MY Hines

My Tips for Troubleshooting

Posted on: December 7, 2009

I believe that there is a distinct difference between troubleshooting for your personal PC and troubleshooting problems for staff who are on a network. The whole “it’s on a network” just makes it a bit more difficult than the simpleness of it being a home computer. After looking for some basic tips a week ago because I knew how hard it could be when trying to work thru a problem for a staff member because there are so many places to start, I had to come up with some of my own.

  1. What you talkin’ about Willis? Establish what type of problem you are dealing with before moving forward. You need to identify if this is a problem with the machine that is being used, a problem with the server, an issue with the user account, or if it is a training issue. Identifying what type of problem you are dealing with can narrow down what can be going wrong. Getting off in the wrong direction right from the beginning can take you on a really long path and have nothing in the end. Take some time and make sure that you got the facts – and nothing else but the facts.
  2. Infection or Epidemic. A good friend has told me that I have used these words incorrectly – she is a Ph.D. and knows best – but I think this makes the point for me. You must establish how large the problem is and if it is isolated or widespread. If the problem is only happening to one person, that problem can take a lower priority over a problem that is occurring to multiple people. The greater amount of people afflicted by the problem can lead you towards an answer – such as a greater amount of people may mean that it is a server issue over a local machine issue. Use test accounts to try to confirm the problem and to gather additional information that may not have been given from the staff member.
  3. Ch-Ch-Ch-changes. Determine if anything had changed recently to the computer equipment/accounts. Updates, reboots of equipment, and installation of software can make the biggest problems. You need to think back and see if anything had changed on the equipment that is involved. If a server has been rebooted recently and suddenly there is an issue somewhere, it may be related to the reboot. Be careful – sometimes one server being rebooted can negatively impact another server – so never just assume that it is only the server that is showing the symptoms of a problem as being the root cause of the problem.
  4. Get down and dirty. Sometimes you have to really try to make the problem happen again to diagnosis the problem. Try another account in the same situation. Never rely upon staff to do this for you.  It is best for you to get your hands into the situation. If you don’t fully understand the problem, do whatever it takes to make the problem occur again so you can see it with your own eyes. Then try again with a different account to see if it happens again. You might not figure out what the solution is, but you may narrow some things out.
  5. Read between the lines. More often than not, there is information that is missing from the staff member reporting the issue.  You need to be able to distinguish what information is missing and what answers have been given to you without it being said or written. This is a skill that you gain over time, but stopping and reminding yourself of this will help out until you start knowing what those things are that fall between the lines more by instinct. From experience, this tends to be different for each staff person. Good luck!
  6. People lie. I don’t mean this in a negative light! But not to sound too much like Dr. Gregory House, people do lie. They probably don’t mean to do this, but they don’t want to admit if they are just stuck or if they did something that then caused the issue to occur (i.e. who wants to admit that they deleted all of their email when it could just be that the server did it). Instead of worrying about why there is this “lie”, worry on figuring out what the problem is and fixing it. In the end, it’s about getting a solution.
  7. Google it.  It was tempted to underline this, color each letter differently, and make it a stand out font. Not enough stress can be made to this step. Usually someone else has had this problem somewhere out there in the world. If they were kind enough, they have placed the answer out on the internet, but you aren’t going to find it if you don’t go and look for it. Maybe you don’t want to use Google – but ultimately, take some time and initiate some research on the internet for a solution.
  8. Try, try, try again. Even if the issue is being escalated up the chain of response, you should not stop looking at the issue and trying to assist in the troubleshooting. When others are brought in to assist, they still need you to pitch in and come up with solutions. Some solutions are found by trial and error and the more people doing that trial and error are better than waiting for just one person. Ultimately, you never do anything that you aren’t comfortable doing – but just passing the buck doesn’t make the problem go away.
  9. Mistakes will happen. But what matters at the end of the day is that the mistake is addressed, a solution is completed, and things go back to as normal as they could be. There may be questions about why the mistake happened – but admitting to the mistake and moving forward is the best policy.
  10. Action = Reaction.  You may have solved one person’s problem, but it may cause a problem with someone else. You should expect something like that to occur. Or it could be that the action is that you have to reboot the server in the middle of the day and the reaction is that staff are upset for the unexpected downtime. You should always be prepared.

I’m sure that there are other good tips out there – and I would love to hear about them too. If you want to share them, please comment so I can continue to build my own list and maybe share again in the future.

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