ITIL: If you've got a Problem


Problem Solving is one of those capabilities that has become more and more revered as the new millennium charges into the midpoint of its second decade. Coming up with solutions to problems has never been easy, but the importance and urgency of it in the 21st century is greater than ever before. Organizations simply cannot rest on their laurels with a laissez-faire attitude or an ad-hoc approach to identifying and solving problems in this age of Information Technology.

What’s interesting though, is how problem solving means completely different things to different people, despite its reverence. And when it comes to the IT Service Management (ITSM) domain, the synonym of ‘problem’ and ‘incident’ management is widespread - but should they be? The ITSM challenge for contemporary enterprises is not only putting out daily IT service fires, but preventing them from starting in the first place…

We all know that it’s impossible to prevent every eventuality, but surely if there was a systematic way to help drive prevention of the majority of detrimental events and limit the damage caused by the rest, organizations everywhere would be jumping to it? Well there is, and they are!

Enter the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). Simply stated, ITIL 2011 (ITIL’s latest release) is everything you need for the full service lifecycle management of all your IT Services. It is a wholly comprehensive Best Practice framework, enabling effective and efficient delivery, and management of IT services within your organization. If your enterprise wants to provide high quantity, high quality and value adding IT Services, then ITIL 2011 is exactly what you need.

However, designing and delivering IT services is only the start. How do you go about maintaining those levels, and what happens when things go wrong? Well ITIL 2011 isn’t arguably the world’s most widely accepted and in-use ITSM framework for nothing…

ITIL’s Service Operation phase of the service management lifecycle, includes both Incident and Problem Management. ITIL defines and clearly distinguishes between Incident Management and Problem Management, and while you may be asking yourself “Aren’t incidents and problems the same thing?”, you will soon see that solving and managing problems is a different and distinct discipline from restoring service and managing incidents. It is also worth noting that Incidents and Problems are managed by separate functions within Service Operation, with the Service Desk covering Incident Management whilst Technical Management deals with Problem Management.

Let’s take a look at the ITIL definition of an Incident:

“An unplanned interruption to an IT Service or reduction in the quality of an IT service.”

Whereas a Problem in ITIL is:

The unknown underlying cause of one or more incidents

ITIL tells us that the objective of Incident Management is to restore normal service as quickly as possible and minimize the immediate adverse impact on the business. By contrast, the key objectives of Problem Management in ITIL are to:

  • Manage the lifecycle of all problems from identification to removal
  • Minimize the adverse impacts of incidents (and problems)
  • Prevent recurrence of incidents
  • Minimize the number and severity of incidents (and problems)

Incident Management is purely reactive, often requiring a workaround to be implemented as soon as possible, and not concerning itself with finding a long term fix. Talk to most Service Desk or IT Support resources, and you will hear the coined phrase ‘put a band aid on it’ - alluding to stopping the bleeding but by no means fixing the cut. Problem Management on the other hand, unlike Incident Management, incorporates both reactive and proactive components. Reactively, it focuses on problem solving when one or more incidents occur, and proactively by identifying and solving potential future problems before any incidents occur in the first place. Problem Management seeks to analyse and diagnose the root causes of incidents, and ultimately design permanent solutions for implementation. To do this, ITIL’s Problem Management describes a step by step process from the initial detection of a problem, through to its solving and closure, as follows:


  • Detection
  • Logging
  • Categorization
  • Prioritization
  • Investigation and diagnosis
  • Creation of Known Error
  • Raise RFC
  • Resolution
  • Closure (and possible Major Problem Review)


The steps and sub-processes within ITIL’s Problem Management process are also supported by a comprehensive set of techniques and models, like Ishikawa diagrams, Kepner and Tregoe, Brainstorming, Pain Value, Pareto analysis, Affinity mapping, and more. All in all, Problem Management in ITIL is more than just a process for solving problems, it’s about adding value for the business and for the customer.

Effective Problem Management in organizations has been shown to provide significant value to the enterprise, such as:


  • Increased availability of IT services by reducing the number and duration of incidents impacting services
  • Reduced incident resolution times through known error solutions
  • Increased productivity of IT staff by reducing unplanned labour caused by incidents
  • Reduced expenditure on workarounds or fixes that do not work
  • Reduced cost of effort in fire-fighting and resolving repeat incidents


It may have been Vanilla Ice who waxed lyrical singing “If there was a problem yo I’ll solve it…”, but it’s ITIL that’s been singing the Problem Management tune, resonating with ever increasing numbers of organizations year in year out. There is no question that good problem solving is essential to not only the operation of IT Services in the enterprise, but the day to day operation of the business. Nowadays, the business dependency on ITSM and specifically IT Services is more critical than ever before, as organizations are challenged to remain competitive and sustainable. ITIL’s problem management can literally save you time, save you money and help you put the customer first, creating real value for your enterprise.

There’s a saying that goes ‘can’t see the wood from the trees’, and it’s so true in many organizations;  that sometimes you are so busy dousing the flames that you forget to stop handing out matches. That’s akin to having only incident management in place in the organization - and no Problem Management in sight! In my mind, prevention is most definitely the new cure. With ITIL 2011 Axelos smartly strengthening the problem management area by adding the Proactive Problem Management sub-process, it demonstrates the expanding integration of Continual Service Improvement into all phases of the IT service management lifecycle.

So - if your Enterprise is looking for a solution to manage and deliver services at agreed levels to business users and customers, while still improving its service delivery, make sure it comes well equipped to solve any service problems that may come your way.

ITIL 2011 with Problem Management is probably just what you’re looking for… problem solved!

Additional reading is available at

If you’re looking for a solution to enable your organization to align with, adopt and leverage industry best practice with ITIL 2011 (including Problem Management), Orbus Software provide a detailed IT Service Management Solution, which comprises the ITIL best practice service management framework.

Information is available at /it-service-management/