

      Part of the problem….

      by notsochiguy ·

      In reply to Problem solving

      As a former education major, I have seen what part of the problem is: standardized tests.

      Now, before I get reemed, I am not actually saying that the tests in of themselves are the problem. I think it is critical to assess the progress of students. What is the problem is the time devoted to the tests, and how they are overly important in the school system.

      When I was student teaching a decade ago, one of the things I couldn’t reconcile was that the kids were really being taught more to pass tests than they were being taught critical thinking. Or, to put another way, they were being taught to keep the people teaching them (and their bosses) employed, and not to get ahead in life. How memorizing the state capitols, without ever looking at them on a map, was supposed to be beneficial, I’ll never know.

      Fast forward, and that 14 year old I saw in the class room is now 24, and presumably in the workforce. I can only imagine what happens when he is presented with a problem that isn’t found in the manual or online. Probably elevated to management.

      Now, with all this NO CHILD GETS AHEAD stuff going on in the schools, and passing of tests a federal requirement, not just local, it will REALLY be interesting to see what happens in another 10 years.

      As I said, this is only part of the problem that I’ve seen. I’m sure people with different backgrounds could come up with at least a dozen other factors.

      If you wanted to ever do a doctoral dissertation, ‘Critically Injured: The death of procedural thinking in the US’ would be an easy one to research!!

    • #3351632

      Yet another explanation

      by awfernald ·

      In reply to Problem solving

      Is a large portion of the people doing tech support now have never had to trouble shoot a problem without having a:
      1) Wizard
      2) Search Bar
      3) Windoze

      Let’s teach people the ‘why’ and ‘how’ stuff works, rather than the ‘click-here’ approach and than you will see people start to regain their trouble-shooting skills.

    • #3351600


      by jdmercha ·

      In reply to Problem solving

      You may be able to teach the theory but it has to be inate to put it into practice.

      The problem becomes more prevelent when a cookie-cutter type tools are available. This allows the lower-skilled and lower paid technitians to provide tech support. And even troublshooting skills can be taught this way. But to be able to recognize a solution to a problem you have never seen before, that takes inate talent.

      A techie with the inate skills realizes that a computer is a computer. They are all only capable of doing one thing. This makes the actual hardware and software irrelevent when troubleshooting a problem.

    • #3351574

      Things change too quickly

      by dc_guy ·

      In reply to Problem solving

      Technology changes so fast and so often, all but the brightest people have trouble understanding it well enough to be competent problem solvers.

      I was a math major, I graduated with honors, I passed the Mensa IQ entrance test, and I was a troubleshooting whiz on mainframes 35 years ago. You’d think I’d be smart enough to figure my way out of a Windows problem. But I’m not.

      I gave up and got a Macintosh.

      • #3351532

        Knowledgeable versus intuitive

        by jamesrl ·

        In reply to Things change too quickly

        I agree that its hard to keep up.

        But the ones with the real gift don’t have to know all the answers, they have to know what questions to ask. Its not about being an encyclopedia of knowledge, its about analysis and diagnosis.

        I used to do a lot of post mortems at an IT shop. They ranged from issues with the financial process, floods in the data centre, problems with patching, virus attacks etc. Now I am far from a domain expert in all of these areas. But with the right perspective and the right process, I can look at these diverse things, and lead a group through analysis through to the creation of an action plan. I will credit those who taught me some of the skills, and showed me some of the pitfalls.

        I’m not suggesting I am super at it, or that I am any better than anyone else. I just learned something, an approach to problem solving.

        Windows XP is a much more complex OS than what runs on mainframes. And to boot you have a far wider range of applications that run on it, and access to the internet with all its fun.

        The Mac frees you from some of that, because there are fewer viruses and because of the stability inherent in a computer where the hardware and operating system are supplied by the same vendor.


    • #3351550

      All of the above

      by amcol ·

      In reply to Problem solving

      All the posters so far have been correct if not a little parochial in their responses. I tend to think of this more wholistically:

      1. “I see many well trained IT professionals in my company struggle”. How well trained are they? In what disciplines? A lot of folks go for technical certs, which give them all kinds of product and language knowledge, but knowing what a jigsaw puzzle is all about is not the same as knowing the best way to put it together.

      2. Colleges and universities today are doing a remarkably awful job of educating emerging professionals. People are coming into companies from degree programs barely able to walk and chew gum at the same time, let alone exhibit superior problem solving skills.

      3. Problem resolution requires a broader skill set than most people possess. The best developer or network admin isn’t necessarily good at communication, organization, logical thinking, statistical analysis, research methodology, etc.

      4. Most folks don’t have the patience to fully parse a problem in order to determine appropriate resolution. We live in an increasingly fast paced society, where attention spans are limited to sound bites and speed dates.

      5. Most companies, especially larger ones, don’t help by demanding the best possible results in the shortest amount of time with the least possible resources. How is anyone supposed to carve out the necessary amount of time to engage in formal problem analysis?

      6. There’s definitely a component of this, as others (and you) have pointed out in that a lot of people aren’t innately good at this. Problem analysis and resolution is a discipline, as much an art as it is a science. Most scientists aren’t very good artists, and most artists don’t care too much about science. It’s a whole brain activity.

      • #3331196

        Very nice

        by dafe2 ·

        In reply to All of the above

        Well said…………just very well said

    • #3351490

      I used to be really bad at it

      by tony hopkinson ·

      In reply to Problem solving

      Leaping hither and yon, guessing where the problem was and patting myself on the back when I got lucky. I got trained how to do it methodically by some electricians in a 24/7 manufacturing environment.
      The discipline and method can be taught, why it isn’t part of the IT curriculum is beyond understanding though.

      • #3332308

        more to add

        by joetechsupport ·

        In reply to I used to be really bad at it

        My experience is that virtually everyone has problem solving or troubleshooting skills; the issue is the compartmentalization of these skills and the reasons therefor.

        At some point people take a conscious or unconcious, willfull or phobic decision that computers or some other some thing is something too complex. Negative experiences and self image play a role.

        There are the “this isn’t my job” or “I don’t have time for this” statements which are valid or not depending on the case.

        • #3332235

          Yes I’ll go with that

          by tony hopkinson ·

          In reply to more to add

          I’ve run into a raft of people of people who can’t think of the problem in terms of a series of black boxes.
          -> A -> B -> C ->
          Input to A is correct, output from C isn’t so they immediately take the lid off A and start fishing about in there, without checking whether the output from A/input to B was correct or not.
          Obvious with 20-20 hindsight, but difficult in the heat of the moment when everyone is shouting for a fix.

    • #3331310

      It is a complex issue

      by deadly ernest ·

      In reply to Problem solving

      Everything posted so far is part of the problem, but broken down into simplest terms it is:

      1. Few jobs for good problem solvers – most of this is done with software now – so little need to train people in the skills and less need at work until at level 3 tech support; and then it is too late to learn.

      2. Over specialisation and expectation that specialists know everything. Now people specialise in single products (hardware and/or software) or small sets of products – no or few generalists capable of looking at the wider picture.

      3. If taught you need practice and little opportunity in the corporate environment.

      4. Teaching and course design geared to industry demands not educational or general skill needs.

      I came to IT late in life after working in admin and management (and a few other areas) for years and doing IT as a hobby. Thus I was used to problem solving and have since worked in some big corporate IT areas. Being a generalist at heart I have learnt, hardware and software thus I sometimes need help for minor aspects of both I can easily see the big picture and no both sides of the hardware/software interface.

      Too often I have seen a problem develop and they bring in the specialists who check their little field say all is OK and go away. 10 fields all working OK but the oberall things is not – problem rarely found by them (except by accident) as neither knows how to verify that their output is valid input for the other area. Add into this mix the ‘I am the expert with 5 years training on this program and you know nothing.’ attitude and you have the current situation.

      This will not get fixed until industry starts prizing generalists and asking for people with generalist or cross field training. Everyone wants the experts with years of experience in just that software or hardware and thus they know nothing else.

      Thus the needed skills are not in demand, not asked for in training, and rarely passed on in training (which they can be), as there is not demand in employment. Give it another 10 years and companies will realise their mistakes as the older people with these skills from the early days retire.

      • #3331307

        Some good points there

        by tony hopkinson ·

        In reply to It is a complex issue

        I earn my corn doing systems integration.
        I can’t do it if I bind myself to one particular technology. If I run into something that common sense and experience won’t help me solve, then I get an expert out. Problem solved, don’t need them anymore, which is one of the reasons I’ve never wanted to become one.

    • #3325667

      Re: Problem solving

      by craig herberg ·

      In reply to Problem solving

      Problem solving skills are present in all fields, not just IT. Obviously, good analytical skills are very important, as are listening and ability to understand simple things. I think a lot of people fall down on this last area, as they see [possibly] complex problems as needing complex solutions. K.I.S.S.

      Craig Herberg

      • #3325549

        To me this is indicative in software

        by tony hopkinson ·

        In reply to Re: Problem solving

        of the concept of programming being taught. Complex software is made out of a lot of simple software, not through dragging a bunch of items off a palette and linking them together with properties.
        There’s an enormous difference qualitatively between these two concepts.
        Now if everything on the pallete was bug free and fit for purpose it would be a different story.
        Probably start with silicon pixies from Rigel IV as well.

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